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Interview Exclusive HTF Interview: Pete Ploszek (Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows) (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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The follow-up to 2014’s incredibly successful big-screen Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adventure, this year’s sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, featured the entire turtle cast of actors returning, along with Will Arnett and Megan Fox. The sequel, which brought back Shredder and also introduced a number of popular villains, such as Krang, Beebop and Rocksteady, received a stronger critical reaction but cooler box-office returns. The film is visually strong, narratively tighter, and the performances very good and fitting the tone of these adventures. Industrial Light & Magic’s (ILM) visual effects work continues to wildly impress in a number of dizzying (but well crafted) action set pieces. The film is stronger than its predecessor and will likely enjoy a strong home theater showing for children (and adult fans).

Pete Ploszek, who portrayed Leonardo in both films (and voices the character in the sequel, taking over from Johnny Knoxville who voiced the character in the first film), spoke to Home Theater Forum about playing the big green superhero turtle, working with his fellow cast, and where he would like to see the stories going should the franchise continue.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is available now on Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD

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HTF: Good morning, Pete.

Pete Ploszek: Good morning, Neil, it’s great to meet you.

HTF: You too. Well, this is your second turn as Leonardo, returning with all your turtle playing cast mates. Talk about becoming the character of Leonardo and the kind of challenges it presents to you as an actor in the motion-capture suit to really capture the attitude and the physicality of that character.

“…the challenge as an actor in bringing Leo to life is really internalizing all of that and for me sort of building Leo as this silent leader, this silent sufferer, one who leads by example.”

Pete Ploszek: Yeah. So Leo is definitely a thinker. Because he's so faithful to his training and the way of the ninja, he keeps a lot internal. He sees emotion and outbursts as getting in the way of doing his job as leader and that's why he and Raph[ael] butt heads so much. So the challenge as an actor in bringing Leo to life is really internalizing all of that and for me sort of building Leo as this silent leader, this silent sufferer, one who leads by example, which is challenging in a mo-cap world because you have this stage that's all yours and you can play and bring these characters to life in a bit larger way than you would in front of a typical camera, you know. Leo's got to stand in it, and sit in it, and not show it while he watches his brothers bounce off the walls, and crack jokes, and wrestle with one another. So it's always fighting that temptation to be one of the boys and play with the brothers, but then also stand in his own leadership, in his own confidence and discipline and be the leader, be the oldest brother.

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HTF: Does that affect how you interact with your fellow Turtle cast mates? I spoke with Jeremy Howard a couple years ago in time for the Blu-Ray release of the first film, and he talked about the strong dynamic between each of you and how like your characters each of you were. And he described you at the time as “a natural born leader”. Does that influence how you are on set with your fellow actors based on how and who you play in character?

Pete Ploszek: Yeah, it's amazing because it really does take a hold of you. You spend so much time together - 12 hour days, and we're working on this film for three or four months and it becomes increasingly more difficult to set these characters aside and separate yourself from them. And I think we were cast because of how naturally close we are. So it does come out, and for me a lot of my work on set as an actor is keeping my preparation to myself. I think the guys could build a lot of energy off one another because of the story they're telling, whereas Leo, especially in the second movie, sort of puts himself on an island because of how much he believes in his way and in his decisions, and that there's a right and a wrong way to do it. So it only helped me in my preparation to sort of separate myself from the group before scenes, before takes. So I’d bring that cushion and layer of separation that then they would try and reach through and I would try and reach through, like sort of push and pull along.

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HTF: Describe the process when you're on the set. So you're all in your motion capture suits, you're performing the scene, do you get to see the take? Do you get to see your performance take after take? And if you do, is there any previsualization that goes into that or are you just looking at yourselves with the grey suits with the dots on it as you're looking at your take?

“…it's a real treat to see your experience and compare your experience filming the movie with then the finished product because it takes such a grand and big shape in post-production, and we're watching that movie for the first time like the audience even though we shot it.”

Pete Ploszek: Yes, so how it worked on these films is we'll get a lot of pre-vis on the front end of production. Some of the bigger set pieces, the plane sequence, and all of the river work, we got to see that in pre-vis before to give us some context. But then once we're on set we're able to see our performances played back, but it's still us all dotted up and in our mo-cap gear, so we're not seeing any sort of render on the back end. And that was actually a real benefit of getting the opportunity to come back on the second one, that we saw the first movie. We got to see the finished product and see what of our performance translated, and what sort of surprised us or changed in post-production, what didn't translate. So that's all great feedback for us as actors, and getting to sort of trust the technology more second time around, as well as help sort of tee up our work for the visual effects guys at ILM, giving them more material and more things to play with. So that's where it's a real treat to see your experience and compare your experience filming the movie with then the finished product because it takes such a grand and big shape in post-production, and we're watching that movie for the first time like the audience even though we shot it.

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HTF: And the process of motion capture has gotten so much better. I watch the film and I'm surprised by just how much emotion comes through the performances. I know there are cameras that are capturing your facial expressions and things like that. I remember being enormously impressed with the motion capture work on 2005's King Kong, and Adventures of Tintin, and those kinds of movies. But I wonder, do you ever feel swallowed by the fact that it's not you on screen and that there's a representation that's rendered after the fact, or can you sense and feel you and your performance, seeing yourself when you're looking at Leonardo fully rendered, fully green, fully bulked up, fully weaponized?

“To me, those guys [ILM] are like what I think of what NASA was back in the 60s. They're just brilliant.”

Pete Ploszek: That's a great question. I think the technology now, especially when we shot this second one, has made huge strides - apparently from what we were told by the guys at ILM - in technology and the facial capture ability from just our first one shot in 2013, and came out in 2014 to our second one. That's about two years. So it's at a point now where I don't feel swallowed at all. I think that the guys at ILM, all those designers, they spend a lot of time staring at our faces and getting to know us. The fact that they had a whole movie before this one as sort of practice and as a way to familiarize themselves, I thought they did a fantastic job. To me, those guys are like what I think of what NASA was back in the 60s. They're just brilliant. And to help you on the front end too as actors, you can give them the most material to work with and bring your performance to life. So we all felt like they were really looking out for us in that respect.

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HTF: 2016 has been a bit of a rough year for sequels. A number of movies - many very good - under-performed relative to their predecessors, and Out of the Shadows felt that too, as did Star Trek Beyond, and I'm an enormous Trek fan [chuckles]. So it's tough when you see sequels that you think are improvements over their predecessors not get the same level of audience turning up to see it in the theater. Now I have a firm belief that Out of the Shadows is going to do very well on home video because it's a fun movie. It certainly upped the action, and the humor clicked well, and the performances were great, and you had some terrific actors join the cast, Laura Linney in particular. But do you have any thoughts as to why this year was a little rough for sequels?

"I think we're seeing these big budget summer blockbuster movies get better and better not only in visual effects, but also the stories they're telling. So I think just the bar is higher. Audience expectations are higher which is a challenge, but that's a great, and I think reasonable, ask."

Pete Ploszek: It's a real head scratcher. I think we're seeing these big budget summer blockbuster movies get better and better not only in visual effects, but also the stories they're telling. So I think just the bar is higher. Audience expectations are higher which is a challenge, but that's a great, and I think reasonable, ask. And so it's just continuing to step your game up and live up to those expectations, and also I think balance the spectacle nature of these movies, the CGI big, beautiful set pieces with a really human and grounded story that we can all connect with as humans and movie goers. And what I felt we did a really good job at in Out of the Shadows was grounding these turtles, these larger than life figures, as brothers, as family, that fight and love in equal measure, and work through messy emotions together. And that's what I think people can connect with go to the theater for. I think that's a way to continue giving audiences what they want and make better and better movies.

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HTF: So talk about working with director David Green. This was just his second big budget movie, Earth to Echo being his first. Talk about working with him and his style, and then of course with the broader cast which is so good, like Will Arnett, and Megan Fox, and of course, the incredible Laura Linney.

“And they had Laura Linney come on board too. That really raised the stakes for everyone. You can kind of feel everyone step up those days on set because Laura Linney didn't mess around.”

Pete Ploszek: Yeah, Dave Green was great and a true die hard turtle fan, bigger than the four of us even were. He came in and I think to him, it was all about the brothers and capturing that relationship and that dynamic. And so with that, he gave us a lot of room to play and to build it. We did rehearsal in scenes and he really wanted to play with the dials and the frequencies that our characters play in and bounce off each other with. And so to have a collaborator like that, who you knew wanted nothing more than to take care of these guys, of this story, is such an incredible experience. That type of environment is where you can do your best work and trust that the finished product will be one that you're proud of. And as for the cast, Megan, Will, Steven, and others, so much fun playing with them. And they had Laura Linney come on board too. That really raised the stakes for everyone. You can kind of feel everyone step up those days on set because Laura Linney didn't mess around. On top of that she's the coolest, most down to Earth actress imaginable. We did an overnight shoot with her on Liberty Island for that final sequence at the Statue of Liberty - we were really there - and the entire night we're telling jokes, and cracking each other up, and getting a little loopy as you do in those 12, 14 hour night shoots. And she was totally one of the guys. It's so much fun. And that again only makes you want to do right by the story and do right by her.

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HTF: I'd really like to see the series continue. They're fun, energetic films. I like it when there's heart or a moral to the story, which there definitely was that resonated probably a little clearer in the sequel, and it's the kind of movie that I look forward to watching with my son in a few years when he's old enough. He's four now. Do you have a feeling we'll see more of the Turtles on the big screen? And if you don't know anything on that right now, what would you like to see happen should there be a third film?

“…I can only hope we can keep doing these and if we can, if they continue to tell these brothers' stories, the Turtle Universe has such a toy chest of villains that we can pull from…”

Pete Ploszek: Yeah, I can only hope we can keep doing these and if we can, if they continue to tell these brothers' stories, the Turtle Universe has such a toy chest of villains that we can pull from, so they keep raising the stakes in that front while keeping it really grounded and injecting that emotional underbelly into their story. I think that's how you continue to expand the Turtle Universe and keep telling the story in sort of fresh ways to keep showing these four brothers as very human super hero. So I guess we'll see.

HTF: Well I think you're a terrific Leonardo. I'm not an aficionado on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but I do my research. I reviewed a documentary about the Turtles a couple years ago actually around the same time the first film was coming out, and what I got from that, who Leonardo is, you are the sound and you definitely carry that character very well on screen. So I hope it continues, if nothing else, to then see more of what you guys can bring to the table. Thank you for talking with me today. I appreciate it.

Pete Ploszek: I really appreciate that man. Great to meet you.
 
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