Gobble, gobble! November is just around the corner, as is turkey season, but this year, two turkeys are determined to change their fate. In the new movie Free Birds, turkeys Reggie and Jake team up to go back in time to the first Thanksgiving, and remove turkey from the menu forever. Thanks to Relativity Media, I had the chance to meet up and chat with the voices behind Reggie and Jake (Owen Wilson and Woody Harrelson), as well as writer/director Jimmy Hayward to talk about the making of Free Birds, as well as whether or not they’ll be serving up turkey this year for Thanksgiving.
Multi-tasker Hayward not only co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film, but he also voiced the characters of turkeys Ranger and Leatherbeak, as well as a good ol’ POTUS and lots of background characters. His passion towards Free Birds lit up the room, and hearing his concepts behind the film helped me as an adult understand the biggest message of the story outside of being a goofy flick about talking birds.
Hayward: “I think the most important thing for this movie, for me, was to make an entertaining and emotionally resonant film about two characters. The main message in this movie is that you’re absolutely part of something bigger than just yourself.
“Reggie’s a selfish jerk that feeds his face and watches TV and is lazy, and Jake’s this driven guy — Reggie really learns that he’s part of something bigger. Just because you get rejected in your life doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to be part of something that’s important–which is being part of the flock, you know?
“I kind of treated it a lot like a buddy sci-fi movie more than a Thanksgiving movie.”
Turkey is synonymous for Thanksgiving, and it’s hard to imagine a holiday feast without the bird, but Harrelson’s vegan family has never celebrated with poultry. He jokingly commented, “We’ll just eat whatever the turkeys eat. We’ll probably have some corn, maybe some lettuce.” Buddy and co-star Wilson chimed in that the Harrelson family dog, Snowy, is also vegan. But Hayward prefers his turkey on the table.
Hayward: “The film isn’t about meat is murder. I mean, I eat turkey all the time. And so, as a result, I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan or any of those things. People have asked me if I was worried about people’s kids not wanting to eat meat after this. And that doesn’t worry me at all, because, isn’t already really hard to make kids eat anyway?”
Despite their dietary differences, the trio of dudes are goofy friends who comically challenge each other. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts prevented Harrelson and Wilson from directly working together often (and surprisingly, co-star Amy Poehler never recorded with Wilson, despite their character’s romantic chemistry), but that didn’t stop the high energy of their performances.
Wilson: “Because we’re not working together, so you’d come in and you’d see kind of, ooh, what little Bon Mot has Woody come up with or Amy. And you’d hear them, and you’d kind of get inspired or revved up to try to at least be on the same level.”
Harrelson: “Oh please. I remember the first time we came in, this is one of the only two times we did it together, and I’d come in like all hung over and unprepared, and he comes in with all these ideas and notes and concepts and just nails it…. I’d put on my feathers and waddle, and I just went in right there, and I focused. I’ve been working my pecks and glutes. I can’t get out of character for this.”
While your kids giggle over talking turkeys, pay attention to the details of Free Birds. It’s not hard to laugh at the jokes that made this trio chuckle, and their hard work is evident.