British actress Emily Mortimer and comedian Larry the Cable Guy star in Disney/Pixar’s exciting new animated adventure, Cars 2. Holly voices the new character of Holly Shiftwell, a beautiful young British desk agent turned rookie field spy who’s stationed in Tokyo. Larry reprises his role as Mater, the rusty tow truck, who accompanies his best friend Lightening McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) overseas for the first-ever World Grand Prix and becomes ensnared in an intriguing escapade of international espionage.
MoviesOnline sat down with Emily and Larry at a press conference in Los Angeles to talk about their experience making the sequel. Emily explained how playing a suave lady car upped her cool factor with her 7-year-old son, why unlike her character she’s not at all tech savvy, and what happened after she took her best friend’s car out for a spin. Larry revealed why audiences love to hang out with Mater, what John Lasseter and he share in common with his character, and how the original role was expanded for Cars and now Cars 2 because the filmmakers fell in love with the character they’d created.
Q: Larry, can you talk about going from the first film, where originally you only had a few lines until they rewrote it and expanded it, to this film which should have been called Mater? What was that transition like for you?
Larry: Honestly, it’s the coolest thing on the planet. When I got the first one, I was excited just to be a part of the first one. I still got it all framed up the original fax that I got asking me if I wanted to be in the movie as the voice of our small town tow truck. I said yeah, that’d be awesome. I went out there and did the lines and they really liked the lines. Next thing I know I don’t hear from them for six, seven months and thought I must have sucked on those lines. I haven’t heard back from anybody. I guess they fired me already. But they called me up and said “Man, the animators love Mater. Mater is such a good character. So we went ahead and just rewrote some of the movie. So you’ve gone from 8 lines to 50.” I said “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” Then they come back in for another session and they go “Mater. We just love animating Mater. Mater is so awesome. We’ve got about 80 lines now.” It just kept building. So when I went to do the second one, I kinda knew we had something cool with Mater, especially when they started doing all the Cars Toons and the Mater’s Tall Tales plus I did all the voices. I did the voices for everything. I did the videogames, the toys. I felt like hey, I’m Mater. If my kids are going to see me do a cartoon, then I’m in everything. When I went out to do the second one, they just storyboarded it for me and I thought it was kinda like the first one. Mater’s got a lot of funny lines. I didn’t realize that it was what it was. Even when I was doing the movie, still I was thinking I was helping out McQueen in his big race. But as I’m going through the lines, I’m thinking “Man, that’s pretty awesome. So Mater’s going to be the guy doing…Man, that’s kinda cool.” Then John [Lasseter] was going “No, I’m telling you, Mater’s the spy” and I’m like “Oh man, that’s awesome.” But I’m glad I didn’t know either ‘cause you want to go and just do your job the best you can. You don’t want to think about that other stuff. I’m like Mater. I was actually kinda of clueless when I was doing the second movie. I was just happy to be doing a second movie. I mean, my best friend is down there drywalling a house. So I was just happy I wasn’t drywalling a house. It was really cool to be able to do that.
Q: Do a lot more kids recognize you from your voice now?
Larry: Yeah, you know what? The parents know me as Larry the Cable Guy and the kids know me as Mater, so it’s pretty cool. The parents will go “Hey, there’s Larry the Cable Guy. Remember, Mater?” And then the kids will come up and I”ll go [Mater’s voice] “Hey, mornin’ Sleepin’ Beauty, my name’s Mater!” And the kids go “That’s Mater!” That’s kind of cool. But when they’re 19 and they do that, it’s not as attractive. In fact, it’s kinda strange.
Q: Emily, your character is pretty hot. How has this part upped your cool factor with your kids?
Emily: Yes, well not because I’m hot, but because to the kids I’m just cool in this film. We saw the film together for the first time in San Francisco with my little boy who was 7 then and this has definitely upped my cred with him. I mean, he pretty much had not very much respect for me until…I mean, he loves me very much but he didn’t think I was cool, and then we were watching the film. It couldn’t have hit at a more perfect time for this 7-year-old boy who’s been obsessed with Pixar films ever since he was tiny. I think, embarrassingly, one of his first words was “Nemo” because he was shoved in front of Finding Nemo so many times so that’s what he said. He’s watched them all and he’s seen the first Cars millions of times and then, for this to come out, for a little boy age 7 to have your mom in one of these things is just so cool. We were sitting, watching it, and there’s a point in the film where I suddenly sprout these wings and I take off and he turned to me and went “Mom, you’re amazing!” and I said “Yeah, I am kinda.”
Larry: And then just hanging out with me has upped your cool factor a little bit, too. I mean, c’mon!
Q: How do you think the Queen would react to seeing herself as a car?
Emily: Well the Queen is being played by every great actress living now. She’s never been a car but I don’t think she’d mind about being a car. But to have had Vanessa Redgrave and Helen Mirren play you is not bad. I think she’d by wryly amused.
Q: Your character, Holly, is very tech savvy. Would you consider yourself technologically adept too?
Emily: No. I’m the opposite. I was saying it was quite the challenge, my role. You rely so much on John to talk you through what’s going on in each sequence because it’s not all written down and you have to just follow what he’s saying and he’s telling you everything about what’s going on. So much of it, in my case, is technical and it’s all about these gadgets and things that I can do and these computer screens that pop out and then cars and other cars and makes of cars. I would find myself so… I mean he’s so fascinating. On every word you’re hanging, but then when it starts to get into all that stuff, I would slightly lose concentration.
Larry: That’s when you’re glad you don’t have to memorize it.
Emily: Exactly. I know I kept thinking I know I should be concentrating on this but I can’t quite follow what he’s saying about the this and the that and the carburetor. I am completely untechnical and I’ve been banned from driving by my husband because I’m so bad at it. I mean, I think I’m perfectly good but I borrowed a friend’s car just to prove to him that I could drive and that we should have a car. We live in New York and he thinks it’s just silly having a car in New York and anyway I’m an irresponsible driver. But I borrowed one in order to prove to him that I wasn’t and within a morning I had 3 tickets. I got 2 at the same time for being on my phone without my seat belt and then I parked in a funny place and then I was reversed into another car.
Larry: Parked in a funny place! It was a playground!
Q: Mater is an interesting and sympathetic character whereas Larry the Cable Guy is more cynical. Where did you draw the sympathy?
Larry: Larry the Cable Guy started out as a cynical character because I was single and I didn’t have a family and I was doing most of it on radio and the whole thing. Then I got married and I had kids and then I started incorporating a lot of myself into the character. Mater is really me, personally, basically, because my wife always goes “I love Mater. That’s so you. You do the same thing.” So that wasn’t hard ‘cause I kinda pattern Maynard a little bit on myself. I grew up in a small town. I never saw anything. I’ve never been out of the country. I always wanted to be polite. I was always nice to people. So I kind of think of myself as Maynard. You’re right, Larry the Cable Guy, the character was more cynical but it started out cynical because it’s something that I was very uncomfortable with because I wasn’t myself. But I found that funny. All that cynical stuff I find funny. I’m not cynical but I find it funny. So that’s how it all started out and then the more I do it, it just kinda evolves I think for the better on my side and I breathe a little bit more of me into it. Mater wasn’t really hard for me to do at all because I feel like I’ve got a pretty good connection with Mater.
Q: Emily, for your character, Holly, did you draw on any particular aspect of your character to add to the suaveness of the role?
Emily: I felt like I was lucky to be playing such a suave character because in real life I don’t think [I’m like that]. I think this is the most glamorous part I’ll ever be cast in. I’ll never look as good as I do in Cars 2. My manager was complaining about my hair in movies because she thinks it could do better. I think she’s right that my hair is a bit depressing. I don’t have hair in this. I don’t have any hair. I’m just a really cool looking car so no one can think I don’t look good enough so I’m very happy.
Larry: Your hair is depressing?
Emily: I think my hair is a bit depressing. So anyway, that’s good. But in real life, I’m not like that. In real life, my friends would make me run down the street.
Q: How would you describe Holly and did you draw on any aspects of your own life experiences to inspire the character?
Emily: Holly is a mixture of things. She’s a complex character because she’s very savvy and bright and technically smart but she’s not very practically experienced and this is her first mission out in the field. In some ways, that’s where Mater and she find common ground. She’s a fish out of water in a sense, a little bit, although she’s pretending not to be and that feeling I can very much relate to. We were talking about it earlier. You have it all the time as a performer – a feeling of not quite belonging or that you’re going to be found out or that you shouldn’t be there and there’s a mistake. You’re not good enough or whatever. That’s just a constant feeling of being a performer. So I guess that was something I could draw on. We both could for the movie.
Q: Larry, why do you think audiences love Mater. What is it about him?
Larry: Man, audiences like Mater because he’s somebody they want to hang out with. Mater’s just a good guy. He’s a truck. He’s a good truck. Look, Mater’s a good friend. He’s faithful. If he’s your friend, he’s your friend. He doesn’t turn his back on you. He’ll give the shirt off his back. Sure, he’s a little clueless but a lot of people are a little clueless. Even people that think they’re the smartest people in the world. A lot of them are pretty flickin’ clueless. You know what I mean? But Mater’s just a good guy. Mater’s somebody you want to hang out with and I think that’s why people like him. And he’s funny. Everything he says is funny. He says it in a different way. When I grew up, I grew up next to a cattle barn. So I hung out with all the farmers and the cowboys and they would always say something that’s funny. They would say it in a different way that’s funny. Like I had my bus driver there today that’s an ole country boy from Tennessee and you know, the headshots? He goes “Mr. Whitney, let me ask you something, you think you can get me one of your little portraits?” I go “Do what, David?” “One of your portraits, I need one of your portraits.” “You mean my headshot?” But that there is funny. It makes you laugh. That’s how Mater is. He says “Let me take your picture. Let me mash the button on it.” Just the way Mater talks is funny.
Q: But that’s you, isn’t it?
Larry: Pretty much. Yeah, pretty much. Look, I’m not from the South. I grew up on a pig farm in southeast Nebraska. But it’s like Foxworthy says, you get out of any major city everybody’s pretty much the same. I acquired my accent. I acquired all of that when I moved to Florida back in 1979. I went to college in Georgia so I’m pretty schooled on the whole deal. So that’s how Mater is. That’s how I conduct myself so that’s how Mater is and he just says things that are funny. Every word out of his mouth in this movie makes me laugh. But he’s just a loveable guy. He’s somebody that you could not not like. How could you be mean to him? If you’re mean to Mater, then you’re an idiot. I mean, you got a problem, seriously, because he is who he is. I think that’s a good message of the movie. He doesn’t care where you come from, how you live, what you’re wearing, what you do for a living. If you’re a nice person, Mater wants to hang out with you. He wants to be your friend. That’s what it’s all about to him.
Emily: We keep talking about how in some ways John Lasseter really empathizes with Mater too, that he has such a feeling for that truck. When I was doing my voice sessions with John, he would be having to do the voice and loving it and just getting such a kick out of it because he really feels…I think that’s his character too – somebody that’s completely themselves and just stays themselves no matter what situation they find themselves in – very open and curious about life. I think that he drew on those feelings that he has, going around the world with Pixar and sometimes feeling like he’s a bit of a fish out of water.
Larry: Yeah, John’s a little like Mater too. That’s the cool thing about John. That’s why I like John. John’s a completely down to earth, normal guy. His wife’s from Arkansas. He does things I like to do. He likes going to the race track, watch the figure 8 bus race. I mean, he’s a regular guy but John is very well traveled. John’s a genius at what he does but he’s a regular guy. He’s the same way. He’s a fish out of water. That’s why some of these things that Mater gets into, John’s been in those situations. That’s why he wrote them into the movie because he had no clue what to do and he felt like an idiot and he’s sitting there like “Oh man!” So he gets Mater really good and I think that’s why Mater works so good when he goes to these other countries, why it’s so funny. They’re actually personal experiences of John Lasseter.
Q: Do you guys remember your first cars?
Emily: I do.
Larry: Yeah, I do.
Emily: What was yours?
Larry: 1969 Formula Firebird with a double hood scoop and glass packs and metallic blue paint. Loved it. It blasted through 400 engines.
Emily: Mine was a 1970 Saab, an original Saab green. I guess you probably didn’t have them here. Maybe they were more in Europe?
Larry: The green Saabs? No, we had green Saabs.
Emily: They were these really round, sort of curvy old Saabs.
Larry: Yeah, we had those here.
Emily: I met my father-in-law when I was driving it and he said as a joke that you had to have a tetanus shot to get in it because it was so full of crap and old coffee and sandwiches.
Larry: But you looked good in the car other than your hair was offensive.
Emily: My hair was miserable.
Q: Were you a teen when you got your license or were you older?
Emily: I was 17.
Q: How do you see Mater play into the environmental message of the film?
Larry: How does Mater play into that? He’s in the movie. It’s in the script. I don’t think Mater’s really looking too much into that. Mater went to a car race in Europe and next thing you know people are trying to kill him and the guy who’s trying to kill him has something to do with big oil and alternative fuels and he’s basically just trying to – I know it’s Disney – but he’s trying to get the F out of there because he wants to go home now. He’s getting shot at. I mean, look, it’s a movie and that’s the plot. I’m not going to look that much into it other than it’s a movie. It’s a kid’s movie and it’s a fun movie. You gotta have a plotline and that was a great plotline. So I don’t think John was going for this big “Hey, you know what, I’ve got a great way to get my alternative fuel message out. I’m going to take my cars and I’m going to…” You know that wasn’t the plan. You write a movie and you look for a plotline and that’s a good plotline. I think it’s a great plotline.
Cars 2 opens in theaters on June 24th.