John Malkovich, considered as one of the world’s lead actor of his generation and who has made an important mark in cinema, lends voice to Dreamworks’ “Penguins of Madagascar’s” tentacled nemesis who goes by the name Dave aka Dr. Octavius Brine.
A renowned geneticist, cheese-enthusiast (at least he has that in common with the Penguins) and donor to public radio pledge drives, the good doctor’s limbs are skewed at impossible angles, which isn’t that surprising because he’s actually an octopus named Dave. Raiding Fort Knox for a tasty treat is nothing compared to the challenges the Penguins face when they come up against Dr. Octavius Brine. And Dave bears a ginormous grudge against the Penguins. Dave was once a star attraction at various zoos around the world, until the adorable, cuter-than-cute Penguins stole the spotlight away from him, relegating him forever as an exhibit also-ran. “You took everything from me!” he bellows at the Penguins, and he’s about to take extreme measures to once again become a star attraction.
The filmmakers wanted Dave to be an adversary whom audiences wouldn’t soon forget. “Dave is a villain like those in the classic tradition of the James Bond films,” says producer Mark Swift. “He has a big agenda; this is a guy who wants to change the world.”
To give Dave a bigger-than-life comic presence, they really thought outside the box in casting the role. “We wanted someone who was new to animated features and would bring gravitas in terms of stage craft, which would bring some weight as well as fun to the character,” says Smith.
They turned to Academy Award® nominee John Malkovich, who has distinguished himself in films, on stage, and on television. Making his animated feature debut, Malkovich quickly latched onto Dave’s vengeance-fueled motivations. “Dave feels he had his life ruined at every zoo and aquatic park he’s called home, once the Penguins arrived,” he notes. “They’re cute, so people oohed and aahed over them, so Dave would no longer get any attention.”
To Dave, the Penguins are the story’s true villains. “These Penguins ruined his life by stealing all the attention and just standing there or waddling around, while Dave actually performed tricks and acrobatics, only to have people ignore him,” adds the actor. “So he has very strong feelings about the Penguins, but they aren’t even aware of him. Which makes them even more annoying to Dave!”
Malkovich quickly embraced his inner mollusk, but was also eager to give Dave’s thirst for vengeance some subtext. “We strategized with John and came up with the idea that this film is the third act of Dave’s life,” says Smith. “Dave’s plot is the culmination of ten years of planning, which entails kidnapping the Penguins, developing a transformative technology that will change Penguin-hood forever, and disguising himself as a human. All that subtext made the role much more fun for John.”
The actor’s physical performance while recording the role so impressed the DreamWorks Animation team that they lifted parts of it to create the final animated performance. “John and Benedict [Cumberbatch, who voices Classified] just didn’t do voice recordings for this film. They act out the scene; they’re very theater-based in that way,” says Darnell.
“Moving around in the booth while voicing the role was kind of natural because Dave is so slippery and gelatinous,” Malkovich elaborates. “I’d move my arms and pretty much the rest of my body. I found it really helpful to have that physical manifestation.”
Perhaps abetting the actor’s drive to get into character was his resemblance to his cinematic alter ego. “Yeah, Dave does look a bit like me – but he looks even more like my youngest sister,” he says with a laugh.
Dave is aided by his octopi henchmen, who do his bidding with ninja-like moves. Their innate abilities, including camouflage, flexibility, and a vise-like grip make them a multi-limbed threat to our heroes. Their interactions with Dave also provide a rich source of verbal byplay, complementing the film’s plentiful physical gags. Dave’s instructions to his team result in hilarious puns; one, of many, examples: “Nicolas, cage [the Penguins]!” The filmmakers had brainstormed dozens of these celebrity-themed verbal gags, the best of which made it into the finished film.
“Penguins of Madagascar” opens November 26 in cinemas nationwide – available in 2D, 3D and IMAX 3D from Dreamworks Animation and 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.