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GNOMEO AND JULIET

Calling All Gnomes
Charismatic Cast Brings Classic Characters to Life in a Whole New Way For the cast of "Gnomeo & Juliet,” becoming a gnome isn't a walk in the garden, so to speak. Each actor works individually, hitting the recording studio at various times during the process, and filmmakers tie it all together.

"At the beginning it was particularly hard, but then it got easier,” says James McAvoy, who voices Gnomeo. "Emily [Blunt] would come in to record and that informed my character. What we did informed the writing and then they'd come back with a script that was slightly evolved. Even though we're not there together as actors, the implications of what we did individually now exist on screen. It's really odd, but it's fun.”

Acting is acting, says Emily Blunt, who provides the voice of Juliet. The approach to this film is not unlike others. "When you're doing a comedic version of something,” says Blunt, "I think it always has to be ingrained in some kind of truth because people don't laugh if they're not invested. We all very much wanted to play real people in this.”

The filmmakers assembled a diverse cast to fill their roster of garden gnomes, lawn ornaments and grass cutters.

GNOMEO (voice of James McAvoy)

Gnomeo is the star gardener of the Blues—a gnome who knows how to make things happen. He's the loyal son of Lady Bluebury and best friend to Benny. But being top gnome is not everything it's cracked up to be. There are duties, responsibilities, expectations—and Tybalt, a Red who'd love to knock Gnomeo right out of his award-winning garden. But gnomes don't leave their gardens…or do they? It's during a rare outing that Gnomeo meets her—Juliet—a Red. And everything changes forever. For the voice of the top Blue, filmmakers called on James McAvoy.

"He's the perfect Gnomeo,” says director Kelly Asbury. "He has texture to his voice and he brings a real sincerity to the character.”

Though this might be challenging, considering said character is a gnome. "Gnomes—they're quite cute,” says McAvoy of his garden persona. "Gnomeo does look like a classic garden gnome, but he's got a little bit of something extra. It's nice to imagine that all gnomes have something extra. They've all got something that they're hiding from you and when the lights go out, it comes out.”

JULIET (voice of Emily Blunt)

She's beautiful, delicate and pristine—at least according to her father, Lord Redbrick, the head of the Reds. As such, her place is aptly atop a grand fountain pedestal. Her accessory—a plastic red rose; her best friend—a romance-obsessed frog named Nanette.

Emily Blunt was tapped to portray the feisty and independent Juliet. "She's very fiery,” says Blunt of her character, "and very much her father's child, so I was really thrilled to see that they've made her kind of a tomboy.”

Juliet is just not cut out for life on a pedestal. She longs to get her hands dirty in the garden alongside the rest of the Reds. She wants to contribute, but her father won't allow her off her pedestal—he's afraid she'll get chipped. When Juliet spots a beautiful orchid beyond the garden's walls, she decides to venture out to retrieve it. That's when she meets him. She doesn't realize Gnomeo is a Blue until it's too late. Juliet's in love. And she doesn't really understand just why it's so wrong to love a Blue—even if you are a Red.

NANETTE (voice of Ashley Jensen)

Their quest for true love is aided by Juliet's best-friend, the romance-obsessed frog Nanette, voiced by the incomparable Ashley Jensen. "Ashley brought her Scottish accent to this part,” says Asbury. "She gave Nanette that sort of love-struck, hopeless romantic quality.”

It seems Jensen gave Nanette something else. "The first image that I saw of myself I thought, ‘That's amazing. That's great,' says Jensen. "But then the next time I went in, they said, ‘We've kind of gone this way with it.' They had made me more feminine with lovely long lashes and voluptuous lips and they had definitely made my mouth bigger because—well because I have quite a big mouth.”

Says co-producer Igor Khait, who worked hand-in-hand with the animation team, "Nanette has some of the funniest, subtle, scenestealing moments. Watch her in the background of the sequence when Gnomeo sneaks in to visit Juliet in the Red Garden and is almost discovered by Lord Redbrick. It's one of the best examples of ensemble acting in the movie!”

LORD REDBRICK (voice of Michael Caine)

Juliet dreams of a different life, one where she isn't stuck—literally— on a pedestal intended to keep her unchipped.

Her father, an overprotective and very passionate Red, is voiced by the incomparable Michael Caine. "Lord Redbrick is always very strict, very watchful—he's always got his eye out for the lads who are hanging around,” says Caine. "He's a typical father of daughters. I have two daughters so I had lots to go on.”

"Sir Michael Caine is a legend,” says Asbury. "Lord Redbrick is comical, but also very serious about his garden and about keeping his daughter safe. He's a smart man, but he's a great source of a few comic flaws.”

BENNY (voice of Matt Lucas)

Benny is Gnomeo's impetuous best friend, always extra eager to get involved—especially if it involves winding up the Reds next door. Benny looks up to Gnomeo and wants to take a bigger role in the Blues' escapades. But Benny takes himself a little too seriously and has an inflated perception of himself and his abilities. His enthusiasm coupled with his limitations are a dangerous combination.

Matt Lucas was called on to provide the voice of Benny. "He doesn't always think before he acts,” says Lucas of his character. "But he's very spirited, very warm and funny, just not quite as intelligent as he would like to think.

"My mother and stepfather have a couple gnomes,” Lucas continues. "I don't mind the gnome. They're kind of fun. So many people have them in their gardens, the film seems to ask, ‘What if these gnomes could talk?'”

FEATHER STONE (voice of Jim Cummings)

Featherstone is a pink, plastic, lawn flamingo who lives locked in a shed of the Overgrown Garden until Gnomeo and Juliet release him. Then he's free as a bird—free to jump beak first into the lives of his liberators. Featherstone's history—his story of love and love lost—just may be what Gnomeo and Juliet need to learn in order to free themselves.

"Featherstone is played beautifully by Jim Cummings, who is a very talented vocal actor who can do anything with his voice,” says Asbury. "And we decided since Featherstone was a plastic pink flamingo, maybe he would be from Miami, so we gave him a little bit of a Cuban edge to his voice, and I think Jim took that and really made comedy. But there's a real sincerity to the character and there's some very sad backstory to him. As comical as he is—he's really our Shakespearian fool—he's also smarter than meets the eye.”

LADY BLUEBURY (voice of Maggie Smith)

Overseeing the Blues is Lady Bluebury. Her son, Gnomeo, is the star gardener—but she's a bit of a star herself—just ask her.

Says the director, "Lady Bluebury is played by Dame Maggie Smith, a legend in her own right. She plays Lady Bluebury with all the pomp and circumstance that is befitting the leader of the Blue Garden. She probably sees herself at a little bit higher station than others might—her throne, as it were, is this old toilet planter. But Lady Bluebury sees that as the centerpiece of the garden. She doesn't see anything strange about it whatsoever. That's high art to a gnome.”

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