Owen Wilson and Eddie Izzard star in Disney/Pixar’s new animated feature, Cars 2, that combines action-packed adventure with high stakes international espionage. Wilson reprises his role as star racecar Lightning McQueen who competes in the first-ever World Grand Prix to determine the world’s fastest car. New cast member Eddie Izzard voices Sir Miles Axlerod, a former oil baron and the car behind the World Grand Prix, a three-country race created by him to show off his new wonder fuel, Allinol.
At a press conference held in the Cars 2-themed ‘London Room’ of the Renaissance Hotel in Los Angeles, MoviesOnline sat down with Owen and Eddie to talk about their new movie. The room featured sketches and storyboards from the London segment of the film and a working replica of Big Ben that surprised all of us when it chimed unexpectedly in the middle of our interview. When you go to see Cars 2, be sure to look for the spark plug perched atop the famous landmark’s tower.
Owen told us how exciting it was to work with Paul Newman on the original Cars, what it was like making the sequel, and why a high performance Porsche shares the garage with his Prius. Izzie revealed how Richard Branson inspired his character, why he envied Steve McQueen and Paul Newman’s racing skills after he got sick on Top Gear, and what made Larry the Cable Guy’s portrayal of Mater so entertaining.
Q: Can you talk about what it’s like acting in an animated film where all you have is your voice compared to a live action feature film?
Eddie: It is slightly annoying in a way. It’s John’s (Lasseter) game. John takes the essences out of our vocal things, and they do film us when we’re performing so that they can animate from that, but it means that you put as much as you can into the voice and then you don’t know quite where it will go after that. Then you see the finished product afterwards. So it’s a director’s oeuvre. What really annoys me – because I do love doing animation and this is great – but I would have liked to have met everyone on the thing. You know, it never happens. We meet each other now, but it would be great if we even did a read through before. I don’t know. I’ll have to tell it to John. If there’s any way that everyone can sit down and do a read through the thing before it starts. But it starts in fits and starts.
Owen: Although on the first one, I did get to work one day with Paul Newman.
Eddie: How was that?
Owen: We went to New York and I got to record with him and it was great. He actually had some questions about “Well I don’t know if this would really…” because he was so knowledgeable about racing. And then, John took what he was saying and went back and reworked the script based on something that Paul was saying.
Eddie: Did he ask for that to happen?
Owen: He didn’t demand. He just raised some questions.
Eddie: No, but the idea of you two being together is a bit unusual, isn’t it?
Owen: Oh yeah, I think it was John’s idea and he just thought it would be exciting for me.
Q: Was it exciting? Was that the only time you got to meet him?
Owen: Yup. Well no, then I met him when we did the promotion for the movie. We went to Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte. Jimmy Johnson was there. He interviewed Paul and me and then Paul said he wanted to take one of the cars for a spin around the track. I asked the race car drivers how’s he doing and they said he was great.
Q: Did you go with him?
Owen: I didn’t drive with him but then they drove me around. I also got to drive around in a Formula One type, not exactly a Formula One but that sort of shape where they’d kind of had a little place for me to sit. That was unbelievable because it felt like we were going in to make this turn and you’re bracing because you know from your years of driving that you’re not going to be able to make this turn at the speed that you’re going. It takes a while for your brain to realize okay, this is a different type of high performance car than my Prius is.
Eddie: Have you done race car driving?
Owen: Not really.
Eddie: They have a show called Top Gear in Britain where they invite people to come and drive these really ordinary cars around a speed track. When you have to brake from 110 miles per hour down to 10 mph in a half a second, I couldn’t do it so I went around twice on the practice thing and my stomach, because I’m not a good traveler, my inner ear had gone and I would not make a racing driver. So the fact that Paul Newman could do it, I am jealous of that because I would have liked to have been Paul Newman and Steve McQueen.
Q: Did you go on the show with the racing team?
Eddie: Yeah, I did do it. And after twice around on the practice runs, the actual run I did I couldn’t give a damn because I was so ill. I was feeling so ill. I just wanted to throw up. And I stayed feeling I wanted to throw up for the rest of the day. I just couldn’t make it.
Q: Owen, since Cars 1, have you had a new experience with young kid fans?
Owen: Yes, I definitely have. Somebody was just asking me “Do you ever say Ka-chow!?” I say that. It’s because parents will say “This is Lightening McQueen” and the kid just stands there – not even disbelieving, just more like “What are you talking about?” And so then I’ll go “Ka-Chow!”
Q: Do they recognize your face more from Marley and Me?
Owen: Maybe sometimes. I was thinking more little kids with Cars, but…
Q: I was wondering if that audience might cross over?
Owen: Yeah, maybe a little bit.
Q: Do you guys feel that your characters in the movie portray some sort of an environmental message because there is a twist at the end?
Eddie: Well mine is complicated. Mine is conflicted. If you’re looking for a message from John Lasseter, it’s interesting because it ends up as being an adventure story and the idea that it should be positive about alternative fuels, which I think he probably is. I know you’re obviously driving a Prius and I’m not, but I still have a positive one.
Owen: You’re driving a bug. That’s hard.
Eddie: Yes, I know. But I needed growling noises, you know what I’m saying? I think John is positive on alternative fuels. But you don’t end up coming out with that message from my character quite, so it’s a little conflicted, but I just had to be as real as I possibly could and not use any comedy skills at all which Larry the Cable Guy did beautifully.
Q: Owen, the technology behind these films has grown in leaps and bounds over the years. Was the process from your perspective different between Cars 1 and Cars 2? Or does it all blend into one big long gig?
Owen: It was different because this one seemed more efficient and quicker. I think the story had been worked out better. In the first one, they were sort of figuring it out as we went along so it was a longer process. I’d say that would be the big difference.
Q: With Midnight in Paris it really struck me how well your voice suits Woody Allen’s type of writing and dialogue? Did that surprise you how natural a fit that was?
Owen: Well what surprised me was – I guess I was playing the character that Woody Allen might have played or would have played and there probably is a cadence that you maybe slip into. I mean obviously we’re from pretty different backgrounds, but people would say that I sounded like him. This woman even said that I looked a lot like him which I’d never heard before. But Woody would disagree when someone would say that. He’d say “No, I don’t think Owen sounds anything like me or is anything like me. We couldn’t be more different.”
Q: What’s the difference in directing style between Woody Allen and John Lasseter?
Owen: John is more like a kid who’s very enthusiastic and you get a lot of direction or a lot of context that he gives you before you do a scene and Woody was pretty hands off. He might have some very gentle thing to say but not much in the way of direction.
Q: Did they have to twist your arm to do this film or did you say “I’ll do it for free!”?
Owen: Cars? Well I met John Lasseter I think at the Academy Awards years and years ago. I didn’t know him. He said that he and his sons had liked Shanghai Noon and he had a movie that he was thinking about doing. I didn’t know that anything would come to pass from that but then they got in touch with me. Yeah, I was excited to work on a movie like that. It’s just a lot easier an animated movie. I find it’s like you’re in your own imagination like a kid, whereas on a movie you’re that too but you go through wardrobe, hair, make-up. This is more pure. They tell you and you go “Okay” and then you start so you’re seeing it all in your head. I liked doing it that way.
Eddie: I was asked if I wanted to do something for Pixar and they’ve just done some beautiful stuff and they really work on story very hard and I love this world and I really loved The Incredibles. I know it was a different director. Toy Story is beautiful. Animation is going into a different place. I was talking with John just before this. The world that this goes to, it gets so real. I used to like to have toy trains and these little shops you’d build and I kind of wanted to be in those shops. I think this is what people do when they go to adventure films. They want to escape to those worlds because you have your own problems in real life and if you can escape into this world, it gets so real. There’s London and that is London there. It’s amazing that they can do that so it’s great to be working with them.
Q: Did you have Richard Branson in mind for Sir Miles Axlerod?
Eddie: Yes, it was mentioned to me the idea of Richard Branson and I do like his style of business, of making things and being very positive and thinking outside of the box. It’s my attitude. I kind of bring that to exporting my comedy around the world. We just do it in different ways. I could have been a businessman.
Owen: When you’re doing the gigs in Paris, do you find it different, you know, national character in terms of humor?
Eddie: The way they react?
Owen: Yes, so jokes that could play in England aren’t going to work in France?
Eddie: I was ambitious. I should mention I’m doing my gigs, my stand-up comedy, in French in Paris at the moment. This is where this question comes from. I find that as long as I get the kind of alternative audience, the kind of Discovery Channel, History Channel watchers, got a bit of an education like Python and Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, then we’re cool. If we’re not, then I’m really having to show them the way. But all my stuff is about Romans, about dinosaurs, about stuff everyone has, about supermarkets. There’s a load of stuff you can talk about, but as long as you don’t get snashed at all about specific brand names and stuff, if you avoid that stuff, you can take it ‘round the world.
Owen: I saw that movie, The Trip, the other night. Have you heard of that? It’s very British some of the references. I didn’t quite get everything but it’s really funny.
Q: Do you guys remember your first car?
Eddie: Yes indeed. Mine was a Mini. I grew up in Volkswagen Beetles but the Mini was my first car. I can’t work out how this was, but it had holes in the floor and water was coming in which doesn’t make any sense because it means that we were actually driving through water. There was water where my feet go and there was water in the passenger seat and I was itching in the car, and he said he was selling it on Monday so I said I’ll buy it for 50 quid from Barnsley in the north of England. And I did and it was gorgeous but it fell apart on me. It was a Mini.
Q: You bought it for how much?
Eddie: 50 quid which is $7,000.
Owen: 50 quid?
Eddie: No. It’s about $75.
Q: What about you Owen? What was your first car?
Owen: My first car was a Chevrolet Blazer, like a Tahoe I think.
Q: How is being the star of an animated film different from starring in a live action film? And would you consider doing a live action film with animation?
Eddie: Like when you’re dancing and you’re dancing next to Roger Rabbit kind of thing? Yeah, if it’s good enough. Roger Rabbit was great. Bob Hoskins probably had to go through hell to do that. Well I just think it’s a director’s [medium]. It really gives everything to the director. They can play with it. They come in. He must have come in a few times. “Can you redo this bit? We’ve changed the story here.” And you go “I didn’t know what the story was in the first place” because they’re making it up and you’re just doing your bits. I love animation and doing that and it’s great to do those. I get more gritty satisfaction out of doing live action because I can really control what I’m driving in the character.
Q: Owen, as a new parent, has it changed anything you did in Cars 2 compared to what you did in Cars 1?
Owen: Probably not so much. I mean, he’s 5 months old.
Q: Are you looking forward to him being able to watch you in the movie?
Owen: I am and I think they’re building a Carsland or something at the theme park so something like that, I imagine, in a few years would be a fun destination for me.
Eddie: It’s going to be weird. So your kid’s going to hear your voice and go “Lightening McQueen! Oh my God! Daddy, you’re in a machine!”
Q: What are your upcoming projects? Isn’t Wes Anderson doing Turkeys?
Owen: Wes Anderson’s not doing an animation movie. He’s doing a live action movie right now. But I’m not in that. [The Big Ben replica in our press room starts to chime.] That’s ominous. Don’t ask for whom the bell tolls.
Eddie: No, it’s actually 11 o’clock.
Owen: Really? I should ask if I can take this home. This needs to be in my bedroom.
Q: Do you want that every hour?
Owen: Yes. I already heard it in my head so I might as well have it there.
[Big Ben continues to chime.]
Eddie: It’s got to say this is 11 o’clock so this is going to go on. There’s another three I think.
Q: Do you think this is from It’s a Small World?
Eddie: Peter Pan. This is the last one.
Owen: If that’s 11, what’s noon going to be like?
Q: Can you talk about Larry the Cable Guy’s enhanced role and the different comedy aspects of it?
Eddie: We come from different worlds and probably Owen as well. Larry comes from a different world of comedy but his timing is beautiful and he played the character very nice and I just watched the first Cars this morning because I’m on Paris time. But it’s really nice, he just drops it in there nice and holds back. It is very nice timing because it can be overplayed and I thought the way he looked that it would be more broad but it isn’t. It’s really pared back so it’s nice.
Q: Owen, did you like making this film?
Owen: Well I think that was one of the exciting things about doing this one was that it just felt like a new movie because it was more this great adventure that we’re going on, this kind of international adventure, and then this world of spy and intrigue with Mater. And then, our friendship I thought it was funny the way they did those scenes. “You’re the bomb.” Yeah, I liked it.
Q: What kind of driver are you in real life. Do you ever get speeding tickets driving the Prius.
Owen: The Prius is a good car because it’s not a car you really feel that you want to just fly around in, so I don’t get a lot of speeding tickets in the Prius.
Eddie: Can you tell what kind of speed you’re doing from the feel of it? Can you…?
Owen: It feels a bit shaky when it gets up to high speeds so you don’t want to just be hauling ass in a Prius along the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway).
Q: Is there another car in your garage parked alongside the Prius that you prefer to use when you feel like ‘hauling ass’?
Owen: I do have a Porsche. Yeah, I’ve had a Porsche that I got. I remember Luke, my brother, always wanted a Porsche and I’m not that big into cars. Over on Wilshire, there’s a Porsche dealership and I went in there and ended up getting one and Luke kind of felt like I had [betrayed him] “That’s the car I wanted! I wanted to get a Porsche.” So then, he got one and I’m sure we both looked pretty obnoxious with matching Porsches, because at that point, we were living together.
Q: Was that after a certain movie that you treated yourself to a Porsche?
Owen: I don’t remember. It would have been about 10 years ago so I don’t know. But it wasn’t like a specific present. It was more like a lot of things, it was just on a whim.
Cars 2 opens in theaters on June 24th.