The eagerly anticipated movie POKÉMON Detective Pikachu recently premiered in Tokyo, Japan, where the stars of the movie paraded down the red carpet in front of thousands of people...actually, make that a yellow carpet, in the zig-zag shape of Pikachu’s tail! It was a wild scene, with celebrities, costumed Pokémon fans, and moviegoers packed in to see the cast of the highly anticipated movie.
Before they stepped out into the crowds, we were lucky enough to chat with the stars of the film. We sat down with Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton, who play the movie’s main (human) characters, Tim Goodman and Lucy Stevens, as well as the voice of Detective Pikachu himself, Ryan Reynolds. They were as eager to talk about their love of Pokémon as they were about the movie! Read on to hear about their experience making POKÉMON Detective Pikachu.
Justice Smith and Kathryn Newton
Pokemon.com: In the movie, Tim’s Pokémon partner is Detective Pikachu and Lucy’s Pokémon partner is Psyduck. But if you could choose any Pokémon to have as your partner in the real world, who would you choose?
Justice Smith: I mean, Pikachu is iconic, but my favorite Pokémon—my go-to—is Totodile. He was my starter Pokémon in Pokémon Gold. Also, his evolutions are really cool—Croconaw and Feraligatr—and Water-type Pokémon are one of my favorite types, too.
Kathryn Newton: Well, Psyduck and I have just gotten so close over the course of filming for five months, so I just don’t know that I could ever pick anyone else. Before the movie, it might have been a Furfrou because that’s the Poodle Pokémon, and I love poodles. I have poodles in my real life, and I would love to see if they got along. Wouldn’t that be cool? Couldn’t you see me walking my dogs down the streets of LA with my Furfrou?
Pokemon.com: Speaking of the bond that people have with their Pokémon, one of the things that struck us about the movie is that it has some really heavy emotional scenes. As actors, what’s that like to emote with and have these tender moments with these animated Pokémon?
Justice: It’s difficult sometimes because it can be hard to act with something that’s not there, but Rob Letterman, the movie’s director, made us very comfortable and made sure we knew where the Pokémon were at all times. And as actors, it is our job to imagine. It’s our job to make imaginary circumstances feel as real as possible. I mean, Kathryn has been doing this since she was in the womb—we were trained to make things seem real.
Kathryn: That’s what was so fun about making this movie. We really got to use our imaginations. We were acting with nothing, but we know Pokémon. We know what they’re like; we know their personalities, and because of growing up with Pokémon—watching the anime, playing the games—we just wanted to do a really good job.
We all felt a really big responsibility to the Pokémon fandom, so we hope that when fans see the movie, it’s like what my dream is. Like, if I wanted Psyduck to be real, it’s actually better than I imagined.
Pokemon.com: You two are clearly Pokémon fans, and have been for some time, were there any Pokémon that you wished you had the opportunity to work with in the movie?
Justice: There are certain Pokémon that are in the movie that I just didn’t have any scenes with like Snorlax. I would have loved to have worked with Snorlax. I’m trying to think…
Kathryn: I was going to say Totodile.
Justice: Totodile! Yeah, that would have been really cool. Just carry him around. Or Clefairy!
Kathryn: It would be cool to get to interact with Charizard. I don’t know what that would be like.
Justice: See, I do know!
Kathryn: Right?! That must not have been very—
Justice: No, it was! It was so much fun!
Kathryn: I mean, that kind of interaction with Charizard is not the kind I want to have. I want the harmonious, where we hang out and go get a coffee, interaction.
Pokemon.com: In the movie, we learn the whole story about how Tim and Detective Pikachu bond and become Pokémon partners, but we don’t really see too much of Lucy’s backstory. So, Kathryn, was there some sort of behind the scenes discussion or did you have an idea in your head about Lucy’s origins?
Kathryn: I owe a lot of who my character is to our fantastic, brilliant director, Rob Letterman. It was all on the page. Immediately I got her character; I knew who she was. I fell in love with Lucy’s warmth and her love of Pokémon. She’s in Ryme City—she’s in a new land that we’ve never seen before, and because of that, the backstory that I made up was that this is a girl who grew up in Ryme City with Pokémon, and she’s almost like an animal rights activist. And I just sort of ran with that, and we created the character together. And then when I met Justice and he brought Tim to life, it helped me define Lucy even more.
Pokemon.com: Let’s cut to the chase—you’re a pretty good-looking guy.
Ryan Reynolds: Well, thanks!
Pokemon.com: But we’re wondering if you’re worried that Detective Pikachu might overshadow you in the looks department.
Ryan: I’m perfectly comfortable with that. I could not be more comfortable with that. Yeah, I would say that the two characters that I’ve played in my life that brought me the greatest joy both involve hiding behind a very rickety façade. One being a Pokémon character and the other being Deadpool. Yeah, I love it. It’s good work if you can get it.
Pokemon.com: And speaking to that point, of acting behind a mask or through a CGI creation, this movie has some surprisingly emotional moments. What was it like emoting through this tiny, fuzzy Pokémon?
Ryan: Well, I have a two-part answer for you. One, you have to look at a movie like this and say, “OK, if you take away the fantastical world of Pokémon and then just told this story on its own, does it work on its own?” And it did. It held up beautifully. It has these universally relatable themes of love and loss and home and fathers and sons and mysteries, and it worked great.
And then second, when you have this other wonderful, amazing dynamic layer of the Pokémon culture, with that universe and its fan following, you can see why it’s so iconic and why it’s been a worldwide phenomenon for a couple of decades now. When you filter all that into it, it really made for something incredibly special.
And in terms of emoting and telling that story, the motion capture technology they have now is—I mean, it’s changed even since I did Deadpool 2. I played Juggernaut in Deadpool 2, which was just a short stint of motion capture, but this is just—they’re not just mapping your face and body movements and putting it into Detective Pikachu. They’re also grabbing my micro facial expressions now, which are some of the hardest stuff to duplicate and map onto a CGI character.
It was super unsettling the first time I saw it. It really did feel like somebody had pulled the soul out of my body and put it into Detective Pikachu. So, I had a kind of uncanny valley situation for a minute where I couldn’t quite stare at it for too long because it was like seeing me. It was a very odd thing, but it made emoting very easy because it’s able to pick up even the finest, tiniest facial expressions as opposed to these grandiose ones which was the way it was even two years ago.
Pokemon.com: Now, this isn’t spoiling anything from the movie—this is something we’ve seen in the trailer—but Detective Pikachu has an encounter with Mewtwo, who is one of the most powerful Pokémon ever. That’s all in this one movie! Where could Detective Pikachu go from there?
Ryan: I don’t fully know. (laughs) I mean, look, if you’ve ever found a universe that is suited to building itself out cinematically, it’s the Pokémon universe. It’s Star Wars in a sense. There are infinite ways that you can tell different stories, the world is so dynamic and intricate. I know that they’ve suggested a couple of things that I thought were really, really interesting. Stuff that was so interesting that I almost wish we had got to do it in the first movie, but we’ll see!
Many thanks to Justice, Kathryn, and Ryan for taking time to talk to us at the wild—and busy!—movie premiere. And don't miss out on your chance to see them in action—POKÉMON Detective Pikachu arrives in theaters May 10 and tickets are now available!