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DeVito Speaks For The Trees In 'The Lorax'


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Danny DeVito, a short, funny guy with a long and winding career in movies, TV, on-stage and online, from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" off-Broadway and onscreen, to the TV shows "Taxi" and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," and online films. His latest project transports him to the land of Truffula trees and singing fish.



SIMON: That's from the new 3-D movie adaptation of Dr. Seuss's book, "The Lorax." Danny DeVito is The Lorax, the one who speaks for the trees. He joins us from our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

: Yes, it's great to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And how did you meet this book, "The Lorax?"

: Well, I have three children. And as anyone who has children knows, Dr. Seuss is a big favorite. All of his books were present in our house and that's how I met The Lorax.

SIMON: We'll, set up the story a bit for people who may not have read it to young children or heard it since they were a kid. The film takes place in the town of Thneedville.

: That's right. It is a beautiful, beautiful - very reminiscent of the Happy Valley - beautiful trees. And The Lorax, who is the guardian of the forest, ran across, in the days of old, a fellow who was a really nice guy, the Once-ler. But he was a - and very enterprising. And he saw the colors of the trees and thought this is the most magnificent thing he's ever seen in his life.

And he had an idea for a product, which is a Thneed, which is a kind of a sweatery kind of thing that people can put around their heads or around their arms, or whatever. So he set off to start manufacturing these Thneeds. The thing that he missed, the Once-ler, was the fact that if you take from the Earth you have to give back. Because in Dr. Seuss' story, the Once-ler cut down the very last tree and there was nothing left.

It really speaks to people in a kind of a gentle way, saying look at what's around you. And you know if you take, and take, and take, you must give back.


SIMON: So how do you do a voice in a cartoon?

: You have the script and I just put everything I can into it in various ways. Like, we I might say: Did you chop down that tree? Or I can be startled and say: Did you chop down that tree? The whole team of making "The Lorax," they pick what they like and they put it together. And most of the choices of the readings and of the energy coincide with what they want in the script.

SIMON: May I ask you some biographical questions?

: Sure.

SIMON: Wait, let me take that again. They ask you some biographical questions?


: Very nice.

SIMON: And let me try again. Biographical questions?

: Why not?


SIMON: All right. You started out to be a makeup artist?

: My sister, Angie, got a beauty parlor in Asbury Park. And she said, Well, why don't you become a makeup artist? I said makeup artist? I don't know. What the hell? And I says OK. So she said I'll send you to school in New York. It was the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. And they said no, we can't take you as a makeup artist, but if you want to learn the makeup course you have to take the acting course.

I told her. And she says, Well, enroll. You go at night. You drive up from Asbury. You go to New York. I said OK. And I took one acting styles class, they called it. It was like a magical moment and I kept going. And I did take the makeup classes and I kept working in the beauty parlor doing all the six-haired old ladies. You know, making them blue and sending them out there on their way. It was get them in and get them out. You know, wrap their head in toilet paper, and let them go see if they could keep it that way for a week.


: You know, this is a long story, man.


: Anyway, the bottom-line, I transferred over to a day student. I auditioned. They took me and I got bit by the acting bug big time. And I was in the early '60s.

SIMON: Something I have to share with you while we have the chance. You know, we drew up some biographical information on you, press clippings and everything.


SIMON: There's an official bio of you that says: Danny DeVito was born in New Jersey in 1944. Big break when he starred in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." He rose to fame in the sitcom "Taxi," for which he won a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy. He later starred in "My Cousin Vinny."

: Uh-uh.

SIMON: I know.


: Oh, that's - OK, this is like really cool. That's like Joe Pesci, obviously. The thing is that there was a period of time. It was right after "Twins" with Arnold when I did that. And then there was "My Cousin Vinny." Joe Pesci used to come up to me and say to me and say to me, you know, he goes like this he talks. He goes, Danny, if one person comes up to me and tells me I was good in "Twins," I'm going to kick their (bleep).


SIMON: I know. It's like really weird, right. Like sometimes that happens. But I guess the bio should be changed.

I'm glad we could clear that up, OK? A lot of people were confused. Danny DeVito is starring - he is the voice of and starring in "The Lorax." Mr. DeVito, thanks so much for being with us.

: Thank you. It's a pleasure being here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.