KW photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Lauren Ambrose is a monster — with red hair, of course — in Spike Jonze’s cinematic interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The former Six Feet Under star channels the webbed-footed character of KW with a voice that’s a perfect blend of tenderness, elusiveness, and rebellion in Jonze’s emotionally panoramic and surrealist adventure.
Talking to Ambrose, we found her just as we imagined her to be when we watched her as Claire Fisher: exuberant and sardonic, yet indisputably affable. The Manhattanite took some time out from what she called her “epic press day” in L.A. to chat it up with us via celly about mundane stuff — like being a ginormous furry creature, dodging props in the recording studio with James Gandolfini, and playing Juliet in Central Park.
What attracted you to playing the role of a monster?
(Laughing) That’s interesting that you say monster- — they’re never really called monsters, are they? Well, I was interested in the role because it’s the most epic children’s book of all time that’s been deeply embedded in everybody’s psyche since 1963, and generations of people are obsessed with it — including one of my best friends who has a giant tattoo of Max down her back with a fork in his hand…
And then on top of that, Spike Jonze called and asked me to do it, so that was pretty incredible. It seemed like a no brainer… and I kind of assumed the one who he wanted me to play, ya know? Because she has long red hair. I realize in retrospect that that was kind of irrational, but that’s why he cast me in it. It’s the one I look like — literally.
Were you familiar with the book?
Yeah, I grew up with it and I read it to my kid all the time.
What did you think of the way Spike Jonze translated the book to film?
It’s whatever you bring to it, and I think that’s what’s cool about it. In the book, the illustrations go off the page into the land of the Wild Things. So you wonder how Spike is going to fill in those three particular pages where there are no lines, no words — that’s where the story is. I think the result was beautifully imaginative and creative.
Even the way we worked to make this thing — there was no sense to it. It wasn’t like any other acting job, like you having a sense of the arc or anything; it kind of evolved over time. It was really just about being moment-to-moment with the actors and Spike. He was really physical. I remember the first minute we were recording, we had headbands on and little microphones so we could move around really freely, which is pretty unique compared to how you usually do voiceovers, where you’re confined to the booth. But we were running around like maniacs with props everywhere, throwing foam at each other.
Actually, before I came on, they had a month of doing that — they were running around the woods, they had built sets, slept in piles — they were doing all this stuff that I unfortunately missed, but we sort of did some of that in the studio when I was there with James Gandolfini.
You seemed to have covered so many genres as an actress. Do you prefer one medium over another?
You know, I can’t imagine life that excludes any of them. I work in the theater because I feel like I must, but every medium informs the other. I really truly like being an actor and all the different ways to do that. You pull out different tools… I like Shakespeare a lot so…
Speaking of Shakespeare, what were the most exhilarating parts of playing Juliet in Shakespeare in the Park?
What’s exhilarating about Juliet is that Shakespeare has taken care of her character very, very well. He has her pull out the reins of her life and then zoom toward her doom. She’s so passionate and so incredible. What was exhilarating about my personal experience in playing her was that it was in Central Park. Juliet talks to the elements — she talks to the moon, the stars and the heavens, and the sun — and to be outside under the canopy of stars and speaking that language was definitely the highlight of my working experience as an actor. I feel so lucky to have been able to say those words and play that part in this lifetime. I felt very close to that character.
And finally, this question is for all the die-hard Six Feet Under fans: Do you ever miss playing Claire?
Miss playing Claire? Oh that’s funny, that’s cute. You know what’s really funny, I’m out in Los Angeles doing press right now, and I literally can’t believe I was in L.A. and made that show for so long! Literally, who was that person?! It was a great working experience with great actors, and I liked going to work every day. On the other hand, all I have to say is: We did it. I mean, we really did it. We accomplished it.
(Where the Wild Things Are opens nationwide on Friday.)