A Plea for the Trees

Ed Helms talks to TFK about his role in Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, in theaters and IMAX March 2

Mar 02, 2012 | By Vickie An
© 2012 UNIVERSAL PICTURES

“What was the Lorax? And why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows? The old Once-ler still lives there. Ask him. He knows.” —Dr. Seuss

Just about everyone knows Dr. Seuss’s story of the Lorax, the gruff but lovable forest guardian who speaks for the trees. Now, the classic tale is springing to life on the big screen. The 3-D animated adventure follows a young boy named Ted (voiced by Zac Efron), who lives in the all-plastic town of Thneed-Ville. Ted is on a quest to find a real, live tree, so he goes to the all-knowing Once-ler for help. The Once-ler tells Ted the story of the Lorax (voiced by Danny DeVito), and what exactly happened to all of the trees—including the Once-ler’s own role in the forest’s destruction.

The Lorax opens in theaters and IMAX on March 2, which also happens to be Dr. Seuss’s 108th birthday. TFK spoke with actor Ed Helms, the voice behind the Once-ler, about the film and his whimsical new role. 

TFK:

Can you talk about your connection to Dr. Seuss and to The Lorax in particular?

HELMS:

Dr. Seuss certainly played a huge role in my childhood. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and we had the full Dr. Seuss [collection]. The Lorax was a book we read over and over again. It was definitely a family favorite, so this is a special movie for me to be a part of.

TFK:

Aside from The Lorax, what was your favorite Dr. Seuss book growing up?

HELMS:

Probably Oh, the Places You Will Go! Or Green Eggs and Ham—that’s just the weirdest, most whimsical, ridiculous story. But it also has buried in it this great message of being open-minded and exploring new things.

The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) prepares to chop down a Truffula Tree in The Lorax
© 2012 UNIVERSAL PICTURES
The Once-ler (voiced by Ed Helms) prepares to chop down a Truffula Tree in The Lorax.

TFK:

You play the Once-ler, the man responsible for chopping down all of the trees in Truffula Valley to make Thneeds, knitted garments that have many uses but that people don’t really need. The Once-ler is a little more fleshed out in the film than in the book. Did you put any of your personality into the character? 

HELMS:

There’s a certain amount of my personality that bubbles out of all my characters. For the young Once-ler, I approached it from the standpoint that this is a very normal guy. He’s not evil. He wants to be successful and make his mark on the world, and those are noble intentions. It’s just when he becomes greedy that he falls down the rabbit hole, so to speak. For the old Once-ler I took a different approach. He’s a very bitter, old coot. I would like to think that none of my personality is in that version of the character.

TFK:

How did you come up with the voice for the old Once-ler?

HELMS:

I went into it a little bit cocky, thinking, oh, I can do an old-man voice; it’s not that tricky. But the more I did the voice, the more I realized I sounded like an idiot! I really needed to give this character some heart and soul. I was straining my voice to make it sound old. In time, I realized if I just relaxed and felt the energy of the character, the voice would be more authentic. It was a very exciting experience.

TFK:

Did you enjoy doing one voice more than the other?

HELMS:

They were both really, really fun. I don’t want the old Once-ler or the young Once-ler to get mad at me!

TFK:

When you think back on the first time you read The Lorax as a child, did you hear a voice like Danny DeVito’s in your head?

HELMS:

I heard a voice exactly like Danny’s, and I’d never even met Danny before. No, I’m kidding. Danny’s voice is so perfect for it. He’s the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet, but he has this hilarious curmudgeon [or gruff] sound to his voice when he ramps it up. That’s exactly the voice that the Lorax needed.

TFK:

If you could voice any other character in the movie, who would it be?

HELMS:

I wouldn’t take anything away from the other actors, because they knocked it out of the park. The cast filled out so beautifully, with Zac Efron and Taylor Swift and Betty White. Rob Riggle did an amazing job as Aloysius O’Hare, [the greedy mayor of Thneed-Ville]. Maybe that would be a fun character to take a stab at. Rob Riggle is a dear friend. We started out doing comedy together. He’s a hulking behemoth of a man. It’s funny to see his voice coming out of that little pipsqueak of a character.

Helms records his role as the Once-ler in the studio
© 2012 UNIVERSAL PICTURES
Helms records his role as the Once-ler for The Lorax.

TFK:

What did it feel like to see the finished film for the first time?

HELMS:

I had only seen a couple of little 10-second clips when we were recording. Then to see it all come together into this stunningly beautiful, hilarious, uplifting final product...I was utterly flabbergasted.

TFK:

If this were a live-action movie and you could take home anything from The Lorax set, what would it be, and why?

HELMS:

I would love to have a real-life Thneed. I’d love to see what it really looks and feels like when you’re holding it, because it can be used for anything. And I think it goes without saying that we’d all love to have a little pet Lorax to walk around with.

TFK:

Is there anything from The Lorax that influenced you when you were younger and continues to influence you today?

HELMS:

The Lorax is so cute, and he has such strong opinions. He’s on the side of the trees, which to me is not so much about saving the environment as it is about being responsible. That’s something that I responded to and still carry with me.

TFK:

What do you think kids will enjoy most about the movie?

HELMS:

I think kids will love the spectacle of it. The scope and the scale and all the physical comedy is just fantastic. Then, of course, there are all these extra little goodies. There are so many adorable critters in the movie, like the fish and the Bar-ba-loots and the Lorax. And kids are going to love the musical numbers.

TFK:

I recently interviewed your Office costar John Krasinski and asked him about some of his hidden talents. Do you have any hidden talents people don’t know about?

HELMS:

That’s funny, actually, because Krasinski always bugs me to do my [TV journalist and news broadcaster] Tom Brokaw impression. I think everyone is sick of it except for him. Maybe that’s my hidden talent.

 

Click here to watch a video of Helm's The Lorax co-stars, Danny DeVito and Zac Efron, reading from the book at a Read Across America celebration.