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Spies in Disguise Interview with Nick Bruno, Troy Quane and MASI OKA!

Thank you Disney for inviting me to the Spies in Disguise Press junket! Spies in Disguise is loosely based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 short Pigeon: Impossible, in which a pigeon accidentally takes control of the president’s nuclear football. Writers Cindy Davis, Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor crafted an entirely new adventure centering on the daring, and ultimately bizarre, exploits of too-cool-for-school secret agent Lance Sterling, played by two-time Oscar nominee Will Smith. We had a chance to interview co-directors Nick Bruno, Troy Quane and MASI OKA!

First round table was with Nick Bruno and Troy Quane:

1. How did this movie begin, and what made you guys want to take this on?

NICK BRUNO: I was working as Head of Animation on The Peanuts Movie, which was awhile ago, and I read the first draft of this script. What I fell in love with was that it had the promise of all of the big action spy movies and it had all of the fun tropes, but at its core, it’s really about working together. I loved having a story that tells that in a spy world, where nobody trusts each other and nobody works together. I really fell in love with the project and thought it could be a lot of fun and have a really good message, and had to work on it.

TROY QUANE: Same thing, I read the script in October of 2013, when I was still living out here in L.A. It was about a spy turning into a pigeon, which was crazy, but it was a spy movie, which is my favorite genre. It was this opportunity to make a really big, bold comedy, travel the world, and have action set pieces, but it had really great characters at its heart. The characters of Lance and Walter were really defined and felt like there was something really interesting to explore there, in this relationship. So, we packed up the carriages and rolled east, out to Connecticut, and moved to Blue Sky. That’s actually where I met Nick, when we came together on this film. Like Lance and Walter, we were a match made in heaven.

2. You guys have a lot of pigeon physical comedy in this. How does one approach that?

QUANE: Carefully. No. That was one of the really fun aspects. We were able to get into the movie from a completely different point of view, with the pigeon antics. Pigeons are those things that most people ignore, or think are gross, but they’re really phenomenal. That’s where Walter’s genius comes into play. As a spy, there’s no better thing to be than a pigeon. They’re in every major city, around the world, and people ignore them, for the most part, but they’ve got all kinds of really cool special abilities. Pigeons can fly really fast, up to 92.7 miles an hour. The only natural predator they have is the Peregrine falcon. Pigeons can bank it, almost 90 degrees, which is unbelievable. We’ve watched YouTube videos of them drafting behind cars in traffic. It’s unbelievable. They’ve got eyes on the side of their head, so they can see in almost 360 degrees. Nobody can sneak up behind them, which is a pretty cool thing, if you’re a spy. They can see UV light, so they can see infrared sensors and lasers. We just had a lot of fun with that. The idea of being able to see someone’s face and your butt, at the same time, became a really big joke in the movie. It was really important that we took Lance Sterling, who is this amazing human physical specimen, with broad shoulders, and who’s strong and sexy, and turned him into this really funny little dumpy bird shape was really important. Part of the fun of the pigeons was that all of the other animals in this world are just that. They’re animals. We really needed that grounding reality, so that you felt the difference of this human trapped in a pigeon body versus other real world pigeons. Lance is the only one who can talk. He’s got little eyebrows and you can read his expressions. It’s this idea of this agent that flies solo becoming a flock animal, and having to learn to deal with all these other quirky, crazy birds.

3. Did you watch any spy movies for inspiration on Spies in Disguise?

BRUNO: Yeah. We like to think of this movie as a love letter to all spy movies. We know that for kids, this might be their first real spy movie, so we wanted to do it justice. We did our research. We went back and watched all of the Bonds, the Bournes and the Hunts. There’s definitely some homages in there to some of the other movies, but at the same time, we wanted to do something different. Because it’s a movie for kids, we felt there was a responsibility to say something about teamwork. It’s not just about violence and an explosions. It’s really about how coming together can save the world.

4. In the end credits, you thank some of the Disney animators. What was their influence on this?

QUANE: With any movie you see, it takes a village. We’ve been on this movie for four and a half years, so it’s nice to sometimes get a bit of perspective. You think you’ve got it and that it’s working right, but it’s nice to get the opinions of people that you respect and appreciate to tell you how they feel about it and whether we’re on the right track. It was great. They were very positive.

Second round table was with MASI OKA.

1. How did this come your way?

OKA: The casting director, Christian Kaplan, invited me to audition for a different movie, actually, as a voice actor, and then said, “You know what? I think you’ll be perfect for this other thing that we have germinating. Would you mind just reading and doing a test?” I was like, “Sure, why not?” That’s how it started.

2. Did you draw any inspiration from any famous action villains?

OKA: Not really. Kimura is not really an action guy, per se. He tells what to do. There are all of these Japanese westerns, where you have the big boss, who sits in the back and tells all of his henchman, “Go get him!” That was pretty much my inspiration. He’s the guy who doesn’t do anything. He just watches all of his henchman do it. And of course, all of his henchmen die, and then he’s like, “Okay, I’ll take care of you, myself.”

3. What are your thoughts on the message of the film?

OKA: What’s great about this film is that there’s so much great messaging, like the idea of embracing your weirdness, which is just embracing your uniqueness. Everyone should follow their dreams and everyone should, in this day and age, be free to say what they want, but what makes you unique is you. I wanna thank everyone for being themselves, and I think people should be proud of who they are. You don’t have to be anyone else. Just really embrace your weirdness. That’s the theme of the film, and that’s a theme that resonates with kids and adults. That’s what’s great about this film. It’s not just for kids. There are so many adult themes. The humor targets both kids and adults. The whole family can see it. I grew up, raised by a single mother, and I was able to pursue my dreams and had all of that support from my mom. So, there were a lot of things that I related to, with the main character, in particular. Embracing yourself and embracing your weirdness is a really important message, especially in this day and age, where you could easily be influenced to give up who you are.

Spies in Disguise is now playing in theaters.

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