Sony Pictures has brought out “Smurfs 2,” a return to the world of the trait-happy blue creatures with a dose of (largely Paris-set) live action. Many of the faces and voices will be immediately recognizable — Neil Patrick Harris and Hank Azaria for the real-people parts and Katy Perry and the late Jonathan Winters for the animated ones.
But there are also a host of names you wouldn’t expect — Shaq, Shaun White, Jimmy Kimmel, even the wedding planner Kevin Lee. As George Lopez succinctly put it to my colleague Amy Kaufman at the premiere this week, “Every celebrity you can think of is in this. Even Mario Lopez.”
With this in mind, we took time to talk to some of the less expected actors who lent their voice to the franchise. (Just call us Curious Smurf.) Here’s the first, a chat with B.J. Novak of “The Office" fame, in this franchise playing Baker Smurf.
Movies Now: I was just debating with a colleague whether Smurfette is of the Smurf lineage. Because she was part of them but clearly had a different, um, DNA? It seems like something that could be a TED Talk. Surely you have thoughts on this.
B.J. Novak: It’s a very interesting question. I would definitely give a TED Talk on it. But what I’ve found with the Smurfs world is you don’t want to look too closely. If you do, you will find some very — let’s just say some very troubling tautologies.
MN: It’s a philosophical minefield to be sure. What made you so interested in the Smurfs?
BJN: Well, I was working on "The Office" a few years ago and I heard they were making a Smurfs movie. And I thought, ‘Wow, I’d love to write that.’
MN: Really? I wouldn’t imagine that to be a career goal.
BJN: I think I just liked how it reminded me of the characters on "The Office." Stanley’s kind of Grouchy Smurf, and Jim’s kind of Jokey Smurf. Michael is Papa Smurf, which I think he even said in an episode once. I like the idea of everyone being a type.
MN: So what did the studio say?
BJN: They were intrigued by my enthusiasm but said I was too late. It was already written. So I said, "What about a part?" And they said, "All we have left is the baker." I have no connection to baking. But I said OK.
MN: Because you enjoyed the idea of a pastry-related improv?
BJN: Well, the way it works is that they show you animation of your character and they say "improvise off this." You could do whatever you want, but it has to be no more than four seconds. So they were not my most cerebral improvisations. But they were my most expressive and on-point.
MN: What kind of jokes did you come up with?
BJN: I had some good cooking jokes, but Wolfgang Puck was already playing Chef Smurf. So it was like, improvise whatever you want but don’t step on Chef Smurf.
MN: Was that a problem?
BJN: I think so. I had a good joke.
MN: Did you now…
BJN: Chicken Cordon-Blue.
MN: That’s not bad.
BJN: I know! But they said it went into Chef Smurf zone. These are delicate subjects.
MN: Ok, let’s talk about this movie. I have to admit, I saw it just two days ago, but I can’t for the life of me remember your line. What was it?
BJN: I have no idea.
MN: You really have no idea?
BJN: None. I do remember my line from the first movie.
MN: What was that?
BJN: It was "Whoa, my muffins." I remember it because I often am saying it to kindergartners since the first movie came out.
MN: Well, you were saying that to kindergartners for years before that.
BJN: A little bit.
MN: Do the kindergartners appreciate your Smurfs part?
BJN: They do. They don’t really know my other roles. They don’t really know "Inglourious Basterds." Well, most of them don’t.
MN: Why are you talking to kindergartners anyway?
BJN: I’m actually writing a movie set in a kindergarten. It’s something for the R-rated comedy age. It’s PG, but it has that sensibility. I’m still working on the through-line, but I’m trying to get a lot of the scenes. It’s a pure comedy.
MN: So it’s basically "Kindergarten Cop" without the cop.
BJN: You know I just watched that movie again. Have you seen it recently? It’s really weird. It really should be Arnold and the kids. But most of it is about the gun and the bad guys.
MN: Interesting. But let’s go back to "The Office" for a second. Who would your character, Ryan, be in Smurf Village?
BJN: Cocky Smurf? Disaffected Smurf? I don’t know if any of the classic types fit.
MN: What about Mindy?
BJN: I don’t know who Mindy would be. It’s hard for women. Smurfs, they’re pretty male-friendly.
MN: I think this should be the subject of your TED Talk.
BJN: I’m working on it.