Just a couple of weeks ago a group of excited journalists made their way off the bus, entering the beautiful Pixar facilities, but something was different that time. It was no ordinary junket but felt more like the start of college freshmen orientation as we’re greeted by a group of cheerleaders and band members blaring a random tune to pump everybody up. We giggled to one another as we made our way through the gateway not into Pixar, but “Monsters University.”
In some ways you could definitely describe our series of interviews as small lectures from people who have worked in the film industry for years, sharing their experiences as the magic of Pixar brought them all together to make the cute new prequel to “Monsters Inc.” They separated the journalists into different groups, and in an instant we were brought into a quiet screening room where we waited in anticipation for our first interview, who turned out to be Charlie Day. The actor appeared in a number of television shows but catapulted into monstrous popularity when he became part of the FX show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Charlie Day sat down, joked and talked to us about working on “Monsters University,” voicing such an oddball character and a little bit of information about “Pacific Rim.”
What was your reaction when you saw the character design of Art?
Charlie Day: It was great. First of all I laughed, because it was a funny guy and I knew I was going to be in good shape, but the first time they showed me the character design and they showed me a little clip where they took a couple of lines that I said in “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and animated to that. So I really got to see the whole thing the first time I saw it, and I knew that it was a funny character and he was going to be a likable guy.
Well tell us a little bit about who Art is. Give us a little bit more insight into the character.
Charlie Day: Well that’s the tough question because I don’t really know. I don’t think Art knows. He seems to be a drifter and he’s an optimist. He’s an enthusiastic guy, in touch with his emotions and I don’t know if he’s actually even a student at the college. He might just be glomming onto the experience. He’s the king of the absurd non sequitur. He’s got that down.
You’ve been working in television and film, now animation. You’ve had a chance to work with multiple kinds of directors. What was it like working with Dan Scanlon?
Charlie Day: I didn’t know what to expect coming in here, because you see these Pixar movies and they seem very conversational, off the cuff, but Dan had very specific ideas about exactly what he wanted and had written out all the lines and alternate versions of the lines. I really just did his bidding and I knew that I was in good hands with him and with Pixar. In fact, last night after dinner he gave me a copy of a little film that he made on his own and it reminded me so much of the first time we made “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” because he and his friends had just gone around with it, but it was a much edgier sense of humor. It wasn’t family friendly, which is right up my alley. He’s a wickedly talented, funny guy and hopefully we’ll see a lot more from him.
Was it hard for you to adjust to your brand of comedy with Pixar’s family friendly kind of world?
Charlie Day: It’s been harder to adjust it to the interviews because I keep making off-colored references. No, it wasn’t too hard. The lines in and of themselves were funny and so I didn’t have any instincts to try and turn them into dick jokes.
When doing this movie, did it ever cross your mind that maybe doing an animated prequel to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”?
Charlie Day: Well we actually, not a prequel, but we have a sequence in an episode this year where a convenience store is being robbed and the characters start thinking if I stepped in to prevent this robbery, what would happen? You follow not only what would happen but you follow the characters through the rest of their lives. My character is revealed that he seems to think in animation. And so we animated a sequence and we stole directly from the movie “Up.”
Guillermo was basically casting his dream cast for “Pacific Rim”. He basically said I want this guy, sure you can have him. I want Charlie Day. Sure, you can have him. What was it like being in that roll call?
Charlie Day: Well, first of all, apparently Guillermo must love FX. It was great. In fact, somehow they contacted Danny DeVito instead of my agent and I don’t know why. So Danny still owns ten percent. [laughs] It was great. I went to sit down with Guillermo in his house, or I suppose it’s an office but it’s a house with monsters and old books. He told me what a big “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fan he was which was a surprise. Then he started showing me drawings over what the movie was going to be. It’s the kind of thing I would hope would happen one day after ten years of being in big movies, if I was lucky enough to have that happen. To have it happen off of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was A) lucky and B) a really nice compliment because of how much work we put into it over the last 9 years.
As an actor, what was the greater challenge? Doing voice work when it’s just you and the director or working on a big sound stage where you’re theoretically there’s a big giant robot but it’s actually green screen?
Charlie Day: First of all, it’s always easier just talking in a microphone and let everybody do the hard work of the performance. You don’t have to ever worry about your face betraying your words. To Guillermo’s credit, I was rarely in front of a giant green screen. I think there was one day where I was getting out of a giant helicopter in a scene and that was in front of a green screen. All of the sets that I was acting in were built completely… he built entire city blocks and demolished entire city blocks. There was a scene where I was running from a creature and they were flipping actual cars over me, or I’m in a crowd full of 500 extras screaming and running. It was easy for things to feel real in that movie and it was always raining too. It was raining on me constantly, so I didn’t have to act being wet. Actual terror and some discomfort, but more of it was agoraphobia.
As a guy who’s heavily involved in the production of your own show, what did you take away from the Pixar machine and the way they do things and what they’ve accomplished over the years?
Charlie Day: It would be nice to have 4 years to make something good. We do an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” in three and a half days, or at least we film it that quick. That process of testing and fixing and getting something right is clearly working for them. They don’t miss and if any of them are misses they’re still maybe much better than the average movie. They’re only misses in comparison to themselves and I don’t think they’ve really had them. So there’s some sort of magic in that, which is inspirational, but if anything the lesson is surround yourself with as many talented people as you can and give them a trampoline, some balls to juggle and let them have fun when they’re making it and do something great. But I don’t know, I’m still trying to learn.
“Monsters University” Is out in theaters everywhere this Friday.