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Exclusive: Harvey Guillén on Voicing Square in Shape Island, Now on Apple TV+

Harvey GuillénThe new stop motion series Shape Island premiered recently on Apple TV+. The animated series is based on the internationally best-selling trilogy of Shapes picture books by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Shape island follows the adventures of Square, Circle, and Triangle on their adventures learning to navigate each others’ differences and shows kids that friendship can take different shapes. The series features the voices of Harvey Guillén as Square, Gideon Adlon as Circle, Scott Adsit as Triangle, and Yvette Nicole Brown as Narrator. 

Recently, Guillén spoke with SciFi Vision about lending his voice to the children series, that for him was a “no brainer.” Read the full transcript below, and be sure to check out the series, now streaming on Apple TV+.

SCIFI VISION:   So, how did you come to be working on this project?

Shape IslandHARVEY GUILLÉN:   
Well, I had gotten a request to meet with the creative team for it, and they were interested in having me play a role. I asked questions, obviously. I said, “What's the project?” and [they were] like, “It’s based on the books.” I was like, “I love the books; the books are great.” I have two nieces, one of them who loves the book series, so it was kind of a no brainer for me. I've been trying to do stuff lately that I would be really proud for her to see and watch. She just turned eight, so it's hard to find things that I would be like, “Watch this.” It's so great, and I think with this project, with Shape Island, I did that. 

I saw the whole first season on the plane ride from New York to LA, and while I was halfway through it, I texted my brother and said, “You have to let Scarlett watch this; you have to show it to her.” He's like, “What is it?” I’m like, “It's my new series.” “You have a new series? Another one?” And I was like, “It’s a different series; [laughs] it's a different one. Because they had just seen Puss in Boots. My family, they keep me grounded. I have to remind them that I'm in the entertainment industry. [laughs] It's like, I have this new project coming out, and I'm really excited about it. 

And I was really excited about this project, because I've always wanted to do stop motion. The way they did this is incredible, just beautiful to the eyes, and so is the music and the tone. Everything is linear. It fits so perfectly together with all the voices of the other characters. So, I was really happy to join this. 

And since it’s stop motion, it takes some time. You record your voice, like maybe months in advance, and then, finally, you see a little bit of the product that's going to add to the episode, because it is time consuming. It's such an art that it does take time for this to be made. So, we worked on this for, I think, a little over a year. I remember, I think, I was even maybe in the middle of shooting Reacher when I started working on this. Then Reacher came out and became Amazon's number one show, and then we were still working on this, because it's so meticulous; it's so detailed, the art for this. And the proof is in the pudding. It looks so beautiful when you see each episode and the detail, the shadows, and the lighting and everything. So, it was it was all worth the wait, and I'm really excited for everyone to see it. 

The moral of the stories and each episode is just so great to show kids that we live in this big planet, or, you know, Shape Island, and and we're all different, and that's okay, and how we learn, how we communicate with each other, and how we interact, it's what makes us individuals. 

Yeah, it has a lot of good messages. So, obviously with this you're not using your body; you're only using your voice. So, do you approach it, I guess, in a different way than you do other roles because you're only using your voice? 

I always say when I do animation, whether it's stop motion, or like when I was working on Puss in Boots, I get home exhausted, because you only have one thing to rely on, and that's your voice. That's the only thing, the only instrument you can use. You can't rely on your facial expressions, your body movement, your posture, the rhythm of your walk; you can't rely on any of that. It's all in your voice, but it has to convey all of that. It has to convey your emotions, your posture, your movement, your grunts. So, with this character, he has a lot of sound effects, because he doesn't always speak his his feelings right away. He kind of holds back, and so you hear it in Square when he's throwing a sleepover night for the for the group, and they're going off the schedule, which is really upsetting to him, because he likes structure. So, you're hearing his voice, and the tone just changes a little bit. [One of the characters are] like, “Can't we do this Square?” and then he just makes a high pitch [noise]. He doesn't want to yell, but he doesn't want to seem out of control, and he comes back. So, little things like that I’d find in him to breathe and live, even when he's not speaking and just being, because that’s what we do when we're in a human setting with other people. Everyone doesn't stop breathing; no one stops being themselves. It's just they're not speaking, so you have to have the feeling that they're there all the time, and they're these living breathing characters. 

Because it's so far in advance, that I mean, must make it a lot harder not getting to see even preliminary stuff like I assume you do when you do a 3d movie or whatever. 

Harvey GuillénYeah, I mean, it's a little bit of a delay, but there's no difference; maybe it's a little bit longer than with animation where like - again, when I was shooting, Puss in Boots, I’d get a little bit of what it looks like, even though it's not complete or the color isn’t done or it's just a wild sketch. It is a little faster to get that to us than it is to actually do a stop motion scene, because that is so time consuming, but once you do see it, and once you see the first take of what you've recorded months in advance, and then you see it put together to the actual characters and see Square come to life, it was very, very emotional. It was really sweet to see like something that you created to start off with just your voice, but is connected to what has already been existing, which was this amazing book series that already existed before the show. [That] what someone had seen on bookshelves for years and years now has a voice, that character has a voice, and it's so it's such an honor to to be chosen to be one of the three that bring the voices together to this already legendary book series.

Now, you don't get to actually work with any of the other actors as you do this I assume? I mean, I'm not sure if you did this from your house, or you're in a booth, or what you do, but I assume that you're by yourself. 

We were in a booth. I was by myself, but we did get recordings of the other actors. We were lucky enough some of the times that if someone recorded their scenes ahead of time that we could utilize that and vice versa. So, if I was ahead on my schedule, and I recorded my scenes, they could use my recording to show like, Triangle, you know, like this is how Harvey said it; you want to react to that. And then vice versa. They would [be] like, “So, Circle says this; we’ll play it for you.” Then, they’d play it, and it would be like “We're going to use that take.” Okay, then I would probably answer like this. You know what I mean? Because it is hard, because acting is responding, right? Like you're responding to what is in front of you. But it's hard to do that when there's no one in front of you and you're just in a booth by yourself. So, we did it the best way, which was hearing what was pre-recorded from our counterparts and then reacting to that. That's why it looks so seamless when you we see all together, it looks like they were in the same room, because we are listening to each other and reacting to what we've actually heard. 

Do you have a favorite part of it, a favorite scene? 

I really love the last episode when they go on a journey, and they go to find the meteor that has crashed, and visually it's really beautiful. But I really personally like the story for when Square has a sleepover, just because it was so fun to play with all his little quirks and like, just getting a little bit annoyed that things aren't going to schedule, but keeping things upbeat. It was a nice acting challenge, because the whole episode, you see this slow roller coaster to this kind of climactic explosion of him voicing his feelings that he was kind of keeping to himself and not liking [not] being in control, which a lot of kids can relate to. There are different types of kids who deal with different emotions in different ways, and that's okay. It’s how to voice it. It's okay as long as we communicate and voice what we're feeling. So, that episode, for me, it was such a great episode; I loved it. 

But there's so many. The visuals, I mean, I just love Circle’s home. She lives behind this beautiful garden and a waterfall, and the way that looks with stop motion is absolutely breathtaking. It's so beautiful. And the opening to the every episode with the small music intro is so beautiful and welcoming. So, it's hard to pick, but I watched them all in one sitting. [laughs] 

Do you know if they're going to do any more after this? 

I don’t know. I mean, I would hope so. I don't know if it's like a one and done. We just premiered, and obviously the audience [reaction] will show and how that all works with everything, studios and all of that. So, I would hope so, but, again, it was so time consuming, it would depend on if everything falls into place for everyone and Apple wants to do it.

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