Famous for breaking taboos – even her duet with Matt Damon requires parental guidance - Sarah Silverman may not be the name who comes to mind when we think of family fare, but she’s now the voice of a feisty nine-year-old arcade game girl in Disney’s new film Wreck It Ralph. Siobhan Synnot had a frank encounter with the US comedy star...
Q. Your character has a flaw in her computer make-up, a glitch that is looked upon as a negative until she finds a way of making it a positive part of her character. Can you empathise with that?
Sarah Silverman: I think that the best comparison of a glitch in my life was that I was a bed wetter. I wet the bed until I was in my teens. And I thought it would be my biggest shame, like my most embarrassing thing. I never thought I would be sitting in front of the media talking about it! But here I am proudly and without any shame telling you that that was my glitch and now I’ve turned it into my superpower because it made doing stand-up not at all scary because I thought ‘what’s the worst that’s going to happen’? People are going to boo me off the stage? I spent eight weeks at camp peeing my cot every night then making the bed over it. My glitch made me brave.
Q. Was voicing a lead character in a Disney animation a long-held ambition? And did your edgy stand-up work make this a more unlikely dream?
A: I grew up with Disney movies, and I love Disney movies but I never imagined that I’d get to be a part of one. It seems like an odd fit at first, maybe to the naked eye. But the dirtiest comic when I was growing up was Eddie Murphy and now he plays the Donkey in Shrek. It’s often remarkable and surprising to me the lack of imagination that people in showbusiness have. And when people like Rich Moore can imagine someone like me in a wholesome movie I have a lot of gratitude.
Q. Was there much room for improvisation?
A: John C Reilly and I were right across from each other so we could play the scenes fully into each other’s eyes. The script was perfect, but we were always thinking of alternative lines or different ways to say things. We would do the lines as scripted and then we would go off and improvise off of them and take left turns and have wild digressions and bits of those probably made it on there.
Q. How animated did you get in the booth? I gather John [C Reilly] got quite physical?
A: Well, John had to make noises like he was running. And he was so great at it. He’d just do all the motions. But we are acting and using our whole bodies because there are also cameras for the animators to use as reference – our expressions and our movements. But just like when you’re talking to someone on the phone, you’re not only using your voice...
Q. Which arcade game characters were your favourites growing up?
A: We had Atari at an arcade. There’s a game called Joust at our local Dairy Queen, which I mastered between dipped cones. It’s finger speed, like Centipede as well. I probably departed with video games after Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. I know every room, I know every nook and cranny of it and I didn’t want to go beyond that [laughs].
Q. How did you get into the mindset of a young girl like your character? Has it made kids more appealing to you?
A: I felt very close to this character. I felt like she was some kind of convergence of my un-dealt with inner child and the childhood I completely also forgot to have. So, I relate to her a lot from when I was a kid to now - this girl who is obnoxious and tough and, of course, like anybody who is obnoxious and tough is protecting this soft and very sensitive inner core. Was that a good answer? And did it make me feel broody? Well, I’m baby crazy. I love kids. But I just feel like ‘not ready’! I know I’m old but I still don’t feel ready. I want to do it when it’s all I want. And I’ll adopt.
Q. Ralph’s main quest at the start is to win a medal so people will like him, despite being the bad guy in his video game. What was the first medal you won?
A: On our soccer team in high school, everybody got a certificate to celebrate a positive role. I was the only one that got ‘least popular on the van’ because I wouldn’t let anybody sleep on away games. The film is up for an Oscar, and I suppose that’s like a medal, but if Wreck-it Ralph teaches us anything, it’s that a medal isn’t that important,
Wreck-it Ralph is in cinemas now.