They say some Hollywood legends are made, while others are born. In the case of I, Tonya‘s real breakout star, however, they’re hatched.
When the rollicking (and gloriously embellished) Tonya Harding biopic debuted in September on the fall festival circuit, all eyes were trained on Margot Robbie’s leading performance. As expected, she got the kind of reviews that catapult a rising thespian into the Oscar race — but no one expected her feathered costar, a peppy parakeet named Little Man, to steal the show; alas, here we are three months later, basking in the rise of an avian actor who captured our hearts (and the bottom half of his scene partner’s earlobe) while perched lovingly atop Allison Janney’s shoulder for most of the movie. How many leading men can say that?
I, Tonya is in theaters now. Read on for EW’s full interview with Little Man, during which he squawks on Janney’s on-set behavior (hint: she’s a “DIVA!”), working with director Craig Gillespie, and trying to make it as an actor living in Tweety Bird’s shadow.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Little Man, thank you so much for agreeing to interview with us in the thick of awards season. How did you come to this project that’s generating such huge buzz in the run-up to the Oscars? What was the audition process like?
LITTLE MAN: It was a cattle call, so to speak. Birds who couldn’t even perch showed up: Turkeys, a penguin, etc. I mean, it’s like, did you read the script? They put us through it, I’m not gonna lie. We had to cheep and coo and chirp and tweet. Fortunately, I’m known for my peep and I think that’s what got me the job.
How old are you, if you don’t mind us asking?
Okay then, moving on. When the script first came to you, what was your reaction?
It’s a story I thought I knew about, but the script went so much deeper. And that surprised me. At its heart, it’s a story about a bird, a beak, and an earlobe. I was SO MOVED.
What was Craig like as a director? Is he a natural with animal subjects?
Craig didn’t give me a whole lot of direction because he trusted me. He really distilled his direction to one word: “roost.”
What was it like working with Allison Janney? What was her on-set behavior like?
I don’t want to ruffle any feathers, but I calls em like I sees em: DIVA. Whenever I tried to spread my wings in a scene she would holler, “Stop that!” You can see for yourself. It’s in the movie. But, in some ways, I feel it created sympathy for my character, so ultimately it was worth it.
As a bird actor, do you ever feel like you’re working in Tweety Bird’s shadow? Is that a difficult arena to navigate when such an iconic superstar bird has come before you?
No, no, no. We’re wildly different. To be frank, I’ve never been entirely certain if Tweety is male or female. That androgyny WORKS. I’m not knocking it. But, like Foghorn Leghorn, Heckle and the greatest in my opinion, Jeckle, I’m all gander.
There’s a lot of ice-skating in this film. Can you ice skate?
Can you fly?
Touché. Who are some of your bird acting idols?
There are so many! The Coco Puffs bird is a hoot, but very shy in real life, I hear. So many of us are… Tennessee Tuxedo is very under-rated, I think. Again, most penguins are. But, really, there’s Daffy and then there’s everybody else.
What’s your dream role now that you’ve had all of this success with I, Tonya?
I’m a HUGE horror fan, so I’d love to play that chicken who runs around with his head cut off… Maybe the Dodo with the right director, because it’s such a cautionary tale.