As the depraved Frank Reynolds on FXX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Danny DeVito is embroiled in some very un-family-friendly mischief. But his latest role as a well-intentioned circus owner in Disney’s Dumbo is the opposite of his Sunny alter ego — which is exactly why he signed on.
“The idea to mix it up a bit is good,” says the 74-year-old star, whose three children are probably grateful for this wholesome role too. “Sometimes I embarrass my kids. On Sunny, I do a lot of crazy things. Sometimes I cringe when I think about how this is gonna play with my kids. In Dumbo, I think they were all pretty happy. I’m in good shape with my kids.”
In the live-action remake of the beloved 1941 animated movie, DeVito plays Max Medici, whose fortunes take a turn when Dumbo, an elephant with oversized ears that allow him to fly, is born. The role reunites DeVito with two Batman Returns collaborators: director Tim Burton and costar Michael Keaton, who plays the avaricious entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere. Coincidentally, Keaton and DeVito were also at odds 27 years ago as the Dark Knight and the Penguin.
“In Batman, [Keaton] plays the good guy,” DeVito says. “Now in Dumbo, I play the good guy and he plays the bad guy. I needle him about it all the time.”
At the end of the day, though, DeVito is most proud of Dumbo’s message about embracing differences despite “the idea of the other being frightening.” And he sees the parallels in Dumbo’s story and our current political climate: “One of the saddest things in the movie is when the mom and baby are separated,” he says. “God knows we’re going through these ridiculously shameful things in our country now with the whole immigration thing. It’s on everyone’s mind how ludicrous it is for us to act this way.”
Dumbo, which also stars Colin Farrell and Eva Green, is in theaters now.
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