martin short on ‘madagascar 3′, souvenirs from the set and finding characters in the laundromat
Martin Short’s elastic face has morphed into many memorable characters, including Jiminy Glick, Ed Grimley and an impressively passable Katharine Hepburn. The latest persona the comic slipped into, however, required no facial contortion: Short-voiced Stefano, a friendly Italian sea lion who performs in the circus in “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.”
Moviefone spoke with Short ahead of the film’s June 8 release about his favorite characters, what you might find in his garage, and his “bitchy sarcastic side.” (Don’t worry, we didn’t pull a Kathie Lee Gifford and awkwardly ask him about his personal life.)
Read more behind the cut, or at Moviefone, where this interview was originally published.
Stefano is a new character for the third “Madagascar” movie. Is there anything in particular that made you want to get involved with the series?
I just think it’s successful. It’s funny. It cops to what it sets up to be and it’s a pretty impressive talent line-up that they have.
Your character also has a pretty strong accent — was that inspired by anyone in particular?
No, they wanted an Italian accent and you know there’s a little bit of Bernini, there’s a little bit of Chico Marx, there’s a little bit of, you know, everyone. It really comes from a place — not so much a person — it comes from a place of someone who’s enthusiastic and joyful and emotional. It’s more of that.
Did you work with a dialect coach?
I did. I think it was, actually, the first time. You don’t work with a coach so much as I would send the script over, she would read out the lines in a very calm way in an Italian accent and so you would realize that you didn’t want to say “eeet’s-aah nice to see yooooooou,” you would want to say, “eet’s nice to see you-aah.” But you don’t do that, you know.
Is that how you develop impressions, too? Through mimicry?
Yes, you kind of get the sound of that voice and…sometimes there’s a natural break in people’s voices. So when I transcribe a conversation with them or a speech by them, you hear their hesitations and their ahhs and you apply it to what you do.
Were any of the other cast in the recording booth with you?
No, I was by myself. That’s the only way it’s ever been done. You never have the stars in the same place at the same time, never.
You’re also involved in Tim Burton’s upcoming film “Frankenweenie,” which is stop-motion. You’ve been in a number of animated projects. What attracts you to non-live-action?
I think it’s just the ease of it. You know, you can be in any city and you can be at any time of the month and you can scoot in and do it. It’s easy to schedule these things. And you know, it’s two hours here, it’s two hours there, it’s not that time consuming. And there’s no pressure on you, there’s no one standing there saying, “OK, you have one hour.” You can take as much time as you want, try as many voices as you want, as many variations as you want.
In addition to all these animated projects, you’ve spread yourself out between movies and TV and the stage, ranging from musicals to comedy to camp. Do you try and change it up on purpose, or is that just how the chips fell?
I think I probably do find it more interesting to vary it all up. It’s a little more interesting to me. It’s not so much about trying to pay bills now as trying to keep myself interested. The more variety you pack into a year, the more interested I find myself being.
You’ve performed with a lot of celebrities, sometimes even in front of them. Was there ever anyone who just wouldn’t go for it?
No, not really. No. No, they all take the joke.
On the flip side, is there anyone you just had a blast with?
Doing a character with someone? Oh, I’ve worked with so many great people. The SCTV people, Chris Guest, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin.
Not picking favorites?
No, I don’t have a favorite.
Part of inhabiting a character is inhabiting that character’s clothes. Are there any that were really uncomfortable? What about the Glick fat suit?
Um, no. Not really. I mean, that’s what wardrobe people are there for, to make sure they’re comfortable.
Your IMDb list of credits is long, to say the least. You must have quite the collection of film set souvenirs.
Oh, I always keep something. You know, the back of the chair with your name on it or the clapper board for the last scene. It varies.
So your house must be, like, the Martin Short Hall of Fame.
No, not really. I have Tony Awards, Emmy Awards. Awards, but not mementos.
Wait, so where are all those mementos?
Yeah, in like, a garage or something.
Which of your characters is closest to your actual personality? Is anyone a sort of alternate universe Martin Short?
They all become, it’s so cheesy to say, but they become like your children. So they’re all different. Ed Grimley is part of me, Jiminy Glick is part of me — there’s a sarcastic, bitchy side to my personality. I think that they, you know, especially the ones that you improvise, easily express a part of you.
Do you still come up with new characters pretty regularly?
Well, Stefano, yes, that’s a character. Yes, I mean, they say he’s Italian and then you take it from there.
It sounds like you had a lot of freedom to make the character your own.
I mean, that’s what it is. There’s a script, then he’s an Italian sea lion and then you take it from there.
But just walking around in your day-to-day life, do you see something and think, “Oh, that’s a great bit”?
Yeah, I just did a television special with new characters, I still do.
What kind of thing inspires your new characters and bits?
When you encounter someone, maybe it’s someone who makes you laugh, maybe it’s the guy who does your shirts, and then you start impersonating them. And then, I don’t know, you create a character out of it.
Post image via Wikimedia Commons.