How did Babu evolve as you got to work? Were there changes to his look, size, or behavior as you consulted with J.J.?
It was months later that I arrived at the studios to start to become Babu. The engineers and designers had created a model that the puppeteers and myself could play with to learn and discover how Babu moved, and the kind of voice he had and the language he used. As a team, we would offer up little sequences for J.J. to look at and give feedback on before we ever got to the actual set for filming. It was precious time for the puppeteers to find a rhythm with the model and what it was capable of—and for me to learn the workings of the mouth, and to play with vocal ideas.
What did he tell you he wanted this character to be? What were you able to create on your own?
Working with J.J. was very exciting. I would offer up sounds and words and little ideas on set, and he would either accept them or want me to keep improvising. And when he liked something he kept it. We never overanalyzed Babu or over-chatted about him. We just played to find out who he was.
Does the fuzzy voice have any particular inspiration? I feel like we all know someone like this little alien. He reminds me of the old timer who ran the shoe repair shop in my hometown.
I worked with the very brilliant [dialect coach] Jill McCullough on the voice. As with J.J., I would offer up vocal suggestions and sounds and ticks, and she would remind me of them, and help me to hold onto them so that we could, on any filming day, source all these bits of Babu at a second’s notice. His voice was just a feeling I looked for inside when trying to speak as him.
What can you tell us about Babu Frik’s personality, beyond what we see in the film? He seems like a playful fellow, but also very serious about his work.
Beyond the film, Babu has lived a life. Somewhere out there is a lost love. He thinks about her sometimes when he sits down in his workshop and lets his thoughts drift away. That’s what I think, anyway.
It seems like there were a lot of people involved in making this tiny thing perform. How were the duties divided up?
Babu comes from lots of different people’s imaginations. The engineers, the model makers, the puppeteers, the painters, the director, the vocal coach, the on-set crew who were able to capture his little looks and sounds. He is made up of many hands, and I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with him.
All products featured on Vanity Fair are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
More Great Stories From Vanity Fair
— Behold Dune: An Exclusive Look at Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, and More
— How to Watch Every Marvel Movie in Order
— David Simon on The Wire and His Equally Pissed-Off New Show, The Plot Against America
— Beyond Tiger King: 8 True-Crime Documentaries That Sparked a Second Look From the Law
— Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes on His New Series and the Beauty of a Scheming Woman
— All the New 2020 Movies Streaming Early Because of Coronavirus
— From the Archive: The Notorious Rivalry of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons, Hollywood’s Dueling Gossip Columnists
Looking for more? Sign up for our daily Hollywood newsletter and never miss a story.