From the set: Dumbo cast talks interacting with the flying elephant
For every live-action remake of a Disney movie there’s at least one tiny wrinkle for those on set. For Beauty and the Beast it was looking at Dan Stevens in giant grey pajamas and imagining he’s a beast, for The Jungle Book it was on Neel Sethi to imagine he was surrounded by animals in an exotic jungle. With Tim Burton’s upcoming Dumbo remake the cast all had the same challenge, imagine a baby elephant right here and now imagine it soaring in the sky.
“They didn’t have time to get their hands on a flying elephant,” Colin Farrell jokes on the set. “They couldn’t seem to locate some of those, so there is the old look at the tennis ball as it flies through the tent thing, which is fine.”
They have on advantage though, being surrounded by the gigantic and extravagant sets built for the movie. All of the various circuses, from the homely and modest Medici’s to the elaborate Dreamland were all real for the actors, and helped out with their imaginations.
“I’ve been lucky enough in the last 20 years to be around some extraordinary sets like Alexander,” Farrell adds. “They built some amazing sets in Pinewood. But I’ve never seen anything like The Boulevard, which none of this film, we don’t shoot exterior stuff at all, which I’ve never done. It’s all stage, but there’ll be skies and there’ll be sunrise and sunset and birds flying across the clouds, I’m sure. But I feel like I’m existing in a practical world, that it’s not asking me to imagine too many things that aren’t there, save that flying pachyderm.”
Despite never having to act opposite a tennis ball on a stick before, co-star Danny DeVito was already prepared for the challenge thanks to his work in Matilda back in the 1990s.
“In Matilda, when I did that, there was a lot of acting with dots because you’re working with kids in that movie, so you only get them for like, four or five hours a day. So most of the time, Pam Ferris or myself or Rhea, if you’re talking to Matilda, sometimes she wasn’t there. So it’s kind of similar to this, you know? It’s really fun.”
Due to the nature of having various sized, shaped, and flying or grounded elephants, the film employed a few different techniques for making the actors have a proper sight line. Various contraptions were created to simulate both the presence and the effects of an elephant.
“We have these big aluminum outlines of how big an elephant would be, with eyes,” DeVito says. “And they’re carried by a person in green, so that when you’re in the relationship, you know, where it’s going to be. He’s not there. There’s nothing there. And sometimes, there’s the interaction, what I found was really great of the mama elephant where we had the boxcars in the old circus. The elephant would be unloaded on the side of the boxcar on a ramp, right? This was like a mindblower. They’d have like—there’s nothing coming down the ramp, right? But there’s a guy with a big rig coming down the ramp and the ramp has got a hydraulic thingy that like, pulls it down. Man, it was deep. I thought that was the coolest thing.”
Dumbo may not be on the set, despite one adorable life-size model made for reference, but his presence is always being felt. He flies into theaters on March 29.