Awkwafina, other cast members on ‘The Bad Guys’ going from zero to hero
Appearances can be deceiving. The same cautionary message permeates the fun and breezy tale that fuels debuting French director Pierre Perifel’s star-studded heist caper “The Bad Guys,” which opens in local theaters on April 27.
Based on the series of well-loved children’s books by Aaron Blabey, the DreamWorks Animation production, released in the Philippines by Universal Pictures International, follows a crackerjack criminal crew of anthropomorphic animal outlaws who, inspired by Professor Marmalade’s (Richard Ayoade) much-coveted Good Samaritan Award, are about to attempt their most challenging con yet—becoming model citizens.
But the irrepressible quintet, composed of cool and charismatic pickpocket Mr. Wolf (voiced by Sam Rockwell), sarcastic safecracker Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), quick-tempered and wildly naive Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos) and sharp-tongued hacker Ms Tarantula aka Webs (Awkwafina), quickly realize that turning over a new leaf is no walk in the park.
The “change of heart” comes as a big shock to TV reporter Tiffany Fluffit (Lilly Singh) and Police Chief Misty Luggins (Alex Borstein), who’s always hot on The Bad Guys’ elusive trail.
The “curious” development doesn’t escape the attention of unflappable governor Diane Foxington (Zazie Beetz), who makes Mr. Wolf’s heart skip a beat when she isn’t encouraging him to do the right thing. She also has a secret identity—no spoilers here—that becomes crucial to the story.
Unknown to many, however, Mr. Wolf is hatching a sinister plan for him and his colleagues—who are just an epic job away from cementing their criminal legacy! But things take an interesting turn when a random act of “accidental” kindness puts the wag in Mr. Fox’s tail.
When we spoke to director Pierre Perifel, whom we interviewed along with the film’s exceptional voice cast for this exclusive interview, he told us how the movie came about.
He shared, “I love anthropomorphized animals—that’s such a traditional thing to see in animation, like the ones about Robin Hood in books and movies. I’ve always been fascinated by animals being depicted as humans.
“The thought of turning the graphic novel into a movie came when I saw the simple orange cover of the first book that Aaron had written. You see the four characters wearing suits on it, first without Mr. Tarantula, who came later—yes, the techie arachnid was originally male.
“The idea was so clear to me. You have five animal crooks that everybody around them is scared of—that was a powerful visual for me. I wanted to see them drive away in a car, like they’re in ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘Baby Driver,’ with strings of money flying behind them.
“The book starts when Wolf says, ‘We’re gonna go good,’ but the script began way before that … when we see the transformation of Mr. Wolf. I knew exactly what to do with that. So, after putting up this little trailer and presentation for the studio, that was the moment where everything just clicked.”
The movie is inspired by a children’s book, but it references mature films as its inspiration. It incorporates so many positive values for viewers of all ages to learn from, like redemption, self-sacrifice, calling out the good in others.
“These are values that I want my children to grow up with,” the filmmaker mused. “And it’s also important for us not to judge people without knowing their past or their background. We have to get to know them a little better before making our own opinion about who they are.
“In The Bad Guys’ case, they’re just seen as the antagonists of every story, but there’s more to them than villainy. The movie reinforces positive messages with a fun tale to watch—and that’s a great way to inspire the younger generation to be better and more compassionate people.”
‘A little good’
In another Q&A, Awkwafina said that she didn’t need a lot of convincing after reading the script and seeing some early images. “I thought that I really hadn’t seen anything like this in the animated world,” the actress admitted. “They’re very cool characters, and I love the cast.
“Ms Tarantula is a cybertech genius and hacker who gets to override all the security protocols and surveillance systems. She has a lot of character and can hang with the dudes. What I like the most about her is that she pretty much doesn’t care about what anyone thinks. She lives her life freely and is good at what she does.”
When the idea of Sam playing Mr. Wolf was pitched to the Oscar-winning actor (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”), he told the producers, “So it’s George Clooney meets Richard Pryor meets Steve McQueen—but with fur? Oh, I’m in!’
“A character starting off narrowly, seeing only what he can take from the world, and having a journey that leads him to seeing a much bigger picture that helps him realize what it truly means to be good … that is an arc we need more of right now. The world can use a little good.”
How different is the satisfaction an actor gets from doing voice-over work in animation compared to acting in a live-action feature or series?
“That’s an interesting question,” quipped Zazie. “I love doing voice-over work, but I do think the risk is lower, although the reward still feels great. In comparison to live action, if I see a finished project of mine, I feel so vulnerable. So, if it works out, it’s such a wild, euphoric high, whereas if it doesn’t work out, it’s a devastating low (laughs)!
“The stakes aren’t that extreme in animation because so many people are involved in its creation, so I feel like I’m just going along for the ride with them, and they’re letting me celebrate with them if it’s a success.”
Lilly agreed, “With live action, you kind of know what to expect because you were there when you shot the scenes. Doing animation is a little more exciting because you’re watching it like a viewer for the first time.
“Before seeing the finished product, you don’t know what the sets or the other characters look like—and you’re seeing all of this unfold. You don’t get that surprise factor in live action.”
Since The Bad Guys are creatures many people are scared of—a wolf, a shark, a snake, a piranha and a spider—we asked Zazie and Lilly about which animals or bugs they’re afraid of.
“I dislike spiders, and nothing will ever change that,” Lilly said, squirming. “I will say, however, that I used to be scared of sharks because they’re large and intimidating. Then, I went from zero to 100 after I swam with some sharks. They’re very majestic, sweet and calm creatures. That experience really changed my mind and is something I would gladly do again.”
Matter of perception
For her part, Zazie said she was won over by those furry, friendly canines. “I actually grew up quite afraid of dogs,” she disclosed. “I didn’t have dogs as pets growing. I actually grew up with felines. Cats and dogs just have very different ways of communicating.
“When I was younger, I just never understood dog communication, like the barking … which was something I didn’t know how to deal with. But then, I started getting exposed to pitbulls, and it has completely shifted my whole point of view on dogs.
“Pitbulls are categorized as these aggressive creatures, but they really are not. You need to have assertive energy, then they just follow your energy. They’re actually so loving and kind. And they are wonderful mothers. It’s all about how we train them.”
Indeed, while the animated film’s scary creatures are often perceived by many people as “scary” or “nasty,” but are they really bad?
Sometimes, it’s a matter of perception, explained Awkwafina. “I think that’s the bigger question that this movie confronts in a fun and cool way,” the Golden Globe-winning comedienne (“The Farewell”) mused. “We grow up being told to fear these animals. But just because they’re scary doesn’t mean they are necessarily bad.
“We all have our bad and good sides. I totally believe that people can change—but it must come from within. You have to want to change, and not just go to a camp about it.”