A Look at the World of Yetis with Gina Rodriguez

Gina Rodriguez and her animated counterpart Kolka in the new film “Smallfoot”. Photo Credit: Brian Bowen/© 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC.

Rodriguez stars in the new animated film “Smallfoot”, which switches up the typical monster movie story

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

“Smallfoot” refers to not any sort of unexplored cryptozoology creature like the New Jersey Devil or the Chupacabra, instead the film flips the script on typical monster movies and stories, creating a world of yetis who actually discover the existence of the smallfoot – better known as a human being. With musical segments and a hearty cast that includes Channing Tatum, Zendaya, and LeBron James, the film is packed with humor and thoughtful messages.

Recently we caught up with Gina Rodriguez, of the critically acclaimed “Jane the Virgin”, and lasts year’s “Ferdinand” and “Annihilation”, as she was promoting the film at the Smallfoot Yeti Village, an interactive exhibit which was open for a limited time in Hollywood boulevard in Los Angeles.

While interviewing Rodriguez, we talked about her character, the spiritual yeti named Kolka, as well as her experiences on the film, and her admiration for director Karey Kirkpatrick’s work on this film.

Hey Gina. How is the yeti village?

It’s freezing, so it’s definitely feeling like we’re up on a mountain somewhere that’s way too cold. But it’s fantastic, it’s adorable.

Could you tell me about your character of Kolka in the film?

So, I play this really cool yeti who is a part of the Evidentiary Society (Smallfoot Evidentiary Society – S.E.S.), she is one of the yetis that is looking for the smallfoot, she believes in the smallfoot. She is into crystals and spirituality, and she is the yogi of the group. Very, very fun, and it was a lot of fun.

Can you tell me about the story of “Smallfoot”?

The story is about a group of yetis that live on a mountain and they are told not to leave the mountain, that there’s nothing that sits outside of that space, and really, it’s to protect the yetis. There’s this group of yetis that have formed, that have come together because they believe that something else exists and one of the yetis discovers a smallfoot, something that was told does not exist, and is blown away, brings back this information and kind of blows up the whole village that does not believe anything else exists outside of them.

And I think it’s a really great reflection of loving and accepting that which you do not know, being open to those; cultures, religions [or] people that you do not know. And instead of approaching it with fear, you approach it with love and excitement and understanding, and wanting to know more about them.

So, it’s a really good reflection and what’s great about animation is it can make you get out of your current reality, and you can go to spaces that you couldn’t in live action, and it can make you reflect on the world. And I think that this film really makes you reflect on how so often we are afraid of what we don’t know, instead of embracing the opportunity to learn more about that which we do not know.  

How was it working on the voice acting?

This is my fourth animation, so I’ve had a lot of fun. I did “Ferdinand” last year and I’m working on Netflix’s “Carmen Sandiego”, so I really enjoy lending my voice, it’s a definitely different style of acting. As you’re creating the world around you, you’re using more of your imagination and you also get to manipulate your voice and play some characters you ultimately wouldn’t to otherwise. Like a yeti!

What it is like playing your role of a yeti compared to other roles like Anya Thorensen in “Annihilation”?

Well, Smallfoot is very different than Annihilation, vastly different. Like for Annihilation I did extreme character work, a transformation. I cut my hair, shot in London, I played a psychopath. For Smallfoot, I get to play this very joyous, loving, outwardly affectionate huge, awesome bigfoot. I mean they’re drastically different experiences. It’s also playing a character that’s joyous, you have a lot of fun. With animation you’re pretty much doing it on your off-time. I’m in production for Jane and I was last year when I was doing the work on “Smallfoot”. So, it’s a nice step out of the spaces that you’re currently in. It’s nice to play somebody fun and be in a world that’s happy and full of happiness. Jane cries a lot. And “Annihilation” was pretty depressing so [“Smallfoot”] it’s definitely a lot fun.

What was your favorite aspect of being part of the creation of “Smallfoot”?

You know I’m going to say that my favorite part of this animation was working with Karey, the director. I have done animation before, and there’s definitely something about a director that gets in the booth with you that helps you create this character. I mean, you are creating this character pretty much from the ground up. Imagination is in full effect because the animation isn’t necessarily there. You know the world isn’t there.

So, when you have a director that is in the booth with you, feeding you images and playing off of you, and playing the other characters and helping you discover who you want to create and how you want to make them, how you want the voice to be -for a little while the character was “sing-song” stage –  it’s just really such a collaborative experience. Karey is magical, brilliant, and funny and fun, and very comforting. When you’re in a booth that’s five by seven you’re there with another human being creating this entire magical winter wonderland, that’s really special. And every single time I had with him was very special.   

You mentioned you’re in a booth doing the voice work. Usually voice acting doesn’t necessarily involve physical interactions with your castmates. Was this experience similar in that way?

For “Smallfoot” I had only one opportunity to work with one of the other actors in the movie, Ely (Ely Henry) plays the character of Fleem, and it was really fun to get to work across from somebody else. It’s definitely more alive, it’s more engaging, you’re responding off of someone, you’re reacting, you’re listening. Otherwise you’re creating all of it in your head, including the other person’s response, deciding how they’re going to respond, giving different tones, giving different actions just in case the other person, when they’re in the booth, comes up with interesting. You seldom have the opportunity to work across from somebody but when you do it’s definitely more engaging and exciting. There’s a spark, there’s something that again, you couldn’t create otherwise.

That being said our director was so much of that for me, so regardless if I was working with any of the other actors I had a director that put himself in every other character’s space. And he is, like I said, so extremely talented that he has such a clear vision for all the other characters to such lengths, he was able to feed me exactly what those other actors were doing when he was in the booth with them.

But it is definitely a very different experience when you’re in there with another actor than when you’re there by yourself. Nonetheless I think that’s what makes it such a great challenge. What makes it so exciting because you are really using your imagination, you know like 95% of the time. I think that’s a really great exercise for actors, especially if you don’t do animation often in real life. In real life, in live action, the escape is one of fine tuning your craft and that’s really great exercise not all of us get the opportunity to have.

See Gina Rodriguez and the rest of the cast play yetis in “Smallfoot”, out September 28 in theaters.