“The movie is joyful and positive and full of so much talent,” says Annie Murphy when we sit down with her to speak about her new movie, Dreamworks’ Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken.
“I read the script and loved it so much, but then to see it on the screen, it was so cool to see,” the Schitts Creek star continues. “I think people are really going to like it.”
The story follows awkward 16-year-old Ruby Gillman (Lana Condor), who is desperate to fit in at her school, Oceanside High. The problem is: she’s secretly a kraken and her and her family have moved to land to have a better life, as her mum (Toni Collette) tells her.
But Ruby mostly just feels invisible. She’s math-tutoring her skater-boy crush, who only seems to admire her for her fractals, and she’s prevented from hanging out with the cool kids at the beach because her over-protective mum has forbade Ruby from ever getting in the water.
Ruby’s introverted nature is something that struck a chord with actor Lana Condor who plays her: “When I was a teenager, I very much did not want to pull focus, I wanted to exist under the radar and fit in and not stand out,” she reveals.
However, when she breaks her mum’s rule not to go into the water, Ruby is forced to stand out when she turns into a giant kraken! She quickly discovers that she is a direct descendant of the warrior Kraken queens and is destined to inherit the throne from her grandmother, the Warrior Queen of the Seven Seas (Jane Fonda).
She also finds out that the Kraken are sworn to protect the oceans against the power-hungry mermaids but there’s one major problem with that: The school’s beautiful, popular new girl, Chelsea (Annie Murphy) just happens to be a mermaid and they’ve formed a friendship.
Though she plays the confident, popular mermaid Chelsea, Murphy tells us she’s more like shy Ruby: “I loved playing Chelsea so much but the character that I identified with the most was Ruby,” Murphy tells us. “I think a lot of kids are going to be able to identify with Ruby because growing up is tough and feeling comfortable in your own skin all the time is tough.
“As the movie goes on, we realise that all of these things that Ruby viewed as flaws are actually really important parts of herself and her personality. She learns to love them and appreciate them and learn from them. I just love that message and I genuinely felt like there are going to be so many kids that see themselves in Ruby. Just like I did.”
Indeed, with relatable characters, a fun storyline, a colourful palette and a banging soundtrack, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken will most definitely appeal to young audiences, and that’s something that the film’s young star is looking forward to: “I have a lot of younger nieces and a nephew and I am really excited for them to watch it!” she tells us. “Dreamworks has been integral to my childhood, so I’m just so excited to be given the opportunity to be that for my nieces and my nephew. I just can’t wait to hear the reaction.”
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is Dreamworks’ 44th movie and managing the helm is a Dreamworks alumni: director Kirk DeMicco, who also directed The Croods. This time, a lot of the action takes place in the sea and DeMicco tells us this was a good chance for him and the studio to really play and create a new underwater world: “That was a really a great opportunity and a challenge for all the artists at DreamWorks Animation,” he nods. “Our production designer Pierre Olivier Vincent, who designed all three How to Train Your Dragon movies is an expert in world building.
“The other challenge was creating a kraken world that was bespoke for a movie about our first female title lead, Ruby Gillman, that was enticing and beautiful and aspirational.”
Being the director of Dreamworks’ first movie with a female lead, DeMicco has brought together an exceptional female cast, including Toni Collette and Jane Fonda, who play mother and daughter in the movie.
“In talking to Toni and Jane, we connected with that mother/daughter story,” he tells us, “and at the same time playing characters that had a place to go: a mum who has to understand that she might not be perfect, and the way forward is through communication. Or a grandmother who has been a fierce protector of the sea all her life against humans, and who has to let in the fact that maybe her teenage granddaughter does know something and I think that that’s really ripe for the moment.”
In fact, after focussing on a father and daughter relationship in The Croods, DeMicco tells us he was excited to delve into the female relationships in Ruby Gillman. “This is a mother/daughter story and told in a hero’s journey,” he tells us.
“We’re taking an insecure high schooler on a superhero’s journey, and putting her through it was something that she needed to earn. We wanted to feel that she earned that power. This isn’t something that happened to her accidentally, this is who she truly is. This is about a moment in a girl’s life where she is not going to worry about just fitting in, but being exactly who she is, showing the world who she is and then belonging.”
To bring Ruby’s story to life on the big screen, Condor tells us she’d need to hype herself up in the recording booth. Not that she’s a stranger to voiceover work, having starred in a number of animations, including BoJack Horseman and Alita: Battle Angel.
“I am someone that needs to charge by themselves before they get to work because once you get to work, especially in animation, you have to keep up your energy big time!” she says. “The only way that I can keep up my energy is if I’ve basically charged by myself for like two days. Then I’m able to harness the energy and output the amount of energy that is needed when it comes to animation.”
And the secret to that energy? “I drink copious amounts of matcha and sparkling water,” she laughs. “The bubbles keep me awake and keep you perky!”
Someone who is not as au fait with animation is Annie Murphy. “This was really my first proper voice gig and it is so different from TV and film acting,” she tells us. “In TV and film acting you need to dial it down and be natural and grounded. With this, I went in, probably with food on my face, sweat pants, hair in a bun and immediately just gave it 177% and was over the top and weird and tried a whole bunch of stuff out. And instead of the director being like ‘why did we hire her?’, the director was: ‘Can we do more? Let’s jack that up a bit”,” she laughs.
“It was so much fun being able to be so ridiculous and so over the top in the sound booth. But it was also a really interesting experience because I still have not met the cast at all. We record all by ourselves. So I am so excited to meet all of these incredibly talented people. We haven’t crossed paths once. So I’m really looking forward to the premiere.”
Murphy isn’t the only one excited to finally her cast mates, though they play mother and daughter on screen, Condor is yet to meet Toni Collette which she says “is wild because it works so well on the film!”
“I’m a huge fan,” Condor continues. “I really do think that she is one of the best, if not the best, actors of our time. So if I am so lucky to meet her, I am going to scream with joy. I will be very starstruck.”
It seems being starstruck will be a recurring theme at that premier…
“I’ve thought about this already and already my armpits are starting to sweat a little bit,” says Murphy when we ask her what it will be like to meet Jane Fonda. “Icon gets overused, but I do genuinely think Jane Fonda is an absolute icon who has had such an exceptional career and seems to just keep crushing roles and with such joy.”
With a strong and supportive female cast, full of icons and future icons, it really is fitting that DeMicco wanted “this movie to be a message that girls shouldn’t shrink away. They don’t have to hide, they don’t have to be invisible – they can stand tall, they can embrace their power and be as strong as they want.
“The opportunity to not just fit in but to truly belong by being yourself and being honest with the world was the message we wanted to share,” he says.
That sentiment is shared with Murphy: “I want [audiences] to feel all of the warm fuzziness that the movie provides. I hope that they’re thinking about embracing themselves a little bit more than they did, and being kind and gentle with themselves a little bit more than they were.
“I also hope that parents are thinking a little bit more about how important it is to love unconditionally and accept unconditionally your kid for who they are.”
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken is out in cinemas now