Set in the mythical world of burly Vikings and wild dragons, and based on the book by Cressida Cowell, “How to Train Your Dragon” is an animated movie series that tells the story of Hiccup (voiced by Jay Baruchel), a Viking teenager who doesn’t exactly fit in with his tribe’s longstanding tradition of heroic dragon slayers. Hiccup’s world is turned upside down when he encounters a dragon that challenges him and his fellow Vikings to see the world from an entirely different point of view.
“How to Train Your Dragon” has an all-star voice cast that also includes Gerard Butler (who plays Stoick the Vast, Hiccup’s father), America Ferrera (who plays Astrid Hofferson, Hiccup’s girlfriend), Jonah Hill (who plays Snotlout Jorgenson), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (who plays Fishlegs Ingerman), Craig Ferguson (who plays Gobber the Belch, Stoick’s best friend) and Kristen Wiig and T.J. Miller (who play fraternal twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut Thorston).
“How to Train Your Dragon 2” takes place five years after the first “How to Train Your Dragon” movie and includes the addition of new voice cast members Cate Blanchett (who plays Valka, Hiccup’s long-lost mother), Djimon Hounsou (who plays Drago Bludvist, a dragon hunter) and Kit Harington (who plays Eret, a dragon trapper). Here is what Butler, Ferguson, Hounsou and Harington said at a “How to Train Your Dragon 2” press conference in Los Angeles.
Gerard, how has Stoick changed since the first “How to Train Your Dragon” movie?
Butler: At the beginning of the movie, you meet a Stoick who’s much more relaxed and having fun. The pressure is off. There’s not a constant war with the dragons. And his son’s doing great. He’s not the weird, effeminate boy that he was.
It’s a different world, full of fun and adventure. But his time is coming to an end, so Stoick wants to pass on the mantle to Hiccup. It’s time for Hiccup to not just show he can slay dragons, which he’s done, but also show he can be a leader.
Craig, how does Gobber feel about this new world where Vikings and dragons are co-existing?
Ferguson: Well, I think that Gobber is very excited that there’s a new air of tolerance and good feeling around, so much so that he lets slip a little secret about himself, at one point during the film. He’s also excited about the changes. He feels more upbeat, at the start of the film, not knowing that something really bad is coming down the pipe.
When Gobber does let that secret about himself slip, was that ad-libbed or was that scripted?
Ferguson: It was an ad-lib in the recording session. It’s funny how people take different things from it. Gobber is watching Stoick and Valka having a fight. The line I had was when I turn to Hiccup and say, “See, this is why I never married.”
And I ad-libbed the line, “And there’s one other reason.” Then, we laughed and I said, “Gobber is coming out,” and [“How to Train Your Dragon” 2 writer/director] Dean [DeBlois] said, “Oh, yeah, great! Why not?!”
But when Gerry saw the movie, he thought it was because I’d had an amputated arm and an amputated leg. So he thought that I’d had my junk amputated and that’s why I never got married. I think that tells you more about Gerry than it does tell you about the story.
Djimon, how did you come up with the voice for Drago Bludvist?
Hounsou: For Drago, I felt extremely challenged. I remember seeing the first one and I thought, “Wow, Gerry’s voice has so much power and such a presence in the story.” So when I got called in for this, I thought I had to outdo him and challenge him. I was anticipating a serious fight with him.
Kit, what’s it like to be new to such a popular franchise? And why do you think people love it so much?
Harington: It’s like any successful animated film, in that it’s not just a kids’ film. It deals with some very adult issues. The really interesting thing is the estranged parents. I haven’t seen many animated films where they deal with something that so many kids in our world deal with, in having parents that are split up.
The single father is bringing up the son, and there’s an estranged mother. I think that’s great for kids to go and see two parents dealing with it, badly and well. That’s something they can relate to.
But I think the reason that it’s so successful is that kids love fantasy. They show a young boy growing up with a specific talent that they can aspire to have. And then, in the second movie, he’s being taken through his teenage years. This movie is aiming towards teenagers and the strife that teenagers go through.
Gerard, what do you think the relationship between Stoick and Hiccup teaches audiences about fatherhood?
Butler: I think that Stoick wants to teach Hiccup that there’s a time for fun and games. Hiccup has proved himself. Stoick picks up that there’s a different way to deal with challenges, that the younger generation can actually show the older generation. At the same time, he’s now off adventuring and he has different views about how to deal with these new challenges.
Stoick is trying to teach Hiccup about a different type of responsibility, where it’s not just about how you would like to deal with something, but thinking about the other people around you, as well. He has the future of other people to consider. He can’t just deal with it always in his own headstrong way, but that’s Stoick’s own headstrong opinion about how he should do it.
He’s not always right in those situations, either. What’s important is that you just see the love that he has for his boy, and the love that everybody has for everybody in this movie. They might not always agree or see eye-to-eye, but everybody really wants the best for each other, except for Drago Bludvist.
How do you view the relationship between Stoick and Valka?
Butler: In actual fact, it’s one of the reasons I think people are getting so much out of the movie. Visually, it’s incredible, but it’s the story itself. And it goes to deeper and darker places than most animated movies would dare to go. It addresses separation and abandonment.
In a way, Valka abandoned her child. She’s apologetic about it, and she had a deeper cause that she wanted to fight for, but she could have returned, or even checked up on him to see how he was doing. She never did.
There was always this part of me where I wanted to say, “Where were you?! What the hell? Not even a hello? I’m making helmets out of your breastplate, and you’re having a blast tickling dragons under the chin!” But it’s so emotional.
And by the way, I’ve got to tell you, I didn’t see my father for 14 years. I didn’t even know he was alive. And then, he turned up, out of the blue. Just before, I went to my mum and said, “I’m never going to see my dad again, am I?,”
And she said, “No, I don’t think so.” And then, I came home one night and my stepfather said, “Keep your jacket on. You’re going to town. Your dad’s here.” I had to go into this restaurant and walk around, going from table to table, literally looking at men and going, “Is that my dad? Is that my dad? Is that my dad?”
And he finally stood up, and he was the weirdest looking guy in the restaurant. So that part of the movie was quite profound for me. To be honest, not just for me, but it’s profound for a lot of people to imagine a parent that you didn’t think was there, or the love of your life that you thought was gone, is actually alive and well, and there’s a chance to rekindle everything that you thought was lost in your life.
What was it like to go back into the recording booth this second “How to Train Your Dragon” movie, and did you get to meet Cate Blanchett?
Butler: Well, I’ve met Cate before, but I never met her on this movie. I want to say that we did all of our scenes together and they were magical, but that’s not true. Craig and I recorded together in the first one, and I wish that we could do that more.
There was one day that we had with Jay [Baruchel], and we had a blast. But with this movie, we didn’t get a chance. It was fine. You know who you are, you know the voice, and you know the guy. You can throw out extra things a little bit more, and you can play with it more.
What’s cool about the movie is that it’s a progression. There’s already a momentum from the first one that can kill you, if you don’t live up to that. But if you get it right and put a lot of thought into where you can take those characters, than that momentum becomes something really powerful. And that’s what they did with this movie. We had a chance to go richer and deeper into a really cool story.
Djimon, why did you want to get involved with this particular film franchise?
Hounsou: Having a son, you want to keep your legacy going, and certainly being a part of one of these animated features is quite important. I saw the first one with my son, but never dreamed of being in the second one.
How did you gauge just how scary you would go with the voice? Did you ever think about not making it too scary for kids?
Hounsou: When I realized that my character would have some sort of confrontation with Gerry, I thought, “Wow!” With a name like Drago Bludvist, it takes you there. I could not limit myself, as far as how much you’re giving to a character like that because you’re dealing with kids. Obviously, he’s a bad guy, so you have to stay with that. You can’t polish it and tone it down, just because you’re doing a film for kids. You’re still a bad guy.
How surprised were you by the worldwide success of the first “How to Train Your Dragon” film? And what was your impression of the final cut for the sequel?
Hounsou: I was quite pleasantly blown away. Before seeing the film for the first time in Cannes, one of the executives walked into the room and said, “If you haven’t seen it in 3-D, you haven’t seen the movie.” It’s unbelievable.
Butler: I’ve got to tell you, the first one is one of my favorite movies, ever. I just was so blown away with it, and all the more so because most of the stuff that made it incredible, I had nothing to do with. When I went to see the movie, I was like, “What did they do with this thing?!”
It was amazing! The movie actually opened not very well, but then ended up doing 10 or 15 times what it did opening weekend, when most movies only do three times. That’s a testament to how phenomenal it was.
And then, because I’m a worrier, I just worried, once we were making the second, about how it was possibly going to live up to that, but they constantly surprised us. I think the second one is even better. It pushes the limits and stakes, in so many ways.
The animation has come along so much, and they’ve made absolute beautiful use of that to make this visually exhilarating ride that you go on, and yet never shied away from bringing up darker issues and keeping it really exciting and emotional. I was just blown away. I’ve now seen it with two audiences, and it’s great to watch with an audience because they get so into it, with everybody crying or cheering. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
What’s next for all of you?
Butler: I just finished a movie two days ago, called “Gods of Egypt,” which is a huge, big “Avatar” meets “The Lord of the Rings”-style movie. I’m playing the villain, the god Set. It’s cool.
I kill my brother, who in Egyptian mythology was probably my sister or my lover, as well. I kill my father, I kill my wife, and then I kill pretty much everybody else. That was fun to play. And it’s a really magical world, as well.
And then, I’m doing the sequel “London Has Fallen.” And I’m doing a Dean Devlin movie, “Geostorm,” which is a huge, epic movie about building a whole system of satellites around the planet because of global warming. I’m excited about that one too. So I have a few movies coming up.
Ferguson: I’m thinking about getting a cat, but I don’t know if I will.
Hounsou: I have “Guardians of the Galaxy.” I’m a humanoid and killing machine.
Harington: I just finished a couple of films in England, and I’d never done a film in England before, so that was a new thing for me. And I’m excited about those. Those come out next year. And I’ve got the never-ending [“Game of”] Thrones. I’ll get back to that in late July. And then, for next year, I have no idea. We’ll see.
Ferguson: You can get a cat!
Harington: I’ll get a cat.
For more info: “How to Train Your Dragon 2” website