Billy Crystal on going back to school for Monsters University

Billy Crystal on going back to school for Monsters University

Anyone too young to remember American icon Billy Crystal’s career-defining roles in When Harry Met Sally or City Slickers will certainly remember Mike Wazowski, the one-eyed monster from Monsters, Inc.

Well, he’s back for another scaring session in the new Pixar animation, Monsters University, which is released on Blu-Ray and DVD this week. We catch up with American-Jewish actor Billy Crystal – who features as the voice of Mike – to find out more… [divider]

JN: You voiced Mike Wazowski in both Monsters Inc and Monsters University. Did you enjoy those roles?

Billy: I had a lot of fun! I love Mike Wazowski. He is my favorite character from anything I’ve ever played. For me, I love the way he’s so fearless. He’s great.

JN: What was it like to work alongside John Goodman again?

Billy: Playing Mike alongside John Goodman – who stars as the voice of Sulley – was phenomenal, because we work really well together in the recording studio. We’re not just reading lines, we’re performing them, we’re playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why Mike and Sulley’s relationship on screen is really great, because it’s a very real thing.

Billy Crystal in January 2013. Photo credit: Angela George.

JN: Does everyone in the cast record their voices at the same time?

Billy: On most animations, the actors record their voices separately, but John and I like to work together. I can’t react to him if he’s not there with me, and he can’t react to me if I want to improvise.

JN: What’s it like to record your voice for an animation like Monsters University?

Billy: You’re in a vacuum when you record your voice for a movie like this. You don’t even know where you are sometimes! That’s why Dan Scanlon [director of Monsters University] is so good. He would paint the picture of whatever set we were supposed to be on. Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what I was saying or where I was supposed to be going!

JN: How tough is it to bring a character to life through your voice alone?

Billy: You have to work really hard to bring these characters to life. Especially with Mike, because he’s a very high-energy guy, but I don’t want to sound like Daffy Duck. I want him to sound real.

JN: Did you know exactly what the movie was going to look like when you recorded your voice?

Billy: I knew what Mike’s bedroom looked like and I knew what the [Monsters University] lecture hall would look like, as well as the campus. They showed us rough drawings, but nothing was as beautiful as it is in the finished film.

JN: Which scenes impressed you the most in the finished film?

Billy: The obstacle course scene in the movie is phenomenal. I had no idea it was going to look like that, especially when the monsters start to swell up. It’s hilarious when you see Mike’s lips growing larger and larger – it’s really good!

JN: What else surprised you about the film?

Billy: There were lots of surprises. I worked on this movie for about two years, but I forgot about some of Mike’s lines. When I finally saw the finished film, it was really fun for me, because I don’t remember saying everything. That’s always a great surprise!

JN: How much did you enjoy sharing the story of the Oozma Kappa characters, and turning them from rejects into winners?

Billy: I love the underdog story. It’s great, and it works. I love that Mike sees something in them, but at the same time he finds out something about himself. They are endearing, lovely characters and they are beautifully voiced.

JN: What do you think of your fellow cast mates in the movie?

Billy: The first time I saw the movie, I saw it with the cast – but I didn’t know a lot of them were in it. Sean Hayes is fantastic, Charlie Day and Alfred Molina are great and Helen Mirren is phenomenal. They didn’t tell me that all of these people were in the movie, so it was like going to college on the first day and having all these new roommates. It was fantastic.

JN: Would you ever consider working on a sequel to Monsters, Inc. where fans can find out exactly what happened to Boo?

Billy: That was always what I thought the sequel was going to be about. I thought we’d follow Mike and Sulley into the real world when they hear something had happened to Boo – and then they’d get trapped in the real world. Boo would be 16 or 17 years old by now and that’s where I thought the story would go, but this is such a delightful romp. It’s great.

Billy Crystal (Mike) with co-star John Goodman as Sully.

JN: Mike Wazowski is a bit of a misfit at school. Have you ever felt like this?

Billy: When I was younger, I was a little bit of a misfit. I was a film directing major at NYU and I’m still not sure why I became a directing major when I was an actor and a comedian at heart. There was something that drew me to directing. I’d made a few films on my own and I loved it, but I felt like I was a misfit because I was studying alongside Oliver Stone and our professor was Martin Scorsese!

JN: What were you like in high school?

Billy: I was exactly like Mike. I was a loudmouth and I was always on stage, always looking for attention. I was the youngest of three brothers, and when you are the youngest and the shortest, you become the loudest.

JN: Did you always want to be an actor?

Billy: Back then, I always wanted to perform. We had a great musical household. Dad [Jack Crystal] was in the music business, so there were jazz people around all the time. There were a lot of great people to learn from. There were also a lot of people to make us laugh and imitate.

JN: What advice would you give youngsters who want to get into the industry and act?

Billy: I’d tell them to try hard. Don’t do it because it looks cool, do it because you love it. Do it because you might be good at it and if you work hard, you might be great at it.

Monsters University is released on Blu-Ray, digital download and DVD on 11 November.

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