IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Cars 2'

Friday, 24 June 2011 15:35 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR Press Conference Coverage: 'Cars 2'

Opening in theaters everywhere today is Cars 2, which of course is the long awaited sequel to one of Pixar Animation’s most popular films, ‘2006s Cars. The new film was directed by the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios John Lasseter, and features a much different tone and storyline than then in the first movie.

This time around the film centers on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) rather than Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and is packaged as an action genre-type spy thriller. When racecar Lightening McQueen is challenged to compete in the World Grand Pix by Italian car Francesco Bernouilli (John Turturro), he and his faithful sidekick Mater are off on a worldwide adventure. But when Mater is mistaken for an American spy by British super-spies Finn McMissile (Michael Cain) and Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer), he must choose between assisting his best friend McQueen win the race, and helping his new friends save the world.

Last weekend, along with several other members of the press, I had an opportunity to attend a press conference with director John Lasseter and several members of the cast including Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers), Larry the Cable Guy (Delta Farce), Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island), and via satellite from his home in London, two-time Oscar winner Sir Michael Caine (The Dark Knight). Caine is of course across the pond shooting the third chapter of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

We started the day by speaking with Sir Michael Caine, who plays spy car Finn McMissile in the movie, who began by discussing his experience working with Pixar. “Well, it's surprisingly easy to do because everyone facilitates where you're going to be and it's very strange because it's not like making a movie where you go to a studio. It's a very on/off affair because you don't see people for three or four months and then suddenly they ring and you all start doing it together again,” explained Caine. “Your costar, even if it's a lady, is the director because he's doing it (with you). So, it's very simple and you read the lines. You don't have to remember any of them. It's good fun.”

Caine is no stranger to ‘60s spy-films having starred in many of the great ones himself such as The Ipcress File. Since Cars 2 takes its inspiration from many of the classic British spy thrillers from the ‘60s the actor was asked how it felt to return to the genre that he helped create. “Well, it's one of the many reasons that I did it. I get to be a spy and the car that I have is from the '60's, 1966. I'm a 1966 Aston Martin, pale blue, which I think is very, very cool. I've always played cool spies and so this is absolutely marvelous,” he said. “I love my car. That's an incredible name, Finn McMissile. It's lovely. It makes me sound as though I'm dangerous.”

Since this is basically Caine’s first time working on an animated film, the actor was asked to discuss the differences between working on this film and other projects that he has done in the past. “Well, you never meet the other actors. You don't do scenes with the other actors. You might meet them coming out of the studio when they finish their session and you're going in, but I never met anyone in the movie until I went to New York,” said Caine. “I was in New York at the Toy Fair where they unveiled my real car, the real Aston Martin. I was there, and Emily Mortimer who's also in the picture was there. She was the only person that I've ever met who's in the film. Usually you start up relationships with people, but you don't get any relationships here.”

Caine also spoke about collaborating with director John Lasseter on the film. “Well, the big thing is that you go in there and you don't know what you're doing. When I started I didn't know what car I was. I didn't even know what I sort of looked like, but what he does, he has such an enthusiasm and I know he's an enthusiast for cars, but he's also an enthusiast for these animated films,” explained Caine. “He's completely involved in it. So, anything that you want to know, he's full of absolutely every sort of information and he works on just slight inflections. He was so clever at directing. I just said to him that he's one of the best directors that I'd ever worked with. I'd never met him in real life. I have now, but for a long time I hadn't.”

Next, we had a chance to speak with the film’s director John Lasseter and he talked about the challenges in making a sequel to the first film. “At Pixar when we do sequels we like to do something really different. I love movies and I always get frustrated when I go to see the sequel of a movie I really love and they just rehash the same story all over again. So we always set out at Pixar, if we're going to do a sequel, to come up with a really great story that's different than the original,” explained Lasseter. “When I talk about that within the story, it's really getting to what is the emotional core of the story. That is the main character's emotional change. What is it he learns in the story? That's where the heart of Pixar films is always found. So in coming into Cars 2 and looking at the first Cars, that was really about Lightning McQueen learning that the journey in life is a reward. Learning to kind of slow down, enjoy life and don't let the modern fast paced life take up all your time. So in the second one, we wanted to have a friendship story between Lightning McQueen and Mater and it's about how friendship can be tested when you take the friendship out of it's home.”

Because of the film’s spy-thriller theme there is a lot more violence and bullets flying than one is use to in a Pixar film and Lasseter addressed this issue head-on. “Well look at The Incredibles, it's a Pixar film and it's a lot of people's favorite Pixar film. What we do is we absolutely love movies and we respect the genres that we pick. I would say that The Incredibles and Cars 2 both picked genres, superhero and spy movie, and as you go into that you know there's going to be explosions and guns. But there's a way to do it that keeps it on the level of the fun of the genre without it getting too cruel. We know that line and we always walk that line. In every film that we make I'm very proud of making films that are great for all audiences, but there are scary things in our movies, every single one of them. I can also say we were inspired by the films of Walt Disney.”

The director also talked about the choice to really make Mater the star of Cars 2 instead of Lightening McQueen. “I really wanted to have this be the story of Lightning McQueen and Mater and their friendship. That's where the core of it is. That character really has taken off for all of us at Pixar. I think for a lot of people who enjoy these movies, Mater was just this unbelievable breakout character that was so sweet and had a huge heart. He was just downright funny. He's really grown into the modern day Goofy character, as Goofy was to Mickey Mouse,” said Lasseter. “Part of the idea that was so much fun thinking about was … that I love watching Alfred Hitchcock movies. Watching his films, just to me are the most beautifully crafted stories. I loved the type of stories that he would tell, where the innocent gets caught up into something bigger. I thought that could be a great twist on a spy movie, with Mater being mistaken for a foreign American spy. To your point, it was really fun because there was a nice emotional pour about the split up of these friends and about Mater learning that people are laughing at him, not with him. It's an innocent learning. You don't want him to become too jaded and there's something sort of nice about the emotional arc of that. So that's why we chose it,” he explained.

Unlike the first film, Cars 2 travels the world and accurately shows many foreign cities such as Paris, London, and Tokyo, and Lasseter talked about his research and how he decided which cities he wanted to use in the film. “The cities that we picked were because I had visited all those cities and loved the cities. But we took a look at the world from a car point of view and said, what other countries has very strong automotive heritages? So we looked at what are the big car countries, what are car countries that have been producing automobiles for a long, long time,” Lasseter explained. “So we said well there's Japan, there's England, there's France, there's Germany and there's Italy. Those are the really big car countries and we said, well let's go there. It also happens to be that they're really beautiful, fun to visit and they're all very different. Originally there were five races in each of those countries in the movie. It just got way too long and so we ended up reducing from five to three races. There was a twenty-four hour race in downtown Paris and there was a race in the Black Forest of Germany and both those races got cut. But we then kept Paris as a place where they go to get to the informant. I kind of wanted to see Paris in Cars 2 so it was fun.”

Owen Wilson returns to Cars 2, once again voicing the role of the film’s lead car Lightening McQueen. The actor began by talking about his initial reaction to the script and the new direction that the sequel was going to take. “To me, it sounded just like a completely new movie and that it was now going to be this sort of international racing. I was excited to see how Pixar with their animation would show these cities and these worlds. So it just seemed like a bigger canvas that the animators were going to get to paint on. The other movie was more of a heartfelt film, and this felt like more of a funny big story.”

The actor went on to discuss the relationship between McQueen and Mater and his own relationship with Larry the Cable Guy. “Well, you get like a big bear hug when you see him in the morning,” joked Wilson. “I think that it’s sort that friendship, and you know John Lasseter’s idea for this movie came from when he was sort of doing the promotion for the first one and imagining Mater in some of these settings. So it’s just kind of an extremely loveable character. So it’s a nice friendship between Lightning and Mater. I like the sweetness of Mater’s loyalty to McQueen, in that he’s sort of this fish out of water. He barely fits in Radiator Springs, but in Tokyo and those places, he really sort of stands out. So it just seems sort of a funny, sweet friendship.”

Since Wilson has been the voice of the beloved animated character for some time now, the actor was asked if children ever recognize his voice. “I haven’t had that happen where a kid has been playing and all of a sudden hears me talk and looks up and is like, wait a second. What happens is more the parents will pull the kid away from the TV or something and say, this is Lightning McQueen! The kid doesn’t really get it. I’ll talk and I’ll throw in a ka-chow or something, and then they kind of go back. The little, little kids, they don’t really process it. So that tends to be more of the experience that happens.”

We also had a chance to speak with British actress Emily Mortimer who in the new film plays Finn McMissile’s sidekick, and Mater’s love interest, Holley Shiftwell. When we were speaking to Sir Michael Caine he mentioned that he didn’t meet any of the other actors that appear in Cars 2 until after the film was finished, which is a bit odd since he starred opposite Mortimer in the live-action thriller Harry Brown before he made Cars 2. I started off by asking Mortimer about her chemistry with Caine and if she thinks that he may have forgotten about working with her in the past. “Yeah, was he forgetting about me? I had shot Harry Brown before this, so I would’ve felt slightly gypped had I not been in a film with Michael Caine and didn’t get to actually be in a scene with him. But I had already had that experience of sitting on a set looking into Michael Caine’s eyes, thinking, this is so great. I mean, he’s just perfect casting in that role, and he’s making me think what a brilliant James Bond he would’ve been.”

“That was the amazing thing about being on a set with him and doing an actual scene with him, was that voice,” she continued. “It’s just so resonant and evocative of all those iconic movies that he’s done, and you just can’t believe you’re hearing it. It’s just so easy in your head to put that into that character in the recording booth while you’re saying your lines. It’s just so easy to conjure up his voice somehow in your head. I don’t how exactly it was that they got the idea of putting us together and maybe it did come from Harry Brown. All I know is the level of detail and precision that goes into the research that they do for this is staggering.”

Mortimer also discussed as an actress what it was like for her working on a Pixar film like this. “It was such an interesting way of working because it’s so organic. You’re collaborating from the very beginning, the inception of the thing on the developing of your character. It changed a lot, the way my character was from the first recording. The first few sessions are where you really put down the main kind of body of the part. Then you keep coming back and changing and finessing and finessing, and by the time it comes back to the end, ’d gone quite far away from where I’d first started.”

Finally, we had a chance to speak with comedian Larry the Cable Guy who plays the loveable Mater in Cars 2. The comedian started off by talking about his initial reaction to the news that his character would actually be the star of the new film. “I met with John about the movie and he storyboarded it for me. I was noticing there were a lot of scenes with Mater, but I didn’t really think too much about it,” he said.“So when we started filming it, almost every line Mater was saying I thought was really funny. But I just started noticing more and more, and I told John, man, Mater’s got that whole Japan scene. He said this is almost like Mater’s movie. Only then did I really realize that Mater was really taking over that movie.”

In the film, Mater ends up falling in love with the beautiful and mysterious Holley Shiftwell, and Larry the Cable talked about his experience working with the English actress. “Out of the first movie and the second movie, she’s the only cast member of any Cars movie that I’ve ever met and hung out with. She’s the only one. So it was kind of cool that I actually finally got to communicate with somebody before the movie comes out.” The actor also went on to talk about why he thinks people love the spy films of the ‘60s, which inspired Cars 2. “They’re just fun. They’re a blast. I mean, I went out and got the whole James Bond series. I love all the Bond films. I wish there was one every six months. They’re just fun, it’s the action and you don’t know what’s around the next corner. They’re just plain fun movies.”

In closing, Larry the Cable Guy had this to say about introducing his character Mater to the world outside of Radiator Springs and how he related with that. “Well, Mater’s never left his small town. It wasn’t hard for me to do. I grew up in a small town. I know exactly where he’s coming from,” the actor said. “The first time I went to Philadelphia to do stand-up, I was with a buddy of mine and we were laughing because I’m literally in the car going, look at how tall that building is. He’s making fun of me, and I’m like, no, seriously. I’ve never scene anything like this in my whole life. That’s how Mater reacted, the same way. I just kind of pulled from when I did stuff like that. Because I never saw anything until I started doing stand-up and touring around the country. You put yourself in those situations is what you do.”

Cars 2 opens in theaters everywhere today!

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