Exclusive interview part I – Cineworld chats to Rio 2 director Carlos Saldanha

We recently sat down with director Carlos Saldanha, the man behind soaring animated sequel Rio 2, out in Cineworld on 4 April. In the first part of this exclusive interview, Carlos talks story, stars and samba. Viva Brazilia!

So Rio 2 features our two favourite animated macaws, Blu and Jewel. What’s their relationship status in the sequel?

Well now they’re together. In the first movie the two birds managed to fall in love. And now they have three adorable children, Carla, Bia and Tiago. Now they face the dilemma, what’s the kids’ future? How can they best raise the kids?

As we know from the first movie, Blu is a domesticated Macaw and Jewel is the wild one, so what would be the best way to raise the children? And when they realise there might be more of their kind in the Amazon, they embark on this family trip that is a challenge for Blu. But it’s best for the family because it’s for the future of the kids. So that’s how the journey begins for them.

So in this film, would you say that Blu has to ‘man up’ a little bit and become a bit braver?

Yes, well he has to ‘bird up’! [laughs]

‘Bird up’ – like it! You mentioned that Blu finds it a challenge going into the Amazon rainforest. But what kind of challenges did this present for your animation team when it came to putting it up there on the big screen?

It’s very complex. We were used to doing smaller-scale forests and trees. And when it came to reconstructing this environment, the Amazon is so big, so diverse. The scale is so mammoth, so huge that that really needs to come across. We made sure that all the trees were Amazonian species of trees, we wanted to make the forest feel as it would look in reality.

But of course we stylised it to make it feel right for the movie and to fit the characters. We tried to be as true as possible to the design and the location. Similar to the first movie where I recreated Rio, I wanted to recreate the essence of the Amazon in the right way.

So do you have teams of people going off into the Amazon to capture the environment accurately?

Well in this case I went. I grew up in Brazil, I lived in Brazil for half of my life and I always had the curiosity to go to the Amazon but I never went. So when I decided to make a movie about it, I had to go. Not just to look at the elements of it because you can get that out of pretty much any documentary or book on the subject. But more like to get the vibe, to be there because that’s what the characters were going to go through.

I wanted to know how hot it is, how humid it gets, I wanted to know what kind of bugs would scare me, what kind of rivers I would have to be watchful of, what kind of trees I could climb. I just wanted to be there and see it. It was an amazing experience because it allowed me to construct the characters and their journey.

Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway have great chemistry as Blu and Jewel. Do you record them separately or in the same room for greater impact?

No, we do it separately and it’s good that way because it allows the actors to be more comfortable with themselves, to do things that perhaps they’d be more self-conscious about if someone else was in the room. Sometimes I wish they were together because discoveries might be made but no, we record them separately.

Villainous cockatoo Nigel voiced by Jemaine Clement is back and up to no good. There’s a brilliant sequence in which he sings ‘I Will Survive’. Did you always plan to use that song?

I thought about a couple of options but the story artists proposed that one and as it turns out, it fits Nigel’s story very well. When it was pitched to me, I thought it was a brilliant idea. We embraced the idea and then let Jemaine do the rest, he really brought that song to life.

What’s he planning this time?

Well, he’s back and wants revenge on Blu. He’s got two sidekicks in the form of Charlie the silent anteater and Gabi the poisonous frog, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth from the stage show Wicked. However, he lost his feathers at the end of the first movie and now can’t fly! So he needs his sidekicks to help destroy Blu. He’s a really fun character.

We have several new voices in this film, among them Andy Garcia. Tell us a bit more about his character.

Well Andy plays Jewel’s father and I wanted a guy with a very strong presence, a very strong voice. Andy has a very cool sense of humour, it’s not an overt sense of humour, it’s the sort that can make you feel uncomfortable, which helps a lot because he plays Blu’s father-in-law. And part of the fun is how Blu has to be with the father-in-law, whether he’s going to be accepted by the father-in-law. And there’s no better character to give you that sense of presence and power than Andy.

As mentioned, Blu and Jewel now have children. Was it good fun working with the young voice actors?

They were outstanding, the kids were amazing. Carla is voiced by Rachel Crow who’s a talented performer. She was a finalist on either American Idol or X-Factor, just super talented. Bea is played by Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games. And Tiago is voiced by Pierce Gagnon, who played the young boy in Looper. Just a brilliant, brilliant little actor. So the child cast is quite impressive if you look at their body of work, they’re just amazingly talented.

From new voices to old friends – Jamie Foxx and will.i.am return as Nico and Pedro. They provided several songs for the first film, will they be doing the same for this one?

Yeah, they are part of the opening and closing numbers of the movie. They’re very funny characters, we have a lot of sequences with them so they’re very much part of it. Musically, the film has quite a few numbers that involve other characters as well, like Nigel. We have a new character, a frog called Gabi voiced by Kristin Chenoweth. There’s a very cool range of musical talent supporting the original cast.