Billy Crystal and John Goodman Talk MONSTERS UNIVERSITY, the Mike/Sulley Friendship, and Creating Younger Versions of the Characters
Mike Wazowski (voiced by Billy Crystal) and James P. Sullivan (voiced by John Goodman) are inseparable now, but that wasn’t always the case. In Monsters University, Mike arrives at the campus with the dream of becoming a Scarer while Sulley feels like he won’t have to put in the time or work to succeed because he was born with his talent. When their journeys both prove to be a bit more complicated than they anticipated, they find help and friendship in the unlikeliest of places.
During a press conference with Billy Crystal and John Goodman, the two talked about what it was like to create younger versions of the characters they first brought to life in Monsters, Inc. in 2001, why the friendship of Mike and Sulley resonates, feeling like misfits themselves, how much things have changed since the last time they worked with Pixar, working with director Dan Scanlon, and what used to scare them. Check out what they had to say after the jump.
Question: After creating these great characters for the first film, what was it like to go back and re-create them, in younger versions? Was that challenging? Did you have to do anything different with your voices?
BILLY CRYSTAL: The first day that we reported to work together, they showed us renderings of the guys. We just started laughing because they made us look younger. Sulley is a little trimmer and slimmer. Mike has got this retainer, and there’s a little more youth in his eye. They just carry themselves differently. It’s subtle, but it’s there.
JOHN GOODMAN: With the voice thing, I thought I was gonna come in and talk like the kid from Our Miss Brooks, but after a couple of passes, it just happens, organically. You pick up on other energies, and it just happens. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.
What do you think is the touchstone in the friendship of Mike and Sulley, and what is it about your character that resonates with you?
GOODMAN: The fact that he’s a blowhard. No, I think the reason they work so well together is that they complete each other, in a way. I think Sulley really, really needs Mike Wazowski. It makes him complete, and it lets the air out of him, a little bit. Especially in this film, when they’re not completely formed monsters yet, they learn from each other. They learn how to adapt, and how to let go of their pre-conceived notions of themselves and of the world. They’re good for each other.
CRYSTAL: For me, Mike is fearless. He’s really the favorite character I’ve ever played, in anything I’ve done. I had really missed doing. And then, [John] Lasseter came to me, at his 50th birthday party, and said, “We have the idea. It’s a sequel, but it’s a prequel. They’re in college.” And then, he just walked away. But, he left an idea, and I went, “Oh, this is gonna be great!” It was so fun to revisit them, at this time in their lives. It was such a brilliant idea to put them in that time period, where they’re about to become who they’re gonna become. That’s what was so interesting to me. I love playing this guy, and playing him with John is phenomenal because we work together in the studio and we can act together. We’re not just reading line. We’re performing them and playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why their relationship, on screen, is really great. It’s a real thing.
When you were both college age, did you each feel that you fit into the world around you, or were you a little bit of a misfit?
CRYSTAL: I have to admit, I was a little bit of a misfit. I was a film-directing major at NYU. I’m still not sure why I became a directing major, when I was really an actor and a comedian, but there was something that drew me to doing that. I had made a few films on my own, and I loved it. So, I felt like I was a misfit, in a way, because there was Oliver Stone, Christopher Guest and Mike McKean. It was a class of film people. Our professor was Marty Scorsese. Marty was a graduate student, or Mr. Scorsese, which is what I had to call him, and still do, when I see him ‘cause he gave me a C. It was 1968, ‘69 and ’70, and he was an intense guy, with long hair, a big beard and granny glasses. He was so fluent in movies and passionate, and I really felt like I still wanted to be in front of people, so I was a little out of it.
GOODMAN: I ain’t never been in no college with famous people, like Billy. I was a drifter for awhile. I just was desperate to fit in with a group. Really, I was swimming. I was lost, treading water, trying to find my way. I wanted to play football. It didn’t work out. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I found acting in a theater department, and then everything fell into place and I had a passion about something. Then, I started living my life.
CRYSTAL: Yeah, that’s how it was for me, too. Once I found a theater group, then I was like a gym rat, but I was a theater rat, and then that became my fraternity house. That became my extended family. I still see a lot of those people, to this day, because they owe me money. No. It really just becomes your thing. In this movie, they find out who they are. That’s the most important element of this movie, to me. Mike has a dream, and that dream may not work out, so he has to readjust and recalibrate. He does that with the help of his friend, who tells him who he thinks he is, and he starts to believe it himself. For me, that really happened.
What kind of obstacles did you face, to get where you wanted, and did you have those moments of doubt, like your dream might never happen?
CRYSTAL: I still have them. Every time we finish doing something, we don’t have something else. What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that. I don’t have a job now. Then, something happens, or you make something happen.
You made Monsters, Inc. over 10 years ago now. How has the experience of working with Pixar changed, or does it feel the same?
GOODMAN: Before, we were just flabbergasted by the fact that they could animate fur and hair. That was a big deal then. It just seems like they’ve gotten so much better with their technique. It’s amazing. So, the thrill is still there because they’re such wonderful storytellers and great writers, and everything is reality-based and grounded, so you can believe in it, which makes it fun.
CRYSTAL: The difference is that it’s maybe a little bit faster than before. And the imagination is even broader because they can do even more. I first saw the movie two weeks ago, and you forget what you’ve done because we started about two years ago, but the imagery is phenomenal in this movie. The art design on the first movie was astounding, with the door sequence and the chase sequence. This has moments in the Scare Games. You almost take it for granted, but it took years for them to think these things through. That obstacle course is a phenomenal segment. Then, that dramatic scene with us at the lake, when Mike goes into the real world at the camp, we acted together in the booth. For a movie to have room for those two segments is kinda epic.
What was it like to work with director Dan Scanlon?
CRYSTAL: Dan is a hipster. He had totally different energy than Pete Docter had, who was also great. Dan is cool. Not that Pete wasn’t, but Dan is different. Dan is a young guy.
GOODMAN: He had great sensibility. If the other characters weren’t there, he’d read with you. He’s got a good energy to feed off of.
CRYSTAL: Yeah, he was funny, too. He’s a funny guy.
GOODMAN: And when you did something he didn’t like, he would get a funny little look on his face.
CRYSTAL: Yeah, and we’d know not to do that again. I like Dan a lot.
In the movie, Sulley isn’t exactly the most prepared student on the first day of school. As a student yourself, what are some of the best excuses you’ve heard or used, to not go to school?
GOODMAN: I was very elaborate. I would go to the nurse’s office and fill up a glass of water, and I was really good at fake vomiting. I’d go to the nurse’s bathroom, and then slam the water into the toilet bowl. That was an immediate ticket home. Marlon Brando used to take a thermometer and rub it on his leg, and then put it back in his mouth.
CRYSTAL: I would just fake a sore throat.
John, almost 30 years ago, you started in Revenge of the Nerds, where you played the head coach to the jocks. How does it feel to be on the other side of that equation now, with this film?
GOODMAN: It’s a great way to revisit college because, obviously, I couldn’t do that in a non-animated way. It’s a good way to reflect back on how I was then, my wants and dreams, how you adapt to everything that changes you, and which roads you take.
How did you both enjoy sharing the story of the Oozma Kappa characters, and turning them from rejects into winners?
CRYSTAL: Well, it’s a story that you’ve seen in other movies. It’s the underdog, which is great and it works. I loved that Mike sees something in them, but at the same time, he finds out something about himself. That also happens with Sulley. They’re endearing, lovely characters, that were beautifully voiced. Sean Hayes is fantastic in the movie. Charlie Day is great in the movie. Alfred Molina is great. Helen [Mirren] is phenomenal. They didn’t tell me that all 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! It was great. They’re beautifully animated, and they’re really appealing.
Which are your favorite new characters in the film?
CRYSTAL: They were all great. I think they’re all terrific. Charlie Day’s character, the purple guy, is really funny. Sean Hayes is hilarious, as the two-headed guy. Helen [Mirren] is terrifying. I’ve worked with her before, and she’s the most fun, hip, great, down-to-earth lady, but she’s really scary in this movie. It’s a very great cast.
What do you think Helen Mirren added to this?
CRYSTAL: Well, she’s aristocracy. She is Dame Helen. I wish we had been around her, when she was working. She’s just fantastic. She gets it. She’s a great actress, so it’s easy. Even as a strangely animated woman, or whatever she is, there’s a regalness to her, and her voice is perfect. It was great casting.
What used to scare you, under the bed or in the closet?
CRYSTAL: My Aunt Sheila was terrifying! She would put a napkin in her mouth and say, “You’ve got something on your face, dear. Let me just scratch that off your face. Let me sand your cheek.” I still don’t love the darkness, though I’ve learned to smile in it a little bit, now and then. The unknown has always been a little scary, when you think about those things, especially as you get older. Boy, that got heavy.
GOODMAN: Yeah, I was just scared of the run-of-the-mill Frankenstein. He scared the heck out of me.
CRYSTAL: Oh, and then when Psycho came out. Mr. Hitchcock knew what he was doing. To this day, it’s still terrifying. It’s the music, the lighting, and the way it was shot. It’s all of that. It’s just genius.
GOODMAN: I love those old Universal movies, especially when they’d switch off and Bela Lugosi would play Frankenstein because it was just not a fit. It just didn’t work.
Monsters University opens in theaters on June 21st.