How Albert Brooks finds his voice

NEW WAVE: Nemo, left, voiced by Alexander Gould, and Nemo's father Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks, return to the screen today in 3-D
NEW WAVE: Nemo, left, voiced by Alexander Gould, and Nemo's father Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks, return to the screen today in 3-D

In Finding Nemo American actor, screenwriter and director Albert Brooks voiced Marlin the clownfish, the overprotective father of Nemo. Marlin never wanted Nemo out of his sight.

But Brooks, speaking from his office in Los Angeles, wants his own son to get lost.

We're only 22 seconds into the interview when Brooks stops in mid-sentence. "Hold on a second," he says and steps away from his phone.

"Jacob!," Brooks can be heard shouting at the top of his lungs. "I'm doing a live broadcast!"

"Please, Dad," says Jacob.

"I'm doing a live broadcast my son!"

Brooks returns to his phone and is apologetic. "It sounds like Marlin," he says and laughs.

"I'm in my office and he's four feet outside. He's throwing a ball."

When Finding Nemo was released in 2003 the only film to beat it for the No 1 spot at the box office was Sir Peter Jackson's The Return of the King. So why is Brooks talking about the film again?

It is because Finding Nemo, like a few other popular titles, has got the 3-D makeover. Brooks hasn't seen it in 3-D yet. He's waiting until the Los Angeles premiere on September 10. "I'm actually excited about it. I can imagine out of all these Pixar movies that's the one. It was so beautiful to begin with; I can only imagine what they do when they do this [3-D] process."

Brooks says the 3-D premiere will also be significant for family reasons.

"My son, who I was just yelling to quiet down, is 13 1/2 and he was just 4 when the movie came out. I took him to the premiere and he ran out. He ran down the aisle. He got so freaked out for many reasons. First of all, his father's voice was inside of a fish and," - Brooks stops and starts laughing - "this fish was yelling at his son. So he didn't like any of this. So I'm going to take him to the 3-D and this time he'll stay."

Marlin wasn't Brooks' first experience voicing an animated character. He's had a long association with The Simpsons, having voiced several guest characters including Hank Scorpio, sending up James Bond super villains.

But Brooks continues to concentrate on acting, directing and screenwriting. His first film role was in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver and he got a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for Broadcast News. One of his latest was Drive with Ryan Gosling. Up soon is the Knocked Up sequel This is 40. At the same time he's written and directed several films, including Lost in America, Defending Your Life and Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World.

But Brooks says he didn't instantly want to be involved with Finding Nemo. He had to be convinced. "They took the clownfish and they took dialogue from one of my movies, Defending Your Life, and put it in the mouth of the clownfish and they showed it to me in a theatre. And that was the way they said 'would you like to play Marlin?' This fish was doing dialogue from a movie I wrote and I thought 'I gotta do it'. It was a very clever way to get me to understand."

When Brooks did his voice work for Finding Nemo he was alone in a recording booth. It's actually rare in animated films - an exception is Happy Feet 2 - that actors sharing scenes record together. So while Marlin interacts a lot with Dory, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, they didn't meet. It also meant Brooks had no inkling of just how popular Finding Nemo would be. "Anybody who says they did, I think they're lying.

"First of all, you're working with Pixar so you know the quality's going to be there. You're not afraid it's going to be a piece of junk. But you never know when something gets that tail wind. And this thing never even seemed like it was possible. It's fish. There were a lot of very sceptical people before this movie came out. 'Oh yeah, and whole lot of people are going to sit and watch fish'. There was more scepticism than normal and it just went the other way. It was a very pleasant surprise."

Now Brooks accepts that in many ways he continues to be remembered and recognised for voicing Marlin. "I can't tell you how many times over the years," he says.

"I've been in a supermarket and a mother with a young child would say, 'Please say something like Marlin'. Marlin doesn't have a catchphrase, so you look at this little 4-year-old and you say, 'Don't go near the boat!' - and then the kid starts crying and the mother thanks you and you feel like an idiot."

But Brooks says he never tires of people recognising him only when he's opened his mouth. "I'm not Elvis. I don't get chased by paparazzi. People are always nice. My life never got to a state where I was afraid to go into a store. I never wanted that to happen, so if you and I were here now we could go to Best Buy and buy a radio and anybody who came up would be very pleasant. But I would be afraid to go to a nursery school."

Plans are afoot for a Finding Nemo sequel and other actors, including DeGeneres, have said they're keen to reprise their roles. Brooks is too. "They are talking to us now, so I think there is a very good possibility. I hope it works out. I'd like to. I don't know anything about the story, everyone is very mum on it. But Pixar do such good work that I'm sure if they move ahead with this it's going to be great."

IN PERSON: Albert Brooks.
IN PERSON: Albert Brooks.

The Dominion Post