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How The Good Dinosaur’s director found his perfect Elemental cast

The Half of It’s Leah Lewis and Jurassic World Dominion’s Mamoudou Athie were the spark Pixar needed

Ember and Wade from Pixar’s Elemental standing next to each other Image: Pixar/Disney

If fire and water could talk, what would they sound like? Peter Sohn, director of Pixar’s upcoming movie Elemental, had to dig into what sort of vocal performance would make his fire character spark to life and his water character make a splash.

“When I first designed these things, I was drawing, like, a campfire and a bucket of water,” he tells Polygon. “Then they became characters, and it was like, Oh, right, fire would be a smoky voice, and then water would be a cooler voice.”

The movie’s main characters — the fiery Ember and the watery Wade — needed actors whose voices could fit these expectations, while bringing more nuance to the baseline descriptions. The Elemental filmmakers ended up casting Leah Lewis as Ember and Jurassic World Dominion’s Mamoudou Athie as Wade. It was Lewis’ performance in The Half of It that really sparked for Sohn.

“She performed on all these levels that were really interesting, where she could be hot-tempered, but still very appealing,” explains Sohn. “She had a vulnerability in her voice that also she could straddle with being so sincere and authentic. But the whole time, it was the smoky voice. There were some moments in that film where she was talking to her father, and it was so tender, but at the same time, she could have a force behind it that I thought was perfect.”

Ember, a fire person, shelving items in her family’s store Image: Pixar

As for casting Wade, it boiled down to one big thing: “When we first started the character, I was always drawing him crying,” laughs Sohn.

When it came to crying, Athie impressed Sohn with his role in Oh Jerome, No. At one point in the miniseries, his character goes through a breakup and has a good sob about it.

“He did this cry that was so sincere, but hilarious,” says Sohn. “We had done some scratch recording for our reels, and the amount of crying that Wade does, it can get so painful. But Mamoudou has such a compassionate soul that when he was crying, you just went with him in it.”

Elemental hits theaters on June 16. Tickets are available for presale now.

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