LOS ANGELES—“I can tell you that the sequel, which I just recorded for the first time, is remarkable,” Josh Gad happily reported about being back as the voice of Olaf in “Frozen 2.” Also back in the recording booth are Kristen Bell (who voices Anna) and Idina Menzel (Elsa), and so are Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee as directors.
“I’m excited about the journey that these characters are going to go on,” Josh added about the 2019 follow-up to “Frozen,” which is the highest-grossing animated film.
The Florida native also commented on returning as the voice of the beloved snowman, “I did a recording the other day of ‘Frozen 2,’ and I started crying in the middle of it, so I’m a wimp. I’m a glutton for sympathy and sadness.”
But Josh isn’t portraying Olaf in the Broadway-bound musical stage version of the 2013 animated film, which has earned over a billion dollars worldwide.
The production, which played in Denver before debuting at the St. James Theatre in New York in February next year, features expanded music and lyrics by Fil-Am Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and a book by the film’s codirector, Jennifer Lee. Michael Grandage directed both the Denver and Broadway musical.
“Early on, they asked me if I would have any interest in reprising my role onstage,” Josh revealed. “I literally looked at them and said, ‘If I’m at that point in my career, put me out to pasture.’ If I’m going out dancing onstage eight times a week in a snowman costume, something’s gone terribly wrong.”
However, he stressed, “But, I keep hearing that it’s extraordinary. It’s one more fabric to this larger story that the brilliant minds of Jennifer Lee, Bobby Lopez, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, John Lasseter, Chris Buck and producer, Peter Del Vecho, are doing an amazing job on.
Josh, whose career took off since voicing the lovable Olaf, joined the star-studded cast of Kenneth Branagh’s eagerly awaited “Murder on the Orient Express,” which includes Dame Judi Dench.
The actor, who’s married to actress Ida Darvish, joked about his veteran English costar: “I threatened my wife that there’s a chance I might leave her for Dame Judi Dench. Sadly, she won’t have me. The first day that I got to the set and she was there, I remember Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe and Tom Bateman were in their makeup chairs.
“Nobody was going up to The Dame, as I call her. Nobody broke the ice because everybody was just in awe of this almost supernatural presence. She’s one of the greats. So I, being who I am, walked up to her. I looked at her, got down and whispered in her ear, ‘Dame Judi Dench—more like a damn, Judi Dench!’
“That immediately broke the ice. She looked at me and went, ‘Oh, I just fell in love.’ We do have a special energy. The fact that she’s still doing it better than anybody else at this age is a testament to how incredible her skill is. She struggles with her vision now, but she just plows through. She has more energy than anyone else on set.”
Teased about the Dame’s quip that she fell in love with him but nothing came out of it, Josh cracked, “It’s heartbreaking, but it’s just one obstacle to our inevitable relationship. No, I adore her.”
On his quick rise since we first interviewed him for “Frozen,” the 36-year-old replied, “It’s been a crazy journey. I would lie if I said I don’t wake up every day and pinch myself. I studied drama for four years and somehow ended up doing comedy. I thought [I’d be] doing a lot of stage work. That’s what I was trained for.
“I thought, OK, I’ll have a great successful career if I’m doing off-Broadway theater. I’ll be great. Three years after that, I wasn’t finding any success at all.
“I called up my mother one day and said, ‘I want to go to law school.’ Both my brothers went to law school. But, she started crying and said, ‘I’m disappointed in you—because you’ve spent 15 years dreaming of doing something and only three years living out that dream. You should be ashamed of that, because it’s cowardly.’
“It was a wake-up call. A week later, I went on an audition for a Broadway show called ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.’ That was my big break.”
In his Broadway debut in the “…Spelling Bee” musical, Fil-Am Jose Llana was one of his fellow cast members.
“From that moment forward, I’ve never looked back,” he pointed out. “In my mind, ‘The Book of Mormon’ was going to close after three weeks. Then, it becomes one of the biggest hits in Broadway history.”
Josh’s portrayal of goofy Mormon missionary Elder Cunningham resulted in a Tony nomination.
“Or, take a movie like ‘Frozen’ which I thought was this fun little cute movie that then becomes the biggest animated movie of all time. It’s one of those things where you’re constantly getting a reality check. Artists aren’t perfect—we make mistakes.”
On how he thanked his mom, who inspired him not to give up acting, Josh answered, “I paid all my student loans back. I gave her a big fat check for everything that she did as a single mother to put me through college.”
In “Marshall,” Reginald Hudlin’s biopic of Thurgood Marshall (the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, played by Chadwick Boseman), Josh plays Sam Friedman, a Jewish lawyer who joins Thurgood in defending a black chauffeur falsely accused of the rape and attempted murder of his socialite employer in 1940.
“The beauty of this film is that growing up in the United States and going to school, you learn about Thurgood Marshall,” Josh explained. “You learn about Brown vs Board of Education. I’ve never heard this case before.
“So, the beauty of the case itself is the fact that every step of the way, you don’t know how this is going to shake out. Sam Friedman has even more limited biographical information than young Thurgood Marshall does. There’s only one tape of him, but it was when he was older.
“So, my source of information was his daughter, Lauren Friedman. She was incredibly helpful because any time I had a question, she was always there to answer it for me.
“This role didn’t call for impersonation. You’re doing Sam Friedman, an attorney that nobody’s ever heard of. I wanted to capture the soul of not only Sam Friedman, but all of the Jewish allies of that time who were working in conjunction with African-Americans, to defend people who were in desperate need of defense and justice. This was a movement that was happening.”
The father of two girls cited how he gives back for the blessings that his snowman character has showered him. “Every day, it humbles me that kids carry around this Olaf doll and clutch it. I go and visit children in hospitals and do the voice for these kids. Being a part of something like that really gives you a lot of perspective on life.”
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