Bette Midler doesn’t do a lot of screen acting these days. For the past couple years she’s been on an extended concert tour, keeping those divine vocal chords in shape.
Bette Midler doesn’t do a lot of screen acting these days. For the past couple years she’s been on an extended concert tour, keeping those divine vocal chords in shape. But even before refocusing on her music, it had been almost a decade since Midler had a Hollywood starring role, in the dark comedy “Drowning Mona” (Roger Ebert memorably described her character as a ferocious harridan), with only cameo appearances in “The Women” and “The Stepford Wives” in between.
Midler, 64, goes way beyond ferocious in her new film. She goes for pure, unadulterated evil. She’s got the starring role in “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which opens Friday.
Well, at least her voice has the role. This is the second time she’s performed as a cartoon animal, after portraying a pampered poodle in the 1988 film “Oliver & Company.”
“There are some parts of it that are quite musical,” says Midler of doing voiceover work. “Timing is very important. The phrasing works with the mouth of the character. Once the mouth is moving, you have to phrase along with the character that’s drawn.”
She goes on to explain that there are some similarities to singing, “If you listen to (the voice), you can hear where the beats are skipped and where you drop a beat or where you rush and catch up a bit. I will say that the fact that I’ve sung for a long time really, really helped a lot.”
She laughs and adds, “I don’t think it helped the character but it helped me get through the sessions.”
That’s the up side. Voice actors must contend with the fact that their work can be rather isolating.
“It’s also a little bit lonely,” said Midler. “It’s just you in a dark room with a sketch of a character or sometimes a filled-in scene. But you don’t get to work with the other actors. It’s like one long looping session, for days. The real thrill comes from seeing the finished product.” That may be, but while watching, or at least listening to, the film, it seems that Midler must have gotten a charge out of exuding nastiness through her hissing, purring, foul-tempered character, a former house pet who goes on a rampage against dogs and humans after falling into a vat of hair remover and turning into a freakish creature.
“Kitty Galore is an Egyptian Sphinx cat and is hairless, except for a little hair on her tail,” says Midler, who goes on to talk about the character, not the actual cat. “She’s very cranky because she’s been rejected by her beloved human family, and she’s determined to rule the world.”
She’s astounded at the film’s achievement of mixing live animals with animatronic creations and a bit of CGI, and gives kudos to the director Brad Peyton.
“There’s nothing harder than working with animals,” says Midler. “Those animals really looked like they knew what they were doing, but honestly – they’re animals! ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’ I’ve worked with animals before. Brad was working with live actors and live animals – actually they’re quite similar! – and then the robots and the cartoons, and it all melds together and you can’t tell which is real and which isn’t. I can’t get over it.”
Kitty Galore may want to destroy the world, but Bette Midler has other ideas. She’s known in activist circles as someone who wants to make the world a better place, and is doing something about it.
“A couple of years ago I teamed up with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to plant a million trees in New York City. So far we’ve planted about 375,000,” she says proudly. “I’m also the founder and chairman of the New York Restoration Project. We clean abandoned parks and public places and we own 55 community gardens where local people grow their own food. We also teach kids about nature and environmental science. We’ve been at it for 15 years and it’s been one of the great projects of my life.”