I know that Monsters, Inc took over four years for Disney and Pixar to make, but when did you first hear about it and how did you get attached to the project? ^ The day before yesterday. (Laughs) It was about a year and a half ago. Johnny (Lasseter) called and asked, ‘do you want to do it?’ and I said yes before I even knew what it was. Then they sent over a model of this guy and Pete (Docter) and John came with a video tape of Mike moving on an empty stage, but he had my voice and was doing line from a movie. Then they told me the concept and I loved it. I thought it was an extraordinary idea, and it was easy. I was like, ‘Let’s go to work.’
You’ve starred in so many films, which quote did they use for the model of Mike? ^ I think it was “My Giant.” I think it was, ‘The size of the villain determines the size of the hero. Without Goliath, David is just a punk throwing rocks.’ It would just repeat constantly, but it was moving around. So I said, ‘That’s good, but I don’t think it should be my voice. I think it should be another kind of sound.’ I thought of a character I did on “Saturday Night Live” named Willy, except he kind of stammered a bit and Mike I thought should be fast and edgy; speedy and nuts; aggressive and romantic… just all those things — and positive. Like Burgess Meredith and Rocky, Jiminy Cricket on acid — that’s what he should be. And that’s how it developed.
As someone who came onto the film after Pixar and Disney had been working on it for over two years, did you have any say as to what the character would be like outside of its voice? ^ They were so open. We knew what he looked like, but that could have changed too if we wanted to.
How does Mike compare to the other characters you have played, being that you are simply a voice in this film? ^ This is one of my favorite characters I have ever played. The thing is that when you get in to the guys, and working with John — cause we worked together — once you put those headsets on and got into the script, I never saw my own skin. I just felt like this guy — I never once looked down and felt like me. Even if I looked in a mirror I would probably see him. Then you’re really acting. Then it’s just like having a six or seven hour make-up job and you come out looking like this guy.
Now usually in voice-over work you record your lines apart from everyone else. I know that you and Goodman bent the rules a bit and recorded your lines together, but what about Mary Gibbs? Did you get to meet the 2 and a half year-old who played Boo? ^ No, I never saw her. I’m just looking at her picture — she’s so cute. I’ve just seen a little bit of film, probably the same stuff you saw on her and how Pete worked with her to get the line readings. It’s just breathtaking how good she is.
What about you and Goodman? How did you two manage to convince the Pixar/Disney team to let both of you record your lines together? That’s practically unheard of in feature film voice-over work. ^ I did the first two sessions alone and I didn’t like it all. It was dull and they kept wanting something different and I can’t do something differently if I don’t have the other actor. I just insisted we record our lines together. I don’t understand — it just seemed like a no-brainer to me. You have these two guys who are in every scene together, why are you recording his tracks separately from mine so then the one who’s creative is the sound editor? When you are picking takes they are never going to perfectly match. I said, ‘we’ll give you stuff. He’s very fast and a good listener, we’ll be good — something is going to happen.’ I’m just better that way– any actor is. It’s easier and it cuts the schedule down because we did the stuff together. Otherwise I’d do mine, then he’d do his, and if you are having an off day then you can’t come in that day or it doesn’t match, the performance isn’t right and you have to do it again, so just get us together and maybe something great can happen. It makes the work real good because it keeps the acting acting and not voice-over work.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of I LIKE MIKE: BILLY CRYSTAL ON “MONSTERS, INC”>>>