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FREE BIRDS

About the Cast and Characters
Finding the right voices for an entire flock turkeys, a sassy time machine, contemporary government officials and pilgrims in 1621 was no simple task, but the filmmakers knew casting was crucial to the film's benefit. Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson came aboard Free Birds early in the process due to longstanding friendships with several Reel FX executives, who are fellow Texans. "With Free Birds being a buddy movie, we immediately thought that Owen and Woody would be the ideal pair to play Reggie and Jake. When we pitched the original premise to them, they agreed to do it immediately," recalls David Ross, President of Reel FX. Executive producer Aron Warner adds, "Woody and Owen are friends, and that friendship really comes through in the characters because they are very warm towards each other, even when they don't mean to be."

Actors doing voice work for animated films typically record individually in the studio. But writer/director Jimmy Hayward takes it one step further: he plays all the other characters around the featured actor. "That way I can control the flow and maintain the energy of the scene," he explains. "It really helps me understand all the nuances, subtext and where everything's going." Hayward particular likes working with improvisational actors. "We'll work a line five or ten different ways so that we can find just the right delivery. That's what I did all along with Owen, Woody and Amy, and they always found a way to make every scene better than I imagined."

REGGIE (Voiced by Owen Wilson)

Played by Academy Award-nominee Owen Wilson, Reggie is a smart, funny, free-range turkey who's cushy life as a "Pardoned Turkey" is interrupted by Jake, the single-minded, relentless, and slightly misguided founder of the "Turkey Freedom Front." Through his friendship with Jake, Reggie learns who he is and what it really means to be a part of a flock.

"Owen is great as Reggie," says Hayward. "The thing I like about Owen's performance is how he starts out sounding like he's telling a secret, stumbles over his words, and then catches himself. Reggie doesn't really have a sense of who he is until later in the movie, which Owen plays out beautifully. He has such an appealing voice; he's really funny; and he brings a lot of improvisational 8 greatness to the character as well."

"I actually think that working on an animated movie is sometimes a purer form of acting," Wilson admits. "It's like when you're a kid, like make-believe in your head. There's no going into wardrobe, hair and makeup, or anything. You're just there, and it's just in your imagination, and that's inspiring."

Wilson was also happy to work with good friend Woody Harrelson on Free Birds. "There's that word that people use a lot when talking about buddy comedies, and I'm sure it will come up on this movie -- it's chemistry," he says. "Unfortunately, there's a way that work doesn't get done when Woody and I would get together on a film, so they decided to separate us for most of the recording sessions!"

JAKE (Voiced by Woody Harrelson)

Played by Academy Award-nominee Woody Harrelson, Jake is on a mission to save all the turkeys of the world...and nothing is going to stand in his way, especially Reggie. Executive producer Aron Warner explains, "Jake is zealot. The Great Turkey ordered Jake to stop Thanksgiving, and Jake's going to do that, come hell or high water."

"Woody's got the perfect energy for Jake," says Hayward. "Jake leaps before he looks, and Woody brings such a driven, loveable, dimwit quality to him." Writer/producer Scott Mosier adds, "Woody's so great at doing comedy and drama within the same scene. He's an incredible actor, and it's fun having him in a role where he can really show off those comedic chops again."

JENNY (Voiced by Amy Poehler)

Jenny is the beautiful, whip-smart, courageous daughter of Chief Broadbeak; she also happens to be Reggie's love interest in the film. As Reggie and Jenny's relationship grows, they open each other's eyes: Reggie learns how to be a part of something bigger than himself, and Jenny sees that there's a world outside of 9 the flock. "Reggie takes Jenny on a trip that no other turkey could ever have taken her on," explains executive producer Aron Warner. "It completely blows her mind and elevates her sense of how big the world is and who she is in it."

On casting the role of Jenny, writer/producer Scott Mosier recalls, "We wanted someone who was smart and funny because that's what we wanted the character to be. So we thought, Why don't we just cast Amy Poehler and let her be herself?" Poehler describes her character as "a pretty straightforward lady turkey who knows what she wants. She comes from a lineage of proud turkeys who have always supported and looked out for each other."

Hayward and Poehler, who had previously worked together on Horton Hears a Who!, were thrilled to collaborate again on Free Birds. Says Poehler, "It's nice when you're with someone who gives you the freedom to improvise. Jimmy likes to play around and keep things loose, and it was exciting to get to develop the character with him."

Owen Wilson was also excited to work with Poehler. "I knew she was really funny, and has a great voice, and also that she'd make the script funnier. In fact, both she and Woody are great improvisers. They fly by the seat of their pants and think on their feet, which made them perfect in these roles."

S.T.E.V.E. (Voiced by George Takei)

S.T.E.V.E. is the Space Time Exploration Vehicle Envoy, the time machine that takes Jake and Reggie back to the year 1621. "But S.T.E.V.E. is more than just a time-machine," says executive producer Aron Warner. "In a lot of ways, he's Reggie's conscience. He helps Reggie come around to realizing who he's really meant to be and he does it in a chiding, sarcastic, and very funny way."

The filmmakers were thrilled to have the acclaimed actor George Takei -- a true science fiction figure -- bring S.T.E.V.E. to life. "As we were trying to cast the 10 role, we threw out a bunch of names," remembers writer/producer Scott Mosier. "When George's name came up, we thought to ourselves, 'Of course. How could it ever have been anybody else?'"

"S.T.E.V.E. sees the larger world," says Takei. "When things become hysterically important or terrifying or absolutely impossible, S.T.E.V.E. puts the situation in perspective and reminds Reggie not to worry: don't get hysterical, just calm down, and you will eventually reach your goal."

Writer/director Jimmy Hayward especially loved the weight of Takei's voice. "He's there to point out the obvious with that smooth, supple, golden voice on his," he says. "He's funny, and his great, deep, boomy voice works perfectly for the film."

MYLES STANDISH (Voiced by Colm Meaney)

"Myles Standish is, of course, a historical character," explains veteran actor Colm Meaney. "He's quite well known for his many achievements in the history of this period. However, in our story he's an expert turkey killer, known as 'The Great Pilgrim Hunter.' But these particular turkeys turn out to be quite a challenge for him and eventually drive him mad!"

In preparation for his role as a turkey hunter, Meaney says he did "a lot of research about the habits of turkeys, their traveling habits, things like that. And of course there are many different types of turkeys and different characteristics in terms of their movement." He adds with a laugh, "I think I'll probably be able to publish a book on the art of turkey hunting now."

"We were already huge fans of Colm Meaney," avows writer/producer Mosier, "but then our assistant director Chris DiGiovanni sent us a clip of Colm from Hell on Wheels that we hadn't seen, and after listening to two words, we were done looking for our Myles Standish. We immediately reached out to him."

"It was important to us to keep his character serious and mean," adds writer/director Hayward. "He's pretty much the only serious thing in the movie, and Colm turned out to be perfect for the role. He has a great voice and a great presence."

GOVERNOR BRADFORD (Voiced by Dan Fogler)

Historically, William Bradford is known as the first governor of the Plymouth colony, but the character in the film is associated with the real figure in name only. As voiced by Dan Fogler, Governor Bradford is the dramatic and always hungry leader of the Pilgrims who has a habit of looking out only for himself.

Says Hayward, "I try to put Dan in everything I do. He's one of those actors I want to work with again and again. He's a fantastic character actor, he's got great depth, and he's very funny and witty. He has a very elastic voice and is also a great improvisational actor which made working with him on Free Birds so fun."

CHIEF BROADBEAK (Voiced by Keith David)

Chief Broadbeak is the regal, majestic chief of the wild turkeys living in 1621. A natural leader with a strong presence, he would do anything to protect his flock, especially Jenny and Ranger, since he is their father.

"Keith has a deep, commanding presence and is such an extraordinary actor," says writer/director Hayward. "Broadbeak isn't in a lot of scenes, but we needed to convey to the audience that he was a true leader. Keith really was perfect for the part."

RANGER, LEATHERBEAK, THE PRESIDENT (Voiced by Jimmy Hayward)

In addition to his writing and directing duties on the film, Jimmy Hayward lends his voice to an array of characters: Ranger, The President and Leatherbeak. Hayward explains, "It's one of those things where I record 80 voices in the movie to provide scratch dialogue while we're still in the storyboarding stage. I've been doing that my whole career. And sometimes some of those voices seem like the best fit and they stay in for the final film."

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