Jack Skellington is voiced by two different actors in The Nightmare Before Christmas, who bring very different talents to the persona of the Pumpkin King. Created by Tim Burton, 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was the sixth musical collaboration between composer Danny Elfman and the gothic filmmaker, but the stop-motion film gave Elfman another role of importance. In addition to writing the film’s songs and score, Danny Elfman was the singing voice for Jack Skellington, with actor Chris Sarandon taking on the Pumpkin King’s speaking voice.
Danny Elfman hadn’t anticipated playing Jack Skellington, but once he laid down the vocals for the soundtrack, he realized he was attached to the part and wanted to play the character. Burton told Elfman the part was his, yet when the singer started performing the speaking lines, The Nightmare Before Christmas director Henry Selick decided to go another route because his speaking “wasn’t up to the level of his singing” (via Daily Beast). While Selick recalls that Elfman was upset when he replaced him as Jack’s speaking voice, The Nightmare Before Christmas maintained him as the Pumpkin King’s legendary singing voice and recruited The Princess Bride actor Chris Sarandon to play Jack’s nonmusical side.
Despite being replaced as Jack Skellington’s speaking voice, Danny Elfman still lent his vocals to a few other characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Elfman performs the speaking and singing roles for Barrel, the skeletal trick-or-treater who works for The Nightmare Before Christmas villain Oogie Boogie. The third role played by Oingo Boingo frontman Danny Elfman is the unicycle-riding Clown with the Tear-Away Face.
Since Burton and Selick decided to keep Danny Elfman as Jack Skellington’s singing voice, the search for the Pumpkin King’s speaking voice was based around finding an actor with vocal inflections similar to Elfman. Despite his horror background, Fright Night actor Chris Sarandon wasn’t specifically sought out to play Jack, as The Nightmare Before Christmas had a standard audition process for casting the role. However, Sarandon told ComicBook.com that he was chosen based on his close approximation to Elfman’s voice. The gamble certainly paid off in the final product, as The Nightmare Before Christmas successfully made it difficult to discern that protagonist Jack Skellington is played by two different actors.
Although Sarandon was cast based on his voice’s similarity to Danny Elfman, the actor still had creative freedom in crafting Jack Skellington’s speaking role. Since only the singing voice had been animated prior to Sarandon’s casting, he was able to interpret the script with his own expressions rather than speaking based on pre-animated motions. Aside from a few notes on the emotional context and suggestions from Selick, Sarandon recalls having “free reign” on his portrayal of Jack Skellington’s speaking voice in The Nightmare Before Christmas.
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