Last week, Stitch Kingdom contributor Anthony Bucci had the opportunity to join Larry the Cable Guy in a roundtable to talk about his role in Cars 2 (June 24, 2011) as Mater, the Radiator Springs tow truck and best friend of Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson). Along the way, Larry shares his feelings on working with John Lasseter and Pixar, his hopes for a Cars 3 and his desire to dance, dance, dance.
For your convenience, the interview has been transcribed, more or less, in its entirety, which you can find below the video recording.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the process of getting involved with this film?
LTCG: I went out there — the cool thing about me when I did it it, the first one, it was just a small character, it was a small part. It wasn’t even called Mater, it was called Zeb. And they offered me the role of Zeb, the small town tow truck and [unintelligble] they said ‘would you — look, we want you to be Zeb, the small town’ — and of course I’m like yeah, I’m in, you know? And I went out there and I did my parts and I guess John really liked it and the animators came up to me and said ‘boy, we really like Mater, he’s so much fun to animate’ and I’m like well that’s cool, I appreciate it. Next thing I know, I’m getting a phone call, ‘hey listen, we got more lines for you, come out, we kinda redid some of Mater, they really like Mater, he’s testing well.’ Next thing you know, Mater’s like this good, big part of the movie. So it was really cool. That was, but that was that your whole process. I ended up going out there, I think, for the first movie 8, 9 times to finish it up. But that’s pretty much it, you go there, you’re in the room all by yourself and nobody else there.
Q: Is there somebody there feeding lines back to you?
LTCG: Yeah, John [Lasseter].
Q: So does John does all the — all these others (unintelligble)?
LTCG: Yeah, John and Brad Lewis, he was involved in that as well. Uh, sometimes when Brad wasn’t there, John would have somebody else there with him to read the lines but John a lot of times likes to read the lines.
Q: Does he do voices or does he do it fairly straight?
LTCG: (chuckles) He just does it. Well, he kind of sometimes, he’ll do a voice, you know? He’ll kind of do a voice.
Q: Does he do a falsetto for the female voices?
LTCG: Well, he’s — John’s always the same kind of voice. He’s, you know, he’ll do every voice a little high pitched, you know, and, in trying to be the character. Brad Lewis, he was more like (mock impression), he would get into different, like — but John’s always the same, kind of high pitched character type voice, but he’s really cool.
John and I hit it off really good ‘cuz he’s a super down to earth guy, he would never, you know Pixar, and the whole deal, but man, he is like awesome. I mean, he’s a guy I would hang out with normally, even I didn’t know him. If I just met him somewhere, I would gravitate to John. But he, uh, when you’re doing the lines, he’ll go, like ‘okay, in this scene, uh, Mater’s really sad. He’s not sad, he’s just really happy he found a best friend and so, you know, so that’s why’ — so like at the part where I said ‘you’re my best friend,’ and I’d go, when I did that, ‘Well, I know I made a good decision,’ ‘What’s that, Mater?’ ‘On my best friend.’ But I remember the first time I did that, I went ‘on my best friend’ and John goes like this ‘(mimes Lasseter’s reaction) That’s it! Do another one, but I think I got it.’ I mean, that was the cool thing, ‘cuz I loved watching him, he was really entertained. You know, you could tell if you did the line good by his reaction. Because he didn’t just sit there and go ‘okay, that’s good, we got it,’ I mean he’s literally like (scream).
And I remember when I first did it, um, I did like three lines and I was like, ‘John, I don’t think I would say that line like that, can I like say it a different way?’ and he goes, ‘No, no, that’s why I hired you, you’re Mater. I want your voice, you’re Mater. You say it — I don’t care how you say it, you get to — just as long as you get to what we’re talking about, you say it however you want to.’ That’s where all the dadgums and all the, all that stuff came from, so instead of like ‘hey I’ll be back, I’m going to the store to get a sandwich,’ it was like, ‘well dadgummit, I’m startin’ to get hungry for some vittles, y’all stay here, I’m gonna run up here to get me a sammich.’ You know, that kinda (mimes Lasseter’s reaction) you know, so that’s when I knew I was doing good, so that was the whole process.
Q: Where did the voice of Mater came from?
LTCG: My act — just me, my act. I mean, I just developed my act way back in the late ’80s. You know, I went to college in Georgia, so I picked up the southern accent. I talked like that with my friends all the time because it was fun, it was funny. You’d say things funny and all my friends were real southern and you know, we’re buddies, you know. So I’d say stuff to make them laugh and, you know. Uh, so that was pretty much it, I just incorporated that into my act and when I did Mater, I didn’t do any changes. That was, you know, when I did Blue Collars [comedy tour], I think the first joke John heard on that tape was ‘you ever go to a drive-in movie, fall asleep and wake up next morning, you’re part of the flea market?’ Well, he was like that’s Mater! So when I did Mater, I just went in there and said ‘hey, my name’s Mater. Like Tuh-Mater, without the Tuh!’ No change, just what I’ve been doing forever, and so it wasn’t really to get into the Mater character, because I was the Mater character.
Q: In comparison to your standup and comedy albums and stuff, is this easier, harder, more fun for you..?
LTCG: This is easier. I mean everything’s written for you, you just gotta read it. I’ll tell you the hardest part about it is the emotional parts of it, when Mater has to show emotion, you know. When you wanna, like if you’re watching the movie — and you’re watching a cartoon and it’s really sad and it makes you cry, you know, well that’s the actor making you cry, just by the way he says what he says. That was the hardest thing about doing Mater, especially in the second one. In the first one, Mater was just a lot of funny quips and he was just there, he was the comic relief. In this one, man, there’s a lot of heart in it, Mater has a lot of different emotions — he gets mad, he gets sad. You never see Mater get mad at anybody, so Mater gets mad, but you don’t want it to be overbearing mad. So that was the hard part about this, but as far as stand-up. I mean stand-up, you’re trying to write your own jokes and perform them and, you know, that’s definitely harder than this.
Q: Could you tell us how Cars 2 is different from the original?
LTCG: Oh yeah, it’s completely different. The first Cars was just a fun little romantic jaunt down Route 66 and days gone by, and remembering what it was like back in the day when the cars came by and everybody had the [unintelligible]. So that was what that was and you just were introduced to the characters. The second one is a 180 degree turnaround, I mean, it’s action from the beginning to the end non-stop. And the reason I think it’s so awesome is the animation not only five years down the line from the first Cars is unbelievable, I mean the water and the ocean — it was like, why don’t they just use real water and ocean ‘cuz it looks just like it, you know? And the writing, everything just got even better and better. So this is all action-packed from beginning to end. The first movie kind of like set up the characters, set up who they were, what they were like. This movie puts these characters in a whole different situation.
Q: How is Mater different in the beginning of the second one from where we left with him in the first?
LTCG: Mater’s not any different, Mater is Mater, that’s the cool thing about Mater. That’s why people like him, he never changes. He’s a good friend, he’s always faithful to his buddys and whoever he’s with. he doesn’t judge anybody by how they look or what kind of a truck they are, you know, he just wants to be your buddy. He’s a good truck, I guess is how you would say it.
Q: Is Mater self-concious about they way other cars feel about him? Does he feel like he’s a dummy?
LTCG: No, Mater only feels that later on in the movie. Only later on in the movie when he realizes he’s in a mess that he can’t get out of and he had no idea he was getting into this mess ‘cuz Mater’s a nice guy. That’s why I always say Mater’s kind of an extension of myself. That’s why my wife, when she saw the movie, she goes ‘oh my gosh, that’s so perfect, that’s exactly what you do.’ It’s like, on the way in here, the people want this autograph and this signed, but we gotta be somewhere. I’m the guy that goes, oh you know what, let me sign it, I feel bad they came. That’s what Mater does, Mater tries to make everybody happy and Mater gets into trouble, because the more Mater tries to make people happy, the more trouble he gets into. So, Mater’s the same guy he was in the first movie, Mater’s just put into different situations in the second movie, but Mater never really changes.
Q: Who are some of your fellow cast mates that you look forward to meeting on the red carpet at the premiere?
LTCG: I’m looking forward to see Bonnie Hunt [voice of Sally] again, because Bonnie’s awesome. We’ve run into each other several times and she’s always, she’s funny, man, I think she’s great. Tony Shalhoub’s [voice of Luigi] awesome. John Ratzenberger [voice of Mack] is awesome, so he’d be fun to see again. I’m definitely looking forward to just at least saying saying hi to Michael Caine. Just for the sheer fact of — I can’t believe that I’ve not only been in one movie, but two, I mean it’s crazy that I got this movie. So just the fact that I can always say, look, not only did I work with, but I met Paul Newman and Michael Caine, two of the greatest actors of all time. It’s pretty cool that I not only met them but be in the same movie with them.
Q: Since the first part, we lost Paul Newman and George Carlin, was it hard to fill their shoes with this film?
LTCG: They got a soundalike for George Carlin [Lloyd Sherr] and Paul Newman, you know it’s Paul Newman. Plus he was like the elder statesman of the town, so his role was way bigger than Carlin’s was, you know. You’ll see when you see the movie, but that’s the cool thing about Pixar, their writing is so good, they do a great little tribute to Paul Newman without going overboard with it, and it’s really sweet.
Q: In the production notes for Cars 2, they said this movie is probably the most technically complicated movie that Pixar has ever done. Can you talk about any particular scene that is a great example of that? And the second part to my question is Mater goes out of the country for the first time, I’m curious to know what was your first trip out of the country and what that was like for you.
LTCG: Well, the first half of the question is yeah, it was tough. There’s a lot of things in there that they hadn’t done before, that is awesome. So much to the fact that I have seen the film, it wasn’t completed yet. They didn’t even have it done. There was probably, you know, fifteen minutes in there where there was different words and this didn’t match this and some of the scenery wasn’t done, because it is so complicated. But what is done, that I saw, unbelievable — unmatched with anything I’ve ever seen, it’s crazy, I don’t know how they do it, it’s beyond my comprehension. ‘Cuz I don’t do cartooning — er animation — but it’s unbelievable stuff the stuff they do. The second question, I’ve only been to three foreign countries. Really, I wouldn’t even call them foreign countries, I mean Canada. You know, Canada, and LA and Miami and that’s it.
Q: You said that this Cars is a complete 180 turn, from the trailers it looks like there’s a lot more action, but does this Cars have the similar heart that the first Cars did?
LTCG: Yeah, you know what, it has complete — yeah, the action is non-stop, because Mater is a spy and they’re trying to get Mater. You know, Mater’s got some information so not only are they trying to get the information, they’re trying to kill Mater. And he’s so good at being Mater, that’s why they think he’s a spy, there’s nobody that can actually act that way, they think, so that’s why they think he’s a spy. But yeah, there’s tons of heart in it, I mean, like you were saying earlier, does Mater look at himself like everybody’s looking at him like he’s an idiot? Mater doesn’t know, Mater’s himself. He is who he is and he doesn’t think about that kind of stuff, but later on in the movie, he starts to realize that there’s some people that are doing that, you know, and it makes him sad that that happens. And so that’s where the heart of the movie comes from. The heart of the movie comes from Mater and McQueen, McQueen thinks Mater’s screwing up the race, and there’s — believe it or not, there’s just as much, if not more heart in this movie, then there was in the first one and the first one was crazy. So, I mean, with all the action that’s going on and still all the heart that they put in it with mater and McQueen and Mater and the other characters that are involved with him, it’s really — it’s really awesome.
Q: It sounds like he’s an even bigger focal point in the second movie
LTCG: Yeah, he is. I mean I’m not going to take anything away from McQueen, but Mater’s the (expletive) (laughs). Pretty much, you know, I mean, he really is.
Q: Certainly everybody’s favorite character.
LTCG: Yeah, he’s awesome. How could you not like the guy? You’re a communist if you don’t like Mater.
Q: Coming from the world of stand-up, which other stand-up comics out there do you think are ready to be Pixar voices that you would vouch for?
LTCG: Oh, uh, geez, that’s a good question, I’m trying to think, uh. Oh, Jeff [Foxworthy] would be great in a character and I’m not saying that because he’s part of Blue Collar, he would be really good at that. He’s done a couple of other voices but he’s got a good range of voices to him, so he’d be good at that. I got a lot of comedy friends, I don’t want to name three and then have everybody else go ‘hey dude, what the hell,’ you know, so let’s just put it at Jeff would be good. Jeff is my mentor, I’ve known him since the 80s and he does all those kids books and he does a lot of funny voices too that nobody would know about it, so I think he would be funny.
Q: It sounds like Mater, one of the things he gets upset about is that people are laughing at him, not necessarily with him, so as a stand-up comic, do you feel like there is a fine line between the two?
LTCG: Well, in comedy, I mean, if I was a stand-up comedian and I’m on stage and they’re laughing, I don’t care if it’s with me or at me, you know, either way, I’m getting paid for filling the seats. Mater’s not a comedian, so Mater definitely wants people to laugh with him while he’s having fun, but he doesn’t want to be laughed at ‘cuz he hasn’t done anything to deserve that, you know, but — two different things altogether. As a comedian, [unintelligible] there’s only one comedian I’ve ever seen, ‘well I don’t know if they’re laughing because it’s funny or they’re laughing because they’re just laughing at me ‘cuz I’m not funny,’ and I’m thinking who cares, they’re laughing (chuckles). I mean if you can go on stage and they’re laughing at you full-on for sixty minutes, you know, whatever puts them in the seats.
Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
LTCG: Uh, yeah, you know what? All I’ve ever wanted to do is dance, so I’ve got this show I’ve written called ‘Dance, Dance, Dance.’ (pauses) No, I’m kidding. There’s ‘Tall Tales,’ we’re going to start doing some ‘Tall Tales’ after this movie’s over, we’ll do some more ‘Mater Tales.’ As far as me personally, I’m in Toothfairy 2, comes out in January for Fox Home Video. I’m the Toothfairy. They figured The Rock was too in shape, so they got somebody else. So that’s the next project I have, other than that, just touring and raising kids, that’s about it. Hopefully next year, towards the end of the year, I can say we’re starting to do Cars 3.
Q: You mentioned The Rock. Do you think that perhaps much like The Rock became Duane Johnson, would you make a film not as Larry the Cable Guy?
LTCG: You know what, if a project came up that I liked, I wouldn’t mind doing it, you know. But yeah, I think that’s a great similarity, he came up as The Rock and he wanted to be Duane Johnson. I gotta tell ya, I have way too much fun being Larry the Cable Guy, you know. And just like Duane Johnson and The Rock, that was a character he created, he’s not too far — I mean he’s still The Rock. To whereas when I’m doing my History Channel show [‘Only in America’], I come out of character a lot on that show. I’m still Larry the Cable Guy, but I’m coming out of character a little bit.
You know what, I don’t even see it as cable tv anymore, I’ve been called Larry the Cable Guy for so long, I don’t even think of it being about cable. I don’t even know anything about cable, are you kidding me? I [unintelligible] be able to do coax.