Sarah Vowell is perfectly happy to talk about voicing Violet in The Incredibles until the day she dies
Usually when an actor takes on a roll, it’s a one-and-done situation. Maybe there’s a sequel a year or two down the road, but still, that’s it. Movie characters certainly live on now thanks to DVDs and streaming, but very rarely does an actor step back into a role a decade later. And even more rarely does an actor step back into a role a decade later and the character they’re portraying hasn’t aged a day.
But that’s what’s happening with Incredibles 2. Pixar’s latest movie picks up mere seconds after the first one ends. That was 2004, and this is now 2018, and while we’ve all aged some 14 years, Violet Parr has not. She’s still a moody, unsure teenager just trying to figure out who she is and how she fits into her family, and the world.
Ahead of the release of Incredibles 2, HellGiggles sat down with Sarah Vowell — of NPR’s This American Life fame, and also the author of numerous books — who is once again playing the Parr teenager. And yes, Vowell knows that literally no matter what else she does in life, she’s always going to end up talking about The Incredibles.
HelloGiggles: How does it feel just to be stepping back into this world? Did you ever think 14 years later you would still be playing Violet?
Sarah Vowell: Well, I mean, you’re a journalist, so I assume you write something and then…and you write for the web, right?
SV: So it’s up like five minutes later, and you’re doing something [else]. In animation, these films take, I don’t know, three to five years sometimes. 14 years for an animator is really nothing. It’s just not a 21st century timeframe. It’s a 20th century art form. [Director] Brad Bird has made four films, including this one, since the first one. Three stories from now, that won’t feel like much time’s gone by to you, right?
SV: The thing about animating these characters in these films that most people see is you are that character for the rest of your life. The lady who was Snow White, she was always Snow White until her dying day. You’re just kind of get used to talking to people about it, and hearing from people telling you what it meant to them and their family, and especially young [kids]. Being Violet, who is a teenage girl, hearing from former teenage girls or little girls who want to be a teenage girl [now]…that never goes away. It’s always part of your life. I’ll be talking about this movie until the day I die.
I think part of that is because of the nature of [the movie]. There weren’t even VHS tapes when I was a little kid, but I think because of DVDs and digital, people watch these films, especially children, over and over and over and over and over again, so someone’s always watching this movie.
HelloGiggles: I still watch it. I watched it the other day. But now, no time has passed since the first movie to this movie and the story picks up right where we left off. How do you think Violet has changed, or how have you changed Violet from the first to the second?
SV: I mean, she went through a lot in the first film just in terms of really discovering her powers and developing her powers, and there’s a big dramatic moment in the first movie where her mom is telling her when they have to go save her dad, like, “You have to step up,” and she’s like, “I don’t know if I can do that.” Then there’s a moment where she decides, “Yes, I will try.” And she puts on her mask, and assumes the superhero pose, and becomes a hero. So, she’s consequently more skilled and more confident, and also she gets a kick out of it. She starts to love it, and so as the new film starts, she wants more. She wants to use her powers. She wants to be out there.
HelloGiggles: And now in the second movie, there is a moment where she completely steps up to the plate unprompted, is like “I’ve got this. I can do this.” I still relate to Violet from first movie. I relate to Violet in this movie, too. Why do you think that’s so important, especially for young girls, to see that?
SV: The interesting thing about this film and her and her mother, they both have these powers, and it’s just an obvious symbol of agency and competence. But the great thing about this film is, because they’re part of a family and they’re part of a team, the way that they work together, each person retains his or her individuality and use his or her own powers. They work together, and they can’t succeed alone. So there’s something really beautiful about that, because I mean, maybe some day we won’t have to talk about this, and I hope we don’t, but talking of how women with jobs and loving their jobs and doing well in their jobs, the whole point of that is equality so everyone can feel that way no matter what they look like, or who they are, or what their gender is. So, there is something beautiful to see just how functional a team they are.
Some of [the superheroes] are women, and some of them are not, and they’re all working together, and each one doing their thing. I think that is more appealing to me than say just…like I loved that last Wonder Woman movie, but even she had her team of guys. I always like bands more than a solo signer. There’s just something so appealing about people working together harmoniously, and with joy. Like they really all, once they’re all working together, everyone is having a blast saving the world together.
HelloGiggles: There’s even a part in the movie where (spoiler) Violet chooses her family over a guy. I think that’s an important message.
SV: Yeah, they all are in it together. That to me, I like the whole story line about Helen, Elastigirl, going off and working on her own, but it’s still not quite as compelling to me as them all working together. I mean, yeah. I just love the idea that they don’t have to choose. The fact that they’re so united as a family and as a team of co-workers is a very appealing plot line to me.
HelloGiggles: How did you get into the headspace of Violet as a young adolescent, because those years of my life are something I don’t ever really want to revisit. How did you tap into that?
SV: I spend a lot of time with young people. One of my jobs is going to speak at colleges…a lot of those students are 18 years old, and I love what question marks they are. They’re so unformed, and you don’t know how things are going to turn out for them, and sometimes some of them I just want to move to that town and sit around and wait for them to grow up so I can see like how is this person gonna turn out, because they are in motion. They’re going towards something, so there’s that.
I also was a teenage girl, and with Violet specifically, I just remember I didn’t really love being a kid. It’s not that I wanted to be an adult. I just didn’t want to be confined, and I wanted to like read the books I wanted to read, and I wanted to go where I wanted to go, and I definitely have very good recall of what that was like. “I don’t want to be in algebra today. I want to read a book about John Coltrane.” Just that pressure of being confined still by your age. But also still being a kid and wanting to feel that sense of freedom and safety that a kid has, too.
The interesting thing about [The Incredibles] as a family of superheroes, especially regarding [Violet’s] relationship with her mother — because her dad, he loves that all the kids have powers and he’s just so excited for them — but her mother. I mean, it’s like any mother/daughter relationship. She wants to raise a competent, confident, skilled, full person who’s able to go out in the world and do whatever she wants, but she’s also her mom, and she wants to protect her, and these kids get into situations, there are real stakes. There are real dangers. They are in danger, and her mother has a lot more qualms about that, I think, than her father, because she is their mother, and she wants to protect them.