Robbie Benson Talks Beauty and the Beast 3D, in theaters now
Walt Disney's 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast is back in theaters for a limited 3D release to celebrate its 20th Anniversary. Already a box office hit its first week back on screens, we now celebrate this timeless tale's second weekend out with a chat from its leading Beast, Robby Benson.
We are longtime fans of Robby, so it was a great honor to speak with the man behind the voice of Beauty and the Beast's title character, an arrogant Prince turned into a frightful monster, who must earn the love and respect of another before breaking the spell.
A voice actor since childhood, and star of such live-action classics as Ice Castles and Ode to Billy Joe, we chatted with Robby Benson about the legacy of Beauty and the Beast, his work looping Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, and producing music for his family.
Here is our conversation.
How exciting has it been for you to see this renewed interest in Beauty and the Beast. A lot of people went to see it at the theater last weekend, and this is a movie that has been on VHS and DVD for at least twenty years. It's not like back in the day, when Disney locked their films in a vault...
Robby Benson: I know. I think that is a tribute to the animators, and Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. I think that this movie...There are a lot of movies that are coming back at you in 3D, or being released for the first time in 3D, that might be gimmicky...Here, it seems to enhance the storytelling of this film. It was a magical world to begin with. That is a very Disney word...But it seems to be even more magical now. Obviously, numbers don't lie. People are coming to the theaters. I think that is pretty cool. I think that says a lot about what the animators did, and the work of both Mr. Ashman and Mr. Menken.
Back in 1991, voice work in an animated film was a bit different. The studios weren't selling their animated features on the strength of their cast, like they do today. When we went to see this, we weren't thinking about Robby Benson. It was more about the character, not the actor behind it. How did that work in your favor in creating Beast's voice?
Robby Benson: They gave me an incredible amount of freedom. I didn't want Beast to be a cartoon character. I played it as though I were doing a Broadway show. As if this was a living person. And I wanted him to be funny. By funny, I don't mean shtick or one-liners. I am talking about real comedy. When real comedy works, and is truthful, especially with the Beast, it comes out of the fact that he is so pathetic. For some reason, I really understood that. Ha! Because of that, they gave me a lot of leeway.
I grew up in a household full of Robby Benson fans. I was quite familiar with your work. But the first time I saw Beauty and the Beast, and even today, I don't think of you when I hear Beast speak. Which is a great accomplishment for a voice actor. To have your own persona removed from that, so the character lives on its own. Do you think about yourself when you watch Beast, or here, twenty years removed from recording the voice, are you able to get lost in that character like the rest of us?
Robby Benson: I look at the film...When I hear certain pieces of dialogue, I do remember the day that we recorded it. How I could have done it better. That is, unfortunately, a personality flaw of almost everything I do. I look at it and say, "Could I have done that better? I think I could have. I should have done this...I should have done that..." I think that way about everything I have ever done.
How cool is it for your family, especially your kids, to watch the movie? Are they able to watch it and disassociate you from it?
Robby Benson: Yeah. Though, this was an amazing experience. To be the Beast and be a father? To be a dad, and have my daughter Lyric literally grow up with this movie? Its re-released, so my son Zephyr, can also grow up with it. It's actually pretty phenomenal in terms of being a parent. Its really, really cool. My daughter, Lyric...I would say the most rewarding project I have been a part of has been in these last eight months. I produced and engineered her debut album. I don't know if you know who my wife is. She is Karla DeVito. She has one of the greatest voices of all time. She was the girl in the Paradise By the Dashboard Lights video, with Meat Loaf. Lyric has inherited her mom's talent. She has this album out now called Lyric's Love Light Revolution. I'm telling you, it's the most proud I've been of anything I have ever been a part of.
What kind of music is it, if you don't mind me asking?
Robby Benson: Oh, no...It's her own thing. It's her own lyrics. Its dance. It's a fusion of dance, world, hip-hop...It's really a cool album. There is no rap. There is poetry slam, when she is not singing. When she sings, it is breathtaking. The message of this album is so beautiful. It's a gift. In one try, she has a legacy. It's really cool.
And she was excited to bring you on as her producer? There was no, "I'm not working with my dad, that's embarrassing" kind of reaction? This sounds like a real collaboration between the two of you...
Robby Benson: It really was. And with Karla. She would help too. Because I have always had a little garage studio, since I was a teenager...I have a studio over the garage now. When the garage door isn't opening, it sounds fantastic. Ha! Seriously, it is just a knockout album. It really is. I am just so proud. I can't tell you. Working with your family, and your children, is a rewarding thing.
Has this project opened you up to producing more music from other people not in your immediate family? Or are you wanting to just keep it strictly in the family?
Robby Benson: You know what? I would love to do that. I would love to. I think my next album that I am going to work on is going to be Karla's album. She had two solo albums. One is wonderful. It's called Is This a Cool World or What? But, she did another album that did not do her justice. We have been talking about doing another one. We have now mapped it out. So, we are going to sit down and make an album for Karla.
Sincerely, I am a fan. So that is quite exciting.
Robby Benson: Yeah? Thanks, man! Thank you!
Looking at your career overview, you've done quite a bit of voice work. Even as an established actor, animated voice work is one of the toughest things to crack, and get immersed in. Was Beast the key that opened this door for you? To continue working as a voice actor?
Robby Benson: I started doing voice work when I was fourteen or fifteen years old. That goes back to a skill called looping. It was long before ADR, and it was before dubbing. It was when there was a loop of film, and it would be a foreign film...Like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, or even War and Peace. They would have young people in it. I would play as many children as I could get away with. When the version came out in the US back then, it didn't have subtitles. It was looped. I also did a ton of Godzilla movies. Which are really funny when you watch them now. You will see the little kid going, "Oooh, look, its Godzilla!" That's me. You start to understand. We would try to get those done as fast as possible. Back then, we made extra money if we got in more than a hundred loops a day. When I say extra money, we got ten bucks more! That was a big deal for us. That's one of the reasons those movies are not very good. Because we did them like Speed Racer. So, I did a ton of voice over work. I did a show called Exosquad. I was Prince Valiant. I have been doing voice work my entire life, and I adore it. It is really rewarding stuff.
That's exciting. I'm a huge Godzilla fan. I had no idea you did those voices...
Robby Benson: Oh, yeah. Anytime you hear a little kid, its always on the street tugging on is mom, pointing up, saying, "Look mom...There's Godzilla!" Odds are that's me. Even if it's a girl. That's me. We learned how to change our voices. We would manipulate all of our sounds, and we really had a great time.
I have to imagine, starting out in voice over work, having to voice all of these different children, that really set you up with a skill set when it comes to figuring out and creating a new voice for a project.
Robby Benson: Yeah. It does. Not only is that the case...But as a young person, I am watching some really great films. Films I would have probably never seen if I wasn't in there looping them. That is like The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, watching that when I was fifteen. And being the kid in War and Peace. I can't remember...There were dozens and dozens of movies that I was involved with. Not only did I love to do it, I loved that I got to get out of school to do it. It was one of the greatest days I could have, when I got to do that, during the week. But I did get to see a lot of great actors that I normally wouldn't have gotten to see. A lot of great directors. And writers. These storytellers...When I was a teenager in New York growing up, I never made a distinction between the foreign films, and the American made films. But nowadays, you have to go to a Lemmle theater. It's hard to market a foreign film here in the states. Back then, that really wasn't the case.
This past Christmas was the first time we saw the Beauty and the Beast Christmas movie come out on DVD and Blu-ray. What are your thoughts on that? For a Disney straight-to-DVD movie, it seems to be held in a slightly higher guard than some of the quick direct-to-DVD knock-offs or sequels. People actually like this one...
Robby Benson: I'm proud of it. I don't think it even belongs in the same league as Beauty and the Beast. But it has a market. I don't mean that from an executive's point of view. It has a market from an actor's point of view. Knowing that kids and families are going to sit around and enjoy it, and be entertained. I'm proud of that part. I do believe it has very little to do with the magic of the original, though.
I noticed that you've continued to do the Beast's voice for various shorts and video game projects, one of which came out just last year. Are you going to continue providing the voice for Beast? Is that a character you won't let go of?
Robby Benson: I'm always honored. They always come to me. They are very loyal. But I am sure, one day, they will find a sound alike. And pay them cheaper, and kick me out of the loop (laughs). Until that happens, I want to be the guy.
Beauty and the Beast was released January 13th, 2012 and stars Paige O'Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Bradley Pierce, Rex Everhart. The film is directed by Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise.