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Review of Interview: Stephen Merchant on Voicing A Mouse in A Boy Called Christmas

A Boy Called Christmas is streaming on Netflix starting November 24. Directed by Gil Kenan, the holiday family film stars Henry Lawfull, Michiel Huisman, Stephen Merchant, and Kristen Wiig.

“An ordinary young boy called Nikolas sets out on an extraordinary adventure into the snowy north in search of his father who is on a quest to discover the fabled village of the elves, Elfhelm,” says the official synopsis. “Taking with him a headstrong reindeer called Blitzen and a loyal pet mouse, Nikolas soon meets his destiny in this magical, comic and endearing story that proves nothing is impossible.”

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with A Boy Called Christmas star Stephen Merchant about voicing a mouse, his favorite Christmas films, and more.

Tyler Treese: This was not your typical role. How was it playing someone short for a change?

Stephen Merchant: [laughs] Particularly short. Yes, I’m playing a mouse in case you were wondering just how short I am in this movie. It was fun because I’m very like a mouse in many ways. I do love cheese. People don’t like me in their home, and I’ve originally been making a lot of holes in the house because I’m trying to find a leak and I don’t know where it is. I’ve drawn about 15 different holes so my house is covered in small holes now. I’m exactly like a mouse. Plus I’m very scared of cats and genuinely very nervous around cats. I just don’t know what they’re thinking. They always jump on me whenever I’m around. I think they just see me like a giant tree to have some fun with. I felt like I could get into the mindset of a mouse.

These live-action blends can sometimes lack chemistry between the real-life and CGI characters, but the connection really worked here. What was the recording process like? And were you surprised at the chemistry there?

I appreciate you saying that and I know what you mean. I think one of the things was that Gil [Kenan], the director and one of the writers, was very encouraging and allowed me to sort of adlib around. So what I would do is I would watch the scenes that they’d filmed and then I would sort of interact with Henry, who’s playing the character, after the event, but I would try and kind of talk with him in a sort of one-way communication and try and fill in the blanks and interact with him as organically as I could rather than just sort of being very rigorous and just reading the scripted lines.

So I’m hoping that has come over. I’d done something similar when I did a voice for a video game, which a lot of people really enjoyed, and it was a similar experience there where the more freedom you’re given, in the voiceover booth, the more you can sort of make it feel hopefully a bit more connected to the people on screen.

I assume you’re talking about Portal 2. So how did those compare?

Right. Well, they’re very similar in a way because you go into a recording booth and you are very dependent on the director telling you what they need, because you’re having to imagine a lot of it. Particularly in the case of this movie or indeed Portal, all the little of the visual effects haven’t been done yet so they’re sort of having to describe them to you. So you have to sort of get yourself in that in that headspace of where you’re running and what you’re scared of or in the case of Portal, shouting down imaginary gantries on a space station.

So in fact, they end up being very tiring because you’re there in the booth and you’re shouting and you’re pretending to run and you’re screaming and you’re going through all the different sort of emotions you and you have to sort of condense them into a few hours of recording. So they can actually be quite exhausting and quite sort of labor-intensive, but they can be really fun as well.

The fantasy setting is an interesting twist on a traditional Christmas film. Do you have any favorite Christmas films that have always had a special place in your heart?

I love all the great family movies that are set at Christmas, like Die Hard or American Psycho. No, I’m joking. Although I do love those movies, I love Christmas films. I thought Elf, which is the last really great Christmas movie that I can remember just falling in love with. And obviously, the classics like It’s a Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas Carol, which I just think is fantastic. I did a movie a couple years ago called Fighting with my Family, which is about wrestlers and that has a big Christmas scene in the middle of it. And so I’m desperately trying to make that into a Christmas movie, and I don’t think anyone’s realized yet, but I’m hoping that it will become sort of Christmas perennial because then I get paid every year.

What was the process of just finding the voice for Miika?

One of my comedy heroes growing up was Bob Hope and I used to love the old Bob Hope movies that would be on TV. And he was always playing that cowardly nervous kind of wise-ass character who was always getting himself in scrapes and sort of trying to seem macho, but being scared. So I tried to channel a bit of that and I think what I like is that a lot of younger viewers won’t remember Bob Hope so I can sort of steal his act and no one will realize. [laughs]

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