I Am Francis Dolarhyde | Tom Noonan on ‘Anomalisa’ and ‘Manhunter’
The painstaking process of animating a story, especially in stop-motion animation, usually forces animators to tell populist stories to justify all that effort. But Anomalisa is an unusual film. It’s an animated film about a man undergoing a midlife crisis, who hears every single voice in the world as if they were one person. And it’s driving him mad.
Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson directed Anomalisa, and they recruited the great Tom Noonan to play every character in the movie except for the protagonist, Michael (played by David Thewlis), and the only other voice in the crowd, Lisa (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). It’s a strange role with a strange meaning that is bound to leave audiences wondering.
What does it all mean? We talked to Tom Noonan on the phone to discuss his strange character(s) in Anomalisa, and the unlikely task of recreating the comedy classic My Man Godfrey all by himself. And since Tom Noonan rose to prominence in one of our favorite movies, Michael Mann’s Manhunter, we asked for his opinion about the recent television remake on the hit show Hannibal. His response will probably please you.
Anomalisa is now available on Digital HD, arrives On Demand on March 29, and hits Blu-ray Combo Pack on May 3, 2016.
Crave: Tell me about the first time you heard about this project, and the idea that you would play every voice in the film except for two of them.
Tom Noonan: [Laughs.] Well, do you know how I met Charlie? All that story?
Whatever comes to mind. It’s an odd role so I’m curious about your initial reaction to it.
Well, Charlie and I are friends because I made a movie called What Happened Was… in the ‘90s. That won Sundance and Charlie watched it and became sort of a fan of my movie emailed me. At the time he wasn’t Charlie Kaufman, really. He wasn’t famous. And he also, when he became famous, talked about me a lot and through his affection for my movie we became friends.
So as I’m vacationing in the summer of 2005, he called me up and said, “I’ve written this play for you and you’re going to be in it with Jennifer Jason Leigh and David Thewlis,” who I’m big fans of, and he said, “If you like the script we’re going to start rehearsing in like a month.”
And I read it and I was a little surprised that I was playing 43 people. I’d never done anything like that and I’m not very confident in my vocal abilities, to play characters and do accents and all that shit. But we didn’t really talk about that that much. We just sat down for the first day and did the table read and I just tried to do each scene like it was just me trying to win the scene against the other [actors], against mostly David. Instead of working at it as an actor, as I would on any other scene I work on, the characters sort of grew from the inside. Over time they became very distinct to me. But it wasn’t through pasting on some sort of outer envelope, it’s coming from inside. You know?
That’s the thing you think about as you watch the film. Is “Everyone Else” one character, or are they incredibly distinctive and we’re just inside our hero’s head? What do you think?
I mean, every person has a different persona for every other person in their life. I think you are slightly different with your mother than you are with your father than you are with your sister than you are with your boyfriend and girlfriend, you know? You’re a different person. The word “persona” means a projection, a mask you’re holding up in front of yourself. “Persona” does not mean authenticity.
So these personas are, you have this whole bag of masks you carry with you and you pull them out depending on what you need in a particular scene in life. So I was sort of all the different persona, personae to be accurate, I guess of the world, in Charlie’s opinion. Yeah. Does that make any sense?
It does make sense. There’s a scene in the movie where you get to do all the voices in My Man Godfrey.
What an odd gig. Did you rewatch the movie or did you do it kind of straight?
Originally when we did the play we were using Casablanca as the movie that is on the TV but there were some sort of rights issues with that. So we had a big discussion in the studio about what movie [it would be] and we came up with My Man Godfrey, which I’ve seen a lot, and I know the movie pretty well. And I’m just trying to keep up with the voices because it matches the movie. So I had to learn to speak fast enough, like Carole Lombard speaks [laughs] and play the different parts and have me interrupt myself.
It’s mostly a technical thing. “Godfrey loves me! Godfrey loves me!” She jumps up and down, you know, and I had to jump up and down in the studio because your voice sounds different when you’re jumping up and down than when you’re standing still. So there was a whole lot of technical [issues]. But I did that in one take. I didn’t break it up into different sections because when I had done the play, I did the voices all in real time, and when we recorded the movie I did most of it in real time too. We didn’t break it down line by line like you would normally do. Charlie wanted it to flow like a real scene.
That’s really cool.
I have to ask because I’m a huge, huge fan of Manhunter.
It’s been remade recently, and I wonder if you had seen the show Hannibal and if you had any thoughts on Francis Dolarhyde’s evolution in the popular consciousness?
No. I am Francis Dolarhyde. The rest of it’s bullshit. I’ve never seen any of the other iterations of the part. I made the guy, I am the guy, and that’s the end of that. [Laughs.]
I respect that, sir.
And if they don’t like it they can meet me out back, you know?
Top Photo: Joe Scarnici / WireImage
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.