Interview with Charles Fleischer, the voice of Roger Rabbit

Every now and then, the universe throws me a bone.

Mysteries abound. My partner here at The Big Screen, Scott Marks, taught animation for around 10 years at Chicago's Columbia College. The man loves cartoons enough to build a curriculum around them. He could probably do a class on The Directors of Bugs Bunny alone.

OH HAI CHUCK JONES

And yet somehow, he does not love Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a movie that feels to me like a great big wonderful love letter to both classic animation and the Los Angeles private-investigator genre. (As I never tire of mentioning, Duncan liked it, too.) He notes with disdain that Disney's involvement came at a price: every time a Warner Brothers icon shows up, his Disney counterpart must show up, too. Which is why we get scenes like this and this. He also never took a shine to the film's star.

What's not to love?

The upshot is that when it came time to interview the voice of Roger Rabbit on the occasion of the film's 25th anniversary Blu-Ray release, I got the gig. Hooray!

Matthew Lickona: Hello, Charles.

Charles Fleischer: Hello Matthew! How are you, my friend?

ML: I'm tickled pink and greatly honored. This is a huge thrill.

CF: Why, thank you very much. And if you would like to rephrase being "tickled pink" to being "tickled Blu-Ray," I think that would be more appropriate.

ML: Very nicely done.

CF: Thank you, my friend. You know what I'm saying? [Switches to groovy hippie scientist voice.] Pink is just red with the addition of a little saturation and luminosity, and of course Blu-Ray speaks to the higher frequency of blue on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Rainbows are groovy.

ML: The AV Club recently featured a fun piece comparing the film to the original novel, Who Censored Roger Rabbit? Did you read the book before developing Roger as a character?

CF: No. Gary Wolf penned that tome, and while we are certainly grateful for his creation effort, it was more important for me to read the script by Peter Seaman and Jeffrey Price. Also, to see the animation tests - to see what Roger looked like and how he moved. The script is kind of the spine of the character. What does the character do? How does he react? What does he say? [Switches to British Masterpiece Theater accent] Those are the elements that create the structure of your character development. [Switches to Indian accent] But in addition to that I had to formulate a method to ensure that the voice would be homogeneous with the physicality of Roger Rabbit, For instance, this [accent] would probably not have worked very well.

No, probably not.

ML: Was the stutter in the script?

CF: No, their request for the addition of the speech impediment came after I'd already gotten the job, and I became a little paranoid, "Uh-oh, I got a job, now I'm not going to get it, because I don't know where to get the speech impediment." But then [I came up with] "P-p-p-please,' which was kind of inspired by the Bowery Boys. Sach used to do a cheek flutter and I kind of incorporated that.

Horace Debussy as Sach Jones

Also, in my stand-up act, I had done an impression of a flying saucer landing on a horse, just kind of, "Bew bew bew bew, neigh-neigh-neigh." That was kind of a pre-defining moment of Roger's cheek flutter.

ML: Did you watch cartoons a lot growing up?

CF: What are you, kidding? Who didn't? Anybody who didn't watch cartoons is probably living in a tent and even then they're getting it on satellite. Sure, I was always a huge fan of animation, and essentially anything that was able to project some aspect of the human soul into other beings. So as a kid, everything: from the classics, to Gerald McBoing Boing, to Mr. Magoo, to Ruff and Ready, to Heckle and Jeckle, of couse all the Disney classics. I've always been a huge fan of animation as well as painting and film and anything that can allow you to go to another place.

ML: Roger got a few shorts released post-feature, but where does he stand in the Disney canon? He's not quite of a piece with the Disney universe.

CF: I would suggest that that is partially because Roger Rabbit was a collaboration between two studios. So the subsequent use of Roger would require the other participants in its creation to be involved. I certainly hope that the 25-year anniversary will lead to more prominence for the Rabbit.

ML: How did you hear about the film?

CF: [Director] Bob Zemeckis had seen me do my stand-up comedy several years before, and remembered what I did on stage, which was lots of characters, and kind of blending surreal moments with real moments. They brought me in to help them in the auditioning process for the Eddie Valiant character. After doing several of those, they offered me the opportunity to be Roger.

ML: I've read that it was hard on [lead actor Bob] Hoskins to act like he was interacting with cartoons, but really playing to empty air. Was it tricky for you, interacting vocally from outside of a scene?

CF: Not really tricky - perhaps it was a new challenge for both of us. I would be on set, dressed in a costume that they made for me, and watching Hoskins. Both of our voices were recorded at the same time. So if he was, for instance, to reach out and grab Roger by the ears, I could react to that like I was there. That created an ambiance which translated to the ultimate realistic aspect of the film.

ML: A Roger costume?

CF: Yeah, I asked them to make me a costume that I wore every day on the set.

ML: Is that in a museum?

CF: It's in the museum of my mind. I still have the ears somewhere.

ML: Did you have a particular animation style or cartoon director in mind when you were coming up the character?

CF: No, I was just trying to create something that was real and that came from my soul. Perhaps more than any other character I've ever done in any film, including things like Zodiac and Night Shift, Roger Rabbit is closer to the essence of my being than anyone else. Because I do stand-up comedy, I make people laugh, and we both have blue eyes and rather large ears.

ML: Could they even do something like this film any more? Mickey Mouse is in on a cruel prank with Bugs Bunny! Would Disney ever do something like that with one of their icons in this day and age?

CF: That is a question that I am not prepared to answer, just because it's out of my realm.

ML: You've seen the Blu-Ray version of the film?

CF: Yes, and more than any film that I've seen transferred, it's just so juicy and colorful. The colors [switches to Peter Lorre voice] - they pop off the screen.

ML: I hope the release brings Roger to a new generation in the way he deserves.

CF: [Switches to Ringo Starr voice.] I hope you're right as well. Thank you for your time.

Special Reader bonus: Charles Fleischer promo for Roger Rabbit here. Making-Of special here.

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Comments

Ha, with Dave Good's bunny-themed cover feature for this week's new issue, it's wascally wabbit day all the Reader site! Count me among the animation students who rejoiced when Roger first hit cinema screens - my office includes a 4 foot-tall stand up 3D display from its video release, a cardboard fridge with Roger and little birdies in a scene from the film, and Jessica sitting atop the fridge. Hope the BluRay helps boost its inexplicably low profile -

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