BootLeg Betty

Midler said voicing a character like Kitty is a lot like singing

Published on HamptonRoads.com | PilotOnline.com (http://hamptonroads.com)
Bette’s purrrfect role as ‘Kitty Galore’

One is bald, one is known for a mane in a rainbow of colors, but they both purr.

Bette Midler (with hair) and a hairless cat from Arizona share the lead role in “Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which barks and scratches its way into local theaters today.

The Divine Miss M provides the voice of Kitty Galore, a hairless Egyptian Sphinx portrayed by a feline named Mesa. “She’s very cranky because she’s been rejected by her beloved human family and she’s determined to rule the world,” Midler said.

She’s not Lady Macbeth, but you might say that Kitty Galore is twice as dangerous. She once was an agent for the spy organization MEOWS but she has gone rogue, becoming a screeching, power-mad fiend. She plans to make the world her scratching post.

Cats and dogs join forces to save themselves, and their adoptive humans, from a world-wide cat-astrophe.

In the ballroom of a hotel just off Avenue of the Stars, Midler feigns offense when asked if she channeled an evil persona to provide the voice of the evil cat.

“Excuse me? Did I channel anyone or am I just plain evil?” Midler retorted. “I’m just plain evil. It’s true. Now you know the real me.”

Midler, 64, has closed her long run at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas‘ “The Showgirl Must Go On” (where she alternated dates with Cher).

“I am just sitting around home like an old lady, except when I talk for animals,” she said. “Oh, don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll find work. Too sure.”

She needn’t worry. She was reportedly paid $120 million per year for 200 shows at Caesars Palace.

Her daughter, Sophie, 24, is away at college and “doing fine” – Midler’s signal not to ask any more personal questions.

Midler is now a blonde, after running the gamut of hair colors from red to mousey brown. She has played gigs from New York to Norfolk, which she called “a thoroughly thrifty Navy burg.”

From then to Kitty has been a smooth road. Midler earned Oscar nominations for “The Rose” and “For the Boys.” A Tony. Four Grammys. Albums such as “Thighs and Whispers” and “Bathhouse Betty.”

Did Midler, like Kitty Galore, always plan world domination?

“Oh, always,” she said, flashing that toothy smile that suggests insolence as much as mirth. “Always. I think a lot of female entertainers kind of think about that when they start.”

Would Midler, like Kitty Galore, attempt to destroy the world if anything happened to her hair?

“No, no, no. Never. Something happens to my hair every day and I don’t pay attention,” she said.

“A long time ago, I knew this brazen Puerto Rican girl who was working with me in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on Broadway. I was 19. All her hair fell out just before opening night. I think she had tried to straighten it or something. She didn’t even blink. She got a piece, slapped it on and went on and gave the performance of her life….

“From that time on, I never think twice. I just look around, grab a piece, and put it on. When the lights go up, you better be there or they’ll put the lights out. Don’t forget that.”

She found recording Kitty’s lines isolating.

“It’s just you in a dark room. The real thrill comes from seeing the finished product, which I just saw. It’s amazing to me that the director, Brad (Peyton) could keep all these balls in the air and make all these elements come together into one movie…. Those animals look like they knew what they were doing, but, honestly, they’re animals. ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’ people yell all day long.”

In reality, Mesa is a sweetie – rub her under the chin and she purrs galore. She snuggles, too. She snuggled with the interviewer, which was a good deal more than Midler offered.

But to be blunt about it, Mesa ain’t purdy. Her hairless skin means her ribs show. And those eyes! They look evil. Mesa and the other animal stars (Rowdy, Oscar and Geraldine) wait in a grassy area outside the hotel’s restaurant. Claire Pearce, Mesa’s trainer, said, “I don’t believe she and Bette have actually met.”

Pearce worked with rats for the Disney animated film “Ratatouille.” Cats are easier. “They move slowly, and you just have to be patient,” she said. “Actually, the part of Kitty Galore wasn’t as demanding as most animal roles in this picture. Much of her part is augmented by digital computers.”

Eighteen animal trainers worked on the film. Most challenging was a scene with nearly 50 animals. “The trick,” Pearce said, “is to make them want to do it. If they’re not interested, you can hang it up. It isn’t going to happen.”

Diggs, a German shepherd with leadership issues, is played by Rowdy, who seems to be laughing most of the time off-camera. James Marsden provides his voice in the movie.

Geraldine, the other cat, is a heroine in the movie but off-camera she’s not nearly as friendly as Mesa. She’ll hit her mark. She’ll pose for a picture, but, after that, it’s “Get lost.”

Butch, the agent who becomes Diggs’ reluctant partner in a variation of the buddy-cop movies, is played by Oscar and voiced by Nick Nolte.

Midler said voicing a character like Kitty is a lot like singing. “There are some aspects of it that are quite musical,” she said. “The timing is very important because the phrasing has to work with the mouth of the character…. If you listen, you can hear where beats are skipped and where you drop a beat or when you rush and catch up a little bit.”

Mesa, Rowdy and the other two animals are on a national tour to attend openings of the movie. Midler remains home, proclaiming, “I have to get my rest.”

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