with photography and additional reporting by Jessica Hancock

The movie Walking With Dinosaurs, which promises to be a stunning cinematic experience, will be in theaters this Friday, December 20. Sweatpants & Coffee was treated to an interactive red carpet experience at L.A.’s Natural History Museum, along with 200 lucky 2nd graders from the area.

In addition to stars John Leguizamo, Tiya Sircar, and Skylar Stone, there was a paleontologist on hand, an exhibit that put fans on the screen with fearsome dinosaurs, and at one point, this happened:

It’s not every day you get to see a dino coming out of a gift shop, but then again, we suppose everyone needs to get their Christmas shopping done.

Tiya Sircar, who plays Juniper, a pachyrhinosaurus, says that she has always been fascinated by dinosaurs, even as a child. She wanted to a paleontologist. This particular project is exciting to her because of the animation techniques. “It’s so incredibly realistic. It’s not like a cartoon in any way. It’s almost like watching dinosaurs in their natural habitat. It’s amazing,” says Sircar. The movie appealed to her not just because of, well, dinosaurs and awesomeness, but also because it has a storyline with heart. She plays the best friend/love interest of Patchi (the movie’s hero, played by Justin Long) and she enjoyed being a strong female character who was spunky and fought bad guys. What’s next for Sircar? “Well, I am working on another children’s movie for Disney,” she told us, “but I can’t talk about it just yet.” We’ll be looking out for that!

After that, we caught up with John Leguizamo for a few questions about how he found the voice for his character, Alex the Alexornis.

Later, Leguizamo sat down with us to answer more questions:

WWD Roundtable edited_edited-2

What kind of research did you have to conduct for this film?

“You know, I’m mad method, but this time, I didn’t have to do a damn thing because this is such a well-researched project.” The facts and details, he said, were meticulously researched. “I didn’t have to worry about it. If we said something that maybe was inaccurate, it was fact-checked and we’d have to re-record, so the kids are going to learn something.” His main job? To come up with the voice. Leguizamo, who is beloved for his turn as Sid the sloth in the Ice Age franchise, hoped to play a more imposing creature this time around. “I was doing my deep voice, you know, yelling a lot – trying to get it real rough. And then they show me that I’m a bird.”

What was it like recording? Were you with other actors or were you in a booth on your own?

“You know, this was different than Ice Age. You record on your own usually, which is nice. You can do it as many times as you want, nobody’s being annoyed or bored by you. You can be really free.” Ice Age, as most animated features are, was animated to the actors’ vocal performances. “This was different. This was already created. They went to Alaska and New Zealand and shot some footage, and then they animated to that. So we had to  . . . it was like the Honey Badger. We had to ad lib to that, so it was a little more difficult. But it was a great challenge.”

Did you find that it changed your performance?

“Well, we had to improvise a little bit, and you had to watch the footage a lot more. We really had to study. There was a lot of rehearsal.”

You said earlier that you kind of got physical because you sort of have to, to bring out the emotion.

“That’s my secret technique. Thank you. I told you to keep it between us, but obviously you’re the chatty Cathy of the group. Yes, well, that’s my secret to making the voice better. You want to get as physical as your character is. I don’t just sit down. If my character is doing something like running, I’ll get up and I’ll be running.” He gets out of his chair to demonstrate. “If my character is choking, I’ll choke myself. And if he’s going through something emotional, I try to go through that, because people pick up subconsciously how real you’re trying to be. You can tell. If you’re just sitting there, you know, it gets flat. Now, that everybody knows . . . John Leguizamo’s voice classes, available at NYU!” (We’d totally take that class.)

Does having children affect the projects you choose and why you choose them?

“It doesn’t affect the projects I choose, but it definitely makes me want to choose stuff that’s child-friendly. Because they can’t see my shows. They can’t see that until I’m gone. I’ve ruined all my parenting skills. Everything I’ve said to them is a lie and they’ll find out!”

It’s clear that Leguizamo has a strong work ethic and sense of dedication when he commits to a project, something that stems from his immigrant background. He is a strong proponent of education. “My parents were immigrants, so they had the immigrant mentality. Like, all my Christmas presents – I had to earn everything. I had to read a book, an encyclopedia, a dictionary, and then I’d get my bicycle. So, I’ve kind of maintained that with my kids. They have to earn things. Since they were babies, I always read to them a new book, an old book, and their favorite book, and to this day, I read to my son. We’re reading the original Richard Burton – not the actor – Sheherazad and the Arabian Nights. Which is a lot more racy than I had expected. I didn’t realize it was going to be time to do my birds and bees talk at the same time, but it’s beautifully written. So yeah, education is a big part of my being a dad.” Leguizamo thinks that the engaging nature of the film and the fascinating facts will perhaps spur kids to want to learn more about dinosaurs and paleontology.

You’ve had such a wide-ranging career. What do you look for in a project?

“As long as I find there’s quality and there are quality people involved, and they’re doing something that they’re very proud of, if I read it and I think it’s intelligent, I’ll jump in. Like, I just did this incredible movie Chef with Jon Favreau and Robert Downey, Jr. You’ve got a great quality cast, but the script was incredible. There’s something really different and unique about being a chef and being a father and a husband, and I get to play his buddy, so it was fun.”

What do you prefer to do? Because you’ve done it all – TV, film, stage.

“I’d have to say stage is the most beautiful of them all.” His eyes light up here as he talks about performing live. “There’s nothing like that experience. It’s a religious experience. You never forget it. And we’re both different for it, you know? I just taped Ghetto Klown for HBO. We did three performances and filmed them and it was incredible. And the way the audience responds . . . they felt inspired by the show. A lot of people felt like they were going to give up dancing or singing or acting, and my show inspired them to keep going.”

We’ve loved all his specials. Says Leguizamo, “This is my best. It took me eight years to put together. It comes out March 28th on HBO.” Set your DVRs, folks.

What’s next for you?

“I just finished filming Stealing Cars with Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy. It’s the best script I’ve seen in a long time. It’s based on a true story of this boy, a white kid who kind of fell through the cracks and started doing a lot of crime. He ended up in a reform school, and there was a lot of abuse there, and he learned to stand up against the system. The kid in it, Emory Cohen, he’s phenomenal. I think that’s the classiest thing I’ve done.”

That is saying a lot.

Sweatpants & Coffee was very impressed with the combination of solid story line, top notch animation, and quality voice actors, and on Friday, Dec. 20th, we’ll be Walking With Dinosaurs. Until then, you can visit the Walking With Dinosaurs website for fun, interactive activities you can do with your kids (or on your own – we won’t tell).

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