I love to sing. I can’t sing, but I still love to do it. My girls can attest that I sing way too loud,
a little a lot off key, and all the time. I am a sucker for someone that can sing. So when I heard that actor Elijah Kelley of Strange Magic was going to do a live performance just for us during his interview, I got a bit excited!
So who is Elijah Kelley? He’s one of those people Hollywood calls a triple threat. He acts, sings and dances. I had no trouble remembering his fantastic performance in the movie Hair Spray, where he displayed all of those amazing attributes. Growing up in Georgia and singing all his life, he couldn’t have been cast any more perfectly than his latest role as Sunny. Sunny is a high energy with lots of spunk elf who has a big heart and a serious crush on his best friend Dawn. He blew me away with his performance and made me completely adore him after this fun interview.
Elijah Kelley: Sings His Way Through Strange Magic
So I think everyone’s gonna fall in love with Sunny after, after this movie, thanks to your performance.
That’s, that’s very weird. I can’t take compliments. (Laughing)
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to voice him?
Well, first of all, I’ve never done a voice-over before in my life, so it was a little bit of a challenge because you see he’s, like, hyper and super into everything that he always does, so I thought that it was gonna be so easy; I thought it was gonna be a piece of cake. But I would go in there and guarantee you, I would leave, like, lightheaded and sweaty from like, the running, everything. It was like P90X. But bringing it to life and understanding the world that Sunny lives in, and understanding that he’s kind of like – I see him sort of the nucleus of trying to get everything together, and pulling everybody together, and trying to save the day, and messing up the day, it’s a lot like me.
Yeah, he was the driving force of the movie in a lot of ways because he loved Dawn, and he was willing to, to go for it.
Yeah, love, love is the proper thing.
To make the characters relatable to audiences of all kinds and all ages, are there any themes in the movie that you relate to or think people will connect with?
I think that people will connect for fighting for what you love because as you can see, everybody goes through a lot of trouble to be able to grasp the love of their life, and I think that love is so complicated. I think that the wiring of love is just so weird, you know, and the fact that people can go to the ends of the Earth to capture something, that’s very, very inspirational. And I think in a time it’s an animation, but the subject matter is universal and it’s timeless, you know? Whether we’re talking about a divide in America or we’re talking about what’s going on over, you know, in Paris, not to be so serious but, you know, love eradicates a lot of those issues.
I think that’s a great point. I think what we see happening in the movie is love is a really powerful force of change.
So you’re a quadruple threat, Elijah. You’re not only a great actor, dancer and philanthropist, but today we experienced your amazing singing, and can you tell us a little bit about your background as a singer, and what was your, your favorite song to perform in Strange Magic?
Well, my favorite song- actually my favorite song in Strange Magic isn’t there anymore. Can we blog hashtag sequel? It was a song called, Hold On, I’m Coming, (he sings the title). But my favorite song in the movie is not even a full song. It’s when the little, the little birdies, they sing, “Gotcha Looking So Crazy Right Now.” I love how we incorporated the birds. That, that’s like seriously my favorite part.
What is your musical background?
Well, my musical background started in church. I grew up in church all my life. My mom was in ministry; my dad was in ministry, so we had a traveling singing group that we’d go all around the southeast to different churches and we would just sing and congregate. That’s actually how I met the guitarist was when I first moved out here in 2000- 2005 or 2006. I came here, I found a church, and I was like, I wanna keep playing drums. So I played drums at this church for, like, a year and a half and, he was the music director. But now he’s doing big things. He’s producing the album, The Baby Face right now as we speak, so.
And where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called LaGrange, Georgia. It’s about forty-five minutes south of Atlanta, right on the Georgia/Alabama line.
Got it. That’s why you have that southern charm thing.
Ah, you know, some call it charm, some just don’t call it me anymore after, you know, it takes its toll. It’s a blessing and a curse.
How much did you, did you improvise in the roll? I mean, there’s so many…
“A lot.” Shouts Director Gary Rydrom from the audience. We all laugh!
Yeah, it was a lot because of Gary. They were so gracious in allowing you to bring the character to life in your way. The funny thing was, the first time I came up here (to the Skywalker Sound) all the elves in the forest, everybody looked the same, they were little white elves. And I was like, okay, somebody’s gonna have to get some tanning lotion, put in a super soaker and just spray everybody. (Everyone laughs) So when that happened, you wanna put a little flavor in there, you know, put a little swag in there; I think Sunny has that.
You’re so upbeat and so is your character, Sunny. He’s very hopeful and high energy. What other characteristics did you find similar to your character?
Sunny doesn’t quit. I’ll tell you a bit of personal information. Over the Christmas holidays, both my laptops were stolen; hard drives were stolen, all of this stuff, and I had to do these police reports and everything, and literally everything that I have worked on in 2014 had seemingly vanished. And I had to sit down; I still myself and you know, this is a quality about him. Once you understand that there’s a task at hand, you can’t stop until that task is finished. So throughout adversity, throughout trial, you have to keep going, and I think that’s something that Sunny carries.
What’s the difference between doing a voice for an animated feature versus like what you did in Hairspray or even singing?
The difference between doing a voice-over in a movie and a real movie is you can literally look horrible (That made us all laugh!). You can look like crap. You can just go in the studio and be just the most disgusting looking person ever, but nobody will ever see you. But Hairspray, you know, you’ve gotta do hair and makeup. In Red Tails, I wore a big, thick mustache. So that’s pretty much the difference. The aesthetic of the work that goes into it, I really feel like voice-over is a bit more difficult because you’re creating a universe, and you’re reacting to a universe that you don’t get to see, that’s really, really, really difficult.
How did you get involved in the project?
I begged (he has us laughing again) and pleaded. The first time I heard about it was like, four years ago? Maybe five? Yeah, I heard through the grapevine that Mr. Lucas was doing this movie and he sent me to an audition. I couldn’t even, I couldn’t even call him and be like, “Hey, man, listen, can we just bypass this whole process? I know we know each other, you know? I’m a good person; can we just go ahead and get it started?” But no, I auditioned and I think I auditioned maybe two or three times and I made the cut, and I am here now. I’m glad I’m here now.
Since you worked with George (Lucas) on Red Tails, what is it that you love about working with him?
I’m glad you asked that question because, I never really get to tell him, but George has surpassed, I think what we are on Earth. He’s become an idea. It’s like every time I come here, I get so inspired because everything that we’re sitting on, everything that we drove up on was spawned from an idea. And when you have an idea that you’re convicted about, and you can change the world from that idea, you don’t stray away from it, and you dedicate your life to that idea. So every time I’m around him, it reinvigorates the passion for art in me that it only takes one thing. It only takes one idea. It only takes one thought to pretty much change your universe, and that’s why I love working with him because I’m constantly reminded of that. Thanks, George.
George Lucas was in the audience with us during the interview. He smiled and nodded at Elijah. It was such a fantastic answer, and George was so cool during the answer.
Was it weird seeing your facial expressions and such on a character that doesn’t look like you?
The whole process is weird. Honestly, I’m not over it yet. This is only the second time I’ve seen the movie, and on film, you get used to yourself. You can see yourself in a different character, but as far as, like, somebody bringing your voice to life, they literally bring your voice to life, you know? And so all you do is talk and sing, and they do everything else. It’s really amazing.
I know that you’re a philanthropist, tell me about your foundation.
The Elijah Kelley Foundation. Basically what we do is I try to be a liaison between underprivileged kids back from where I’m from and their dreams in arts and entertainment. And so during the tenure that’s a non-profit, and I’ve given out four scholarships over the last five years with students from low-income housing that are going on to pursue careers in performing arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design to a very small, great art school in Georgia called Gordon College. Also working with my old high school, Troup High School. My plan is to go back and to take the K through 12 for two weekends to go see the movie.
Oh, that’s fantastic.
And right now, I’m trying to break ground on a performing arts school for them.
Thank you for doing that because every community needs someone to come back and do that, and I know it brings the artistry or your talents full circle when you’re able to do that, so thank you. That’s awesome.
I have really, really, really big dreams and sometimes we don’t even start because we feel the dream is so big, so you know, with the school, I went from trying to find land to, going back to some of my old friends and like, okay, what’s this warehouse about? Can we clean this up? Can we put a couple classrooms in here even if we start with fifty students? You know, whatever it takes to get it started- that’s what I wanna do.
Thank you so much for coming up to the ranch and hanging out with us.
It was really my pleasure. I love hanging out with you.
STRANGE MAGIC opens 1/23/15