Super heroes can come from anywhere! At least, that’s key to Flora & Ulysses, a new movie coming to Disney+ about a young girl named Flora (Matilda Lawler) — a comic book fan who meets Ulysses, a super hero of an unexpected variety. He’s a poet, a cheese puff enthusiast, has super strength, flight ability, and… oh, did we mention he’s a squirrel? When Flora introduces her new friend to her aspiring comic book artist father, George (Ben Schwartz), you can imagine the hijinks that ensue!
We were lucky enough to sit down with Flora & Ulysses star and Disney superfan, Ben Schwartz, and talk all about the movie — including some scoop on the DuckTales “reunion” in the movie, what it was like working with the movie’s young actors, and some of Ben’s comic book interests!
What initially attracted you to the project?
Brad Copeland, who wrote on Arrested Development, also wrote a movie that I did many, many years ago, and I love his writing. I thought it was such a well-written script [and so then] I auditioned for it.
Then I said, man, if you get an all-star kid to play Flora, this could be a really, really special movie. I mean, the movie works because Matilda is an incredible actress. She's lovely and a great human being.
So it's because of all that, and then also because the CG department did an incredible job with Ulysses. It looks like a huge budget CG-type picture because of the great CG work those guys did. But it all started with the script. Because I'm a writer as well, a lot of the stuff I do starts with the words. If the words are good, then I start seeing what else is happening.
I [also] love the character [of George]. I love that you kind of see him almost like a sad sack at the beginning, and then he grows into this really confident, lovely person who shows how much he cares about his child and about his family, and starts to believe in himself again. And as someone who loves comic books, to play someone who wants to be a comic book artist made me very happy.
I loved the connection between George and Flora through comics! It made for a really sweet relationship between the two of them. Since you’re a comic fan in real life, would you mind talking about some of your favorite comics?
I love Spider-Man, I love X-Men. I was a huge Wolverine guy. I had the Wolverine toy that would pop out. I had the Cyclops toy [where] his eyes light up, and I would play with them like crazy. I also collected Marvel cards. I don't know if you know what those are, but they're like basketball cards, but Marvel Super Heroes, and I loved them. I still have them in like pristine cases at home. [Growing up], I went to a place called Alternate Realities — that was my hangout. It was like heaven to me because I could buy basketball cards, I could buy comics, and I could play video games, which was like everything I liked in one place.
You’ve done comedy specials and have an incredible improv background. Were you able to use some of that improv skill in the movie?
You know what? We stuck to the script for a bunch of it, but then [our director] Lena [Khan] would really let us play a little bit more — as the script went, we would learn, and she'd be like, “Yeah, do you want to do something here? Yeah, that'd be great!” So I think Lena did such a great job of this. She wants to make sure we're getting what we want, and then slowly we got to play even more and more, and it was wonderful of her to be so collaborative.
I wouldn't say I went crazy, but any time I got to improvise with Matilda [and Benjamin Evans Ainsworth, who plays Flora’s neighbor William Spiver] in that way was very fun!
They obviously never saw my special since they're too young, but they knew that I did this a little bit on the side, so they couldn't wait. We would improvise scenes in between, just for fun. We'd do little improv scenes, and it was great. Both of them are great.
I know you’ve mentioned how incredible Matilda was as a young actress — but what was it like working with the two kids in this movie? Did you give them any advice on set, or were they doing their own thing?
I mean, anything they wanted to know, I'd tell them, of course, about acting or anything that I can tell. But they're both incredible. Ben is amazing, and then Matilda is like a revelation. There's a scene where she cries in the movie, and I mean, it took years for me to learn how to really contact those emotions [and] to be able to show it truthfully in a scene when the cameras are rolling. She just has it in her. She's built for this. She loves playing characters and showing emotions, so it was incredible.
I literally went to her and [asked], “How are you doing that? How are you crying six times in a row?”
She [said], “I think of something sad.”
I was like, “That's it. That's literally the trick. Well done. You're amazing.”
She always had her lines down, and if anything felt weird in a scene, her and I would go over it a couple of times. I feel very lucky. She's such a good person.
One of the fun things that I loved about this movie was the unexpected DuckTales reunion with Danny Pudi, Bobby Moynihan, Kate Micucci, and yourself. Was that a happy coincidence? Or, at what point during the casting process did you find out about this?
So, I got attached, [and] Danny Pudi got attached because Lena had directed her first film with Danny, who was incredible as the lead. And Danny is, of course, the best in the universe. Then Lena was talking about these other two roles, and I said, “Well, if you get Bobby, then you got all three of us.” And so [Lena and] I texted Bobby [and], we got Bobby to play this comic book guy. And in the first scene you see Bobby, I think he's reading a DuckTales comic! It's like a fun little cameo. And of course Bobby would [want to be in the movie]. He's a huge comic book guy, he loves Disney, and he's like the nicest guy. He has a child of his own.
Then, I'm sure there's a version of a conversation that was like, “Well, if you get Kate, then you get all of us.” And she's incredible. I think Lena probably already saw her and loved her and stuff like that. I mean, that's my little Webby, you kidding me? She's the most talented person in the world.
[So,] me and Danny was a coincidence, then it was a little bit of work.
Ulysses has the superpowers of super strength and flight. If you could choose your own superpowers, which would you pick?
I think I used to say flight, and then someone said, “Why don't you just do teleportation?” I was like, yeah, that's more fun. Why don't we just do teleportation? I just thought the idea of flying would be really fun. But I think flight or teleportation would be great.
Sounds super to us! We can’t wait for everyone to see the incredible Flora & Ulysses when it flies to Disney+ on February 19!