Meet Sunny-An Interview With Actor Elijah Kelley #StrangeMagicEvent
Recently I had the unique opportunity to sit down and interview actor Elijah Kelley who voices the role of Sunny in “Strange Magic” If positivity and warmth came in human form, it would look and feel a lot like Elijah Kelley, voice of Sunny in the new movie from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic. From the very moment Elijah greeted each one of us last week at Skywalker Ranch for the screening of this madcap fairy tale musical featuring the songs of the last six decades which tells the story about finding love when you least expect to, it was immediately apparent that this was a person whose smile started deep within his soul and radiated out and touched the heart of every person in the room. He’s just the kind of person that makes you want to smile and brings out the best in everything he does.
Elijah Kelley was born on August 1, 1986, in LaGrange, Georgia, located about forty-five minutes south of Atlanta, right on the Georgia/Alabama border.
“My musical background started in the church. I grew up in church all my life. My mom was in ministry; my dad was in ministry, so we had a traveling singing group and we would go around the Southeast to different churches and we would just sing and congregate. As a child I performed in a gospel band in LaGrange and appeared in several Coca-Cola commercials. After high school graduation, we made the decision to move with my family to Los Angeles to pursue my career seriously.”
Following his heart to pursue his dreams seemed to work out for this talented young actor and Elijah soon found himself landing coveted roles from ‘Seaweed’ in Hairspray to Samuel “Joker” George in Red Tails to Charlie Gaines in Lee Daniels’ The Butler and now as Sunny in the January 23 release of his latest film, Strange Magic, which also marks his first foray into voicing a character in an animated movie.
When asked how he first became involved in the movie, Kelley shared:
“I begged and, and pleaded. The first time I heard about the movie was probably four or five years ago when I heard through the grapevine that Mr. Lucas was doing this movie. George sent me to an audition. I wanted to just call him and say, “Hey, man, listen, can I, can we just bypass this whole process? You know, we can just-I know we know each other. You know I’m a good person; can we just go ahead and get it started.” But it didn’t work that way. I auditioned maybe two or three times and that was it – I made the cut.”
Even though Elijah and George have an obvious, easy rapport with one another, when he started to talk about just what it was like to work with the iconic director, one could easily see that when speaking about Mr. Lucas, it came from a place deep within. His admiration and reverence was obvious.
“George has surpassed even himself. He reminds me of why we are on this Earth. It’s almost like he’s become an idea if you will. Every time I come here, I get so inspired because everything that we’re sitting on, everything that we drove up on was spawned from an idea. And when you have an idea that you’re convicted to, you can change the world from that one idea. You don’t stray away from it. It’s something you dedicate your life to – that one idea. Every time I’m around him, it reinvigorates the passion for art in me that it only takes one thing. It only takes one idea. It only takes one thought to pretty much change your universe, and that’s, that’s why I love working with him because I’m constantly reminded of that.”
So just who is Sunny and what was it like to bring him to life?
“It was surprising how much energy it took into creating the character. Sunny is very frantic, very curious. He messes stuff up only to want to fix it again. But the heart of the movie is the relationship of Sunny and Dawn, voiced by actress Meredith Anne Bull. Sunny is Dawn’s best friend/love interest/little pack of dynamite. I consider him the heart of the movie in wanting everything just to go right and wanting Dawn to fall in love. When everything is wrong, he’s there and when everything is right, he is there. It’s the story of truly finding love in the strangest of places.”
What was it like to be a part of a movie where the story is not only told through the music, but the songs themselves span the last six decades?
“I think the mix of contemporary songs in with classic songs is so brilliant because I think you merge the demographics because a lot of the time the most people that see these films are children-they’re kids but the people that take them there are their parents. Many times there’s not a lot for the parents to enjoy. With Strange Magic you have this generational gap that evaporates. It’s totally gone and you have these parents and their children that now have the opportunity to really, truly share the experience.”
What message does Mr. Kelley hope that people will walk away from the movie?
“I think the message that sticks out to me the most is just being able to love freely and not controlling the outcome. Sunny tries to control the outcome so much. I really think that if you just live and allow yourself to be in the moment and allow whatever may come to come, that to know that if you truly have that hope and faith in yourself, you’ll come out on top eventually. And at the end of the day, the only thing you ever really need to do is be yourself and know that being there for someone is the most important thing you can do.”
Being with Elijah and experiencing first hand his joy and zest for life, it came as no surprise to learn that the role he is currently the proudest of is that of being the founder of the Elijah Kelley Foundation in his hometown of LaGrange, GA, which he created to help local children follow their dreams.
“Nobody’s ever put that in the bio, but I have a foundation. Basically what we do is I try to be a liaison between underprivileged kids back from where I’m from, and their dreams in arts and entertainment. During the tenure that, we’ve had the non-profit, I’ve given out four scholarships over the last five years to students from low-income housing that are going on to pursue careers in performing arts, so you know, from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Someday, our plan is to create The Elijah Kelley Center for Performing Arts which will offer music, dance, and drama classes.”
Walking away from the interview, you just know that in meeting and talking to Elijah Kelley, that a spot in your heart will always be shining just a little bit brighter, and everything he does will bring a sense of joy and peace to those lucky enough to be a part of it. Thanks, Elijah for bringing that special brand of Sunny Magic to life for us all.
How can you be a part of the magic of George Lucas? Don’t miss his newest film, Strange Magic, opening everywhere January 23. “Everyone deserves to be loved.”
Strange Magic floats into theaters everywhere January 23 but you don’t have to wait until then to keep on all the latest updates!
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STRANGE MAGIC opens in theaters everywhere on January 23rd!
Special thanks to Disney for providing me with this all expense paid trip in exchange for my coverage of #StrangeMagicEvent and #PixarInsideOut during. As always, opinions and experiences are my own.