9: Shane Acker’s Visually-Driven Film, Produced by Tim Burton

“9,” directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton, is being released September 9, 2009 by Focus Features.

Although the feature would be voiced by well-known actors, Acker felt that “a lot of times, animated movies and their characters are broadly pitched. I wanted to make sure that we had subtlety, with our voiceover actors speaking with dramatic truth and more realistically. So the idea was to cast actors who themselves had key characteristics of the characters, and would speak with their own voice rather than ‘doing a voice.’”

Elijah Wood as #9

To voice the lead role of the newly born – and aborning hero — #9, Acker couldn’t help but have in mind an actor who was so central to the film set he had worked on years earlier in New Zealand – The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King star Elijah Wood. The director remarks, “For an actor who could play someone naïve yet unafraid to follow his instincts, and in so doing emerge as a leader, I knew I wanted Elijah. He was a natural fit.”

Wood says, “I was blown away by the short film, with its extraordinarily beautiful animation – of the kind you don’t come across often. I met with Shane and found him to have a very clear vision of what he wants.

“Playing a ‘stitchpunk’ creation was fun because he’s someone who is trying to navigate a journey of discovery through a world, and he looks at everything through an innocent’s eyes.”

John C. Reilly as #5

For the supportive #5, Academy Award nominee John C. Reilly was everyone’s first choice. Acker says, “In so many of the characters he’s portrayed, audiences identify with John because he has this everyman quality. People feel that they can walk in his shoes, and sense that he leads with his heart. John’s voice conveys all that and more.”

Wood adds, “When you get a chance to play opposite the other actor in voice sessions, it makes a difference – and John is amazing; I’ve always been a fan of his.”
Jennifer Connelly as #7

The female role of the rebellious #7, conceived by Pettler and whom Acker admiringly refers to as “a real character to be reckoned with,” was taken by Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly. “I have two kids,” she explains. “I watched the short film with them and they thought it was the coolest thing that they had seen. They watched it over and over again, so I couldn’t not be part of 9!

“The visuals and the design fascinated me. Shane kindly indulged all my questions like, ‘How the heck do you do this? How does that work?’ and — since I had never done voiceover before – ‘Let’s talk about that. Did you like it or not?’ He made me feel comfortable.”

Christopher Plummer as #1

Acker knew that the tribe’s commanding and occasionally manipulative leader, #1, had to be voiced by an actor who “could be powerful and imposing without shouting all the time. I sought out Christopher Plummer, who, happily, committed to play the role and then of course nailed it right from the first session. He had a deep understanding of the character, who has a large arc in the story.”

Lemley marvels, “Christopher brings such wisdom of experience to the part. He conveys #1’s majesty and also his vulnerability.”

Crispin Glover as #6

The role of #6 was more difficult to cast, as the character is a highly physical manifestation of the beings’ adaptation processes in that, as Acker notes, “#6’s fingers are composed of pen nibs, so he’s constantly drawing and then trying to figure out what it all means, by pulling at – and out – threads in his head.”

All of which posed a challenge for Crispin Glover’s voice performance. The actor reflects, “#6 goes through so much physical action that I would exert myself, too. I would ask Shane specific questions about what #6 wanted or why he was saying a particular thing, and he could tell me the subtext so I could play to that rather than just the exact lines. I knew how important it was to give variations so that things could fit together in the editing room.”

Kenway confirms, “I’d listen to all the dialogue takes and choose what I thought was the best one – and sometimes it was one word from one, another phrase from another…Shane would come in and listen to decide which assemblage to use.”

Martin Landau as #2

Martin Landau was initially drawn in because of the participation of his friend Burton, who had directed the actor to an Academy Award win in Ed Wood. “I do not do a lot of voiceover work, only what interests me,” comments Landau. “I saw 9 as a very special piece. I came in with some ideas that I suggested to Shane, and we were basically on the same page.”

Landau elaborates that he felt #2 “needed to be old – which I am – and spirited – which I often am. #2 hasn’t lost his marbles, but he sees things in his own head that he thinks other people understand.

“I feel that 9 is so creative and exciting, and it’s going to make people think a little bit while it entertains them.”
Fred Tatasciore as #8

Fred Tatasciore, who had studied animation at UCLA with Acker and became known there for his voiceover talents on other students’ films, was enlisted to voice #8, the “brawn to #1’s brain, if you will,” offers Acker. “Through Fred, the complexities of #8 are fully conveyed; #8 is not the quickest of intellect, but once a confrontation happens he’s the quickest to rise to the challenge.”