Julie Bowen lends her impressive vocal talents to Disney’s new animated adventure-comedy, “Planes: Fire & Rescue” voicing the character of Dipper, the hopelessly romantic air tanker who’s part of the elite aerial firefighting team at Piston Peak. As an avid air-racing fan, Dipper has a major crush on the world-famous Dusty Crophopper (Dane Cook) and is excited about the prospect of getting to know him better when he unexpectedly joins her squad. Opening July 18th, the film directed by Bobs Gannaway from a screenplay by Jeffrey Howard also features the voices of Curtis Armstrong, Ed Harris, John Michael Higgins, Hal Holbrook, Regina King, and Wes Studi.
At the film’s recent press day, Bowen talked about her character, how she became involved with the project, how Shaun Cassidy inspired her preparation for the role, her kids’ reaction when they realized she was in the movie, how they usually react when she voices characters at home, her experience inside the recording booth working with Gannaway and producer Ferrell Barron, why she counts 12 to 14-year-old girls among her most enthusiastic fans, and the impact of the syndication of her hit ABC comedy, “Modern Family.”
QUESTION: You’ve said that your kids haven’t been too excited that you’re in “Modern Family.” Have you earned massive cool points now for being in “Planes: Fire & Rescue”?
JULIE BOWEN: Yes. I have gotten such huge cool points. My kids could give a rat’s patootie about “Modern Family.” They are very, very excited for this. They already have the little action figure. To call it a toy sounds wrong. What is it? It’s a plane. They get so excited when they see the posters, and they make me stop and take pictures. They’re very into it.
Q: How old are they now?
BOWEN: My twins are five and their older brother is seven, and they’re all boys.
Q: Have they seen it yet?
BOWEN: No, they’re going to see it tomorrow with me at the premiere. I’m really excited. We’ve gone to a couple premieres, especially at Disney at the theater there, but never where I was involved. Usually, they think that those things are boring and annoying, and I get dressed and I leave them. So this time I’m hoping that they have a different impression.
Q: How did your involvement with this come about?
BOWEN: I have no idea how it came about on the side of Disneytoon Studios. I got the offer. I’ve since met Mr. Lasseter many times who claims that he’s a fan of “Modern Family.” He could be lying. I don’t know. But he came to a table read so he might actually really be a fan. They offered me this role and it was just before “Planes.” The first “Planes” hadn’t come out yet, but I knew the universe. I knew the “Cars” universe. It wasn’t like, “I don’t know if these people know what they’re doing.” I felt very, very safe in those hands. My biggest concern wasn’t that I wouldn’t be represented well somehow with it. I didn’t know what I was doing, and I needed people who were patient and kind to drag me along, and they did. Bobs was fantastic. Bobs and Ferrell (producer Ferrell Barron) were both great and really encouraging, and they let me make a thousand mistakes and run around and swear. That’s part of my process.
Q: What do you think of this cool little plane named Dipper?
BOWEN: I like it. You know what I like? She’s a full-figured gal. She is an air tanker. She’s designed for capacity. We shot these little interstitial things — I have no idea whatever happened with them – where she’s trying to do online dating and has to describe herself. She keeps trying to make herself sound like ‘I’m a slim 30,000 pounds,’ and it doesn’t really work because she is built. She’s so powerful and fantastic, and I love that. That’s not to knock the beautiful Jasmine plane from the first “Planes” whatever her name was (Ishani voiced by Priyanka Chopra), but she’s a sexy, pretty plane, and Dipper is not. With Dipper, it’s about her personality and her job ability, and I like that.
Q: You’ve got the best lines, like when you say, “I love to watch you sleep.” Did you do that in lots of different ways with lots of different faces?
Q: Were you looking at a picture of Dusty when you were thinking about how you’d do it?
BOWEN: Well they played a scratch track for me, which is, somebody else reads the lines, and I was like, “Oh my God, she did that so well. I can never do that.” I kept asking, “Who did the scratch track?” and they were like, “Oh, some girl in our office.” I was like, “No, it’s not. It’s Meryl Streep. I know it is. I know they’re lying.” Sometimes with a scratch track you can tell. I do voiceovers for Olive Garden, and the scratch track will sound like, “Oh, this is Emily from the office. Today you can get your pasta,” and she’s just marking time. Whoever this person was, she was so good, and she did it like when you sleep. I thought, “I have to immediately forget that.” So I did it a thousand ways so I could forget what that was, but I swear it probably was exactly that. (Laughs) I don’t know, because I did it loud, and I did it creepy, and I did it giggly, and I did pig-snorting laughs on it. They clearly chose the scratch track I’m sure.
Q: Did you practice the voice around the house in front of your kids and family?
BOWEN: No. My children detest that, when I do voices. Even when we read “Harry Potter” together, they would only allow me to do Hagrid. (Laughs) My Hagrid was acceptable to them. Everything else they were like, “No, Mom!” Eventually, I slipped Hermione a little bit in there and they allowed it. Otherwise, they were like, “It’s ridiculous. It’s not about you. Shut up! Read the book.” So no, I most certainly did not. I would just play around a lot when I was there. They gave me a lot of warm-up room which I needed a lot.
Q: How long were the sessions? Is it frustrating to have to say a line over and over again?
BOWEN: No. I look at them, and they’re on the other side of some glass. I can see them and they’re like, “Hey Julie, you want to do this one line more and make it friendly or lighter?” and then the finger goes off the intercom button and their mouths are moving, and I’m imagining, “Holy crap! I’m going to be here all day long. Does anybody have lunch menus? We should get dinner menus in here, too.” So I’ll give it a million times, ten in a row, four in a row. I’m happy to do it. I told them that, too. They started holding down the button while they were talking to each other so that I would hear what they were saying. It turns out they were literally just like, “Um, did anybody change the toner in the fax machine?” Are you kidding me? They really aren’t talking about me? So no, it wasn’t boring. I felt like I shot a thousand arrows so I could hit one in the middle. I get obsessive about it.
Q: Did you ever get to record with Dane?
BOWEN: No, Dane was not there. They had a cast and crew screening and I met him. He’s lovely and funny. I certainly knew his work, and I’d seen the first Planes, so I knew Dusty Crophopper. I was glad in some ways. I also saw Dane do “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers” last year at the Hollywood Bowl and he was unbelievably funny. He was fantastic and he can really sing. That would have been fun. I’m terrified of Ed Harris because I am so in awe of him. So there were some moments when I was very glad that I didn’t have to do that, and I can’t imagine that he would have loved my process. I didn’t take my shoes off. I can turn the AC really high because I’m going to roar a lot. [mimicking Ed Harris] “This is not the way it’s done.” I would have been terrified.
Q: Is it fun for you when you don’t have to go to make-up or do hair and you can just come in as you are?
BOWEN: Yeah. It definitely is, but this idea that… My mom was like, “You can look hideous.” I’d say, “But mom, people expect to meet… they’re looking to meet the celebrity person.” Just the thought of people going home at the end of the day and saying, “Oh my God, she doesn’t even shower. Honey, I met her. She’s disgusting.” I’m in total celebrity denial in general, but there’s awareness that probably if somebody has met you, they might go and tell somebody. I just would rather have the word on the street stay at a neutral, not like, “She shows up in a ball gown,” but “She seemed nice.” That’s fine. It’s better than, “Holy crap! I think she slept in those clothes.” True. I frequently do drive carpool in the clothes I slept in, because it’s impossible to get three children out the door with lunches packed and all that stuff and have a do. So, I changed after carpool and before going over to the studio.
Q: What did you do to get yourself in the mindset of a plane that was a hopeless romantic trying to pursue another plane?
BOWEN: I just thought for a really long time about how I used to feel about Shaun Cassidy. (Laughs) Shaun Cassidy was my first concert. I was really young, too. We had to go with our parents, so we had to make our parents go. I think it’s pretty common for people to get excited when they meet somebody that they know from the media. That’s what Dusty Crophopper is to her. Yes, he’s a plane, but in this world he’s a celebrity plane. He’s a huge celebrity plane, and she’s like whatever the aviation version is of an “Us Weekly” reader is. That’s who she is. She reads about this guy. She knows who he is. When she meets him, she’s “Aww!” So it’s fairly easy for me to imagine being deeply excited.
Q: I loved how she put her little wing around him.
BOWEN: I know. The embarrassing thing is the acting out that I would do alone in the booth that has nothing to do with anything. “We don’t need any of that.” No one needed that. But thank you.
Q: What has been your most bizarre fan encounter?
BOWEN: I attract a certain type, and it’s usually girls around 12 to 14, and that’s an age when girls travel in packs. And so, they’re at their most dangerous and feral and unmanageable. That’s why the Beatles’ bus was almost flipped over, because those girls travel en masse. I’m most certainly not the Beatles. I’ve experienced a crumb of that and been terrified. Is it hormones? I don’t know. A gaggle of them gets very excitable, and my husband is really good at spotting it at a park or an airport. One of them goes, (high pitched, excited voice) “That’s her!” and their friends do the same. They start circling like wasps. To me, in my mind, at this point, there’s probably thousands, but it’s six girls. I get very anxious. I was really never a good 13-year-old girl, so every time it’s like revisiting my teenage years. “What do you want? I’m not going to the party. I wasn’t invited. What?” They’re always lovely, and they’re not mean, and they’re not stalking me at my house. They’ve never said anything bad to me. It’s just that level of girl that comes at you. That’s a lot.
Q: Now that “Modern Family” is syndicated, you’re in people’s homes not only once a day but ten times a day. Do you feel that has an impact on how people see you?
BOWEN: Yeah. When people say, “I’ve spent time with Charlize Theron and she doesn’t get as much attention at the grocery store as you do,” I go, “That’s because she’s a movie star.” She still is bigger. They see her big and up there. I’m in their living room all the time, but if you want to see real insanity, hang out with a soap star, because those people are in people’s houses all day, every day. That’s a whole other level, and that is everybody from the bus driver to the guy in the back of the limo. I mean, every single human being watches those things. So, I’m lucky. I count myself lucky to be fairly anonymous but occasionally have people tell me nice things.