In the upcoming film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, Josh Gad plays Hector MacQueen, one of 13 strangers who stand accused of murder when a passenger is found dead. As the film's tagline notes: "Everyone's a suspect." Dun dun dunnnn.
In real life, Josh Gad is one of dozens of passengers traveling with me as the iconic train (which, for legal reasons, is now called the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express) rumbles through the Alps. Frankly, it's hard to be fearful of someone who A. played a talking snowman, and B. is currently in the bar car singing along to Billy Joel's "Piano Man" with Al Roker. If someone turns up dead, nobody will be pointing a finger at the man who introduced himself to a certain Oscar-winning co-star with, "Dame Judi Dench? More like, damn Judi Dench!"
There's no denying that the role of MacQueen, a valet to Johnny Depp's slithering businessman Edward Ratchett, is darker territory for Gad. The affable Tony-nominated star is famed for slapstick comedies (The Wedding Ringer), family fare (A Dog's Purpose), and Disney musicals (Frozen, Beauty and the Beast), while the plot underpinning Christie's 1934 mystery is both nefarious and haunting.
Refinery29 settled into a Venice Simplon-Orient-Express carriage with Gad for a chat about the murder mystery, which he acknowledged is a bit of a professional leap.
"Murder on the Orient Express is definitely not for the Frozen crowd," he told us as the train rolled past snow-capped peaks along the Italian-Austrian border. "The beauty of doing a film like this is [that] it's a completely different experience for my audience, but it's also, I think, a different experience for audiences in general, who have become accustomed to not only seeing films that I'm a part of, but to seeing superhero films and, in a lot of cases, the same types of movies.
"Murder on the Orient Express is a throwback to a different era in many ways," he continued. "Not only because it takes place in 1935 and it's an amazing period piece, but the scope of it. Kenneth Branagh [who directs and portrays the film's detective, Poirot] shot the film on 16mm; it's got a breadth to it that I equate to a David Lean-style film. To be a part of something like that is equally rewarding, because as an audience-goer, I want to see different types of things."
It wasn't all dark and moody, however. Gad was able to tap into his Broadway roots during filming — which took place on a replica train that was so realistic, cast members experienced motion sickness — thanks to sing-alongs with co-stars like Hamilton's Leslie Odom Jr.
"What's funny is Leslie and I were classmates at Carnegie Mellon, so we go way back," Gad shared. "There were many opportunities when the cameras weren't rolling where one or multiple of us would break out into song. Not limited to Leslie and I, by the way. Penélope [Cruz] loves a good sing-along; Daisy [Ridley]'s got a great voice."
Not surprisingly, Gad appeared to be somewhat of a favorite among the cast when they convened for a Fox panel in London two days later. Half of them named him as the co-star they'd most like to bunk with on the train, with veteran actor Derek Jacobi joking that Gad was a "gay icon" now that he'd played Le Fou in Beauty and the Beast.
He'll never be more popular, however, than he is at home. Gad's two young daughters may be skipping this film for the foreseeable future, but they're pretty much delighted to have a dad on the Disney payroll.
"My daughters are so cute about the whole thing," he told us. "They watched Beauty and the Beast and their first thing was, 'Daddy, why do you look so silly with that hair?' It's the simple things that I think get to them. But being Olaf, especially with my oldest [child] growing up with that, and now with Beauty and the Beast, it's a great way to share what I do. It's a great way for them to grow up with my work and be as affected by it as I hope many kids and many families around the world are. Frozen is the story of these two sisters who desperately need each other, and I think that's a great and valuable lesson to share with my girls. Just as Beauty and the Beast and this idea of this independent female, as embodied by Emma Watson, is a great character for my kids to look up to. So it's been a thrill."
All this and Judi Dench puns, too? This. Guy.
Murder on the Orient Express opens in theaters November 10.