Chris Pratt is no stranger to massive fan franchises. He’s been a sitcom star, Marvel superhero, Jurassic Park employee, and even a Lego figure. And yet even with all that behind him, he thinks the role of Mario in The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the one that holds the most responsibility.
“I loved Jurassic Park as a kid,” Pratt told Gizmodo on video chat last week. “I was 13 years old when it came out. It was a big part of my childhood. I might have seen the movie five or six times through the course of growing up. Well, five or six times is, you know, a few hours. I played this game for hundreds of hours. Probably maybe 1,000 hours of my childhood. And so the sound of hitting a coin, catching a flower, hearing the score, every little detail of the movie, it was like I was hypnotized by it as a child. So to see it now, nothing really compares to it in terms of my relationship to the brand.”
Pratt voices one of the two titular characters in the highly anticipated Nintendo and Illumination animated film, which opens April 5. He’s joined by Charlie Day who voices Luigi, Mario’s brother. Day too has fond memories of playing Super Mario Bros. and, like Pratt, knew this movie was more than just a movie.
“When you think about what a video game does for people, it is a place to escape to,” Day said. “So people would go after maybe having a tough day at school or in your work life, whatever it is, you put on Super Mario Bros., you play for an hour and you just disappear into that land and that world. So in many ways, the game had taken care of people, I think, in a way that they don’t want the franchise messed up at all.”
Day and Pratt sat down with Gizmodo to talk about the responsibility of playing these two iconic characters, the controversy surrounding the voice casting, what Nintendo means to them, what Nintendo movies they want to see next, if they’re signed on for more sequels, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Germain Lussier, Gizmodo: So we are all of an age where Nintendo was a really big deal growing up. I’m wondering what were each of your first experiences and memories of these characters? Was it playing Donkey Kong? Was it getting an NES? What was it?
Charlie Day: You know, I remember playing Donkey Kong, but I don’t think it was until I owned Super Mario Bros. that I put together that that was Mario and Donkey Kong. That you kind of after the fact realised it. But what I remember is my set came with a double [game]. It was both Mario and Zelda. You could play either one and it was great. I played them both as much as I possibly could.
Chris Pratt: So good. That was the same with me. My very first memory is the arcade. And then shortly after, probably within six months to a year, the NES came out and we had one in our house and boy, yeah, the rest is history.
Day: It was a game changer.
io9: Absolutely. Now, because of that, was there any trepidation to step into these roles? Especially because they do have such a long history and passionate fan base — but are mostly undefined when it comes to like a larger, cohesive story?
Pratt: That’s a really good point. It is largely undefined, but I think because it’s largely undefined, it kind of reduces the amount of trepidation that I personally felt coming in. I mean, you have great reach. Anytime you have IP like this, it’s really something that’s almost required these days to create a big tentpole type of movie for these studios. You have to have some kind of reach. The fact that this hasn’t been a major motion picture recently was a really great thing. And you’re right, there’s not that much familiarity beyond just what their costumes look like and a handful of catchphrases that you might hear. And knowing that it was Illumination, I was like, “Boy, I think this is destined to be a home run.” So I was really, really grateful to be a part of it.
io9: When the voice cast was announced, it was met with excitement but confusion and some criticism. Chris, how did you feel about that since so much of that was directed at you?
Pratt: Oh, I totally get it, man. There’s a passionate fan base and I’m one of the fans. I get it. Mostly, people don’t want something like this to get screwed up. They’re precious about it. They’re careful. And I’m grateful for that.
Day: I think Super Mario Bros., really, when you think about what a video game does for people, it is a place to escape to. So people would go, after maybe having a tough day at school or in your work life, whatever it is, you put on Super Mario Bros., you play for an hour and you just disappear into that land and that world. So in many ways, the game had taken care of people, I think, in a way that they don’t want the franchise messed up at all. So I think they’ll be really happy when they see the movie two, three, maybe four times in the theatre.
Day: To see that Illumination has really done a great job with it, and it’s been in really good hands, and the attention to detail for those people who are huge Super Mario Bros. fans? They’re giving the audience what they want. So I think they’re going to be pleased.
io9: While I was watching it I just wanted to pause it in Mario’s bedroom because there are so many little things.
Pratt: Yeah, right? Exactly. Everything. Everything from a game he’s playing to the things on the shelves, there are Easter eggs everywhere. It’s really made, I mean, kids can truly enjoy this, but also people who like us who are kids at heart who at one point were kids playing this game, it’s designed specifically for huge fans of this IP.
io9: Charlie, you co-created a show that I love called Mythic Quest, which is obviously gaming-centric. I was wondering, what did you take from that show that maybe helped you on this, or did the people who work on that show say anything to you about being a part of this?
Day: Oh, that’s interesting, right? Yeah, there’s a lot of overlap there. [Pauses] The only thing that I really could connect from that experience to this is just how massive the gaming world and culture is. It’s why Rob [McElhenney] and I, and then Megan [Ganz] later, wanted to make Mythic Quest — because of just how huge the world of video games is. If I’ve taken anything from it is just a deeper understanding of video game culture. And now I have a son who cares as much about video games as I’ve cared about anything in my life. So, yeah. I’m getting more and more into the world of video games. And then when this just popped up, it just, I don’t know. It seemed like a lucky and very fortunate next step to just get myself even deeper in the world of gaming.
io9: Chris, you’re obviously part of so many franchises that are important to fans. I’m wondering how, if at all, being part of Nintendo and Super Mario feels different from a Jurassic Park or a Marvel or a Lego.
Chris Pratt: Well, I mean, it stands alone and in its reach, I think. I think certainly, like, I loved Jurassic Park as a kid. I was 13 years old when it came out. It was a big part of my childhood. I might have seen the movie maybe five or six times through the course of growing up. Well, five or six times is you know, whatever. A few hours. I played this game for hundreds of hours. Probably maybe 1000 hours of my childhood spent. And so like the sound of hitting a coin, catching a flower, hearing the score, every little detail of the movie, it was like I was hypnotized by it as a child. So to see it now, I mean, just nothing really compares to it in terms of my relationship to the brand. So it’s pretty, pretty cool. Pretty incredible. And also, I care just as much as everyone else to make sure that doesn’t get screwed up.
io9: Yeah, that makes sense. And you both talk about just the reach of it and what it means to you. I think what I’m most excited about with this movie is that now, because there’s a Super Mario movie and it’s probably going to be a big hit, maybe we’ll finally get more Nintendo movies. If that happens, what games would you like to see turned into movies?
Pratt: Spy Hunter.
Day: Yeah, that would be a good one. We were talking about Metroid.
Pratt: That’s really good.
Day: How interesting and creepy and cool a Metroid [movie] would be? Also Contra. Give me the Contra movie. And don’t make it animated. Make it live-action.
Pratt: Yeah. Just like…
Day: And give me Stallone and Schwarzenegger and set them loose.
io9: I say it’s you guys in Contra, live-action. That’s what I think.
Both: Absolutely. Yes. I’m in. All day.
Day: 100 per cent.
Pratt: We’re very serious. No jokes.
Day: Dead serious.
Pratt: Dead serious. Platoon-level serious.
io9: [Laughs] Box office, we’re talking box office. OK. When we talk Nintendo and Super Mario, you can’t talk without mentioning Shigeru Miyamoto, an absolute legend like at the level of George Lucas or beyond. Did you guys get to work with him at all? What was your kind of relationship with him in this?
Pratt: I had met him before. I met him previously. I don’t know if that was part of the reason why I was chosen to play Mario, but I met him backstage at Jimmy Fallon a few years ago and I was like, “Whoa, that’s crazy.” That was like just my childhood and my adulthood colliding in a strange way. And then I met him again at the opening of Super Nintendo World at Universal Hollywood. And like you said, he is such an icon. He’s such a legend. He’s such a kid in a big way. He’s always got a big graphic t-shirt and a huge smile on his face. And he seems to be really always happy. I don’t know if that’s real, if he is always happy, but he’s just such a legend. It was really cool to get to meet him and spend time with him
io9: Chris, you mentioned Super Nintendo World. I think with that, the two Jurassic rides, and the two Guardians rides, you might be the most theme-parked actor out there these days. I’m wondering have you ridden all these rides and which is your favourite?
Pratt: Oh man, Yeah, we’ve got him all over the place. All over the world. I took my son on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride at California Adventure Park, and that was pretty wild. The former Tower of Terror. But now there’s Guardians Rewind, and then there’s the Jurassic World ride at Universal. And then there’s the Mario ride at Universal. There’s Osaka, Japan. And then we’ve got Beijing, Disney. There’s a bunch.
io9: Yeah, there’s a lot.
Pratt: I haven’t been on all of them.
io9: All right, no problem. Now, this movie has some fun teases for the future, potentially. When you came on board, was it understood this could be a multi-film franchise? And have you guys signed on to do more?
Pratt: Oh, gosh. You know, I think it was understood that it could potentially be, but I actually haven’t even thought that far ahead.
Day: No, I think they said we’re going to make this movie and see how it goes.
Pratt: That’s usually the model anyways in animation. It’s not like Marvel is like, “Oh, you’re going to be Star-Lord.” “Cool.” “We’re signing on to a 4,000 picture deal” and you’re like “Great, I will do it.” But with animation, typically it’s like you do one, you see how it does, and if it does well, then you can always go back to do more.
Day: And I don’t know if you’ve ever been on the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia theme park ride but let me tell you…
Pratt: Oh it’s really good.
Day: They put you in a garbage can, they hook it up to the tow truck, they just drive you around South Philly…
io9: And you get really drunk along the way.
io9: But you do have the Lego ride at Lego Land.
Day: Right, I have the Lego ride at Lego Land.
And now both Day and Pratt also have The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which opens in theatres April 4.