Supporting Player Spotlight: 'Peter Rabbit's Panic-Stricken Rooster Will Reichelt
This weekend, the high-energy adaptation of Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit is bouncing into theaters, boasting a voice cast that includes James Corden, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley, and Sia. Yet for all the lively vocal performances in the film, there’s one that’s sure to grab attention and have everyone asking, “Who plays the rooster in Peter Rabbit?”
For this Supporting Player Spotlight, Pajiba tracked down the answer, speaking to director Will Gluck.
Within the adorable world of Peter Rabbit lives an amped-up rooster, who is absolutely flabbergasted when the sun rises each morning. It begins as a silly bit, where he screams with excitement, confessing he went to bed unsure if the sun would return BUT THERE IT IS! Like an actual rooster’s cry, this first scene is a jolt to the system. Yet, it’s so blissfully silly that you can’t help but howl with laughter.
As Peter’s misadventures with Mr. McGregor evolve, the rooster’s anxieties do too. One morning, he awakes not just shocked but also remorseful, remarking how if he’d known there’d be a tomorrow, he wouldn’t have fertilized “ALL THOSE EGGS!” His panic over parenthood inspires new rounds of laughter, rumbles that will tumble over into the next scene. Later, his chicks will arrive, gleefully shrieking over the sunrise as their father sleeps in, utterly exhausted. There’s still more, but I hate to ruin the surprise. I will say this: It’s a deeply funny and sweet arc that climaxes with a joke that’s all at once dark, meta, and stunningly relatable.
The rooster’s sense of panic felt so pure that I exploded with laughter each scenic sunrise. Watching the credits, I scoured for the performer’s identity, assuming that in such a star-stuffed film it’d be a big name. But I couldn’t determine which character name correlated. After checking IMDB and Peter Rabbit’s press kit, I was similarly stumped, so I reached out to Sony, and was swiftly informed that the rooster is named JW Rooster II, and is voiced by the film’s VFX supervisor Will Reichelt. When I pressed for details on how Reichelt had come to snag the role, I was told Gluck wanted to talk to me. We don’t typically do interviews here at Pajiba, but for the director of Easy A, we’ll make an exception.
“I love talking about the rooster,” Gluck said over the phone, “That’s why I said I’d call you.”
Gluck is particularly fond of this freaking out rooster, who is inspired by his personal childhood fears. “When I was a kid I thought, once you closed your eyes, that was it,” he told me, “I thought it would be funny for the movie to put that on an animal: that every time they go to sleep, they think this might be it for them. I think it’s kind of funny. It’s not a character from the stories of Beatrix Potter. It’s a new one. So for the purists out there, we’re not bastardizing it!”
But in a film jam-packed with stars, how did this standout role go to a member of the crew? Gluck explained, “When making an animated movie like this—or a hybrid—you always have to do temporary voices to see if it works.” This recording, called a scratch track, is a placeholder, which will be replaced later by the cast as the animation is fine-tuned. Reichelt, whom Gluck describes as “one of the best VFX supervisors in the world, and a great guy,” was called in to lay down scratch track. As someone who worked in postproduction, I can tell you it’s pretty common to get pulled into an editing room to lay down scratch track, but exceedingly rare to get a voice-acting gig out of it!
“We would call (Reichelt) in to do different characters,” Gluck said, “He’d do Peter or Benjamin…And he killed me, because he was so good! And then he did the scratch for the rooster too. It was one of those moments: Once I heard him read for the rooster, I never thought we’d cast anyone else.”
Once Gluck decided to keep Reichelt as the rooster, he brought in the dialect coach that’d been working with the rest of the cast to make sure these sunrise outbursts had an accurate English accent. “I had such glee, writing and rewriting those lines to see Will put his all into it,” Gluck recalled, “When he performs that, he is just all red and flustered and he becomes the rooster. He puts it all in there. He just becomes that guy, and it’s so funny.”
“(Reichelt is) in the rest of the movie as well, the live-action portion, little known fact,” Gluck revealed. Several crew members appear as extras in the scenes set in Harrods department store. “Will is one of the people in Harrods, in both the bathroom with Domhnall Gleeson and also in the toy department, when Domhnall destroys the toy store,” Gluck noted.
“I’m so glad that people love the rooster,” he said of the response to JW II. “People are picking him out! Reichelt’s as talented a voice actor as he is at VFX. He’s great…I love that he steals the show from Margot Robbie, you know? I want him to become a voice actor, though he would never. He’s so talented at the VFX, I don’t think he’d give it up.”
At least we’ll always have Peter Rabbit’s sunrises.
Peter Rabbit is now in theaters.