Charlie Kaufman is known for the unique movies he’s both written (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) and directed (“Synecdoche, New York”) that invite audiences into strange worlds often focused on unrequited love.
Kaufman’s latest film is his most imaginative one yet. Titled “Anomalisa” (now available for digital release, on Blu-ray in May), the stop-motion animation follows the business trip of a self-help author named Michael (voiced by David Thewlis). Stranded in a hotel, he finally finds a connection with Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s a fan of his work, and the two have a one-night stand.
To represent the lack of interest Michael has with almost everyone in the world, Kaufman brought on a single actor to voice the rest of the characters in the movie. Character actor Tom Noonan takes on everything from supporting roles to the background bits (he even sings the song in the closing credits).
“It was trippy,” Noonan told Business Insider about the job. “The voices are part of me, but they are also their own separate entity.”
Noonan was first given the script in the early 2000s. Kaufman gave him little explanation, and the actor quickly caught on. In 2005, he was acting out the characters for the stage play of the story.
Kaufman, along with the film’s co-director Duke Johnson, then used a Kickstarter campaign and other funding to make a feature-length version of the play.
Noonan was called back to do the voices of “everyone else.” According to the actor, he did around 40 to 50 voices in the stage version, and approximates he did triple that by the time the stop-motion version of “Anomalisa” was complete.
“Each character had their own persona and are in different situations,” Noonan said. “But I did the scenes like I would any other movie. I didn’t worry about sounding like a girl here or a kid there.”
Having starred in all three films Kaufman has directed so far, Noonan is well aware how different the experience is.
The most time-consuming part of Noonan’s work was doing the background characters. He six different voicing sessions over a number of years. And to create the voices for everyone from the aeroplane passengers to the patrons in the hotel lounge, Kaufman and Noonan developed backstories and came up with material on the spot.
“Charlie would talk to me in my headset, and I would have a microphone, and we would just do an improv,” Noonan said. “He would say, ‘We’re two businessmen from Wisconsin on the plane and we are on a trip selling cheese,’ and we would improv for five minutes. They would tape that, play it back to me, and I would have to respond to my own voice. So first, one end of the conversation would be Charlie, and then he would drop out and I would take his place, and the end product would be me doing both voices.”
It would go on like that for hours. Noonan notes that only a fraction of the dialogue was used in the movie, and it would just be in the background of the scenes.
But Noonan’s voice is also front-and-center for many characters: the person sitting next to Michael on the plane who is scared of flying, Lisa’s best friend, even Michael’s son.
Noonan said he’s “thankful and proud” to be involved in Kaufman’s films, but he does admit that watching “Anomalisa,” which was nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar this year, was a disarming experience.
“It was just generally odd to sit and watch a movie and have your voice coming out all of these different people,” he said. “At one point I thought, ‘I’m ruining the movie.'”
Trust us, Tom. You didn’t ruin anything.
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