But first let us set the scene. Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh provide voices and personalities for two best friends--and charming con artists--who live in Old Spain. Tulio (Kline) is the ostensible leader; he's the practical, cynical half of this pair of rapscallions. His partner, Miguel (Branagh) is the dreamer. At the top of the film, just before their scam-in-progress is unmasked, they get their hands on a map to the legendary golden city of El Dorado. On the run, they accidentally end up as stowaways on board ship to the New World with Cortez who is himself in search of El Dorado. Well, one thing leads to another, inclusive of five Elton John/Tim Rice songs, a romantic interlude with a character voiced by Rosie Perez, and you've got yourself an entertaining family film lovingly modeled on the old "road" movies starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, and Dorothy Lamour.
Unlike other animated movies, in which actors record their voice tracks alone in a booth, Kline and Branagh were invited to record their scenes together. Rather than stick to the script, they "embroidered," adlibbing and creating dialogue out of whole cloth, which the Dreamworks animators turned into whole celluloid. When Kline and Branagh are ushered into the Regency Hotel room in New York for this interview, it becomes instantly clear that their characters on screen are not so very different from these two actors in real life--at least when they're together.
When asked about the similarity between The Road to El Dorado and all those Hope/Crosby movies, Branagh begins, "In large part the film will play to a generation of people who probably haven't either seen or even heard of those films. But that sort of bickering-yet-affectionate relationship is a nice thing to play. If we could have cast the other part in the way I originally wanted, I think it would have been terrific. As it is, it sort of works. I think Kevin, sometimes gets some value out of it, though not as much as some of the other actors. You don't mind me saying that Kevin, do you?"
Kline blinks a few times and says, "What? Sorry, I tuned you out years ago." Then, after being asked what he thought of the film's formula, particularly the addition of the love interest played by Rosie Perez, with mock seriousness Kline says, "I find it gratuitous, frankly. I don't think she was necessary. Although it was a great pleasure working with Rosie Perez, and she was wonderful in the film, I really don't think we needed her." Branagh bursts out laughing. So do we.
"A few great bodies? I can think of a few great bodies."
Kline ignores him and gives his own example: "Look at Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Or don't."
Getting a straight answer out of these two actors was clearly going to be difficult, if not impossible. In an attempt to turn the conversation ever-so-slightly more erudite, we notes that their movie also was reminiscent of The Man Who Would Be King, because Tulio and Miguel, when they arrive in El Dorado, are mistaken for gods.
"Precisely!" Branagh says brightly. Then his expression turns wicked. "We were originally going to do it as Sean Connery and Michael Caine," he says. "You can do Sean Connery can't you?" he asks Kline. Both of them instantly launched into impressions of the stars of The Man Who Would Be King, and we are treated to a few seconds of dialogue that sound like the seeds of a Saturday Night Live sketch before Kline shrugs his shoulders and says, "But in the end, we decided to play our own humble, little stupid selves."
It is Branagh, or the director that he is, who briefly breaks through the kidding to comment on the unusual filmmaking process he and Kline experienced making The Road to El Dorado. He explains that they spent four years, on and off, recording the characters. "After watching these pencil drawings [of himself]," he says, "you start to see the color coming through with a little bit of your own gestures and the facial stuff." He notes that the animators captured quite a lot of his and Kline's personalities. "We do a lot of shtick together, and they went for a lot of the off-the-cuff stuff. They edited it very well. They had a very good sense of timing, didn't they?"
Kline, taking his cue, keeps a straight face for a moment and agrees. "When you're doing just the vocal performance, you are entrusting the animators with your comic timing. It's the physical stuff that gets as many laughs as the verbal stuff. You're really putting yourself into their hands, and they did a brilliant job."
As for "the verbal stuff," Branagh wastes no time complimenting his partner on his skill as an improviser, at which point Kline interrupts, saying, "Don't do that phony, false modesty, self-deprecating thing. He's a master, a master," Kline says of Branagh as they speak over each other for a solid thirty seconds, each trying to out-compliment the other.
Laughing--did we ever stop laughing?--we ask them if they would ever work together on stage. "No. Absolutely not!" says Kline. Branagh, on his heels, quips, "Not a chance. After we finish this interview, I won't see him again." Not to be outdone, Kline shoots back, "Have you seen Ken on stage, ever? Well..." His voice trails off meaningfully.
Again it's Branagh who turns serious first, saying, "We did talk about it from time to time. It's just finding the right vehicle to accommodate the gargantuan egos." Kline agrees, adding, "We tend to want to play the same roles. So it's hard."
"I don't find it hard," contradicts Branagh. "I think they're very easy to cast when we come up against that problem." Kline smiles, knowingly: "You'd eliminate me."
We ask the question a different way, wondering how they might cast each other in a play of their own choosing. Kline had no problem, there, offering, "Oooh. I'd have the lead and Ken would be marvelous supporting. He'd be my friend. He'd be a marvelous Horatio to my Hamlet."
"Yes, I'd be his loyal friend with fewer lines." For his part, Branagh uses The Road to El Dorado to make his point, adding, "I think this was a good combination because we got to improvise and mess around a bit. For better or worse, we share a certain view of the world and sense of humor, and that was very comfortable. You need trust, especially in comedy, with a performer, not worrying who gets the last word, and whether you're funny or all that kind of kaboodle. It's nice to bat the ball back and forth. So, something in which we could have that kind of freedom would be good. So, a comedy I guess, although you would have to have most of the laughs, I suppose?"
"I would." Kline says. "I would. We could do something likeDesign for Living," he suggests. "Are those two men's parts fairly equal?"
"Yes," Branagh says thoughtfully, "but there's a girl in that, and she's got to have a lot of lines, as well."
Kline doesn't miss a beat: "We could walk all over her. We can cast it with someone WEAK, who won't get in our way!"
But then, no one gets in their way. Kline and Branagh have got their act down pat, and they're taking it on the road.