Beck Bennett spoke with Solzy at the Movies this week about his role in The Mitchells vs. The Machines, animation, and Saturday Night Live.
In the film, Beck voices both Eric and the PAL Max Robots.
The Mitchells vs. The Machines releases on Netflix this weekend. What was it about the script that drew your interest?
Beck Bennett: I don’t even know if it was the script to be honest. This is very me but I don’t even know if I read the script for a while because I don’t know if they gave it to me. I think I got my scenes and my scenes were enough sort of throughout the movie where I could get a grasp of it. I liked my scenes and it was really this creative team and the other cast members because the other cast members were involved at this point. I think pretty much the entire cast was there except for maybe me and Fred [Armisen]. We came in last, I think—at least everybody else was set. It was kind of like, Yes, absolutely. I want to be a part of this. It was really my lines and the whole creative team behind it.
In recording your lines, were you able to play off the rest of the cast or was it just going solo?
Beck Bennett: Going solo. It’s pretty classic with animation. There are some shows or maybe movies where you get to do a table read and get in the booth with other people and interact and improvise and stuff. But yeah, it was just me. But luckily, I had Mike, who is an amazing audience and contributor. You’ll do something. He’ll give you the encouragement to improvise and do something. And then he’ll stifle a laugh and be like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, do that, go more with that, or maybe try this and it’s very collaborative. In a way, it was like having collaborators or other characters there with me because Mike is so fun to work with.
How did you decide to approach the characters in terms of giving them a personality?
Beck Bennett: Well, yeah, it’s interesting because on one hand, I’m the voice of the robots who don’t have a personality, right? They’re supposed to be robots and not supposed to be having opinions, thoughts, or feelings. We played with different robot voices but really, there’s this certain part of my vocal cords that I just kind of hit like that that’s like sort of round and sort of simple, sort of has an Alexa sort of sound to it and then we deviate from there. It’s like my voice but a little bit robotic. I’m not going like, Hello. It’s got this sort of voice but then when the robots change, they can kind of throw in some curiosity in there. It wasn’t too rigid. It was flexible enough to put in thoughts and feelings when they have them eventually.
What’s the one thing you love about doing an animated project?
Beck Bennett: Well, I think the—okay, so there are two things. Can I say two?
Beck Bennett: Okay. One is the convenience. You go in and you don’t go through—it’s just a simpler, easier process for the actor. You go in, you play the part, you leave. They do a lot of hard work for years and then it comes out and then you get to have your voice be in this world. That’s really, really fun.
I think the other thing that I really like with animation, which is usually the case is that it just feels really warm. It feels nice, fun, and imaginative. To get to play a character and play a part in the sort of imagination of these animators and creators is really fun because you never know how something’s going to turn out. I always feel like animation—the heart is in the right place. It may not turn out to be what you thought but typically it’s going to far exceed what you thought because you didn’t see anything. All you had were the lines. When you get to see it come to life, it’s like, Whoa, amazing! That’s what I was doing, that’s what I was saying. You get to see it all. It’s just a sweet, fun, imaginative world, usually. Those are the two things—the convenience and the fun, exciting world that I get to be a part of.
What did you think when you first saw The Mitchells vs. The Machines?
Beck Bennett: Ah, I loved it. I truly love this movie so much. I was crying at the end and laughing throughout. I was blown away by the animation. The sort of Katie-vision that happens—the animation that expresses what she’s going through is cool, surprising, and different. I think it kind of makes me as a viewer go like, Oh, that’s interesting, like what’s happening? The further we get into the movie, I think it like—I don’t know—it has a bigger part in a way because then you get to go into the robot world and it’s more sleek and intense. I think that they define the worlds very specifically and it makes each one pop out even more when you go back and forth between the two.
But yeah, I’m a sucker for family movies. I think that, when you can have a family movie with great characters, a real family dynamic, and then a lot is happening. it’s like exciting and fun—that’s great. I loved it. I had a great time watching it.
Did you have a favorite part in particular?
Beck Bennett: Well, I really like the part, selfishly, when the robots are trying to trick the family into thinking that they’re not robots. I think that’s a really fun scene and I thought it came out really well. That was really fun for me. When they’re breaking into the headquarters sort of at the end and they’re kind of in these pods and stuff, that was really fun and exciting for me. I was surprised by how much I was intrigued by animated action. I think that Mark, Mothersbaugh’s score was really awesome and that was cool to be in a movie that he created the score of. There were a couple parts towards the end with the family like seeing—I don’t want to give anything away—but seeing everybody come together as a family, I guess, the last 10 minutes or so were really heartwarming to me.
When did you do your lines for the film? Was it during hiatus or trying to fill in a busy week with SNL on top?
Beck Bennett: Luckily, I never had to do it while I was doing SNL. I think I started not this past summer but the summer before that I believe is when I started. I would do sessions on breaks when I was back in Los Angeles. I think I did one over this past summer—one session—but I think I did about a total of five sessions all here in Los Angeles.
Saturday Night Live takes up a good chunk of the year and on top of the recent DuckTales reboot that just just ended, how do you decide on what projects to tackle during the hiatus?
Beck Bennett: Well, luckily, with animation, that’s something that is pretty easy to do because I can do it while I’m at SNL. I can go into a studio on one of my slower days like a Monday or go and record there in New York remotely. Or it’s something that I can do in my breaks here. And really, it’s hard to—we have breaks throughout the year, two or three-week little breaks—between October or September and May. It’s really hard to do anything not animated in those little chunks of time. We have about three and a half months, four months off in this summer. That’s when I’ll try to do something. It’s kind of whatever fits in that window. Maybe I’ll have a choice of a couple things or maybe I’ll audition, get something, and it’ll be kind of a no-brainer. It kind of ends up choosing for me in a way because there aren’t tons of options. I also love my hiatuses. I love my time off and it’s a time to see my family and friends. Hopefully, it’ll be something that doesn’t take too much time or it shoots, hopefully, in Los Angeles or somewhere in our country so I do not have to go away for too long.
Were there any projects that you lost out on because of the pandemic?
Beck Bennett: I think it was early enough to the point where nothing had been lined up yet. It’s typically movies or maybe a guest star on a TV show or something. Usually those things because production typically is a little bit more immediate—they’re casting things as they’re moving. It’s not too far in advance. I didn’t have anything that I missed out on, I don’t think, because that usually will happen in April, or May.
I did miss out on Bill and Ted and this movie coming out in theaters, which I was bummed about because those are two of the biggest movies I’ve been in. Those would have had more of a theatrical release compared to an independent movie. I was bummed that it couldn’t come out in theaters but also very excited that I think that both Bill and Ted and also The Mitchells vs. The Machines will, in the end, maybe have a larger audience and maybe more people will have been able to have seen it coming out on streaming instead of theater so that’s a plus.
When you are choosing projects outside of SNL, is there anything in particular that you look for in a character while reading a screenplay?
Beck Bennett: I think ultimately, it’s like if I connect, if it feels like it makes sense to me. I mean, that might be sort of too simple. But if what the character is saying, if it feels like I have something to add to that, then that’s kind of where I go from. Sometimes it’ll be pretty good and I’ll be like, for some reason, I don’t know why it’s not really adding up, and I’m not feeling excited to jump in there and lend my voice to a character. It’s really just that intangible sort of feeling.
I think in the past and the present, my sort of go-to type, I think would be kind of—for lack of a better word—shithead. Kind of a jerk or an idiot, some combination of that which is, it’s okay. I get how that makes sense. Those are the roles that I often come across.
Have you started to think about life after SNL?
Beck Bennett: Yeah, all the time, life after SNL. Yeah, it’s wild. I’ve been at SNL for eight years so it could be coming to an end soon—I don’t know when. I think I’ve never really known when—especially when I first started out there, I always think I’m gonna get fired and then I don’t and then I stay and I keep going and figuring it out. You never know what’s going to be out there. It’s such a great place. It’s a special place where I get to work with incredible people and make fun things every week, whether I’m making it or I’m part of something somebody else is making. It’s a live audience and we’re reacting to things that are happening in the news and in the world. I know that whatever comes next while it may be exciting and great and I might be more connected to it or something, there’s nothing quite like SNL so it’s gonna be hard to leave whenever that has happened.
What’s the most meaningful lesson that you learned early on in your comedy career that you’ve taken with you ever since?
Beck Bennett: I think that you gotta you got to do what makes you laugh. If I’m having fun making something—because sometimes you’re like, Oh, is this gonna be funny? Is this good? Is this what I should be doing or whatever—that’s kind of a fool’s errand, unfortunately. You got to just go for what makes you laugh and work with the people that you like working with and make you laugh and you make them laugh and really trying to find that is the thing that I hold on to the most and it’s been most helpful.