Keegan-Michael Key, On Hotel Transylvania 3 And How Looney Tunes Taught Him The 'Anatomy Of A Joke'
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Film , Interviews

Keegan-Michael Key, On Hotel Transylvania 3 And How Looney Tunes Taught Him The 'Anatomy Of A Joke'

It's summer, and even monsters need a break, right?

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation follows Dracula (Adam Sandler) on vacation with his family, where he finds a love connection. Keegan-Michael Key returns as Dracula’s BFF mummy, Murray, after taking over the voice work in the sequel from CeeLo Green, who voiced the character in the first film.

Shadow and Act had the pleasure of speaking with Key about his connection with Murray, his character’s journey, the methods he uses during voiceover sessions, his favorite animated television shows and films as well as any long-term goals he has in the entertainment industry.

Key’s broad and infectious smile can be felt through the phone's speakers as we start off with the apparent differences between the actor and his character: Key is thankfully alive and well, while Murray is the undead. But, there are some similarities!

“We both have a real excitement for adventure,” Key said. “It’s what I like most about playing him; he makes me feel good after a vocal session! Everything he wants to do, he does with zeal.” Key mentioned Murray is especially down for trying new stuff in the third iteration of Hotel Transylvania, given his new setting: a boat. Not exactly the most comfortable spot for an ancient mummy, right? Key can relate to Murray’s enthusiasm when it comes to trying something new.

“The story revolves so much around Drac’s relationship, so I think the big thing is that it ends up being about how much a friend [Murray] can be,” Key said. He points out Murray is a part of a “support system” team of “matchmakers” whose “main objective [is to] get Drac to loosen up” to find love with Ericka (Kathryn Hahn).

As noted above, Key maintains irresistible energy, a quality he carries over into his voice work. More often than not, an actor is usually in the studio booth alone or maybe with only one other actor. It indeed takes talent to maintain the energy of an ensemble cast when you can’t physically see or touch them. “We’re really lucky with Genndy Tartakovsky, who is the director and writer,” Key indicated. “He’s the only artist you have to bounce off of when you’re in the booth. The other actors aren’t there; you understand them and their sensibilities and what they do and why they’re funny, but you don’t get a sense of it because you’re in the booth by yourself. It’s kind of a singular activity.”

Concerning general voice work, Key said the best means of help is knowing exactly “what the character looks like right off the bat,” as in, from the moment the role is offered to him. Looks matter in Murray’s case, as well. “We’re dealing with a character that is mythical, looks silly and doesn’t have human features so I can be broader,” Key pointed out.

Given his experience with this particular project, Key stressed the importance of having someone at the helm who knows the material well as he had no actors to bounce off of and depended on Tartakovsky for guidance.

“The good thing is to have Genndy there, who’s not an actor by trade, but because he knows the script so intimately much more than anybody else, he can tell you right in the moment exactly what’s happening, what’s happened before, what you were feeling two scenes ago, and it’s really very helpful to get you where you need to be,” Key added.

Key has a lot of experience with bringing life to animated films and television such as The Angry Birds Movie, The Star, Bob’s Burgers, Archer and, of course, everyone’s animated dream show, The Simpsons. Given his extensive resume, we had to ask: what are some of his favorite animated TV shows and movies?

“I love the Disney movies that came out before I was even born,” Key answered. “I would watch them on The Wonderful World of Disney. I loved The Robin Hood, the one with the fox and the bear. And the bear who plays Baloo in The Jungle Book is also Little John!” The more you know!

“I was also a big Smurfs fan when I was a kid,” added Key. “I loved the Smurfs, which is interesting because it was actually dubbed from German into English.” Come through with the fun facts, Keegan!

He also paid homage to Chuck Jones cartoons, which he says had a significant impact on his comedic style, noting how Looney Tunes was the first place he learned “the anatomy of a joke.”

With Key’s love for his career and life in general, he won’t be stopping anytime soon. As for the future, he told us we could expect more producing as he likes to “develop from a macro standpoint.” While he admits he’s not particularly big on writing, he says, “the written page is what makes me breathe.”

Just like Keegan makes Murray breathe.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is now playing in theaters.