And Whatnot: Atticus Shaffer and Charlie Tahan on Frankenweenie

The young stars of Tim Burton's latest on voice-over action versus live-action and their favorite horror movies.

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


Atticus Shaffer and Charlie Tahan are two young boys who were chosen to play the parts of Edgar “E” Gore and Victor Frankenstien, respectively. While I really enjoy spending time with children in general, it was really a blast getting to talk to these kids in particular in person for the release of the film that they star in, Frankenweenie, being released in theaters on October 5th. The story of a child whose dog gets hit by a car and is brought back to life with somewhat unforeseen outcomes and corollary effects, this tale was originally a short created by Tim Burton in 1984 and has now been made into a feature presentation.

I will admit, I was jealous. I would have loved to have been in these kids’ position and worked with Tim Burton! But they had such a great take on their experience, it was quite hard to resist their (literal) boyish charm. The most fascinating thing to think about as we chatted was their time with Tim and how lucky they really were and that they really knew and appreciated it. They were complete Burton fans (even old school, mentioning Peewee and Beetlejuice) and thought that working with Burton and doing stop-motion animation was a great way to expand their career. These are some really smart kids.

CraveOnline: Before you were selected to play the part of Edgar, had you heard of Tim Burton before?

Atticus Shaffer: Oh, absolutely. I fell in love with him and his work. Especially after watching A Corpse Bride because that was the first film I had watched from start to finish it was amazing to see his visual effects and to see how he’s so creative and everything about him. The next one that really resonated with me was Alice In Wonderland because it wasn’t the stereotypical view of the timeframe it was completely different it was a different take on the person and how the Mad Hatter was, it was crazier but it was good that way. It wasn’t like “Oh this is a remake and it was a bad remake” no it was a good remake it took me time to see that but after seeing it multiple times and picking up things I didn’t pick up before, it was just phenomenal.

In preparations for your role, did you see the original Frankenweenie?

In the audition process actually, I had a later time to begin, so there were about 5 children in front of me and they put on the original Frankenweenie short in the waiting area so that way the kids could watch it they kept calling the kids in one at a time and I was the only one that had come in when they put it on who was able to see it start to finish.

Did you have a familiarity or relationship with classic horror films before this experience?

Well, classic movies in general. I hadn’t specifically taken time and watched all the classic horror films in general, I knew the references and whatnot, but other than that I am a huge fan of any classic black and white film so it made it that much more fun to do.

Did Tim Burton sit down with you or suggest certain titles to familiarize yourself with for a better sense of your role or the feel of the picture?

No, it wasn’t like we got homework when we were auditioning for the role or even filming it, it was just a sense of that I already knew the references and whatnot and most of the other cast members are adults who have seen the films but just being in this role alone has inspired me to watch them, you know? And be more in tune with the black and white kind of old classic film where the original idea is spawned from…

You have worked with other fantasy pieces like Hancock or The Thundercats in the past. Is there something that draws you to the fantasy genre?

It’s the fact that, and this is with acting in general, it’s telling more of a story. It’s not giving you a history lesson per se or giving you a recent history lesson and some movies do that and are very well done doing that because it’s the hidden things that no one knew about in this time in history but then there’s other things that are just because it’s fantasy and it’s a story and you can be whatever you need or want to be because that’s what it’s like being an actor. There are physical limitations in the real world but in the movie and in this fantasy land there is none.

Did you get to see what your character was going to look like before you voiced him?

Well, no. During the audition process and everything they didn’t show any pictures or any of that but going into/getting hired near the end of the audition process they showed us little statues and some of Tim’s sketches of the characters, so we kind of had an idea of how he looked and it just kind of confirmed the voices that we would pick or the mannerisms that he would have and then finally near mid- to end-recording they finally did have testing footage that they were allowed to show and so they did show us and it was pretty awesome.

Do you think having that visual character knowledge would have changed the way you worked within the production, acting-wise?

I really don’t think so. I think I had a good idea of how the character would be and how everything seemed to be and having the images in front of me made it easier on me to see and confirm my beliefs but other than that I think my beliefs were spot on.

What do you think about voice-over work as compared to live-action work?

I prefer it. I really do. Just because in live action you have this whole list of things you have to worry about: you have to worry about make-up, you have to worry about your lines, your wardrobe, choreography, where you’re at, arriving at the location on time, camera angles, camera film, everything. In voiceover, all you have to worry about is your voice and practicing with your voice and then being able to understand what the situation and whatnot is happening. And you have endless amounts of film to perfect the character.

What’s your favorite horror film?

I don’t like horror films. Horror films in the sense of the way horror films are now, like Saw, I don’t like that, I don’t. But classic horror films like Frankenstein where it just gives you a good scare but it’s not like gory or Texas Chainsaw Massacre type thing, I don’t like that. But one of my favorite things is, and this is like that “teenage years genre,” like the war “vampires versus zombies versus werewolves,” stuff like that… I love zombies. I love any comedic zombie movies. Because when it’s very light-hearted and funny it makes it that much better so I would have to say things like Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead.


CraveOnline: Before you were selected for Frankenweenie, had you heard of Tim Burton before?

Charlie Tahan: Yeah, even before I started acting, like 9 or 10 years ago he was my favorite director. He was one of the only directors I had heard of, that I could name off the top of my head, when I was like 3 or 4, and I was obsessed with Nightmare Before Christmas and (I didn’t even know it was a Tim Burton movie at the time but) Peewee’s Big Adventure and I liked Corpse Bride when I saw it, something more recent…yeah I was a huge Tim Burton fan. I still am but he used to be my all-time favorite director.

Did you have any previous experience within the classic horror genre?

Well, even if I didn’t watch the old 50’s ones from start to finish I had seen like bits and pieces of them, and I probably saw a few of them from start to finish, but I can’t even name them.  But I was still familiar with the stories and the references from [them]. I saw versions… like Young Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein.

So I noticed that you had been in other zombie films such as I Am Legend. What are your feelings on your participation in this genre? Did it ever scare you?

I don’t necessarily pick the stuff that I do, it’s kind of a coincidence, but it appeals to me. I don’t dislike it. I always kind of watched horror movies and stuff, I didn’t ever really get scared easily.

What got you into acting?

I was like 3 or 4 and, I don’t know why, I was like obsessed with Oliver Twist. I dressed like Oliver Twist all the time, and Harry Potter and Peter Pan. And I dressed like Peter Pan until like second grade, and I took like Mommy-and-me acting or motion classes at the "Y" and we had some family friends whose kids were kind of in the business and I tried a commercial one summer and I never stopped.

Did you get a chance to watch the original Frankenweenie before participating in this new production?

Yeah. I don’t think I saw it from start to finish before I got the audition but after I won the audition I went back and looked at it and thought it was good.

Did you get a chance to see what your character would look like before you voiced him?

Yeah, because Tim’s been developing the movie for like seven years and I only worked on it for three but yeah, I knew that even if it wasn’t the full puppet there were still sketches of Victor and along the course of the filming they brought in the puppets and the sketches and pictures of what they were doing, but I never got a chance to go to London to the animation studio to actually see them doing it for real. I knew what was going on.

Do you have any favorite “on-set” stories?

Well, I won’t say it was really boring but since I wasn’t really with anyone else but myself and Tim wasn’t really there for a lot of it, if he wasn’t there in person, he was on Skype or something cuz he was in the animation studio in London, I think he has a house in London, and I was in NY and Allison Abbate the producer who’s awesome was there I think for all of my recording sessions and she was kind of the messenger between me and Tim. So there wasn’t a whole lot of stories really. Tim accidentally called me Tim once, cuz Victor’s kinda like based on him like when he was a kid so…

What do you think of working in voiceover as opposed to working in live-action? Do you prefer one to the other?

It’s easier. Ahhh, I shouldn’t say it’s easier, it’s just different because live action there’s a lot more to worry about like where to stand and you have to worry about your facial expressions, and hair and make-up and stuff. It’s not even a good or bad thing it’s just with animation you can put all of your energy into your voice. They’re in the same ballpark. They’re both fun. I still met everyone in the cast, but there’s probably more stories that come from working with live action. It’s pretty similar.

The Frankenweenie cast is pretty incredible. Had you been exposed to much of their work before you became part of a working cast with them?

I had seen them in a lot of stuff, like Catherine O’Hara and stuff, and obviously Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, and I knew Robert Capron, the kid who plays Bob, I knew him beforehand from years ago.

What’s your favorite movie?

Of all time? Probably The Shining.     

Do you like horror films?

Yeah, I mean I hate to say it but there’s not a ton of really good horror movies, there’s really only a handful of really good ones, but the ones I’ve seen I’ve loved. I don’t really like the new ones really but I don’t really have preferences really, I don’t really like one genre better than the next.