SDCC ’12 Interview: TRON: UPRISING’s Bruce Boxleitner and Charlie Bean
TRON LIVES! If you’re not watching Tron: Uprising, you are missing out on one of the most sophisticated and beautiful animated series ever produced for American TV. Despite airing on the Disney XD channel, there is nothing “kiddie” about this continuation of the Tron mythology. Bridging the gap between Tron and Tron: Legacy, Uprising tells the story of Beck, a young program mentored by an aging Tron, and his challenges leading a revolution against the brutal military occupation of his city. As the new Tron, he takes on the believed-to-be-gone-forever hero’s persona and becomes a symbol of hope against the evil Clu and General Tesler. Dazzling, stylized, anime-inspired animation is brought to life by an incredible voice cast starring Bruce Boxleitner, Elijah Wood, Mandy Moore, Paul Reubens, Lance Henriksen, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Tricia Helfer, and guest stars such as Kate Mara, Lance Reddick, Donald Faison, Paul Sheer, Marcia Gay Harden, and Olivia Wilde. Joseph Trapanese, arranger of Daft Punk‘s Tron: Legacy score, binds the show with an equally powerful futuristic musical ambiance. I’m a huge fan of this show, it actually is better than either of the film versions! It’s just pure awesomeness! I was so excited to sit down and chat with series director, Charlie Bean, and Tron himself, Bruce Boxleitner! I hope this show lasts because, as you will read, it is created by people who have nothing but love for Tron and the Tron mythos, and they do their best to flesh out an amazingly compelling story inside a computer. If I can convince you to check it out, there is a marathon on Disney XD tonight starting at 7 p.m., they will be showing all 7 episodes that have aired thus far. And now, without further ado, I present the words of Bruce Boxleitner and Charlie Bean…
Interviewer: Tron is a computer program. How do you as an actor bring humanity to a character that is a computer program?
Bruce Boxleitner: Well that’s the trick isn’t it. That goes all the way back 30 years ago. I know Cindy Morgan and I were talking about it. We were signing the other day and someone asked us a similar thing. I said the only way then we could figure it out is that…what is a program? You know? I had no reference to it back then. I had no idea. So we played them sort of child-like and innocent. She did as well. When Jeff [Bridges] came down he had all that cynical humor and fun about him and that humanity. And we kind of looked at him strangely, because we’re kind of like, I don’t want to say stiff, I would just say very innocent compared to a User. When we discovered a User we were kind of shocked by this, that there would be such things. That’s the only way I could sort of relate to it. I haven’t tried to change it. This guy that I’m playing now is many years later in The Grid. Who knows how long years are in The Grid. He’s much older, much wiser, more battle scarred. There were many more fights that went on and now we’re in this rebellion and he’s beaten. He’s scarred up. Well I’m older, so I could use my voice, but I rasped it up more. I guess that’s all I’m trying to say is that maybe he’s more human now because we’re becoming more like the interface between us. But that, as a voice actor, I had to try and find that specific voice that this mature Tron would have compared to Beck’s [Elijah Wood] lighter youthful voice. I think it’s a great contrast, I really do. I so enjoy what he’s doing with it. And we only worked once together, that was sort of auditioning this thing for all the powers that be at Disney. They were all out there, we had these scenes we read, and once again, like [Tron] Legacy, I was reading with him thinking this is my screen test and what if I suck, you know, I’m fired from being Tron. I wouldn’t have gotten out of bed after that, I’m telling you!
Interviewer: Well there’s obviously an irony in the sense that when you shot the original Tron there was so much work that went in to the visual aspect of it and having to shoot things in a certain way, and while the interesting visual aspect is still there, it’s almost like reverse engineering to the point where you don’t have to wear specific stuff, you don’t have to shoot it in a specific way, it’s just keeping that voice right. Is that a little more liberating in some ways?
BB: Yeah, I don’t have to worry about pulling that suit on and off! I don’t have to do that. Jeff did. Haha! But yeah, voice acting is acting, you’re still having to bring it, you’re still having to emote it, you’re just not having the rest of your instrument to do it with. So you have to channel it all through here. I don’t look at the difference; I don’t think there is a difference. And then I get to happily see what they do with it.
Interviewer: What makes Tron different from other heroes?
BB: Well I think it kind of came at a time when, you know we’re now in the digital age, he was at the birth of it, certainly in films. And I go back to, again, the kids that were bumpin’ quarters in to the arcade machines, they got it. The critical intelligencia of Hollywood – Variety, the LA Times, The New York Times – they didn’t know what they were looking at. They really didn’t get it. But man those kids in the arcade games knew. That was you going down in there. And we did that. We took Alice through the looking glass. I just rambled on, I’m sorry.
Interviewer: As the director, how do you choose the people that you want to work with in order to have your vision come to fruition?
Charlie Bean: Yeah, I mean. That’s it isn’t it. The first key step is casting. And you know it starts with casting artists. For me the first two people that I called were Rob Valley and Alberto Mielgo. I had an idea of what I wanted to do visually with this show and we had worked together. The three of us worked together in London and I thought instantly those were the guys that I wanted to get involved with. From that we built out a team, the three of us together, of artists. The same thing with casting the voices as well, I just thought about the types of people that I wanted and the first one to fall in to place was Elijah and then from there. Sort of like you have these fantasies of who you would want to be on the show. And I just sort of had the like lets go for it, lets ask these people, and they said yes, and it’s like really! Incredible! Paul Reubens, you really will! That’s amazing!
Interviewer: How good of a day was it when you got Bruce Boxleitner to come back as Tron?
CB: It starts with him. Really there is no show without Bruce playing Tron and if he’d have said no I don’t think we would have a show. And you know, Bruce Boxleitner is my friend now, how cool is that? It’s amazing.
Interviewer: You can play video games together!
CB: I know. I’ve got some old school video games in the office, like building a little Flynn’s Arcade, like original games and I got Disks of Tron which is like the hardest one…for video game nerds out there. It’s one of the hardest ones to get. Yeah it’s cool.
Interviewer: When you’re working with the actors do you find it difficult to get them to find the emotions that they need as an actor?
CB: Yeah, it’s challenging. But that’s sort of it, isn’t it, these are incredibly talented actors, extremely high level of talent and so we dig in deep and just dig in to story and that sort of the way that I direct it is that we just talk, talk about the story, we just dig in to it, and talk about it, what’s going on there, what’s underneath it, what’s deeper underneath it. And this team of actors are on that level where they all want to dig in deep and find out what’s going on there, what are the real emotional beats that they’re finding and searching out. And we’re discovering stuff and stuffs happening you know, on the day, it’s fun, it’s really fun. It’s challenging, but it’s fun, you know.
Interviewer: What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing a serialized show?
CB: The advantage for me is just that you get to progress the story and you get to dig deeper in to it and peel back all the layers and find out more about that. And I hadn’t worked in serialized television before, but I’m such a huge fan of it and I think that for me those are the more interesting shows that are out there. So working with Eddie [Kitsis] and Adam [Horowitz], those guys are huge Lost fans, so we get to work with them. We’d be in the room talking about stories and things that are happening and stuff that they would come up with like on the day, I’m not gonna give spoilers away, but they would come up with stuff on the day, that I’m so glad that I’m working with guys like this. It’s been awesome. As far as disadvantages, you know, the disadvantages are you have to be in order and that shows proving to be a little bit difficult let’s just move it and work on it later, no, you have to finish that episode before you’re on the next one.
Interviewer: What are the challenges of creating a show that appeals to a younger audience and appeals to fans from way back?
CB: There are specific challenges there because you can’t do something that’s above a certain age group, but we’re real fans of Tron and we’re making the show kind of for ourselves and what we would want to see and what types of stories we think are compelling. And I don’t think it alienates kids. I think the show is sophisticated, but I think the kids are sophisticated. I think now they are more sophisticated then they’ve ever been and I think they want more compelling stories that are more complex. Hopefully, they’re diggin’ it, I think they are.
Interviewer: Can you tease anything really cool coming up?
CB: I don’t know if you were in the panel, but we teased a little bit of episode 8 that’s coming out , it’s actually 8 and 9, it’s a two part episode called “Scars” and we’ve really been driving toward this episode because it’s really the connecting tissue to Legacy. We’re shedding a little bit more light on that story, what happened when Clu actually took over. So it’s cool for us from a design point of view too, we’re going back to before the time when Clu took over and what The Grid looked like and what was Tron’s role, you know, as the protector of The Grid, what his team looked like and how he was protecting The Grid, and then the actual takeover, when Clu took over, and then we introduce this new character Dyson, and then we see the very specific role that he played in that takeover and his relationship with Tron and everyone else. He’s voiced by John Glover, Smallville fans will know him. He was awesome and what he brought to the character, it’s a really cool episode and I think we’ve been leading toward this from the inception of the series. There were going to be these times where we were going to shed light on that moment where Clu took over in Legacy.
Interviewer: It seems like with Clone Wars and this, we’ve gotten to a trend of being able to do really cool things in animation that are maybe better then the films.
CB: I think that there is an opportunity to do something really cool. It doesn’t come easy. It’s been a lot of work. This show has been so challenging, we haven’t slept in like 2 years. I’m dying over here. Yes, animation, it’s such an interesting medium with what you can do, but it’s also with these big franchises you have a movie and it’s two hours, it’s up and down and you’re over with. With a series you can dig in to it and just tell more stories and start to peel back all the layers and relationships and connectivity to who these people are and why these things happen. And that’s the type of stuff we’re thinking about in the room and coming up with. It makes it fun.
Dont’ forget to watch the 7 episode Tron: Uprising marathon tonight at 7 p.m. on Disney XD!!