“Rio” director talks Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and the colors of Brazil

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Jesse Eiseberg earned a well-deserved Best Actor nomination for playing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, an odd duck swimming against the stream and facing a ton of opposition from Harvard’s black swans.

For his next picture, “Rio,” Eisenberg tries something a little bit different, lending his voice to a beautiful blue macaw named Blu who falls in love with Anne Hathaway – and learns to fly – in the Brazilian capital city. “Rio” director Carlos Saldanha recorded Eisenberg while the actor was on break from David Fincher’s “The Social Network,” and said the animated project provided his leading man with the break he needed to give Zuckerberg some emotional balance.

Saldanha, best known for the “Ice Age” series, opened up about a few other filmmaking details when he called us from Brazil to talk about “Rio.”

HollywoodNews.com: You are from Brazil, right?

Carlos Saldanha: Yes, yes. Rio is my hometown.

Was there a particular part of your home turf that you were eager to animate?

We actually managed to build the entire city. That certainly was one of our biggest challenges, to make sure that it looked authentic, so that an audience could feel like they were there. That was complex. One of the toughest parts, in fact, were on the sidewalks. There are these little mosaic stones. Those details were so difficult just to get right.

Is there a specific color that you associate with Rio De Janeiro and Brazil?

Yes, blue and green. They are both great colors. Green because of the forest and the ocean. But blue because when you get a good day down here, the sky and the elements surrounding the city can be really powerful.

This may seem like a basic question, but why choose a macaw as your lead character?

Well, I wanted to pick a bird that is uniquely from Brazil that was rare. I found out about this blue spix macaw, which technically is not from Rio, but is from Brazil. They don’t have them in the wild anymore. They’re only found in captivity. So I came up with this idea around the rarest of macaws. And I also like the idea that these birds are so smart. They are great birds to animate, and they have all of thee great features that make them look interesting.

So where did you come up with the idea of robbing your main bird, Blu, of flight?

[Laughs] When I was trying to figure out what kind of story I was going to tell in Rio, we always read in the Brazilian news about birds being captured and taken away by smugglers. With that emotional component, I thought we could tell a powerful story that’s also very common in Brazil. We’d have a bird who was caged and couldn’t fly who would be able to find his freedom here in Rio.

Tell me why Jesse was the right actor to voice Blu.

Well, Jesse has the personality that I thought would fit the character. He’s pretty shy and self-contained, but is very witty and has a great sense of humor. I wanted a bird who wounded like he grew up in a book shop, but one who also had an edge.

Was there an Eisenberg performance that you saw that made you think, “He’s the guy I want for Blu?”

Actually, yes. I loved him in “The Squid and the Whale,” even though he was younger back then, but it was when I saw him in “Zombieland” that did it for me. That was the comedy, and his turn in that, that triggered it for me.

“Rio” stars the voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jame Fox, Will.I.Am, George Lopez and Tracy Morgan. It opens everywhere on Friday, April 15.

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