'We’ve managed to create something for everyone'

Interview with Jeff Fowler
The Oscar-nominated director brings the most popular Sega figure to the big screen. The blue hedgehog is an object of adoration among the fans, so expectations were high. Jeff Fowler told us about unleashing Jim Carrey, and finding the “swagger” of his blue hero.
How do you feel now that the movie is done?
“Pure excitement. I am so happy with the movie and so excited to nearly be sharing it with audiences. I’m counting down the days! I’ve been working on this for three years and wouldn’t change that for anything. The whole experience has been such a positive one – all the cast and crew have been amazing. And now, to see the fans’ reaction to it [in early screenings], is incredible.”

What was it like watching the movie with an audience for the first time?
“Amazing. When you’re making a movie with humour in it, to watch people watch the movie and laugh and have the reaction to a moment that you wanted them to have, it’s an incredible feeling. It’s instant gratification, that people are having fun and laughing and gasping with emotion and enjoying themselves. It changes your whole experience of a movie, when you get to watch it with an audience.”

What’s your relationship with Sonic been like over the course of your life?
“I was 13 when the first game came out and I loved it. And I really feel like we’ve managed to create something for everyone with this movie [not just fans of the game]. There’s humour and there’s action and there’s Jim Carrey and things that are very emotionally universal. When I was 13, I was playing every videogame I could get my hands on. Then the Sega Genesis came along with better graphics and gameplay, and Sonic was the mascot and the flagship character for Sega because that game was so popular and such an industry-changing moment. And not just from a videogame perspective, but from a character perspective. You just hadn’t seen a character like Sonic before, a character with genuine swagger. He had a style, an attitude you just hadn’t seen in games before, and teenagers responded to that immediately, in the best way possible. And they still respond to it. I think that’s why he has beenaround for 30 years, because every teenager can see a bit of themselves in Sonic.”

How did you build the character of ‘movie Sonic’, as opposed to ‘game Sonic’?
“Well, step one was basically casting the right actor. In this case, that was Ben Schwartz. And that decision goes to almost the earliest days of the whole project. We produced a proof of concept, a three-minute test piece that was in the same exact style of what’s now the finished film – a live-action hybrid. We had a very early version of Sonic, and Ben voiced him. And there is so much about Ben that is the perfect fit for Sonic. He brings the humour and the comedy, of course, because he is a tremendously talented actor and comedian. But then we worked on finding these little moments of texture, little character moments, of vulnerability or emotion, to give him a little more depth. That was the trick, working with Ben to craft the performance. The process was never about, ‘Okay, how do we bring in all these elements from the game…?’ It was about creating a character, about taking someone people have loved for 30 years and telling a film story with him. Doing something that’s emotional and has heart and loads of action but is also true to the game. Giving Sonic some more dimension.”

When the first Sonic The Hedgehog trailer came out, the internet exploded with a huge debate about Sonic’s look in the movie. As a result, you and your team went back into the movie and did considerable work on it, to the point that now the fans are delighted. That’s a huge decision. What was that whole process like?
“It was definitely a watershed moment of happiness to see the fans react so positively to our redesign work [when they saw the new version of Sonic]. It was actually a very simple and easy decision. The message [from the fans] was so clear and unifying about how they wanted to see him that, in a way, it really brought our team closer together. We loved the movie so much that we didn’t want people to stay away from it because they weren’t happy with the design. We knew that if we could do that revision, we’d be in a really great place. So, everyone just rolled up their sleeves and we jumped in. It was a huge relief to release that second trailer and see how people responded.”

You’d say that this is an origin story?
“Absolutely. The biggest difference between the game and the movie is that with the game you are really experiencing Sonic as the hero, as the guy that’s just completely in control of his powers. But in the film, he’s learning and growing into that role.”

In Sonic the Hedgehog, Jim Carrey delivers one of his most brilliantly deranged performances. How do you direct that? Or, do you just let him go and see what happens?
“Jim is so great about collaborating. Before the cameras are even rolling he’s pitching ideas. Out of that comes a really great plan – and then you just unleash him! He really is just a force of nature. So incredibly talented, so funny, and his instincts are so good. Just watching him is amazing.”
UIP-Duna Film
(17 pictures)

Film premieres

Wreck-It Ralph

American, animation, 92 min., 2012
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