The Cheers alum and Pixar fixture talks about this new BD release, his charitable foundation and that mysterious new toy in Toy Story 3
After spending 11 years in a place where everybody knew his name on the hit sitcom Cheers, John Ratzenberger carved out a legacy all his own in another medium: animation. The actor who portrayed the lovable mailman Cliff Claven is the only person whose voice appears in all 10 of the hit films from animation powerhouse Pixar, starting with his voice role as Hamm on Toy Story and every other film including the upcoming Up, which hits theaters on May 29 and the highly-anticipated Toy Story 3 as well. The second film in the Pixar canon was A Bug's Life, which is finally making the move to Blu-ray on May 19. I had the chance to speak with Ratzenberger over the phone and here's what he had to say.
I believe you're the only actor to appear in every Pixar film, so how did this whole relationship with Pixar kind of start for you?
John Ratzenberger: That's really a question for John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton, because they were at the helm when I first started with Pixar all those years ago in the first Toy Story. I don't know. I've never asked them, I've never questioned them. If it works don't fix it, has always been my philosophy.
This film, A Bug's Life has references to films like Three Amigos! and The Magnificent Seven...
John Ratzenberger: (Laughs) You said Three Amigos!? Well it started with Seven Samurai and then The Magnificent Seven, yeah.
So was it kind of odd just to see those references in an animated film, when you first read the script?
John Ratzenberger: I didn't read the script. I didn't read the whole story. They were smart, they weren't sending scripts around. Because I had already worked with them, it was just a simple phone call because, when you're involved with Pixar, don't forget the people in charge, the directors, they know that film better than anyone and you don't really have to ask a lot of questions. That's the nice thing about working with Pixar, is they never sit on their laurels. They could've relaxed a long time ago, but they don't. They try to outdo themselves every single time.
Can you talk a little about the recording process and working with Lasseter and Stanton? How would you compare them to anyone else?
John Ratzenberger: You mean compared to anyone else in Hollywood or in Pixar?
Just anyone in Hollywood.
John Ratzenberger: Well, they're better prepared than most directors, because they know every punctuation marks in the scripts, because they usually work on the scripts for, oh, two years, before they get to me. They're just very very prepared and they know what they need or want and they're open to suggestions too, which is wonderful.
You play P.T. Flea in this one, so what is the process like to prepare for a voiced performance, as opposed to a live-action performance?
John Ratzenberger: Well, live-action, you're walking across the room or jumping out of a hayloft or riding a bicycle or something, so you have to bring your total package into play. With this it's more imagination. You're seeing it happen in your head instead of making it happen. It's just like shifting gears in a sports car, you're just picking gear-shifts.
This was the second Pixar film, and they hadn't quite had the reputation that they have now, so what were your first thoughts when you first saw the film?
John Ratzenberger: Oh, it hasn't changed for, what is it? How many films now, 10?
John Ratzenberger: It takes your breath away, it really does. P.T. Flea is my favorite character that I've played so far.
Pixar really is batting 1,000, so do you think they're even capable of making a bad film?
John Ratzenberger: Well, if they rest on their laurels and put their feet up, but they just never do. They always try to break new ground, whether it's depicting wind through the sand or the waves of Finding Nemo or the fabric floating in The Incredibles. They always try to concentrate on one thing, like this has always been the Holy Grail in this aspect, so let's try to conquer it, and they do. That's what keeps them so young and fresh.
You've been doing both these voice roles and live-action roles for awhile so do you have any preference between the two?
John Ratzenberger: No, not really. It depends on where the location is, for the live-action. It's nice to go to nice places. I think my next film I'm going to Michigan, so I'll be doing a lot of fishing I think. I just enjoy working in this sandbox of Hollywood. I've directed and acted and written. I just love it all, just picking up different toys in the sandbox and I'm very privileged and blessed to be a part of it for such a long time.
Can you talk a bit about the foundation you started, Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs?
John Ratzenberger: Well, if people just go to NutsAndBoltsFoundation.org, they can find out about it there, because I could go on for hours about it. All over the country, there is a need to teach young people to, really, get them out in the backyard, building treehouses, fixing bicycles, because you become a better, more well-rounded, Renaissance personality if you actually know how to do things with your hands. If you can fix the screen door or replace your old garbage disposal, even change the tire on a car, a lot of people don't even know how to do that. We're literally running out of people who know how to do those things, the essential things like plumbing, carpentry, stone masonry, we're literally running out of them, so unless that turns around soon, we're going to hit an industrial tsunami within six years. So that's why I started the foundation and we sponsor camps nationwide to teach young kids. If you want to go to the website, it will explain all that.
Excellent. That sounds great.
John Ratzenberger: Well, thank you.
So Up is coming out in a few weeks and Pixar always likes to throw those teasers in for the next film. It was released that there was a little teddy bear character that was going to be in Toy Story 3, so is there anything you know about that character at all?
John Ratzenberger: Oh, I know a lot about him. I'm not going to tell you (Laughs). No, all in good time. The way they do things, I just sit back and marvel. But yeah, it's fun. You're going to enjoy that one too.
So is there anything you can say about anything else you have in the works?
John Ratzenberger: I have a film... well, the ink isn't dry on that contract yet, but I was offered to do a movie and I think in the next couple of days I can be talking about that.
Well, that's about all I have for you, John. Thanks so much for your time, and the best of luck with your new projects.
John Ratzenberger: All right. Thanks Brian. Take care.
You can finally see John Ratzenberger's P.T. Flea character and the rest of these bugs in 1080p when A Bug's Life hits the shelves on May 19, and you can see Ratzenberger's Construction Foreman Tom character on the big screen when Up hits theaters on May 29.