Bruce Willis and Wanda Sykes both had problems tapping into their inner woodland creatures for the film "Over the Hedge" until they decided to make their furry characters more human.
In the DreamWorks animated film, Willis plays RJ, a fast-talking raccoon who convinces a group of critters that suburbia is the place to forage because humans are so wasteful.
"For six months I was doing the character a completely different way. [Directors Karey Kirkpatrick and Tim Johnson] said, 'Why don't you try and do this character like David Addison?'" says Willis, referring to his roguish character on '80s TV series "Moonlighting." "I fooled around with that and I finally found the voice of this raccoon, this scheming kind of guy, and there were some parallels with that character."
One of his followers is Stella, a skunk whose attitude is as strong as her smell. In creating her voice, Sykes didn't want to fall into the same style and delivery that she uses in her stand-up.
"A lot of the time comics are just used to delivering jokes. And I never wanted to take people out of the movie and go, 'Oh, there's Wanda Sykes,'" she says. "Stella has a lot of attitude, but why? It's kind of like being a woman: always judged by our looks. And that's what Stella is faced with. So, it was about getting to why she was angry."
In the film, RJ approaches the other animals with a scheme to gather food in the human world in preparation for their next hibernation. The leader of this ragtag group of critters is the conservative turtle Verne (Garry Shandling), whose tail is telling him that RJ may not be on the level. Also making up the critter family is Steve Carrel as Hammy the squirrel, William Shatner and Avril Levigne as father-daughter opossums, and Catherine O'Hara and Eugene Levy as married porcupines.
Despite this all-star cast, Willis found performing difficult since none of the actors recorded dialogue together.
"It was by far the hardest thing that we've ever done," he says. "We were in a dark room, by ourselves with an audience of five people: the directors, the writer, the producer and the guy actually in the control booth. For it to come together and be as funny as it turned out to be, for both kids and adults, is a miracle."
Sykes adds, "We all got to improv, and I'm aware of that because the script kept changing. You'd go in and record and then a couple of months later they call you back in and you're doing the scene again, but it's all changed because maybe Bruce added something or Garry added something and changed it all around."
In spite of all the setbacks and challenges, both actors are pleased with the end result.
"This is the greatest movie ever made," says Sykes.
"It's going to change the course of history I think," Willis chimes in. "There may actually be a cure for cancer in this film."
"Over the Hedge" scurries into theaters nationwide on Friday, May 19.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times