MY FATHER'S DRAGON Interview With Star Jacob Tremblay And Oscar-Winning Director Nora Twomey (Exclusive)

My Father's Dragon arrives on Netflix this Friday, and we recently sat down for a fun and insightful conversation with lead star Jacob Tremblay and director Nora Twomey to discuss this gorgeous animation!

Interviews Opinion

From five-time Academy Award-nominated animation studio Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, Wolfwalkers) and Academy Award-nominated director Nora Twomey (The Breadwinner), comes an exquisite film inspired by the Newbery-honored children's book from author Ruth Stiles Gannett, My Father's Dragon.

Struggling to cope after a move to the city with his mother, Elmer (Jacob Tremblay, Room) runs away in search of Wild Island and a young dragon, Boris (Gaten Matarazzo, Stranger Things), who waits to be rescued. Elmer's adventures introduce him to ferocious beasts, a mysterious island and the friendship of a lifetime. 

Last month, we spoke with Jacob and Nora about their collaboration on the new Netflix movie ahead of its November 11 release, learning more about how they both approached this animated adaptation of Ruth Stiles Gannett's classic book.

They also talk about working with Gaten, how starring in this movie compared to the likes of Luca and The Little Mermaid for Jacob, and what animation fans can expect from the unique adventure and a dragon we're sure you'll all fall in love with.

My Father's Dragon is something really special, and this is an animated movie unlike any other we've seen this year. 

Check out our interview with Jacob and Nora in the player below!

Nora, the animation style in this film felt like a storybook that had come to life for me, so was that your hope for this project and did you have any specific inspirations at all? 

Nora: Yeah, I think with this film, we wanted it to feel really immersive. One of the goals that we have for any film, but particularly this one as there’s such an emotional heart to the film, is for our audience at some point to forget that they’re watching a film. My best experience watching films…I remember watching The Wizard of Oz as a young child and, for a while, just forgetting that there was a screen between me and the characters. It was almost a shock when I realised, ‘This is a movie and it’s going to end this place I’m inhabiting.’ 

I’ve always been kind of chasing that feeling again as a director so we very much took inspiration from Ruth Stiles Gannett’s illustrations in the original book, but also from children’s imaginations. I asked my two boys to draw the characters from the book and I was just amazed by what they would do. Rosa, our fantastic production designer, also asked her daughter to draw. They’d do things like draw a huge head on a tiger or turn a whale into a bubble because it seemed like one [to them]. We went with that whole feeling that a tree didn’t need to look like a tree. It could be a giant mushroom or dandelion! That was the way we went forward with the whole project. 

Jacob, Elmer goes through so much on this adventure. What did you enjoy most about exploring this world through his eyes?

Jacob: In the recording process, I was able to see some of the concept art, so before going into the scene, I could really close my eyes and picture what it would be like. I think my favourite sequence was the whole one with the tigers. I saw what they would look like and could imagine that. It helped to see their massive teeth and sharp claws, and having Gaten there as well to record it with me made it feel like we were in a storybook and that we could really play in this room. We were recording it in this decently big room, so we really had the space to get into it. 

You’ve done some big voice roles before like Luca and the upcoming Little Mermaid movie, but given the uniqueness of My Father’s Dragon, would you say this project was a much different experience for you as an actor?

Jacob: It was extremely different! I mean, this was my first big animation. The whole process…it would take them about a week for four seconds of animation so it took them a long time. I recorded it when I was 13. I’m 16 now. So definitely a long while and I’m excited for it to finally be out. Recording with Gaten really helped because it was a big learning curve going from live-action to the room with the mic here and the script there. Having Nora and Gaten there really helped me because being able to make that connection with another actor is so important for film. I have the biggest respect for voice actors because they’re able to tap into it without necessarily having someone there, so having Gaten was just amazing. 

Nora, a movie like this really does live or die on its voice cast and you have a terrific ensemble here. For you, what made Jacon and Gaten the right people to lead this story as Elmer and Boris?

Nora: Oh, you know, I could tell from the musicality of their voices and listening to their performances that they’re both such amazing actors. There was the potential there for something really special and I do feel the weight of responsibility as the director to make sure that the animators, as Jacob said, it takes a week to animate four seconds, so if the actor doesn’t believe in their performance, the animator is going to be in trouble. From the minute these two guys got into the room together, we pressed record, and it was pretty obvious to me that it was pure magic. There was already…they just really liked each other, got on, and got each other’s humour.

They were two kids playing around and you can hear that in the performances they’re just having fun together. I felt really privileged to be in the same room as Gaten as Jacob and felt that if I put my hand between the two microphones, I might get a shock or something because you could just feel the energy. Whether it was the really playful scenes or the very adventurous ones or the really dramatic scenes, they were there for each other. As two actors, they were able to give each other what they needed to hit the heights that the animator needed so they could go and run with it when they got to the performances. 

Boris is such a fun and unexpected dragon who I really loved, but for you both, what about that character did you find yourselves falling in love with? For you, Jacob, working with your co-star must have changed your perception of him a little?

Jacob: Yeah, for me, I really connected with my character. Elmer is probably easily the most ambitious character I’ve ever played. He’s very creative too, so to tap into that ambitious space…doing those scenes, what I love about Nora is that she really pushed me to go for those emotions. There are a lot of scenes where, Elmer, he kind of puts on a little businessman idea to get out of situations. To go for that and really kind of reach and sell what Elmer is trying to sell really helped me connect to him.

Nora: I think we all have a little bit of Boris to us. I often feel I have imposter syndrome or that I’m not up to what I think I should be up to, and that maybe somebody should just take over what I do because I’m not sure what I’m doing. The great thing about Boris is that he’s able to admit that. The great thing about Elmer is that there’s something about the dynamic between the two characters that he’s ultimately able to be so generous with Boris.

I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s something pretty extraordinary and unique about this particular buddy duo thing that works really well. I’ve certainly learnt some lessons just from watching Jacob and Gaten in the room together. Meg, our fantastic screenwriter, and the amazing book…there is that heart there. If you’re there for someone else, that’s really the best you can give yourself. 

My Father's Dragon premieres on Netflix on November 11.

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