CS Interviews: T.J. Miller talks The Emoji Movie
Sony Pictures Animation provided ComingSoon.net the opportunity to have an exclusive chat with comedian and actor T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Silicon Valley) about his voice role as the “Meh” emoji Gene in the upcoming family film The Emoji Movie. Check out our chat below for the animated film opening in theaters on July 28!
Hidden within the messaging app is Textopolis, a bustling city where all your favorite emojis live, hoping to be selected by the phone’s user. In this world, each emoji has only one facial expression – except for Gene (T.J. Miller), an exuberant emoji who was born without a filter and is bursting with multiple expressions. Determined to become “normal” like the other emojis, Gene enlists the help of his handy best friend Hi-5 (James Corden) and the notorious code breaker emoji Jailbreak (Anna Faris). Together, they embark on an epic “app-venture” through the apps on the phone, each its own wild and fun world, to find the Code that will fix Gene. But when a greater danger threatens the phone, the fate of all emojis depends on these three unlikely friends who must save their world before it’s deleted forever.
ComingSoon.net: It struck me how, looking over your filmography…
T.J. Miller: Can you believe? Filmography. Isn’t that weird,I have a filmography. Who did I con in Hollywood?
CS: (laughs) If you ever read interviews with professional voice artists, a lot of them get really angry when celebrities get voice parts over them, but I look over your filmography and you ARE a voice actor! This is a big part of your career.
Miller: And part of that is in “Cloverfield.” I had to start doing this thing that I never anticipated because I’m a clown and an improviser from Chicago. And I never considered the idea [to do voice-over work]. I remember DreamWorks asked me to come over and then I’m sitting on the couch talking into an iPhone for “How to Train Your Dragon.” And then they play it for Jeffrey Katzenberg and he’s like “Yeah that guy seems funny.” But I never realized that I would have to learn to be funny in the G-rated space. Which is actually quite easy. Its like “The Joy Luck Club”… thats a quotable thing “T.J. Miller thinks voice acting is like The Joy Luck Club in the G-rated space!”… Once you understand the confines of what you are allowed to do, it makes you more inventive, and try different jokes. When you know there is a joke for kids, and then there’s a joke for parents, and then there is a joke for all of them.
But yeah man, I’ve been doing voice-over since I started actually. I was on “Gravity Falls,” and I may do the “Big Hero 6” television show. Me doing that would be an example of someone saying, “Well I’m a voice actor and that’s what I do.” He can’t be mad because I originated the character and this is an original property. I pay very specific attention to voice-over because this movie is going to be so gigantic. Especially because it’s emojis, wait until China and Japan get a load of this.
There was a lot to “The Emoji Movie” I loved that I didn’t expect. You never actually know what the f**k the movie is before you see it. You can only see some animatics and really, until it’s completed, you don’t really see it. I was really impressed by the pacing, because I get really frustrated with any kind of film, but especially children’s film, when it’s not paced quickly and it’s not paced correctly. I was also really surprised on how everyone is in on the joke. My wife Kate said, “This is crazy because parents text their kids emojis, and kids text their parents using emojis, so this film bridges these generation gaps and language barriers.” And it is kind of fun that you are in on this joke with everybody and people are really going to like that. And when anyone on the internet asks “What? An emoji movie? What is that even going to be about? What’s the deal with that?” We are making fun of you guys with the ‘meh’ face. We found a relatable way to tell this story with a filmmaker like Tony Leonidis, who is very imaginative and inventive. The animators have to create the world inside the phone, and the audience gets to see what The Cloud looks like. The visuals were reminiscent of “Big Hero 6″ when they go into Time and were halfway through the portal, and that just looked like unlike anything that had ever been done in animated space.
Whenever people come to cast me in their film, they come to me and say “We would like you to do this.” Tony really said “You know, you are the first person we thought of, and we really only want you for this.” Then I know that they are going to let me riff — that’s just what comes with the package — and that I’ll bring a sense of humor that is a little bit quirky/bizarre/different for animation. And even when they came to me for the movie “Underwater,” I asked “You want me for an underwater thriller?” and they are like “Yeah, they think that you will be great in this.” And so even that choice to hire me implies they have a different sensibility and a sensibility that is similar to mine, and then that means you can be f**king collaborative.
Because this movie needs to be all the things an animated movie is: for every laugh, there is a tear — it’s what Walt Disney said, something I just found out from Tony — but if I’m involved with something, it has to be funny. That’s got to really be at the forefront to it, even with my stand-up, the message is not more important than the laughter.
CS: Well isn’t it also true that the characters you typically play are also the ‘meh’ guy, the sarcastic, sardonic guy?
CS: But then this character, even though he is the ‘meh’ emoji, he’s anything but! He is exuberant and happy and all these other emotions. Was that interesting for you?
Miller: I thought that was great because you have a lot of different metaphors in this film for feeling like an outsider for feeling like everyone around you wants you to be this one thing. Whether it’s a girl who needs to be a bride emoji and can’t be anything else, and there are all of those opportunities. I really liked when Tony explained my character, because I totally got what the comedy would be. When there’s this guy who’s trying to be “like, whatever” but GETS SO EXCITED ABOUT DONUT HOLES! I knew that was going to be funny in and of itself. The times my character gets sad in the movie are the times when he really becomes the ‘meh’ guy that he is trying so hard to get away from. It was cool and I really do believe these movies, despite the trolling that happens online, are the films that inform the moral compass of coming generations. I very much like to contribute to this space since kids watch it, and they want to watch it over and over again. So it is very important for us to have progressive ideas rather than regressive stuff, and strangely, it’s the perfect time to tell kids that you can be whoever you are. The concept of inclusion is really important right now. And I think some parents will take a deep breath when their daughter sees this film in the climate that we are in. The movie says the thing that they are trying to say: Because you are a woman, you can be anything you want to be because your potential is limitless. That’s a huge deal right now.
CS: In “The Emoji Movie” there is a dance-off set to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” It was funny to me that this is the second movie in a row, after “Deadpool,” that you’ve done with a Wham! song.
Miller: Oh! That’s true! And in both films they’ve been at the forefront of the films, they were the most important components. I’ll have to go for three times the charm.
CS: “The Wham! Trilogy.”
Miller: We have to figure how to get that into “Underwater” in the most intense moment. What’s Simon Pegg’s trilogy?
CS: “The Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy”
Miller: Yeah, mine will be “The Wham! Trilogy.”
The Emoji Movie opens in theaters on July 28.