Even if you don’t know Jim Cummings, you certainly know his voice. For the past 30 years, he’s been the man behind the familiar sound of the most famous resident of The Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh. Taking over for Hal Smith in keeping Sterling Holloway’s famous rasp alive, Cummings has become familiar to generations. “I’ve jokingly said, you know, a ‘Winnie the Pooh’ generation is every three and a half years because that brings a brand new set of Pooh fans,” he says with a smile, taking some time to sit down with a group (including yours truly) during the launch of Disney’s Christopher Robin (reviewed here) in Los Angeles. For the Marc Forster-directed take on a grown-up boy who’s lost his way, Cummings inhabits the “live-action” (via CGI) Pooh, along with Tigger (who he took over formally in 2005). During the course of our interview, Jim bounced seamlessly between his own voice and that of his characters…
“I have to conjure up about a sweet spot somewhere,” he says as Pooh, discussing the ability to switch on an instant “…And then I just bounce!” as Tigger kicks in. “We’re schizophrenic,” he says of the many voices, “so it doesn’t bother us. We’re okay with it. Aren’t we? Yes, we are.”
In performing as established characters like Pooh and Tigger, Cummings notes that he initially took the approach of tackling the voice – but that to truly inhabit the character, it goes well beyond just speech, and that’s where the real art of acting comes into play.
“I always think of it as sculpting. Pooh and Tigger were established a long, long time ago — so, those you just nail. But when you’re taking over a character that’s been established, one job is that it has to sound like him if he sneezes or has hiccups or fill-in-the-bodily function. It has to sound like him and from there you’re an actor – a character actor playing the character.”
As for making the jump from 2D animation to that of fully-realized real-life characters, Jim was blown away. “I love the reimaginings,” he says enthusiastically, “Marc’s vision is sublime.” As with many actors who have become so identified with a specific character, Cummings does note that while he performs each scene as written, he ad-libs a lot, having become so in-tune with Pooh that he senses what’s right for the character. A lot of that has to do with logic… Pooh logic.
“I always say that there’s such a thing as Pooh logic. You say well, what do you think Pooh? ‘Well, [in Pooh voice] I think that I think.’ It’s just Pooh logic. It’s the various things –you’re stronger than you seem, you’re braver than you think, smarter than you think, stronger than you feel and braver than you seem!”
With Pooh back on the big screen to help set Christopher Robin right, Cummings is busy voicing a host of other characters from outside The Hundred Acre Wood, counting Darkwing Duck and Ray from Princess and The Frog, as favorites. As it turns out, another of his favorite voices happens to come from a galaxy far, far away.
“Hondo Ohnaka, from The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels – I like him a lot,” he says, mentioning Hondo a few times during our conversation. The smuggler and affiliate of Lando Calrissian, Ezra Bridger and others in the Star Wars Galaxy could soon be back in action as a new, 12-episode season of The Clone Wars was recently announced for Disney’s forthcoming direct-to-consumer streaming service. In the meantime, hear Jim in a galaxy closer to home, located somewhere beneath the tree from which Christopher Robin has been known to appear…
Christopher Robin is directed by Marc Forster from a screenplay by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder and a story by Perry based on characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard. The producers are Brigham Taylor and Kristin Burr, with Renée Wolfe and Jeremy Johns serving as executive producers. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Christopher Robin; Hayley Atwell as his wife Evelyn; Bronte Carmichael as his daughter Madeline; and Mark Gatiss as Keith Winslow, Robin’s boss. The film also features the voices of: Jim Cummings as Winnie the Pooh and Tigger; Brad Garrett as Eeyore; Toby Jones as Owl; Nick Mohammed as Piglet; Peter Capaldi as Rabbit; and Sophie Okonedo as Kanga. Get tickets now via my affiliate, Fandango.