Animator Andreas Deja has helped create his fair share of heroes, from King Triton in The Little Mermaid to Hercules in Hercules and Lilo in Lilo & Stitch, but he is more closely linked to characters that exist in a darker space. In short: Deja is known for his villains. He has created some of the more immortal villains in Disney’s history, able to craft startlingly nefarious characters through a combination of uncanny design, cunning body language and finely crafted performance. You love to hate his villains.
In the spirit of Halloween (and because we’re huge fans), we called Deja to talk about the characters he created and what makes them so very, very bad.
Gaston, Beauty and the Beast
Almost immediately after picking up the phone, Deja launched into why Gaston from 1991’s Beauty and the Beast was his “most difficult” villain. The character, originally designed as a wig-wearing goof, “had to be realistic.” Deja went on: “He was a human and I started out drawing him a little cartoonier. Because I thought he was a bad guy and he should look like a cartoon character.” That, as it turns out, was the wrong approach for the wonderfully woeful character from the Best Picture-nominated classic. “I remember the filmmakers said, ‘But he’s got to be handsome.’ They said, ‘The theme of our story is don’t judge a book by its cover, meaning when you see the Beast and he’s very, very scary and you find out he’s got a heart of gold. And the opposite is true of Gaston. He’s a very handsome guy but he becomes a killer at the end.’ So those parallels have to be graphically clear. That made my work a little tougher than I thought it would be.” Still, Deja was willing to accept the new direction. “It’s a nice challenge because he’s got that really realistic face but you sneak in some expression and some strong emotions, whether it was arrogance or anger. But I had to be careful because if I overdo it he doesn’t look like a realistic character.” Deja didn’t overdo it, and everyone who has ever watched a YouTube video of Gaston in Walt Disney World interacting with guests, can attest to the immortality of the character. My, what a guy, that Gaston!
Deja moved from Gaston right into Jafar for 1992’s Aladdin (recently released on Blu-ray, Digital HD and Disney Movies Anywhere). We asked if it was fun because Jafar was more classically villainous. “Yes, in the way most Disney villains look like bad people. And Jafar does,” Deja answered. He didn’t have to worry about Jafar being handsome and likeable; this guy was diabolical from the word go and anybody who looked at him knew it. “I was shaking off all that realism from Gaston and tried to design Jafar to be fun to draw and fun to animate. He has a very elongated face and a weird mouth set down. I could do much more with expressions and that enhanced the whole drawing,” Deja said. Plus, the vocal performance he was working with was unstoppable. “I had a great voice in Jonathan Freeman who is now playing him on Broadway in the Aladdin show.” That’s right: Freeman is still Jafar to this day.
Scar, The Lion King
And just as he went from Gaston to Jafar, Deja turned his sights on another villain as soon as his duties on Aladdin wrapped. This time he wouldn’t be animating a devious human; he’d be creating a loathsome lion, in the form of Jeremy Irons’ Scar for The Lion King. When we asked if he was weary about working on another villain, he said no, because he initially had no interest in the character. “I didn’t even ask to do that character because I thought, Surely it’ll be somebody else’s turn to do a villain. I wasn’t even thinking about doing Scar … until I found out they had hired Jeremy Irons to do the voice.” Deja laughed recounting the story and how he couldn’t resist the magnetic pull of Irons’ velvety voice. “Then I said, ‘Oh no, this is too good!’ I could close my eyes and just see Scar. So I went to the directors and said, ‘I know I’ve done two villains, I know it’s got to be somebody else’s turn. But I just want to tell you that I think I can do something with this concept.’ And they said, very nonchalantly, ‘Well, we had you in mind anyway.’” Scar offered his own perks for the animator that were different from Jafar or Gaston. “He became a lot of fun just from pure acting, because what he was saying and the way he was saying it was always interesting. It was always revealing of the character – he was evil and he had a really good time being evil,” Deja explained. “Even in the “Be Prepared” sequence, where he goes way overboard, he’s having a great time. That came through in Jeremy’s voice and I ham it up in the animation of that sequence.” It came through in that sequence … and every other sequence in the movie.