Raya and the Last Dragon won’t just introduce Kelly Marie Tran’s lone warrior, Raya, and the legendary dragon, Sisu (voiced by Awkwafina). Disney’s latest adventure introduces the entire kingdom of Kumandra, which requires its own voice cast (and a rather impressive one at that).
Raya’s band of misfits allies comprises Tong, a formidable giant voiced by Benedict Wong, a 10-year-old entrepreneur named Boun (Izaac Wang) and the con-baby leader of an animal crime syndicate, Little Noi (Thalia Tran). Alan Tudyk, meanwhile, teams up with Disney once again to voice Raya’s sidekick, Tuk Tuk. (Yes, Alan Yudyk is voicing a fantasy pill bug.)
Gemma Chan lends her voice to Raya’s cunning nemesis, Namaari, with Sandra Oh as Namaari’s mother, Virana, leader of Kumandra’s land of Fang. Lucille Soong, Patti Harrison and Ross Butler are the leaders of the lands of Talon, Tail and Spine, respectively, while Daniel Dae Kim rounds out the cast as Raya’s father, Benja.
They all appear in Raya and the Last Dragon‘s official trailer, which you can watch below, and scroll on to hear what directors Don Hall and Carlos López Estrada told ET about their cast, including which star cried the first time she saw herself animated.
ET: Can you tell me a little bit about why each of these actors — Gemma and Sandra and Benedict — were perfect for their role?
Don Hall: The cast assembled for this movie is, like, The Avengers or something. They’re all just these superhero performers, and oddly, a few of them are in Marvel movies. One of them, Benedict, actually is an Avenger! You could tell from every recording session that they were fully committed to the role. It wasn’t just a, “I’m going to do a little cartoon movie on the side” or something like that. The way we love to work is not just throwing pages at them and having them do it. It’s a conversation. It’s a back and forth and see what they do with the pages and then let them improvise a little bit and the next iteration of the script is building their take on the character into the story itself. So, it’s been such a joy, across the board, from Kelly to Awkwafina through everybody, they brought so much of themselves to these characters.
Carlos López Estrada: Each cast member had a really, really profound connection to the character that they were playing. Like, Izaac, who plays Boun, his mom had been involved in a Lao ceremony, a baci ceremony with our entire crew. We found out after he’d been cast that she had been there performing for our entire crew. When we were talking to Sandra Oh about her role in the movie and how it dealt with the troubles of the broken world and their lands, she was so, so moved by it, almost to the point of tears. She would start talking about what it meant to her and how important she thought this role was, even though she is sort of an antagonist in the film. Same with Gemma. She took really seriously the fact that we didn’t want Namaari to be a villain. She’s an antagonist because she’s opposing our protagonist, but she has good logical reasoning for wanting to stand for the people of her land. Every single one of the actors, they all just had such a profound connection with the story and with their characters. We couldn’t have asked for a better cast.
Don Hall: Also, we should point out that they were working under duress. I mean, much of the recording was done in their homes, and they didn’t have this giant technical support like we do normally when we go to a recording studio or a recording booth or something like that. They were doing a lot on their own. So, not only were they giving every ounce of their creativity to the performance, they were also having to deal with technical issues and things that were thrust upon us by the pandemic, and everybody, because they believe in the film and believe in their roles, just threw themselves into it and dealt with any of the technical snafus that happen in dealing with Zoom or having to set up your own microphone and stuff like that.
Who had the best reaction when you finally showed them their voice paired with the animation?
Don Hall: I think probably Kelly, from my memory.
Carlos López Estrada: Kelly and Awkwafina, yeah.
Qui Nguyen (screenwriter): Awkwafina was a very memorable moment, because I don’t think she was prepared to see it. We were in the middle of a recording [session], going, “Hey, you want to see a little clip real quick?” And we forgot she that she hadn’t seen it yet. The look of joy on her face really moved us all to almost tears.
Raya and the Last Dragon is in theaters and available on Disney+ with Premier Access on March 5.
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