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Spies in Disguise interview: Nick Bruno and Troy Quane

Spies in Disguise
Written by Steven White

We spoke with the film’s directors to chat Will Smith, teamwork and weirdness.

Starring Will Smith and Tom Holland, Spies in Disguise is an animated film about a spy who is accidentally turned into a pigeon. Here, directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane give us the lowdown on what makes it a must-see for both parents and kids.

Why did you want to make a spy film like this?

TROY: We love spy movies and it’s just a really exciting, fun genre that’s full of action and adventure and takes you to all sorts of international locations. So when the chance came up to make one, it was a no-brainer. And then on top of that, throwing in a really odd couple, buddy comedy was great. But underneath is a story that really resonated with Nick and myself, as two parents, that in a world of espionage, where trust is frowned on and sometimes dangerous, to take a spy who doesn’t trust anyone and then be able to teach him how to work with others. Because there’s strength in teamwork and it felt like there was a really pertinent reason to tell this story.

What did Will Smith and Tom Holland bring to the table? 

NICK: They are amazing. When we set out to get our cast, we approached filmmaking with an, “If you’re having fun making it, that fun will show up on the screen,” approach. Will went off and did some of the craziest stuff I think I’ve ever heard him do in any movie. It was amazing to see and it’s so funny to watch on the screen. Tom is one of the most lovely, sincere people in real life and also as the character Walter Beckett. His voice makes you really feel for Walter and give you real emotion in the story.

Was Will top of your list to voice Lance Sterling? 

TROY: He really was. When you’re making a spy movie, we really wanted a character that would stand next to a James Bond or an Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne and resonate with the audience. So it had to be somebody who had that charisma, swagger and larger-than-life personality. We thought that he’s the one who can help bring this character alive. 

There seems to be a message of non-violence in the film. Was this intended? 

TROY: Yeah, the overall idea we wanted to go with was the idea of teamwork, of coming together because we’re stronger together. And that idea is sort of a subset, the idea that Walter comes in and says that we’re stronger if we bring people together. As soon as you come in with aggression you draw a line that by nature puts you on the other side of it. That was one of the more sophisticated storytelling devices we had where Lance, who’s unequivocally our hero, is really just the flip side of the coin of the villain.

When you get to the end of the movie, you realise that actions-wise, they both share very similar traits. But we celebrate Lance as the hero because we say he is. And we say that Killian is the bad guy because we say he is. But in their perspective, to Killian Lance is the villain. And what Walter’s saying is that that’s what happens when we approach life a certain way. So if we erase that concept, maybe we can mitigate how many people we put on the other side of that line from us and maybe we don’t have to fight as hard or be as aggressive. 

Why should parents take their kids to see this film? 

NICK: Because it’s a spy movie that comes with big action and we get to travel the world and see some colourful characters and pigeons. And the big laughs are not just for kids ­­– there’s some adult humour in there as well. At the core, though, are some big messages. There’s a non-violent angle and a teamwork angle, but also the weird angle.

We’re dads first and my youngest son is considered weird because he does some things that are not like other people. It’s people like that that we need to allow to be who they are so that the world can be a better place. Weird is weird until it isn’t, right? I think kids are going in to that movie wanting to be a Lance Sterling but at the end really wanting to be weird like Walter Beckett. 

TROY: It takes a lot of courage to be a spy, jumping off helicopters and off building and fighting bad guys. But it takes it takes an almost greater courage to be true to yourself. We all feel weird once in a while, a little bit different. I hope Walter gives the message that that’s ok.

How much room is there for last-minute changes in animation? 

TROY: You’re not as fluid as you are in live filming where you can call back actors and reshoot a whole sequence in a weekend. But with animation there’s a lot more planning. You have to build the world. Everything is work – nothing comes for free. But it’s amazing as you do still have a lot of creative choices even in the post-production where you get to sound and you can throw a line of dialogue in or have some off-screen storytelling with some sound.

Will [Smith] used to say that we’re 95 per cent finished, which means we’re 50 per cent of the way there. You laugh and then cry a little bit but you’d realise that it’s so true. That in the last five per cent, there’s so much you can do to affect how the movie turns out and how people react to it. 

Will you direct an animated film again together? 

BOTH: We’d love to, yeah! 

TROY: We didn’t know each other before we met on this movie. But finding a true partner and a brother in making this movie it really is life imitating art in that sense.

NICK: I guess you could say that Walter brought us together. 

Spies in Disguise (PG) is out in cinemas on Thursday 26th December.

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