Home » Jacob Tremblay on Breathing Life Into ‘My Father’s Dragon’ – Exclusive Interview

Jacob Tremblay on Breathing Life Into ‘My Father’s Dragon’ – Exclusive Interview

by Beatrine Shahzad
Actor Jacob Tremblay on the BFI London Film Festival red carpet premiere of the Netflix and Cartoon Saloon original animated film MY FATHER'S DRAGON.

At only 16, Jacob Tremblay is already a star. Since his heartfelt and raw performance in Room (2015), his career has been on nothing but an upward trajectory. From family-friendly flicks such as Wonder and Luca to darker films like Doctor Sleep and The Predator, he’s dabbled in it all. Jacob Tremblay’s most recent project is My Father’s Dragon, a new animated film from Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon and Netflix based on the original story from author Ruth Stiles Gannett. Director Nora Twomey (The Secret of Kells) and screenwriter Meg LeFauve (Inside Out) bring forth a worthy adaptation of Gannett’s Newbery-honored children’s book.

My Father’s Dragon follows a determined boy named Elmer as he attempts to rescue a young dragon named Boris, voiced by Gaten Matarazzo, from a sinking island. Wonderfully whimsical and emotionally resonate, it’s another strong entry that lives up to Cartoon Saloon’s oscar-nominated lineup of films which includes Song of the Sea, The Breadwinner, and last year’s Wolfwalkers. Elmer’s adventures on this mysterious island introduce him to an ensemble of ferocious beasts, voiced by Alan Cumming, Dianne Wiest, Ian McShane, Jackie Earle Haley, Chris O’Dowd, Judy Greer, Rita Moreno, and Whoopi Goldberg.

In honor of My Father’s Dragon reaching its audience on Netflix, we sat down with Jacob Tremblay to discuss his experience lending his voice as Elmer. The young star enthusiastically dives into his career as a voice actor, working with both Pixar and Cartoon Saloon, his favorite movies, and what he hopes the future holds for him in live-action film roles.

So My Father’s Dragon is a very lovely little movie, how do you connect to it personally?

Jacob Tremblay: I really connected to the character of Elmer. He’s so ambitious and I really love that about him. The dynamic between Boris and Elmer I thought was so, so entertaining and so powerful and emotional. I really wanted to be a part of that. Especially when I found out that Gaten was going to be voicing Boris. That was very exciting because I’m a big fan of his and I think he’s a fantastic actor. We got to record together and it all just was amazing.

Was that your favorite part of doing it, recording with him? Or what was your favorite part of making My Father’s Dragon?

Jacob Tremblay: Yeah, I would definitely say that my favorite part was being able to do it in person with Gaten [Matarazzo] because Nora [Twomey], the director, she was also there. So it was three of us in this recording room and we just had so much fun playing with it. Typically for animation, there isn’t so much improv due to it being a script, you have to follow the script because obviously, it’s different than live-action because you’re not there in person. But what I loved about recording this animation is that we actually had a lot of room for improv and making the lines our own, which is great.

Obviously, this is not your first voice-acting role. How is doing work for Cartoon Saloon different from doing voice work for Pixar or the Walt Disney Company?

Jacob Tremblay: I actually recorded My Father’s Dragon before I recorded Luca. Which is interesting because I think it takes them about a week to animate four seconds, My Father’s Dragon, since it’s 2D animation, hand drawn on the computer, so it’s extra. I was 13 back when I recorded this, it took a long time for it to come out. It was my first big animation project, so I actually ended up learning so much from it. The main difference to me, My Father’s Dragon versus Luca, was for Luca, that was in the midst of COVID, so I had to do all the recording over Zoom. But from My Father’s Dragon, I really was there in person getting to be with Nora and Gaten.

The kid boy Elmer voiced by Jacob Tremblay embraces Boris the young dragon voiced by Gaten Matarazzo in the Netflix and Cartoon Saloon animated film MY FATHER'S DRAGON.
‘My Father’s Dragon’ courtesy of Netflix

So, what do you think you learned?

Jacob Tremblay: I learned how to really elevate my voice. Because in live-action, you can actually be there in person and in costume and that really helps you get into character. But for animation, you don’t really have that. Nora was such a fantastic director. She really helped me guide my emotions, and told me where to put it in, like how to put it in the right places. In some scenes, Elmer, he’s really putting on like this “businessman” trying to sell these tigers some lollipops so they don’t eat him. That was a learning curve scene for me because I really had to put myself in a spot where I’m really desperately trying to sell these lollipops and it was difficult at first. But with Nora there, she really taught me how to project.

Your past couple of projects have been all animated. Was that intentional on your part?

Jacob Tremblay: I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily intentional. Obviously during COVID, the whole animation process, it’s pretty easy to be able to slip into the recording studio and just record. I love animation, though, because I feel like there are some things that you can do in animation that you can’t necessarily do in live-action and I think it also works vice versa sometimes. It’s been a fun experience for sure.

What are your favorite animated movies then?

Jacob Tremblay: Great question. I think my favorite animated movie is probably Cars, the Pixar one. Ever since I was a little boy, I just love that movie so much. It’s always been very close to my heart.

While you say that you like animated movies, which is obvious because you do so many, a lot of your live-action films are on the exact opposite spot side of the spectrum. They’re either horror movies, thrillers, or more mature. What’s the dichotomy there? What draws you to those kinds of projects?

Jacob Tremblay: I just like doing all different types of movies. Really intense films are very challenging for me and I love a good challenge, which is why I kind of gravitate toward them. But I also love doing more fun movies like Good Boys, which is a comedy. That one was really fun for me. I love to really invest in a character. What inspires me to do a good performance is to try and create a character that’s unrecognizable – when they’re looking at this character, they’re not looking at Jacob, they’re looking at this character completely. That’s the ultimate goal for me.

You’ve worked with a lot of established actors over the span of your career. What do you think is the most helpful piece of advice that you’ve gotten from any of them?

Jacob Tremblay: At such a young age, you’re absolutely right. I’ve learned so much from being able to work with such talented actors. Working with Brie Larson in Room, she just taught me to just really let go. I was so young and so nervous but she taught me it’s okay to just let go and have fun with it. And that helped with the role so much because it’s the character himself. He’s so playful, so it was really important for me to know how to play in that sense.

I have to ask, what has been your favorite movie of 2022?

Jacob Tremblay: The Batman that came out, was that 2021?

It came out in March, earlier in the year.

Jacob Tremblay: Yeah, that was definitely my favorite movie of 2022 so far. I really love that movie. We were all waiting for it to come out for so long, so I was really excited for it. When I saw it, it really met my expectations. That was definitely my favorite movie for sure.

Is it because there’s a car chase in it? I see a pattern here. 

Jacob Tremblay: The car chase was amazing. The car chase was absolutely amazing. I find myself rewatching that scene all the time. It’s so good!

Final question, what’s next? What are some of your goals as an actor?

Jacob Tremblay: I would love to maybe play a more dramatic role. I haven’t done that in a real while, to invest really deep into a character. That’s something that I’m really passionate about, and really looking forward to in my future, and those types of characters.

You have a couple of films coming out soon to be excited about, right?

Jacob Tremblay: I think The Little Mermaid is the biggest one that I’m actually really excited about because, just like My Father’s Dragon, I recorded that one so long ago. So I’m really looking forward to that one to come out. Everyone on that movie did a fantastic job. 

My Father’s Dragon is now streaming on Netflix!

Follow writer Beatrine Shahzad on Twitter: @beyabean

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