The new Pixar film Soul will premiere on December 25 on Disney+. We recently got a chance to chat with the cast of Soul, as well as the filmmakers! You can learn all about the highly-anticipated film below.
Joining the discussion was Jamie Foxx (Joe Gardner), Tina Fey (22), Angela Bassett (Dorothea Williams), Phylicia Rashad (Libba Gardner), writer/director Pete Docter, writer/co-director Kemp Powers and producer Dana Murray.
In the movie, Joe Gardner (voice of Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher who dreams of playing in the best jazz club in town. When he has an accident right after a huge opportunity, he has to find a way back to his body, while helping another soul named 22 (Tina Fey) along the way.
In the film, Joe wants so badly to stop teaching music and play in a jazz band instead. His mother, played by Rashad, tells him to stick with his good, solid job instead of reaching for the stars.
Rashad was asked about saying those lines as an actor who’s spent her career on stage and screen, living her dream. She said, “Well, you know, just because you push somebody to follow their dreams, that doesn’t mean you’re not giving a gut check.”
She continued, “Sometimes that’s a gut check too. Because people have dreams and aspirations that they might be a little leery about, simply because they’re not accustomed to following their inner inspiration. Listening to themselves for real. And sometimes, that’s a real gut check, to tell somebody to follow that dream. To tell them to dare to be bold enough to believe in it.”
Bassett plays a famous jazz musician, and when Joe auditions for her, she’s skeptical at first. Then he gets into the zone. She was asked about her experience watching young performers find that moment of zen.
“I’ve seen young actors get into the zone,” she said. “And it is absolutely thrilling to watch. You know, to sit in the dark, as an audience member, and to see that. If I’m onstage with them, I sincerely hope that I’m also in the zone,” she laughed. “And not outside of myself observing.
“You know, it’s something whether on stage, you’re always, you know, hoping and praying that you can capture-capture that moment. I love sitting in the theater and observing it and others. And it’s happened time and time again. It’s a great place.”
Fey plays 22, a soul who’s never found their personal spark that will give them the impetus to live a life on Earth. She spoke about finding her own spark, saying, “A story that comes to mind, when I was in college, I studied drama.
“At the University of Virginia. And I – like everybody, I think I mostly wanted to be an actor. But then the first time I took a playwriting class, and I wrote a one-act play, and I was not in the play.
“That was the first time I ever sat back and watched other people get laughs and stuff from something that I wrote. And it was such a unique thrill that something opened in my brain, of like, ‘Oh, I think this is it for me.'”
Rashad added her story. “When I was 11 years old, and I stood in a spotlight. And couldn’t see anything but light. And I held a script of everything I was supposed to say, but because I’d been rehearsed so thoroughly, I knew it by heart. So, I just
talked to the light all night long.”
For Bassett, it was during a school pageant. “I had been doing a reading and just fell in love with the poetry of Langston Hughes. So, I used some of his Madam and the Rent Man, Madam and the Operator, Madam and the Preacher.
“I did a couple of those poems. You know, like, “Reverend came by my house today. He asked me… ‘I’m interested in your soul, has it been saved? Is your heart stone cold?’
“So I used that as mine. And it went over very, very well. And can’t say it came along with a prize. Being able to use the poet laureate’s words to express myself, to express drama. To have fun.
“To see the reaction of the audience, to that. Yeah. It was beginning. It was
beginning of something.”
Doing this film wasn’t just good for Foxx. It impressed his daughter. He told the group, “My daughter was like, yeah, dad, you’ve done animation but not good anim-um, not the good kind. I said, what you mean? ‘You’re Pixar now. You made it.’
He laughed, “She be looking at me like, oh, when it is gonna take off for you?”
“So, doing this role and it being such a momentous role and at the same time having the music, is it something that I’m – that’s what I came out here to do.
“I know my grandmother, who is looking down, would be proud that we are doing something like this.” He said we needed this right now. “It’s such an incredibly weird time that we’re going through. Something good needs to really, really happen. And I think this is something great, and I think, when people see it, it’s going to be amazing.”
In addition to the cast of Soul, we had the directors and the producers talking about this story. They were asked about whether or not this was always going to be a story about an African-American jazz musician. Docter said no.
“At the very beginning, it was a personal story of, like, trying to, for myself, figure this out. What are we going through? What’s the world about? What am I supposed to be doing with my life?”
He continued, saying that he wanted to take people on a sort of “…artist journey of finding a character that we could root for, that we find compelling and interesting.” They thought about an actor or a scientist, but settled on a jazz musician.”
He said, “You don’t go into jazz to get rich and famous, you know? You do it, because you love it. And you have a passion for it. And it’s fascinating to watch.
“When you see somebody play, they’re just amazing. It’s like a magic trick. So, as soon as we hit on that, one of our consultants called the jazz Black
“And we realized, oh, we have to make this character Black. He has to be from that culture that brought us this great American art form.”
Murray explained that they spoke to Pixar’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion Britta Wilson, and brought on Dr. Johnetta Cole, Daveed Diggs, Questlove and so many others, including having compositions and arrangements from Jon Batiste.
“I could go on and on. We worked with a lot of just working musicians, in New York City and here in Emeryville and teachers… Batiste, he’s the obvious one to mention here. We always say he’s Jamie’s hands in the movie, and he’s just an incredible… historian… he’s a genius.”
Powers spoke about when Murray and Docter brought him onto the film. “The first thing I asked was what work of mine have you read? They had actually read a play of mine that I wrote called ‘One Night in Miami.’
“So I was like, okay, so you know what you’re getting into… you know my politics. You know that I’m going to be pushing for a lot of Black stuff because I can’t help myself. I think our culture is amazing. A lot of people, particularly in Hollywood will tell you that, in order to appeal to a wide audience, you want to get away from that.
“And I feel the opposite. I feel there is a universality by going for hyper specificity… it’s a wonderful opportunity to do both something that my family, that my kids and my mom and all my relatives could be proud [of], but be something that everyone could enjoy and just show how the Black American experience and our humanity is as universal as anyone else’s experience.”
What do you guys think of our chat with the cast of Soul? Will you be watching on December 25? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @vitalthrillscom.