Four years have gone by since we last saw Berk on the big screen. This summer, writer/director Dean DeBlois and star Jay Baruchel return with How To Train Your Dragon 2. The duo participated in a press conference during WonderCon, where they had some things to say about the upcoming sequel, Cate Blanchett‘s role in the film, and how the franchise will continue to evolve.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about how things have changed since the first movie?
Dean DeBlois: Well, we’ve advanced the story five years after the first film because Hiccup had everything he wanted at the end of the first movie. He had the admiration of his father and the respect of the town and the affection of Astrid. So when we looked to give him a new problem, we looked at our own journeys through life and realized that there’s that moment when you look back at childhood with longing and realize that the future is daunting because you have to become an adult. Hiccup is being groomed to become a chief, and that seems like a very dull and unexciting future. So it’s really about discovering the other half of his soul and he expresses that by constantly mapping and exploring uncharted islands and finding new dragons and finding new conflicts.
Q: Sequels tend to be more ambitious. How has the scope of this movie changed from the first film?
DeBlois: The scope gets really big in this movie. What Hiccup discovers while he’s out mapping the world is that there’s a brewing conflict, that conflict being incited by a very ambitious conqueror, Drago Bludvist, who’s looking to build a dragon army and he’s played by Djimon Hounsou. He employs dragon trappers. And one of the self-declared best dragon trappers is Eret, Son of Eret, played by Kit Harington. He’s a guy with some misplaced loyalty. And then there’s the third character, Valka, Hiccup’s mom, played by Cate Blanchett, who’s waging this one-woman war against Drago by rescuing those dragons and whisking them back to a sanctuary where she mends them back to health.
Q: Could you talk a bit about Cate Blanchett’s involvement and how she comes into the story?
DeBlois: We had hoped that that was going to remain a secret until people saw the movie. I think Hiccup realizing that a part of him is missing is drawn from the first movie, this idea of his mother and ‘Where is she?’ We thought it’d be interesting if she was missing for 20 years, and in those 20 years she’s been living with dragons and learning their ways and discovering their secrets and becoming their fierce protector. And if Hiccup were to run into this interesting, exciting person who’s living this dragon-centric life, how would he react? It’s really about him expanding his own self-discovery.
Q: How does the television series factor in to the movie franchise? Will the stories intersect at some point?
Jay Baruchel: One of the cool things about the TV show is that we get to go into everyday life. What the TV show gives us is the opportunity to put the audience in that neighborhood and the islands and see what life is like every day.
DeBlois: The idea of doing a sequel needed to be necessary to me. I think there were enough unanswered questions in the first movie that there was more story to be told, but my pitch was that it be a trilogy and the second movie would be like the middle act of a three-part story. It will culminate in a very finite way.
Q: Jay, how did you become involved with the TV series?
Baruchel: Well for me there was no question. I didn’t want anyone else to play the role. I think part of the actor’s job is to take ownership of the character and to be defensive and protective and all that stuff. So when it was first mentioned that Hiccup might have a life on television, I was very interested. What was cool about the TV show is that it takes place in between the two movies, so when we’re done with the franchise we’ll have given the world a very full, complete story. Selfishly, it’s kept me in that mind space. A lot of people have been asking me what it’s like to come back to this world and my answer is, “I never left.” I love that we’re creating this full, bulky multimedia world.
Q: Is there anything you do differently to prepare to do voice-work?
Baruchel: My getting ready involves waking up, taking a shower and going in there. Sometimes I don’t even shower, because I don’t have to. I don’t have to put makeup on or a costume or anything. Sometimes I give myself a mission to not shower for two weeks if I’m going to be in a room with [Dean] for a few hours. I adore it. When I started acting I was 12, and one of the first gigs I had was dubbing shows from French to English in Montreal. Dubbing is about as thankless and labor intensive as voice acting gets. This is just a dream. I love it because I have a pretty overactive imagination and I’m a chronic daydreamer, and being in that booth that’s what’s required because there are no actual dragons in front of me… nor in the world, I suspect.
Q: Was it challenging to do the voice acting with the other actors?
Baruchel: No. I think in this one I was in the same room with another actor once. But here’s the thing, this is a fairly international cast and a big cast so some of us are in Australia, some of us are in Canada, some of us are in the States, in different parts of the States. One of the cool things about voice acting is that sort of stuff doesn’t step in the way of things. We can still find a way to create with one another and all that stuff. For me, I’m usually in isolation.
DeBlois: It’s nice when we can get actors together because you can let them run the scene and step on each other’s lines and sometimes go off script if it feels right. I think the voice acting in animation is the only spontaneous element. Everything else is so meticulously planned and executed and happens over the course of several years. I encourage it whenever I can.
Q: What is the process of creating the dragons in the movie?
DeBlois: We have a group of dragons that were designed to fill the backspace, because Valka has a dragon sanctuary filled with dragons she’s rescued. And we actually came up with a modular system for it by pairing different bodies with wings and tails and coming up with endless varieties that way. They are the background in a sense, these thousands of new dragons. Featured, there are about the same number of dragons as from the first film who have hero moments that really well-rigged and well thought out.
Q: Having played the character for so long, are you allowed a certain amount of input?
Baruchel: I’d like to think so. They could be humoring me for all I know.
DeBlois: Hiccup is so similar to Jay that whenever I have a question about how or what he might say, I give up the fight because I know I may have heard it a certain way in my head, but that’s just me second-guessing him. He’s the greatest authority on the character. I try to get it in the neighborhood and he takes it home.
Q: Dean, do you do any of the voices in the film?
DeBlois: No. I do a lot of the temporary voicing. In fact, I’m the temporary voice of Hiccup until Jay comes in. It’s horrible and embarrassing and I’d never let any of you hear it. I’m not an actor and I’m very happy to hand it over to Jay.
Baruchel: [grinning] It makes my life wonderful. I look forward to it so much. His temp work in this—[bursts into laughter]. It’s the reason I get up the morning, are you kidding me?
Q: What’s the plan for the franchise going forward?
DeBlois: I know that they’re preparing for a third season of the TV show, but I don’t know if it’s been greenlit yet. The idea of the third season would actually begin to help set up the second movie. They’ve done two seasons that intentionally weren’t stepping on our toes in terms of the surprises and reveals that we have, and now that the second movie will be out there, the third season could get closer to setups of those things and hopefully create a seamless narrative. I know there has been talk about expanding the universe with young adult novels that would explore different characters and different backstories. That’s all stuff to come, and there’s a lot of ambition to keep developing the world and going as far as we can.
How To Train Your Dragon 2 will arrive in theaters June 13, with the third movie slated for June 17, 2016.