Ever since college-bound Mike Wazowski (voice of Billy Crystal) was a little monster, he has dreamed of becoming a scarer – and he knows better than anyone that the best scarers come from Monsters University (MU). But during his first semester at MU, Mike’s plans are derailed when he crosses paths with hotshot James P. Sullivan, “Sulley” (voice of John Goodman), a natural-born scarer. The pair’s out-of-control competitive spirit gets them both kicked out of the University’s elite Scare Program. To make matters worse, they realize they will have to work together, along with an odd bunch of misfit monsters, if they ever hope to make things right. “Monsters University” unlocks the door to how Mike and Sulley overcame their differences and became the best of friends.
At the film’s recent press day, Crystal and Goodman talked about what makes their characters so relatable to audiences and what they share in common with them, what it was like recreating younger versions of them for the sequel to “Monsters Inc.,” and who their favorite new characters are. They also discussed working with director Dan Scanlon, how their recent experience at Pixar compares to when they made the first film a decade ago, and why they were excited to discover they were part of a terrific voice cast that included Helen Mirren, Charlie Day, Alfred Molina and Sean Hayes.
Question: How was it working with Dan Scanlon and what was the directing process like?
Billy Crystal: Dan is a hipster. Dan had totally different energy than Pete Docter had, who was great. Dan is cool – not that Pete wasn’t –
John Goodman: Yeah.
Crystal: – but Dan is different. Dan’s a hipster. He’s like a young guy.
Goodman: Yeah, yeah. He had great sensibility, and he’d read with you.
Goodman: If the other characters weren’t there, he’d read with you. He’s got a good energy to feed off of.
Crystal: Yeah, he was funny, too. He’s a funny guy.
Goodman: And when you’d do something he didn’t like, he’d get a funny little look on his face.
Crystal: Yeah, and we’d know not to –
Goodman: – do it again.
Crystal: Yeah, I like Dan a lot.
Q: What is it about your individual characters that resonates with you? What makes Sulley and Mike so likeable?
Goodman: The fact that he’s a blowhard. I think the reason they work so well together is that they complete each other, in a way. I think Sulley really, really needs Mike Wazowski. It makes him complete and it lets the air out of him a little bit. Especially in this film, when they’re not completely formed monsters yet, they learn from each other. They learn how to adapt, how to let go of their preconceived notions of themselves and of the world. They’re good for each other.
Crystal: For me, Mike is fearless. He just really the favorite character I’ve ever played in anything I’ve done. I’ve really missed doing him until (John) Lasseter, at a party, came to me – it was at John’s 50th birthday party – and said, “We have the idea. It’s a sequel, but it’s a prequel. They’re in college.” And he just walked away, but he left an idea, and I went, “Oh, this is gonna be great.” It was so fun to revisit them at this time in their lives. It was such a brilliant idea to put them in that time period where they’re about to become who they’re going to become. That’s what was so interesting to me. I love to play this guy, and playing it with John is phenomenal because we work together in the studio, and we can act together. We’re not just reading lines; we’re performing them, and we’re playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why their relationship on screen is really great because it’s a real thing.
Q: When you were both college age, did you each feel that you fit into the world around you, or were you a little bit of a misfit at that age? Do you remember?
Crystal: I have to admit, I was a little bit of a misfit. I was a film directing major at NYU. I’m still not sure why I became a directing major when I was really an actor and a comedian, but there was something that drew me to doing that. I had made a few films on my own, and I loved it. So I felt like I was a misfit, in a way, and out of it because all those other people – it was Oliver Stone, Christopher Guest, Mike McKean. It was a class of film people. Our professor was Marty Scorsese. Marty was a graduate student – Mr. Scorsese, which is what I had to call him – which I still do, when I see him, ‘cause he gave me a C. It was 1968, ‘69 and ’70, and he was an intense guy, with hair down to here, a big beard and granny glasses. Who looked like that then? He was so fluent in movies and passionate, and I really felt like I wanted to be in front of people still, so I was a little out of it.
Q: And John?
Goodman: I ain’t never been in no college with famous people like Billy here. I was a drifter for a while. I just was desperate to fit in with a group. Really, I was swimming. I was lost, treading water, trying to find my way. I wanted to play football. It didn’t work out. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I found acting in a theater department, and then everything just fell into place, and I had a passion about something. Then, I started living my life.
Crystal: Yeah, that’s how it was for me, too. Once I found a theater group, then you’re just like a gym rat, but you’re a theater rat, and then that becomes your fraternity house. That becomes your family – extended family. I still see a lot of those people to this day because they owe me money. No, that really becomes your thing. In this movie, they find out who they are. That’s the most important element of this movie to me. Mike has a dream, and the dream may not work out, and then he has to readjust and recalibrate. He does that with the help of his friend, who tells him who he thinks he is, and he starts to believe it himself. So, for me, that really happened then.
Q: What kind of obstacles did you guys face to get where you wanted? Did you have those moments of doubt, like this dream that you know you’re destined for might not happen?
Crystal: I still have them. I still do.
Crystal: Every time we finish doing something, we don’t have something else – except him. He did 14 movies last year. You’re the new Michael Caine.
Goodman: Thank you very much.
Crystal: I’m just a guy who can’t say no.
Goodman: A whore … uh-hum.
Crystal: We all do. We all have things. What is so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is you’re constantly, in some ways, starting over all the time, and I love that. All right, I did that, but now – I don’t have a job now. Then, something happens, or you make something happen. This starts for them in this movie.
Q: Mr. Goodman, almost 30 years ago, you started in “Revenge of the Nerds,” where you played the head coach to the jocks.
Goodman: How’d that go?
Q: (laughs) It’s a good movie. It seemed influential on this, so my question is how does it feel to be on the other side of that equation, and did you re-watch the film before making this?
Goodman: No, I haven’t seen it for a while. I was pretty loose while I was making it. I had a lot of fun. It’s a great way to revisit college, because obviously, I couldn’t do that in a non-animated way. It’s a good way to reflect back on how I was then and my wants and dreams and everything, and how you adapt to everything that changes you and which roads you take. I’m babbling like a fool right now, but that’s what I’ve always done is babbled my way through life.
Q: You made “Monsters, Inc.” a decade ago. How has the experience of working with Pixar changed, or has it? Is it just as cool now as it was then?
Goodman: Before, we were talking – Billy was talking about that – we were just flabbergasted by the fact that they could animate fur –
Crystal: On the first one.
Goodman: – and animate hair. That was a big deal then. It just seems like they’ve gotten so much better with their technique. It’s constantly amazing. So the thrill is still there because they’re such wonderful storytellers, great writers, and everything is reality-based and grounded, so you can believe in it, and it makes it fun.
Crystal: The difference was it’s maybe a little bit faster than before. They can do things a little quicker.
Crystal: But the imagination is even broader because they can do even more. I first saw the movie two weeks ago. Sometimes, you just forget what you’ve done. We started about two years ago, I guess, and the imagery is phenomenal in this movie. The art design on the first movie was astounding, with the door sequence and the chase sequence. This has moments in the Scare Games that you almost take for granted, but it took years for them to think these things through. The fact that they can do it – that obstacle course is a phenomenal segment. Then little things, like the dramatic scene with us at the lake, when Mike goes into the real world at the camp and is not scary – when he’s at the lake, that’s – we acted that scene together in the booth. For a movie to have room for those two segments alone is kind of epic, I think.
Q: After creating these great characters, Mike and Sulley, for the first film, how was it going back now and re-creating younger versions of them? Was that challenging for you, and did you have to do anything differently with your voices?
Crystal: Well, the first day that we reported to work together, they showed us renderings of the guys. We just started laughing because oh, sure, make us look younger, given what we look like in the movie, and they do. He’s a little trimmer and a little slimmer. I’ve got this retainer, but there’s a little more youth in his eye. They just carry themselves differently. I don’t know what – it’s just subtle, but it’s there.
Goodman: With the voice thing, I thought I was gonna come in and talk like the kid from “Our Miss Brooks” – oh, hello – and it just happened. Through a couple of passes, it just happens organically. You pick up on other energies and the characters’ focuses, and it just happens. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.
Q: In the movie, Sulley isn’t exactly the most prepared student on the first day of school. I’m sure while he was training with Mike he had many times where he came up with excuses not to train or not to go to class. What are some of the best excuses you’ve heard not to go to school?
Goodman: Well, I used to – I was very elaborate. I would go to the nurse’s office and fill up a glass of water, and I was really good at fake vomiting, so I’d go to the nurse’s bathroom, do that, and then slam the water into the toilet bowl.
Crystal: Do it now.
Goodman: Yeah, okay.
Crystal: You gotta see this. It’s really amazing.
Goodman: That was an immediate ticket home. Marlon Brando used to take a thermometer and rub it on his leg, and then put it back in his mouth.
Crystal: I just would fake the sore throat thing. (weak voice) “I can’t, Ma. I can’t. I don’t know how this happened. Yesterday, I was fine.” (normal voice) Then, she’d go, “Okay,” and I’d go, (normal voice) “Thank you.” Uh oh.
Goodman: (weak voice) “I really wanna go to school, though.” (normal voice) “Well, I don’t think you should.” (weak voice) “All right. It’s up to you.”
Q: How did you both enjoy sharing the story of the Oozma Kappa characters and turning them from rejects into winners?
Crystal: Well, it’s a story that you’ve seen in other movies. It’s the underdog, and it’s great, and it works, and I loved that Mike sees something in them, but at the same time, he finds out something about himself. That happens also through Sulley. “You’re the one who did this. You’re the one.” They’re endearing, lovely characters, beautifully voiced. I have to tell you something. I saw it two weeks ago with the cast. I didn’t know a lot of these people were in the movie and they’re amazing. Sean Hayes is fantastic in the movie. Charlie Day is great in the movie. Alfred Molina is great. Helen Mirren is phenomenal. They didn’t tell me that all these people were in the movie, so it was like going to college on the first day and having all these new roommates. It was fantastic.
Goodman: I can’t compete with these people.
Crystal: It was great. They’re beautifully animated, and they’re really appealing. The great thing about this movie, too, is that – in my opinion – the first one came out 2001. John and I – I remember we hosted several screenings for kids who had just lost their parents or uncle or a father or something. Remember, in New York, we did all these screenings?
Goodman: Yeah, at the –
Crystal: At the theaters on 33rd Street. They kept – round the clock. We would go out and introduce the movie and so on. All of those kids, and kids throughout the world, were 6 or 7 years old when that movie came out. They’re now the same age that Mike and Sulley are now, so they look at it in a totally different way. I was at USC a couple weeks ago, and we screened the movie for about 400 film students. They went berserk because it’s them. It’s them. They’re making decisions in their lives, like Mike and Sulley are in this. These guys are – they’re very important characters to them – to students – and now to little kids. It’s really interesting, of all the things I’ve been fortunate to do, that this guy, Mike, is my favorite character I’ve ever done, but he also has a toe-hold or a claw-hold in people that they mean something to them.
Q: For each of you, what used to scare you under the bed or in the closet when you were little, and what scares you now when you go to bed?
Crystal: My Aunt Sheila was terrifying because there was the napkin in the mouth, “You’ve got something on your face, dear. That thing. Let me just scratch that off your face.”
Goodman: [Laughing] Earl Scheib.
Crystal: Let me sand your cheek. I still don’t love the darkness, though I’ve learned to smile in it a little bit now and then. The unknown has always been a little scary when you think about those things, especially as you get older. Boy, that got heavy.
Goodman: Yeah. I was just run-of-the-mill Frankenstein.
Goodman: Yeah, scared the heck out of me.
Crystal: Oh, and then when “Psycho” came out.
Goodman: But I love those movies. I love those old Universal movies, especially when they’d switch off and Bela Lugosi would play Frankenstein.
Crystal: They’d switch up.
Goodman: It’s just not a fit.
Crystal: They just got bored that day.
Goodman: It just didn’t work, yeah.
Crystal: Beware the hour of the wolf. But “Psycho” – Mr. Hitchcock knew what he was doing. To this day, it’s still terrifying. It’s that music; it’s the lighting; it’s the shooting. It’s all of that. It’s genius, just genius.
Q: For Mr. Crystal, the young actor who played Mike as an even younger version – did you work with that actor at all, and how did you think he pulled it off?
Crystal: I didn’t even know that that was in the movie until I saw it. No, because I had filmed – I had recorded three different openings, so I wasn’t sure what they had used. The first version I did without John was I played my parents and Mike and his bored sister in the car – see, it’s funny – in the car, going to drop him off at college, something I guess we’ve all experienced at some point. So I wasn’t sure what was in the opening movie until I saw that. I would love to meet him because he did a great job. It’s a beautiful sequence.
Goodman: I wonder if they animated that with what you did?
Crystal: Oh, man, I would love to see that, yeah.
Goodman: Yeah, no kidding.
Crystal: That would be cool.
Q: You guys were characters, obviously, that carry over from the first film. There are a ton of new characters in this film. What would you say your favorite new characters are?
Crystal: They were all great. I think they’re all terrific. Charlie Day’s character is really funny. He’s the – I don’t know his name – the purple guy that –
Crystal: Art. I don’t even know their names. So Charlie was great. Sean Hayes is hilarious. That’s hilarious – the two-headed guy. Helen is terrifying. I’ve worked with her before and she’s the most fun, hip, great, down-to-earth lady, and she’s really scary in this movie. They’re all good. It’s great. It’s a very great cast.
Q: I was curious what you thought Helen brought to the movie and the kind of gravitas that she added?
Crystal: Well, she’s aristocracy. She is Dame Helen. I wish we also had been around her when she was working. She’s just fantastic. She gets it. She gets it. She’s a great actress, so it’s easy. She commands – even in a strangely animated woman – a dragon, whatever she is – there’s a regalness to her, and her voice is perfect. It was great casting.
Q: Billy, are we going to see a “Parental Guidance 2”?
Crystal: We’re talking about it.
Q: John, are you going to have another 14 films this year?
Goodman: It looks like I got three opening in a row here. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Q: That’s great.
Goodman: Yeah, I’ll be back as an unemployed drifter soon.