Maya Rudolph on voicing Angry Birds character Matilda and the difficulties with raising kids
Her Angry Birds character may be all about the Zen, but in real life, Maya Rudolph admits it's easier to ruffle her feathers. That's not always a bad thing though, as Susan Griffin discovers
Should you ever bump into Maya Rudolph, the actress politely requests you refrain from making contact. "I don't like it when strangers touch me. They do all the time, and I think it's so weird," remarks the 43-year-old.
"People get confused when they watch you from their own bed, and they think you're part of their life. It's not like I'm a hypochondriac about germs, but my body's mine," she adds. "A poke when your back's to them, or weird gentle caressing? It's odd."
Rudolph, who made a name for herself on popular US sketch show Saturday Night Live before becoming a Hollywood stalwart, with roles in the likes of Grown Ups, Bridesmaids and Sisters, is currently promoting The Angry Birds Movie, a big-screen animation of the most downloaded mobile game of all time. "I used to play the game, of course," she admits with a laugh. "I love to procrastinate."
The game might not be plot-driven, but she never had reservations about it working as a film.
"I knew who the cast was going to be [Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Sean Penn, Danny McBride], and I knew it was going to be funny and a fully realised idea," she states.
"It's nice to know that something that lived in one dimension can take on a whole other dimension, and there's a really lovely origins story. It's not just that they're angry because their eggs are stolen. You get to really understand the characters."
She voices Matilda, a reformed "angry bird" now all about the Zen, peaceful vibes, and who's also determined to help others achieve the same, though her anger management classes. However, the birds soon learn Matilda still harbours some inner rage.
"She's overly positive. I think someone told her, 'Loud is good, so just keep talking'," says Rudolph, who admits she found her character's perkiness challenging.
"You can tell I am not that high-energy," she says, grinning. "I'm quite mellow. It was physically exhausting."
She does, however, share her feathered alter ego's hippy leanings.
"I'm interested in homeopathy and I drink my elderberry syrup when I'm not feeling well. And I make the kids use drops. I like that green, hippy s***.
"But we're in that culture and time, where taking care of your body and your mind and your spirit are all very common ideas, as opposed to when I was a child and people weren't really thinking about things like that."
The mum-of-four, who's been with her partner, the film-maker Paul Thomas Anderson, since 2001, admits that motherhood can be testing.
"Raising kids is a really hard job and challenging, because you constantly have to be on your toes. You're meant to be the best version of yourself and you always mess up and make mistakes, and then you're like, 'Oh God, I'm scarring these people.'
"There are definitely moments where you just lose your rag," she admits, "or go, 'mummy wants some time, too'."
It's a different beast to any anger manifested by colliding with adults.
"When people are rude, it can really p*** you off, but you can choose to either accept the invitation to battle, or not," she observes, recalling a recent encounter.
"I was driving and this guy cut me up. I honked at him, and then he flipped me off. I thought, 'Oh, he wants me to be mad', but I didn't feel like being mad. Then there are moments where people are mean to you and you'll be mean back."
But getting angry isn't always a bad thing, she notes: "If you don't recognise anger, you don't know happiness and vice versa."
The Angry Birds Movie, she says, "is a tongue-in-cheek take on those people who've done the most self-introspection, the ones who have the darkest journey. You hear about therapists who have really had a tough origin. So that's the perfect joke for Matilda."
Rudolph is no stranger to animation, having previously lent her voice to Shrek The Third, Zookeeper, The Nut Job and Big Hero 6, and while it's a more solitary experience than the TV and movie ensembles she's been involved with, she says it's also "incredibly similar, certainly in terms of character creation".
"My background is sketch comedy, where you get to be everyone, and that's what I like the best," she says.
"That's why animation is so satisfying, because it allows you to be someone else entirely."
The daughter of soul singer Minnie Riperton, who died from breast cancer in 1979 aged just 31, Rudolph was born in Florida, but the family moved to California soon after.
She studied photography at college, enrolled at a design school in Paris and sang in several bands before deciding to pursue a career in comedy, joining forces with The Groundlings improv group, where she met long-time collaborators Kristen Wiig, Will Forte, Melissa McCarthy and Will Ferrell.
In the Nineties, she appeared in numerous TV series before joining Saturday Night Live in 2000, where she'd mimic the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Whitney Houston, Donatella Versace and Beyonce.
"I'd never written for myself before, but had to, because if you didn't, no one knew your voice and what your characters were, so that was really important to learn," recalls Rudolph, who left the show in 2007 but has since returned for numerous special guest appearances.
"I learned I could do it and actually perform stuff on TV, which was really empowering. For a long time, I thought being an actor was being asked to do things."
Continuing to showcase her versatile skills, she'll next appear in Maya And Marty In Manhattan, a TV show with music, sketches and special guests; family drama We Don't Belong Here; comedy Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping opposite Andy Samberg, and animated sequel Nut Job 2.
"If it were up to me, I'd always work with my long-time friends, because you speak each other's language and there's a real shorthand," Rudoph admits.
"That's such an incredible luxury, and really does allow you to be your best."
The Angry Birds Movie is in cinemas now