With the silly season about to descend upon us, we’re due to get hit with a flurry of Christmas-themed films over the next couple of months, with one of the more interesting being the animated feature Santa’s Apprentice. A French/Australian co-production, the film’s plot is all in the title: Santa shows orphan boy Nicholas the ropes. However, what sets it apart from the usual holiday ham is the fact that Santa is voiced by Kenny himself, Shane Jacobsen, who has good enough to fill us in on the challenges of giving voice to the man in the sleigh.
How did you come to involved in the project?
First I got the phone call to say that they were looking towards me to do the voice of Santa. One of the first things was for them to really hear the kind of voice that I would do for Santa. So that was the start of it, really, was me sitting at home going, ‘Okay, I’ve got to think of the voice for Santa.’ so I went and did that, and then they said, ‘Look, we’d love you to do it.’ and from there it was a matter of getting the script and going from there, bringing the voice of Santa to life just by yelling down one mike.
That to me is not the horror, but the beauty of doing an animated feature is that you get to deliver your entre performance entirely into a microphone, which means you can focus purely on your voice, as opposed to obviously film or stage where you’ve got makeup and costumes and other distractions; movement and facial gestures and all that sort of stuff. The great thing about animated films, animated features, is that it’s all your voice.
So yeah, it kind of started with them intrigued or interested in what I’d do, and then once they heard it they said ‘Great! Let’s play!’
Was this you first time doing voiceover work?
Not really. It’s the first time I’ve done it for an animated feature, but me and my brother did a Kenny cartoon, Kenny’s World, and I’d done character voices on radio twenty years ago. But it’s the first time I’ve done a voice for an animated feature, although obviously I have voiced the Kenny cartoons in the past.
As it’s an international production, how do you think the film will fare overseas?
The thing was actually animated here in Australia. It translated perfectly because it’s an international story obviously – Christmas – and the main boy in this, Santa’s apprentice, the character Nicholas, is a boy from Australia, so although it’s an international story, it’s very focused on Australia. And the animations were all done here in Australia for this film, so it really is a fresh build on a great idea.
Did you find working in the isolation of the recording booth a challenge?
Yeah, I think for some people they might find it that way, but for me certainly not. I mean, whether I’ve got a childlike mind or a vivid imagination and/or both, for me I don’t struggle with that. I think some people may, especially with the character of Santa. I think if you were doing drama and you were trying to deliver a heartfelt line to no one, that would be a bit weird, and in some moments we did have the young boy, Jack (Versace), who gives the voice to the character Nicholas, he was in the room with me sometimes, when we were doing little scenes that required us to almost talk over each other.
But other than that, being that Santa is so over the top – when I say over the top, I mean his voice is a bit like… I think the elderly do it best. It’s that willingness to let themselves go completely when talking to a child. You could just walk back from the shops when you were kid, and an old lady could see you coming back and say, ‘David, you’ve been to the shops! How exciting! What did you buy?’ They’re so over the top with joy about the smallest of anything, and that’s what communicating with a kid’s like.
The elderly love the fact that when you show an interest in a kid, when you get excited for whatever’s going on in their world… because for a child, the world is a magical place. Not everything’s been discovered yet; it’s just a massive globe of opportunity, and the elderly enter this dream world that kids are in. So when I’m doing the lines, I’m able to be so big. No performance is too big for Santa’s voice. So from that point of view, I liked being in a room where I could yell, scream, or do whatever the hell I wanted without someone squinting and going ‘What the hell are you doing?’ So in a way, it was almost better for me.
And finally, did you feel any pressure taking on such an iconic role?
It is… I mean, gosh, he’s one character that all the world knows, and all for the same thing: for warmth, and the fact that this guy is the guy who brings presents and joy all over the world come December 25th. So, there was a lot of weight. Initially I thought of that, but then I realised that I couldn’t focus on that; my job was to become that old person, that auntie or uncle in the corner, talking to a kid. You’ve just got to forget anything else and surrender yourself. You’ve just got o live the joy in each line, and as long as I do that, I’m doing fine; I’m being the voice of Santa.
Santa’s Apprentice is in cinemas now.