Animated spy caper to warm little hearts
Ben Mendelsohn has become Hollywood’s go-to bad guy. From Star Wars to Captain Marvel, Robin Hood and The King, the Aussie actor is in hot demand as the antagonist.
At home, his dark on-screen talents are well known and he’s even inspired the phrase “going full Mendo”.
But US-based directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane came across the Melbourne native’s penchant for villainy in a more unusual way.
“The reason we found him is we were watching some stuff online and he was just reading the lyrics to I Just Can’t Wait To Be King from The Lion King for a radio program. It was terrifying, and Nick and I just looked at each other,” Quane says.
“He takes the expected and makes it unexpected; whatever your expectation is he turns it on its ear.”
The animators cast Mendelsohn as the voice of their baddie Killian, a terrorist mastermind with a bionic arm who controls an array of weaponised drones that threaten the world, in their feature film directorial debut Spies in Disguise.
“The bad guy just isn’t your leering, scary shadow character. He brought a heart and humanity to the villain, which makes it so much more terrifying,” Bruno says.
“The fun with these spy movies is they’re global and we wanted it to feel like this big international adventure... I think Ben was surprised we wanted to use his Australian accent.”
Spies in Disguise follows super spy Lance Sterling (voiced by Will Smith) as he is accidentally turned into a pigeon. Hindered by his new feathered form, he is forced to team up with his nerdy tech officer (voiced by Tom Holland) to save the world.
The film is loosely based on Lucas Martell’s 2009 award-winning animated short film Pigeon: Impossible, which depicted a rookie secret agent losing control of his multimillion-dollar, government-issued nuclear briefcase to a curious pigeon.
“To turn it into a big cinematic experience, we had to find more story to tell,” Bruno says.
“For Troy and I early on, the thing that was most important to us was creating a movie that talks about working together. One of the hardest places to find people working together is the world of espionage, which is why we brought in another character. We injected the gadget guy who turns a James Bond character into a pigeon, and the result is tonnes of comedic conflict.”
The film’s A-list cast also includes Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy), Rashida Jones (Parks and Recreation), Rachel Brosnahan (Marvelous Mrs Maisel), country music legend Reba McEntire and DJ Khaled with a soundtrack by hit-maker Mark Ronson.
“It’s our first movie (as directors), so you want to swing for the fences,” Quane says. “We just kept throwing all these names out there, and somehow they all came through.
“Mark just got it – the tone and style and attitude of it. He also has a cameo as the voice of Joy’s (McEntire) assistant and he kills it.”
Parents can expect plenty of nods to spy franchises like Bond, Mission: Impossible and Bourne.
“In a way, this film is a love letter to those spy movies,” Bruno says. “When we started we knew we had a responsibility, that this might be the first spy movie a kid sees. We wanted everything from your James Bonds to your Jason Bournes and Ethan Hunts. I guarantee every frame is heavily inspired by that, even down to our title sequence.”
Spies in Disguise opens on New Year’s Day.