Fixing it with Felix: An Interview with Jack McBrayer

The latest multi-billion dollar unit shifted out of Disney’s magic factory this week is Wreck-It Ralph and it’s one specifically designed to tickle the hearts of the readers of this very site.

Why you ask? Well, because it’s essentially Toy Story for video games. The folks in the house of the mouse have envisioned a magical world where arcades not only still exist, but all of the characters in those games mingle in the power bar at the end of the night. So, it’s a movie where Bowser, Sonic, and Zangief hang out and throw back some brews at Tapper after a long day. Within that world is a game called Fix-It Felix Jr., essentially a Donkey Kong knock-off where the massive Ralph (John C. Reilly) destroys a building, while Fix-It Felix (Jack McBrayer) runs around fixing it in the hopes of winning a medal. The whole world falls apart when Ralph gets tired of being the bad guy and abandons his cabinet to find a happier home elsewhere in a candy-themed racing game with a cute little girl/glitch (Sarah Silverman). With his game’s existence in jeopardy, Felix sets out to find his villain, along with help from a lady drill sergeant (Jane Lynch) from a futuristic first person shooter. So, we’re talking about a movie dripping with videogame nostalgia and voiced by brilliant comedic minds that will appeal to more than the just the kiddies in the crowd. With Wreck-It Raplh mere days from release, we got a chance to speak with the voice of Felix and everyone’s favorite NBC page from 30 Rock, Jack McBrayer about the film, that show, his history in gaming, and more.

 

Comics & Gaming Magazine: I wanted to start by asking if you were much of a videogame fan going into this movie?

Jack McBrayer: I played as a kid. I wasn’t great at them, so I can’t pretend I was super gung-ho. But we had an Atari 2600, so I played Pac-Man, and Frogger, and Burger Time. You know, it was me and my brother and sister, so it got to the point where that system had to go to live at Grandma’s house so we didn’t kill each other. But then we also got to go to the arcade on report card day. You know, you’d get three quarters for an A and two for a B. It was a great incentive for education (laughs). But that’s really it. I’m not very familiar with current games, the 3D scary ones where you can drive over people.

CGM: That works out for this movie then since it’s mostly old school games.

JM: Oh yeah, it was perfect for my character in particular. I was more than happy to play a 1982 game character. That was my heyday!

CGM: You’ve done a lot of voice acting before, do you prepare differently for a voice role than you would for a live action?

JM: Yes. I thought you were about to ask if I prepare different voice for those roles and I was thinking, “oh boy! This is all you get, kid.” For me the main difference is just familiarity with the script. For the voiceover stuff, piece of cake you just read the script. For the live action stuff, you have to be prepared to be flexible to work with different actors and interpretations. But with both of them, it’s the same sort of stuff: know what the director is asking for, know the tone, that sort of thing.

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CGM: You’ve made a career now at playing a really sweet, and innocent, perfectionist kind of guy. Now that you’ve done that so often, how much imput do you get to have on the script of something like Wreck It Ralph or 30 Rock?

JM: I have to say that those instances when I change something are pretty few and far between. That’s a credit to the writers, both of 30 Rock and Wreck-It Ralph. On anything I do, if that’s the type of character they’re looking for, most people are pretty good at hitting the nail on the head with that. But when something comes up with…for example, every now and then on 30 Rock they’d have me say “Tracy” and I’d change it to “Mr. Morgan.” Little things like that. But for the most part it’s all about the writing. Very seldom do I have to pipe up.

CGM: So does that make you a little more choosey?

JM: Absolutely. Sometimes people have to write promos for 30 Rock or whatever and they’re trying to capture my voice and just can’t hit the mark. So you have to know how to gracefully draw the line. I can see where they’re coming from, but you have to let people know. Kenneth is Tina Fey’s intellectual property and Felix is Disney’s intellectual property, so there have to be some boundaries set with that. You can’t just write down any slop for Jack McBrayer to say. (Laughs)

CGM: It’s a great cast, did you get a chance to play around with everyone while recording the lines?

JM: I wish I could have done more. For the most part it was just me and a microphone. But there was one session where I got to work with John and there was one session were I got to work with Jane and those were kind of my favorites. My background is in improvisation with Second City, as is Jane’s and John is so good at it. So it was fun to just play. And also, when you think about it, me, John, and Jane were all in Talladega Nights way back in the day. So we’re all friends and Sarah too. It was fun just to goof off with them and match their energy and go off the script. Because even though we always did it as written the first time, they gave us a lot of freedom and a lot of us made it into the film which I was excited about.

SEE ALSO:  Evangelion 3.0 Comes To Canada

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CGM: Do you have a favorite line or moment you improvised that you were particularly pleased made it into the film?

JM: Well, there was this one run where Jane and I got to play around in one scene where we were supposed to be caught in quick sand and came up with various…um…exclamations (laughs) that were a lot of fun. There are definitely some outtakes and bloopers there.

CGM: You’re good at those.

JM: Yeah, you know one thing that I learned on the set of 30 Rock is that sometimes you screw up and instead of swearing I found it better to kind of turn into your grandmother a bit and say, “ah sugar!” or “ah, nerds!” Because what you find out sometimes too late is that stuff will end up on the outtakes real, which finds its way online. So I didn’t want my nephew googling my name and finding just a tirade of filth. Sometimes it’s almost like a Mad-Libs, you take a swear word and replace it with any other noun. It’s fun.

CGM: Since you’ve done so many voices already, have any children come up to you who recognized that you did the voice in something they love?

JM: I don’t know if that immediate connection has happened yet, but since I have done so many children’s things like YoGabba-Gabba or The Electric Company where you can see my face, there might come a day where some kid recognizes me and I feel bad for them (laughs). They’d be like, “ugh, he’s very disappointing in person.”

CGM: Has there been any talk of a sequel to Wreck It Ralph yet and would you be interested?

JM: Yes, I would be interested and if there has been talk, they haven’t mentioned it to me. So I hope I don’t get kicked off! Plus, everyone thinks actors are so picky, but guess what? We want to work and we are always happy to say “yes” to projects. When it happens to be an incredibly fun project, even better! But so much of the time we just want to work, so when the perfect storm comes with a great cast, great look, and great writing, I’m not delusional, I know how good I got it. I am very ok with that.

CGM: I was excited to see Pixar head John Lasseter’s name in the credits and I was curious about how involved he was and if you got to work with him?

JM: Sort of. It’s not a Pixar movie, but we got to go up to the Pixar campus for the table read. This was like two and half years ago because it takes so long to get these things done. So I met him there and then we got to go to these Disney events, it’s a big smile, wave, kind of thing. I don’t even know what those are called. Expos?Disney-Con? It just felt good to get his stamp of approval. That guy knows what he’s doing. He’s doing ok.

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CGM: Since you play a really nice guy and seem like a really nice guy—

JM: (Jack starts making obscene hand gestures that can’t be recorded) Do you mean type casting?

CGM: Not so much that, but do you ever get tired of always being the nice guy?

JM: Well, I mean, I’m a human being. I get cranky. I get tired. You just try to be flexible, especially at your place of business with big personalities (laughs). You’re going to have better days than others, but creatively I’m always happy to do an R-rated comedy. I do love the fact that you can still find kindness and humor in those things, but I have no problem laughing at horrible things as well. You just try to find that balance and have to know when to say “no” as well. (Makes one more obscene hand gesture)

CGM: Do you ever have the desire to try playing a darker character against type just to toy with how people see you?

JM: People ask me that and it’s not that I’m opposed to it or wouldn’t rise to that challenge, I’m just worried that I wouldn’t be any good at it. But also, I kind of like playing the good guy. You hear people say, “I’d love to play the villain, that’s the most interesting role.” That’s not interesting to me, that would cause me anxiety and give me an ulcer. I’m pretty alright just smiling really big and waving.

CGM: What is your relationship like with actual NBC pages after playing Kenneth for all these years? Are you king of the mountain or do they all think, “man, he just doesn’t get it.”

JM: I was worried in the beginning. I was worried that they would think, “He is mocking us and what we choose to do!” But since then it’s been quite the opposite. I do love going there because half the time when I’m there I’m just wearing my t-shirt and jeans so no one notices. But the pages always recognize me. They don’t make a big deal because they are very professional, but give me one of these (silent nod of respect).

CGM: Do you have any sense of how 30 Rock or your character will wrap up yet?

JM: Not really. I’m sure the writers have. We’re in our last thirteen episodes and shooting I think episode eight right now. We shoot out of order and it all blurs together. You just forget what’s happening. I’m saying nonsense half the time. I’m not positive I’m a human being. So I don’t know yet. The good thing is that we’re ending and we know that we’re ending, so the writers can resolve these stories. I think that’s very important and so many shows don’t get to do that. We’ve had a show go for seven years and we get to have an ending, which is exciting. But as far as what happens, your guess is as good as mine.