Martin Short gets sentimental in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
In the funniest scene from Christopher Guest’s 1989 movie, The Big Picture, Martin Short’s Hollywood-agent character, Neil Sussman, is so deliriously blind to reality as he drives through L.A. that he doesn’t bother steering or even looking out of the window. This is the image that comes to mind when a studio rep checks in with the Georgia Straight to explain that Mr. Short will be calling us from his car.
“That’s right; I am driving with my knees while putting on lip balm,” Short says when he eventually gets on the line, evidently pulling a Sussman as he makes his way to JFK International Airport in New York. Please be careful, we implore the Canadian comedy legend. “Oh, I’m invincible,” he scoffs.
From there, our brief but winding conversation takes in the underappreciated Ed Grimley cartoon series that Short and his SCTV pals produced in the late ’80s—“The thing about that show is that it was the first of its kind,” he notes. “It was actually pre-Simpsons, so Simpsons writers were influenced by it”—and whether or not he’s ever noticed how much Radiohead’s Thom Yorke resembles Short’s Jackie Rogers Jr. “Actually, yes, I have,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a love letter to him, but it’s a statement of fact.”
More to the point, we also discuss Short’s work in Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted (which opens this Friday [June 8]), an unreasonably bright new entry in a franchise that should have gone dim by now. The film’s refreshed feel might have something to do with a new batch of characters—including Short’s sweetly daft sea lion, Stefano, and Bryan Cranston’s troubled tiger, Vitaly—and the surprise inclusion of a screenwriting credit for Wes Anderson cohort Noah Baumbach.
“I think he’s just a great writer,” Short says. “I mean, it’s a very good script, and it’s not afraid to become quiet, which is unique in a lot of animated movies, you know?” True enough, but the Madagascar 3 we saw was a pretty hyper-antic affair, wasn’t it? (Hyper-antic in the good, Tex Avery way, mind you).
“Well, I think that it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel,” Short continues. “It has a great pace; it’s 3-D—and it’s spectacular 3-D, too, that’s the other thing. I mean, I’m not saying it’s The Trojan Women, but it’s definitely not afraid to calm down.”
Short’s character is responsible for a lot of the film’s more sentimental touches, although he still gets off a few left-field zingers. By and large, and despite being such an uncontainably physical actor, Short says he enjoys doing voice work because it offers a unique kind of freedom.
“When you make a movie, they’re always looking at their watches,” he says. “And I like to do lots of takes. Normally, they’re always saying: ‘Let’s move on,’ and ‘Have we got it,’ and ‘We gotta be at this location by noon,’ whereas in voice work, it’s fairly easy. You can improvise, try a million different things— it’s just you and the directors and an engineer, and it’s very loose. That makes it nice and creative without any urgency.”
There’s one other big advantage. “You show up in your pajamas,” Short adds.
Watch the trailer for Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted.