Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, and Jada Pinkett Smith Talk Madagascar and ParentingMeghan Pleticha
Dreamworks is coming out with a second installment of their Madagascar film, and in this one, they’re upping the ante. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, set to be released November 7th, follows the New York zoo animals from Madagascar to (surprise!) Africa, via an almost-working plane. The cast features a whole slew of new characters including Moto-moto (which means “hot hot” in Swahili), the superhunk hippo voiced by hip hop singer will.i.am, Alex’s father Zulu voiced by the late Bernie Mac, and a herd of zebra all voiced by Chris Rock (yes, all of them).
Babble went to a little pre-screening (we can confirm your kids will once again get to “move it move it”), and sat down with Ben Stiller, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock to talk kids in the studio, momtourages, and how tough it is to remember the names of all those Thomas trains. – Meghan Pleticha
What was it like having your kids come into the studio so young?
[Quinn’s] only three, and Ella’s six. They were sort wary of the situation – they don’t like to be told to do anything. [Laughs.] But then Quinn got in there, and he got in front of the microphone, there was a run of a minute where he just had fun and was making sounds, and we were saying, “Be happy! Now be sad!” And then he started to get a little bit intimidated by the microphone and the whole thing. And then that’s when you start to feel like this horrible stage parent. “Laugh, cry, cry,” stuff, you know. But I’m happy that they’re both in the movie. You realize if kids aren’t that comfortable with that situation you don’t wanna force them to do it. I was happy that they weren’t like, getting up there and going all Shirley Temple or something.
Would you like it if your kids got involved in show business?
If they wanted to, I would support it – it’s not the easiest business, and I think I would try to tell them the ups and downs, you know? But it’s the type of thing, if you love doing it, that’s why you should do it. I’ve encouraged them to go to college, though.
Does being an actor come in handy when you’re doing bedtime stories with the little ones?
I think every parent has to be an actor with their kids when they’re doing that. You have to commit fully, and you don’t care, because they’re the audience, and you want them to be happy – and my kids love to be told stories, my son especially. So if you can make them laugh, or you can get them into that mode where they’re into it, then yeah, you use whatever abilities you have.
When you come back home after a long day shooting and they ask you, “Can you read me a story, daddy?” how do you tell it?
It’s always great to see your kids after you’re working. It’s always such a fresh, new, energy, and it’s just pure love, that’s all – it’s nice. My son likes to hear stories over and over again sometimes. And he has this thing with the Thomas trains, he knows all the names of the trains, which – there are a lot of them. So, he likes to have stories told to him that involve the Thomas trains. And, you know, the hard thing is remembering the names of all the trains. ‘Cause he knows them inside out, and there’s, you know, hundreds. Well, not hundreds, but, maybe fifty, sixty. They keep coming up with new ones. So there’s the stress of trying to remember, because if you get the names wrong, he’ll correct you. And then sometimes I’ll fall asleep while I’m telling the story, and then I’ll like, fall into my subconscious and I’m talking and not making sense, and then he’ll say to me, “You know, you’re not making sense,” and then I’ll wake up.
So, what do you do to balance work and family?
You just have to be aware of it. Being together no matter what is probably the biggest thing. This summer I’ve been up shooting in Vancouver and the family’s been up there all summer, so we’ve been together. You just have to try to plan your life accordingly, and make sure that you know how long you can go without seeing them, which is not too long.
Did your kids like the first Madagascar movie?
Yeah, they did. I don’t think they’re any more connected to it because I’m in it; I think they just like the movie. They know that it’s my voice, but they get wrapped in just watching the story and the characters, so you don’t wanna keep on reminding them, “That’s me, that’s me!”
Are they excited to see the characters with their voices?
I don’t know if Quinn is gonna quite get it ’cause he’s so young, but I think Ella will be excited.
Have you had a favorite dad moment in the past few months?
Gosh, you know, there are a lot of great ones. We all went to the playground yesterday on the Upper West Side where I grew up going. And it’s fun as a dad to be able to take my kids there, having gone there as a kid. I love feeling that connection and that continuity.
Was it easy for you to slip back into the role of Marty?
Well, you know, took a while for me to dust off that zebra suit. Yeah, it’s, like, you’re always in Marty. I have kids, and I go to a lot of birthday parties and junk. So everybody always wants a Marty impression. So I stayed in shape doing that the last few years.
You voiced all of the zebras in the movie – is that weird, keeping track of which zebra you were doing?
For some of them, I definitely had to change voices. But some it was the mics: okay, this one’s mic-ed this way, this one’s mic-ed that way, this one has an old mic, this one has a little reverb.
But you didn’t feel like you needed to create a different character back story for each of them? “When I was in Bee Movie, my daughter Zaro was upset that I wasn’t a bee. ‘How come you were a mosquito?'”
A little bit. But I think they got lost in the cut.
How did you get in touch with the carelessness of Marty when you began to work on the character?
Care – I’m a comedian. I’m pretty careless all the time anyway. I don’t know. You’re playing a zebra in a booth. It’s no time to be serious.
What makes your kids laugh?
Me. [Laughs] My kids, they watch that Hannah Montana. That Hannah Montana’s big. Corey in the House is big.
Did they like the first Madagascar ?
Oh, they loved the first movie. Kids love that movie.
Did they have any special requests for this movie?
No, no. They’re happy. It’s weird. When I was in Bee Movie, my daughter Zaro was upset that I wasn’t a bee. “How come you were a mosquito? How come you weren’t a bee? It’s the Bee Movie.” Sorry, kid.
What’s been your favorite moment in the last few months where you’ve been really proud to just be a dad?
Every day I’m proud to be a dad. Every morning. [My daughter is] off from camp this week. And when I get back, we’re gonna go to the car wash. And, you know, whatever. That’s the thing when you have kids. There’s no such thing as quality time when you’re a parent. “We’re gonna spend quality time.” Those are bad parents. It’s just time. It’s all good. There’s no, “Ooh, his graduation’s better than going to the mall.” It’s all kind of equal. Changing a diaper and walking and her winning a contest or whatever – it’s all good. There’s no bad parts about it.
Do you think your comedy’s changed since you’ve had kids?
A little bit. A little bit. Not, like mellowed out or anything. Just – I’m just older and I just have a little bit more to talk about.
Are your kids intrigued by what you do? Like, do they wanna do some acting?
I don’t think so. I mean, they’re intrigued by my voice in a movie. Sometimes I take them on tour with me and let them see me walk onstage. They can’t really see the act. They see me go out. Wow. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. Look at all those people. You know, they do sound check and whatnot. But there’ll be no show business with my family.
What do you do to balance work and family?
I guess my wife handles more of the balance. I gotta work. And you’re not just working to take care of them. You’re working to take care of them in the event something happens to you. As a dad, not only are you responsible for your wife and kids, if you die and they have to move four years later, you’re a bad father. You’re really responsible for these people. So, yeah, there’s no balance for me. I work, work, work. When I’m off work, I spend time with my family.
There are a lot of new characters in this movie. Which one is your favorite?
The Bernie Mac character, sadly. When I saw it, it was like, “Aw, he’s perfect. He’s perfect,” because he’s a pontificator anyway. He was just that guy. He’s kind of like Paulie in Goodfellas. Gotta give Paulie his cut.
Is there a gift that he gave you that you will carry with you through your life?
He just really, really, really, really made me laugh. I just always respect Bernie ’cause he stuck to his gun. He didn’t change anything to become famous. He just became famous as Bernie Mac, as this guy who wears lavender suits and does his dirty jokes and he never, ever, ever turned his back on Bernie Mac to get famous.
Do you feel like that’s hard to do?
It depends on who you are. I would say only bad people have to try to be good. Good people just are. Like, you find it hard to not steal? No. If I was a thief, it would be really hard.
What do you think about the love story between Gloria, a hippo, and a Melmen, a giraffe?
Let’s hope it works out. You get old enough – all love’s good. You know, you’re young – you dissect love. I don’t know if that’s gonna work. You get a little older. You’re like, “Whatever works.” You’re a giraffe, you’re a hippo. Fine. Fine.
Have you been to the Central Park Zoo with your kids?
Thousand times. And I gotta get a membership, you know? I still don’t have a membership. So I end up waiting on this long line. And I’m, like, “Hey, I’m Marty.” I’m Marty, I should be getting right in here.
JADA PINKETT SMITH
It’s great to see Gloria hold down with all the other male leads. What attracted you to her character? And what do you hope she represents for the audience?
When you’re a genuine person, you can roll in any circle, you know? Whether it’s girls and dudes, cats, dogs. What I love about Gloria most is that she’s comfortable in her own skin. That’s what makes Gloria fabulous – she just loves being Gloria.
She has a very strong personality and a hell of a lot of self-esteem. Apparently, you do, too?
Oh, I try. It’s taken me years. Thirty-seven years. By golly-
What was it like having your daughter in the studio?
Oh, that was so cute. Because she’d been asking, “So, how does that work? How does the animation thing work? Mommy, what happens?” I’m like, “Oh, boy.” So, it was great when I got the phone call saying, “Would Willow like to play little Gloria?” And so she got to come in, do some lines, and she got to see the process for herself. “I’ve learned that I’m a much better mother when I take time for myself.”
Will has talked about the kids being in show business and having their own sort of careers. Is it something that they’re going to continue with?
I know it’s something they want to do now. I don’t know if it’s something they’ll still want to do as they go on and the padding of the parental worlds starts to fall away. But I do know that it’s a good experience for them right now. And that we are in a position that we can protect them from certain things.
But they’ve learned a lot, having the opportunity to work. Now they know what it means to work and make your own money and spend your own money. And the hard work it takes to make money. And now they understand what Mommy and Daddy, what we do. So, they have much more appreciation. Like, when they know we’re going to work, they know what that means. So now we share this kind of reality together – which is really, really nice, when you can have kids that are like, “How was your day, Mommy? Are you okay?” And so, we’ll see, as they get older. For all I know, my son’ll be like, “Forget it. I’m moving to Hawaii . I want to become a professional surfer.”
Could you talk about who is in your mom-tourage? Like, the people that help you balance being a mom, a singer, an actress?
I have a lot of family. My mother, I would have to say is probably the core person, because she travels with me everywhere. So, if the kids are working, she’s with me on the set. If I’m not on the set, my mother is on the set. If Will’s not on the set, my mother’s on the set. And my mother is a soldier. “No, he cannot have candy. Jaden, you still have two hours of school you have to do.” She’s even more structured than I am. She keeps me in line. And then I have Myrna. She’s been with my family now for fifteen years. And Daisy too. Daisy actually helped raise my son Trey. She’s been a part of our family for sixteen years. So, we have quite a nice little tribe. And then there’s Will’s mom, who comes out and helps sometime. And then I have my girlfriend, Vonne, who’s been my friend for, I don’t know, twenty years. So, we’re surrounded by family.
Is it tricky to find time alone just for you?
It used to be. It’s not anymore. I really just take the time. I just say, you know, “Mommy’s out.” You know, to just have quiet time. Even trips like this -I’m here by myself. I’m only here for one day, but I’m here by myself. I got to sleep in the bed myself. I got the ride on the plane.
So, that type of time is very valuable, you know? But I just take it. And it’s very important because we put out so much. Women – we put out so much. And it’s so important that we plug in somewhere. A lot of times, people try to make it seem as though that’s not important. Like, you’ve just gotta give, give, give, give. And if you don’t, then that makes you a bad mom and a bad person, if you even want to take a sliver of time for yourself.
And what I’ve learned is that I’m a much better mother, and a much better wife when I have time to be able to go and just collect myself. And my husband has learned and my kids have learned that they receive the rewards of Mommy having time to herself. It’s not fun when Mommy goes away; my husband’s like, “Oooh, I don’t know” and the kids are like, “Mommy, don’t leave.” But once I come back, and I’m ready, it’s all good.
Did your kids like the first movie?
They did. They loved it. My oldest son did; I was really shocked. “Mom, I wanna bring my friends over and I wanna screen Madagascar.” I’m like, “Are you serious?” So that was quite a joy on the first one. ‘Cause I was just expecting the little ones to love it, you know? My thirteen-year-old was like, “Yeah, I wanna have a screening for my friends.” Will was like, “Whoa. Stand in the cool box with the teenager.” So, that was cool.