Ready to Fly

TFK chats with Jesse Eisenberg, who voices an endangered macaw named Blu in Rio

Apr 15, 2011 | By Vickie An

Jesse Eisenberg is earning his wings. The actor voices Blu, a rare Spix's macaw, in the 3-D animated film Rio, now playing. Blu has lived a very cozy, sheltered life in Moosehead, Minnesota, with his human owner Linda. In fact, his life has been so sheltered that he never had to learn to fly! When Blu discovers there's another Spix's macaw out there—a female named Jewel—he decides to take the ultimate leap and head to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to meet her.

Actor Jesse Eisenberg is the voice of Blu, a rare Spix's macaw, in the new animated movie Rio.
JAMIE MIDGLEY—BLUE SKY STUDIOS
Actor Jesse Eisenberg is the voice of Blu, a rare Spix's macaw, in the new animated movie Rio.

But as Blu soon learns, it will take more than being the same species for a love connection with the fiercely independent Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway). Things get even more complicated when the pair are bird-napped. Now chained together, the two must make a great escape before they are illegally sold to the highest bidder. It's an unforgettable adventure that will change their lives forever.

TFK spoke to Eisenberg about his feathery new role. Read on to see what he had to say about his first animated-film.

TFK:

How did you get inside Blu's head for the role?

JESSE EISENBERG:

When I first met with director Carlos Saldanha, who is actually from Rio, he showed me pictures and early animation of Blu. Blu is such a wonderful, sweet character. I tried to think about what it would be like for this bird—who was raised in a tiny, snowy town in Minnesota—to come down to Rio and experience this great culture shock.

TFK:

Do you see yourself in Blu in any other ways?

EISENBERG:

At the beginning of the movie, Blu is living in Minnesota, and he doesn't know how to fly; he also has no need to fly. When Linda takes him to Rio, a very vertical city, he is forced to deal with his fear and learn how to fly. It's such a gradual and sweet story of Blu discovering who he really is. I fell in love with his journey.

I had a similar experience growing up in the northern part of the United States. The first time I left the country I went to Venezuela, which borders Brazil. It was a culture shock in a wonderful way. Just like Blu, I went into it cautiously and with an open mind. I tried to fit into the culture, rather than have the culture adjust to me.

TFK:

How does the Rio de Janeiro that we see in the movie compare to the real city?

EISENBERG:

When I first saw some of the clips, I thought they had created this fictitious version of Rio, almost like a mythical Atlantis, because the images in the movie are so beautiful. But what I discovered as soon as I landed there is that the city was actually recreated almost building for building on film. It's astounding what the animators did. The world that they created is not only beautiful and lush and 3-D, but also accurate.

TFK:

This is your first animated feature film. How was the experience?

EISENBERG:

It's very different from doing a live-action movie. I love the freedom of having a lot less pressure. When you do a live-action movie you wake up at 5:00 a.m., you work for five months, and the days are very long. You have to think more about how you're appearing on camera, and what you're doing with your body and your face and your gestures. With this movie, because I was just using my voice, I found it to be very freeing. I would close my eyes, take off my shoes, and just imagine myself in these very strange situations.

TFK:

It takes some time, but Blu and Jewel grow to love each other over the course of their adventure, in Rio, now playing.
COURTESY BLUE SKY STUDIOS
It takes some time, but Blu and Jewel grow to love each other over the course of their adventure, in Rio, now playing.

It's definitely not love at first sight for Blu and Jewel, and playing Lionel Richie songs to impress her doesn't seem to do the trick. What song do you think would set the mood better?

EISENBERG:

[Laughs] You know, when I'm in a romantic setting, I exclusively listen to National Public Radio, because I look great by comparison.

TFK:

What qualities do you think Blu looks for in a mate?

EISENBERG:

Blu has one very specific criteria, which is that his mate has to be a blue Spix's macaw. Blu's an endangered species, so he gets sent down to Rio to mate with the last female of his kind. I don't think his first choice would be Jewel, because as soon as he meets her, she attacks him! But they grow to love each other over the course of a long, difficult journey.

TFK:

Blu never learned to fly. What's one thing you never learned to do that you'd like to learn now?

EISENBERG:

There are so many things I would like to learn . . . I live in New York City, so to get around that city requires a very specific set of skills. I ride a bicycle because that seems to be the more efficient way to get around. Blu lives in Minnesota where he doesn't need to fly. He's taken care of by a human. He lives kind of like a human. But when he gets to Rio, flying's the only way to get around for a bird. So he has to make a very tough decision at the end of the movie to face that fear in order to save the bird he loves.

TFK:

Blu might not be able to fly, but he's got rhythm. Who's the better dancer: you or Blu?

EISENBERG:

Well, Blu was born in Rio, so he has samba [a popular dance that began in Brazil] in his blood, but doesn't realize it. Now that he's back in Rio, that spirit starts to take over, and he becomes really inspired by samba music. In a way, it reminds him of who he is and who he's supposed to be.

TFK:

So . . . you're saying that Blu is the better dancer?

EISENBERG:

[Laughs] I don't know, we never had a competition.

TFK:

Jewel helps Blu with his flying lessons, but what do you think Blu teaches Jewel in the process?

EISENBERG:

Jewel has a lot of anger. She's a very hard character. She's very angry at humans and she doesn't trust them. And Blu trusts humans above everything else because he was raised by Linda, who is his best friend. Blu teaches Jewel a very hard lesson: to learn to trust humans.

In Rio, Blu befriends Luiz, a sweet bulldog with a drooling problem.
COURTESY BLUE SKY STUDIOS
In Rio, Blu befriends Luiz, a sweet bulldog with a drooling problem.

TFK:

There are so many colorful characters in the film. Who were your favorites?

EISENBERG:

My favorite is Luiz, a bulldog voiced by Tracy Morgan. Luiz runs a metal shop and he's just a hysterical character. He's so sincere, and yet he drools so badly that all these other characters avoid him. But he's so sweet, and he has a sweet journey through the movie. He eventually winds up on a float at Carnival, dancing while wearing this ridiculous hat made of fruit.

TFK:

What kinds of messages do you think kids will take away from the film?

EISENBERG:

My favorite part of this movie, frankly, is the message it has about protecting the environment, and more specifically protecting endangered species. I come from a family of animal rights activists. So we were thrilled that this movie—which is entertaining and has great music and a crazy adventure and great humor—can also teach kids a lesson about protecting the environment and protecting these very wonderful and endangered animals.

TFK:

If there were a Rio 2, would you want to reprise your role as Blu?

EISENBERG:

The movie has such a wonderful, satisfying ending. I couldn't even imagine where else they could go with it.