Home Channels Industry Two Strings Tuesday: An Interview with Art Parkinson, the Voice of Kubo

Two Strings Tuesday: An Interview with Art Parkinson, the Voice of Kubo


Welcome back to Toonzone’s “Two Strings Tuesdays,” the day dedicated to special content posted a week in conjunction with the upcoming release of LAIKA Animation Studio’s latest feature film Kubo and the Two Strings (coming to theaters on August 19, 2016). For our earlier installments, check out:

Art ParkinsonBest known as Rickon Stark on Game of Thrones, Art Parkinson stars as the titular Kubo in LAIKA’s Kubo and the Two Strings.

TOONZONE NEWS: Was this your first time doing voice over work?

ART PARKINSON: It was, yeah. This was my first time doing animation. I’ve done ADR work in the past, but this was the first animation and it was a really cool project because it was so artistic. It was such an amazing project, so I was really happy for this to be my debut.

TOONZONE NEWS: What was the audition process like?

ART PARKINSON: It was fairly straightforward, to be honest. It was probably like one of the simplest ones we’ve ever had because we didn’t actually go and meet them. They sent over the script and we looked over the script, and it was a really, really cool script. And they sent us some scenes for us to tape. Taped the scenes, sent it away, a few Skype meetings and things like that, and then they told us that we got the part. It was easy because you just had to familiarize yourself with the lines, you know what I mean? You didn’t have to learn them by heart and then record it on a voicemail. You didn’t have to worry about anything, so that was really really cool.

TOONZONE NEWS: Your Game of Thrones co-star Isaac Hempstead Wright was the main character in LAIKA’s last movie The Boxtrolls. Did he give you any pointers?

ART PARKINSON: No, I never actually got to talk to Isaac about Kubo and the Two Strings, but he had talked in the past about The Boxtrolls. At the time, it was sort of season 3-ish, and I think he had already done a few sessions and he was just explaining to me how simple it was. How much he enjoyed and the process they go through for making the puppet and the actual recording and the pictures. From that point on, I was very interested in it, so when the opportunity arose to actually be a part of a LAIKA project, I jumped on it.

TOONZONE NEWS: What was your initial reaction to the script and the world of Kubo?

ART PARKINSON: I thought it was amazing. I really did. When I first got the script, it was unusual because they had an illustration on the front. And I think that sort of portrays LAIKA the best because it’s like they’re always very open with their characters and their stories. The picture was really exquisite and I think that’s a great way to describe the script. When I first read it, it was very touching because I could relate to Kubo a lot. He’s very close with his mother, I’m very close with my mother. He’s a storyteller, I’m a storyteller as an actor. And he’s very cultured, I’m very cultured. He lives in a very small town and knows everyone. I live in a small town where I know everyone, so it was like a match made in heaven for me.

TOONZONE NEWS: What kinds of cartoons did you like when you were younger?

ART PARKINSON: When I was really young, it was Jungle Book and The Lion King, but then when I grew up a bit, it was Coraline and ParaNorman. I loved those because it was dark enough to watch. Even as an adult, you can go back and watch those films. I’m not an adult, but my mom loves those films. I loved them.

Kubo and the Two StringsTOONZONE NEWS: Both Kubo and Game of Thrones are very fantasy oriented. Are you a fan of fantasy?

ART PARKINSON: I think it’s just sort of the jobs come my way. I don’t think there’s anything in particular that draws me to it, but I suppose you could look at everything as fantasy because everything is sort of made up, unless it’s based on a true story, which is very rare. I wouldn’t say I’m drawn to it, but I enjoy doing it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is it more difficult to get into a character who lives in a fantasy world?

ART PARKINSON: It can be a little bit more difficult because there’s not a lot of research you can do. For this film we were lucky because it was set in fantastical Japan, so we were able to research the Japanese culture and things like that, and that helped us to slip into the mindset of the character. For things like Game of Thrones, you can read the books, but at the time I was too young, so it’s a little bit more difficult.

TOONZONE NEWS: How do you think Rickon would react to Kubo’s world?

ART PARKINSON: I think Rickon is very feral and very wild, so I would say he’d probably just go around being crazy as usual and running off places and then you don’t see him for two years and then he comes back and he’s even weirder and even crazier. So I think he would probably just mess about as he usually does.

TOONZONE NEWS: What about vice versa, if Kubo found himself in the Game of Thrones world?

ART PARKINSON: I feel like Kubo would sort of tear it up because if he can defeat a giant skeleton, he is going to defeat a dragon, and he is going to defeat everything else in his way. He has sort of taken everything that is in the Game of Thrones world and more on in his life, so he would kill it.

TOONZONE NEWS: Kubo’s a tough guy, he’s a fighter.

ART PARKINSON: For a kid he’s very independent and very strong. Yeah, I think he’d do well.

TOONZONE NEWS: What was the most challenging thing about Kubo and the Two Strings?

ART PARKINSON: It was probably originally trying to slip into the mindset of the character, which is very important to me in every role. No matter what, I want to immerse myself in the character and immerse myself in the ways of the character, and I think this particular project made it a little bit more difficult because I wasn’t on set and it wasn’t a reenactment of this character. It was something that I had created in my mind myself what was going on. I had the illustrations to help me, but a lot of mental strain went into it.

Director and animator Travis Knight working with Kubo on the Sun Village set for animation studio LAIKA’s epic action-adventure KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Steve Wong Jr Laika Studios/Universal Pictures
Travis Knight with Kubo puppet on set.
Credit: Steve Wong Jr LAIKA Studios/Universal Pictures

TOONZONE NEWS: Did they give you a Kubo puppet?

ART PARKINSON: No, but I was talking to Travis earlier. Everybody’s been telling me that I have to steal one, and he goes, “You don’t have to steal one, I’ll get you one”, and I’m like “Yes!” So I’m looking forward to getting one, because they’re really cool.

TOONZONE NEWS: What about any promotional art? Did they give that to you while recording?

ART PARKINSON: There were illustrations and stuff, and even on the very first script there was an illustration, so that just shows you how long they’ve been working on the project and how important it was to them. As soon as we walked into the studio, there were things all over the place. There would be Kubo there and it would be illustrations all over the wall of the town and the cave, and there’s Grandfather and the Sisters and his mother and everything Monkey and Beetle. We were always immersed in it. They always had things to help us and the illustrations and different props and things like that which was really cool.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you record with any other cast members?

ART PARKINSON: We didn’t get to work with Matthew McConaughey, George Takei, Rooney Mara, or Ralph Fiennes, but we did get to work with Charlize Theron and Brenda Vaccaro. They were all brilliant because whenever you’re in the studio with them, you get to work off them, so it makes it a lot easier.

TOONZONE NEWS: Kubo and Monkey probably have the most interaction.

ART PARKINSON: Yeah, they were a good team.

Kubo and the Two StringsTOONZONE NEWS: Did you discover something new in your performance working with someone else?

ART PARKINSON: Yeah, there was a lot more of our own ideas thrown in. We’d be thinking about it, and the line might be a comedic line, and we might change it to still a comedic line, but we might be saying it serious and it’s even funnier. We can work off each other. It was helpful because whenever you are working with someone and they’re comfortable in their own space, it makes you comfortable in your own space.

TOONZONE NEWS: Kubo plays an instrument, do you?

ART PARKINSON: I don’t play any instruments, no, but I think Kubo’s instrument is very cool, the shamisen. When I was in primary school, I used to play the tin whistle, which is an Irish thing, and the bodhran as well which is an Irish drum, so I used to play those. Culture-wise, I’m more interested in the history and the language of an Irish speaker and the sports as well because I play Gaelic football.

TOONZONE NEWS: What else do you like to do in your spare time?

ART PARKINSON: I play Gaelic football, and that’s it, really. Whenever I’m home, I love playing Gaelic, and that’s a very important part of my life. Not just playing Gaelic, but the Irish language as well because for so many years, the Irish language was dead as the Irish people were oppressed, but I feel like now that we’re allowed to use it, hopefully there will be a new spirit in the Irish language. With news outlets like Raidió na Gaeltachta, which is an Irish speaking radio company, People like them all work so much to bring the Irish language back, and they have done for many years, so I think all those channels and stations are brilliant.

TOONZONE NEWS: When you go home, do people treat you like a super celebrity?

ART PARKINSON: Not really. Where I live is a small town, everybody knows everybody. You never get treated differently, no matter what.

Kubo and the Two Strings Art ParkinsonTOONZONE NEWS: It’s probably good for when you want to have your down time.

ART PARKINSON: Yeah, it’s handy. Out here it’s very nice and it’s cool, and I don’t think I can live here for a while anyway because it’s very hectic. Where I live it’s quiet and you can do whatever you want and nobody cares.

TOONZONE NEWS: Is there anywhere else in the US you plan to visit?

ART PARKINSON: We went to visit Portland whenever we took a tour of the LAIKA Studios, but no, not really. I’d love to go and see New York. I think that would be a cool place, have you been there?

TOONZONE NEWS: I lived there for a few years.

ART PARKINSON: Is it nice?

TOONZONE NEWS: It is, yeah.

ART PARKINSON: I feel like that would be very nice. Probably New York. I like LA, but it’s very blingy, especially in Beverly Hills. You can’t walk for two minutes without seeing a Ferrari. I like America. It’s a cool area and there’s a lot of artistic opportunities here.

TOONZONE NEWS: Have you gone to any conventions?

ART PARKINSON: I don’t go to a lot of conventions. I’m usually sort of busy, and they always happen to be on awkward times, but the only convention we’ve been to was one Comic Convention in Milton Keynes in England. It’s a fairly new city, but it’s actually designed on the American grid system. We’ve been to one there. And then we’ve been to TitanCon in Belfast, that is an independent convention, it’s a fantasy convention so we were there for Game of Thrones.

TOONZONE NEWS: What did you do there?

ART PARKINSON: It was fairly straightforward. And you know, it’s the same people every year going, so you know everybody there, which is really, really cool. You go and have a medieval feast and eat great food and it’s absolutely cool.

Art Parkinson Game of ThronesTOONZONE NEWS: What’s it like being on the Game of Thrones set?

ART PARKINSON: Sometimes you look around and you’re standing in Westeros or you’re standing between 500 background actors on each side, and you look around and there’s a fake dead horse here and a giant wolf here, and you’re like, “Someone would die to be here.” So many people absolutely love the show, so it’s cool. It’s a very cool experience, and everybody there is so used to it as this point, so it’s smooth running. And I really like that.

TOONZONE NEWS: When the show started, people weren’t sure what to make of it.

ART PARKINSON: Yeah, it was like whenever the original pilot came out…the original original pilot…I wasn’t in it, and they had like a three year old doing my part. I actually met his dad at a premiere about a year ago, and he came up and said “My son was actually the original Rickon,” and I said “Ah, that’s so cool.” But there’s plenty of characters that were completely different and they changed a lot. They knew they had a huge following from the books but didn’t expect it to be what it is. And what it is is huge.

TOONZONE NEWS: What do you hope people, kids, adults, families, will get out of Kubo and the Two Strings?

ART PARKINSON: I think they will definitely walk in and realize that a lot of the scenarios, family-wise, in the film are very relatable. There are scenarios in the film that I can relate to in my family life. I think also at the end, hopefully they’ll walk out with a greater sense of forgiveness. They’ll realize if a child can be that forgiving, then so can anyone else.

Toonzone News would like to thank Art Parkinson for taking the time to talk with us, and to the LAIKA PR crew and Fumi Kitahara for arranging the interview. Kubo and the Two Strings premieres on August 19, 2016.