Based on a book by Cressida Cowell, How to Train Your Dragon (rated PG) is a movie about a scrawny, very un-tough Viking boy named Hiccup who doesn’t fit in with the rest of the teenage Vikings who have names like Ruffnut, Tuffnut, and Snotlout. They are all sent on a sort of manhood test where they have to capture and train a dragon. The toughest Viking in the group is a girl named Astrid. She is not in the book at all, but they added her into the movie because they thought it would be fun to have a girl character who is just as strong as the boy Vikings. Yeah! Girls can kick butt too!
At a press interview, America Ferrera and Jay Baruchel, the actors who voice the characters of Astrid and Hiccup talk about the movie and what it was like to play their parts.
What is your favorite thing about Astrid?
America Ferrera: I loved Astrid because she was ready to fight with the boys and play those dragons and I love that the movie never really makes a big deal out of it; it just is what it is. She is the best young fighting dragon player and there is no mention of you’re a girl, so that’s ridiculous or any of that.
I think that Astrid was like a newer kind of character for me to play, because she was so tough. And actually in the beginning you think, she is the most likely hero. Because she is – she is smart and she is prepared and she is physically trained and everyone thinks she is the star Viking. And I think, her biggest moment in the movie comes when she realizes that she is not going to be the hero, and she encourages Hiccup to go and be the hero and – and I think that makes her the hero in a way that she never thought she would be.
Do you think Astrid’s character has a message to girls?
America Ferrera: Totally, I think just having her in this movie, just having a girl in this movie at all who isn’t, you know cooking or knitting. I mean, back in the Viking times, women were not Viking, so that’s not even historically correct. But it’s really wonderful that Astrid is in it and is playing with the big dogs and wanting to be the best and wanting to go down as the biggest Viking dragon player
there ever was. And that we don’t ever talk about it like it’s a bad thing.Girls watching this love an adrenaline rush and an adventure action movie as much as any boy out there, because I know I do. I think we’ll be super inspired by a strong girl who thinks that she can be just as good as any of the guys.
How do you relate to your character, Hiccup, and what did you learn from him?
Jay Baruchel: I relate to Hiccup because he was real skinny and
childlike. And his dad wants him to be more athletic and physical than he wants to be. So these are all things that resonate with me. And what I learned from him? I learned how to design medieval siege weapons that take dragons out of the sky.
The movie looks like it has a lot of excitement, like explosions, and chasing and things like that. Did the role feel really physical for you, like you are always moving?
America Ferrera: Yes, I would say that it felt very physical. I mean we didn’t have to fly dragons or anything but just to kind of get those Viking screams and warrior calls and grunts. We were constantly panting and I found myself you know getting really physical in the room just to kind of get to that place where you know, you feel like you were running from a dragon. There is a lot of running in the movie.
Jay Baruchel: Yes. And we have like you know, where they’re constantly just asking us to do a grunt. Do a grunt like you just caught something. Do a grunt like you just landed somewhere. So yes, like it’s, even though it’s just like America and I literally standing in a room with microphones in front of us. If you saw what it looked like, yes, it looks ridiculous.
The movie is called How to Train Your Dragon but how does Toothless [the dragon] end up training the Vikings?
Jay Baruchel: Well without giving away too much, I think Toothless ends up training the Vikings in that he is the first one to kind of make them look at dragons differently because you know before him dragons are villains; dragons are the ones who burn our houses down and take our food and they are 100 percent evil. I think that once Toothless appears, you see that there is more to dragons than what we thought and as a result it changes the entire Viking demeanor and approach. So I think just because he is adorable and loyal and responsive, and all the good things, you know all the attributes that Vikings like in themselves, they see this in the dragon, and he kind of makes them change their whole game plan.
Were there movies like this that captured your imagination when you were kid?
Jay Baruchel: Oh, yes. The Sword in the Stone – that movie was it for me. And I feel like I am kind of paying homage to Ward through Hiccup in that.
America Ferrera: I remember as a kid just being so like attracted to movies that were about kids, but dealt with really kind of deep and dark things; like, I loved Stand by Me. I loved The Goonies, where there was real danger in these kids’ lives. Now, I love Harry Potter. I love movies that show young people being able to change the world in a way that older people can’t. And I think that totally stays true in this movie because Hiccup and the kids are the ones who are more open to learning about the unknown more so than any of the adults are willing to. And I think that’s so attractive for kids to feel in a way that they have something special because they are young and because their imagination is so open and free and wild.
How to Train Your Dragon is out in theaters starting today. Let me know in the comments if you read the book or see the movie. I would love to hear which one is better!
Photos courtesy of DreamWorks Animation
Interviews by Gerri Miller