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Rob Schneider talks cartoons and keeping Netflix happy

The actor tells us about voicing a polar bear in "Norm of the North" and why David Spade was wrong about Steven Seagal.
Rob SchneiderNorm of the North

In his early standup days, before his stint on “Saturday Night Live,” Rob Schneider was known for the diversity of his voices. Occasionally he gets to use that skill. No stranger to voicework in animation, Schneider voices the lead in “Norm of the North”: A polar bear trying to save the Arctic from greedy human developers. This family film comes soon after the debut of “Real Rob,” his fairly R-rated Netflix show about a fictionalized version of himself and his family.

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What appeals to you about doing animated voicework?

I remember sitting in the audience watching “Aladdin.” I’m from San Francisco and I was a comedian at the same time Robin Williams was a big star. I’d seen all the characters he’d done and saw how they managed to animate that. They were able to capture in cartoon what that guy was capable of doing. In the back of my mind I hoped for the chance to do that.

Plus, it seems less stressful than acting in person.

You can wear sweats to work for a week. No one gives a s—. You don’t have to put on makeup. It’s not like a regular movie. You can become fat — especially if you’re playing a polar bear.

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You have a 3-year-old daughter. Does that inform some of the work you take?

I’d like to be able to sit with her and watch one of my movies. There’s a couple animated films I did — I call it “emergency trauma surgery animation.” That’s where they bring you in and it’s already animated, and you have to squeeze jokes in. Or it’s in another language. A friend brought me into some films because he knows I can do a lot of voices. So I would do nine different voices for a movie called “The Reef,” which was a blatant ripoff of “Finding Nemo.” You make it as good as you can, but it’s not like this movie, where you start from scratch and really build something. I showed my daughter “The Reef 2” and after 10 minutes she got up and walked out. [Laughs]

You also have “Real Rob,” which, like “Rob,” follows around a version of you. What made you want to return to a fictionalized version of yourself?

I wanted to do something that was entertaining and funny and kind of my version of “Fawlty Towers.” Because where else is entertainment going to go? It has to be more personal. Reality TV is a bore. And it’s not real; they sketch it out. So you take an exaggerated version of yourself and the audiences guess how much is real and how much isn’t.

You also financed it yourself and made and then sold it to Netflix. It’s amazing there are avenues like that open to performers.

I did a season of “Rob” for CBS, and they decided not to pick it up. And we averaged 11 million viewers. I went to Netflix and said that we’d averaged 11 million viewers and I could bring those over to them. Netflix is twice as big as CBS. CBS is a tiny company compared to Netflix. Netflix has 70 million viewers who pay 10 bucks every month. That’s $700 million dollars coming in. They don’t have to worry about advertising; they just want to keep their customers happy. It’s very exciting.

The entertainment world is in such a strange period of flux. Do you find you have to hustle more nowadays?

You always have to hustle. And you have to make something good. I never had a doubt in my mind we were going to wind up somewhere, because it’s good. We wanted to make something that was the highest quality possible. No one could have done what I did. I’m the only actor, only comedian ever who’s produced, written, edited, financed an entire season. I edited it for nine months. Nobody could do that. I don’t know if anyone would want to do that. With companies like Netflix, the door’s open to produce your own stuff. I hope other people follow my lead, because you get complete artistic freedom. That’s what you want as an artist.

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Token “Saturday Night Live” question: You were there during Steven Seagal’s episode. Some have nominated him as the worst-ever host.

I find that to be an exaggeration. I worked with him. He’s a bit of a loon — just a little bit. I didn’t think he was the worst. I thought there were other ones who were worse than him, to be honest. I don’t remember seeing David Spade in the writers room for an extended time, the whole time I was there. He would do his stuff. I was in the writers room. I think people are looking for a safe target. That’s mean-spirited and I don’t think David Spade had direct dealings with Steve Seagal. I’m going to call him out on that and say bulls—, David, you didn’t have direct experience with him, you weren’t around.

I take it you don’t want to name the hosts you found worse than Seagal.

No, because I don’t want to dump on people. It wasn’t like Steven Seagal is a comedian. Who’s expecting that guy to come in and be hilarious? So what are these a—holes complaining about? I mean it: What are these a—holes complaining about? To me it’s revisionist thinking. No one was expecting Steven Seagal to be this amazing host anyway. He’s a f—ing karate guy who got a break. What do you expect?

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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