Wednesday, November 3, 2010

John Ratzenberger talks about Hamm and Toy Story 3

How does it feel to return to the role of Hamm in Toy Story 3?
To be honest, it feels like I never left Hamm because I’m constantly asked about the character. I bump into people at airports or I meet people whilst picking up my dry cleaning and someone will always tell me, “My 4-year-old son, Jason, loves Hammie the pig.” I’ll usually say, “Well, get him on the phone.” So we call him up and the mother will explain, “Hi honey, it’s Mommy. There’s somebody who wants to say hello.” Then they hand the phone to me and I’ll do some Hamm for them, “Hey Jason, it’s Hammie the pig. I understand you’re not eating your spinach…” I’ve been doing things like that ever since the first Toy Story came out, so Hamm has never been too far away.

How would you describe Hamm?
Hamm is a wise guy. He throws his opinion out regardless of whether anyone’s listening or not, which is what makes him so much fun. He’s a smart Alec and he’s not so offensive that people shun him, but he makes sure his comments are heard.

What do you bring to the role?
I bring whatever I have in my bag of tricks. They let me play around with the script at times, so there are a lot of my own words are in the movie. That’s the nice thing about Pixar: they let the actors experiment.

How much fun did you have in the recording booth for the movie? 
Recording the voice of Hamm is always a great experience, but all of the heavy lifting has already been done because the guys at Pixar spend four years working on the story before I’m called in. All I have to do is give them five different readings of the same line so that they’ve got a variety to choose from. That way, they’ve got a great potpourri of lines to choose from.

How much do you improvise in the sound booth?
I tend to stick to the script, although I let loose every now and then. There’s a line in the movie where Hamm says, “Holy moly, guacamole!” That was my creation. There are quite a few in Toy Story 3.

It’s human nature to become lazy. Why is Pixar an anomaly?
Because they are the originators. This is John Lasseter’s world and he’s a pioneer. It’s as simple as that. Pixar think of every single film they create as though it was their very first movie. Every time they start work on a new film, they try to improve themselves. It’s extraordinary.

How much do you relate to the character of Hamm?
Hamm loves trivia and irrelevant facts – and that’s something I’m very fond of. When I was 14 years old, I decided I wanted to learn how to build a house and everything inside it, so that’s what I did. I pick up facts and knowledge about things that people don’t normally cross in their day-to-day life. I’ve always been fascinated by stuff like that. There’s no such thing as useless knowledge to me. It doesn’t exist. You’re going to use it somewhere, sometime, and at some point.
Were you interested in acting from a young age?
I didn’t act until I got to college and that was because they were having more fun than anyone else. But I didn’t even act then really. I was the understudy for the lead role and I thought to myself, ‘This is great. I can go to all of the parties, but I don’t have to do a thing.’ Then the lead actor quit the night before opening night and I hadn’t even read the play.

What was the play?
The play was called Summer And Smoke by Tennessee Williams and I had the lead role, Dr. John. I ended improvising the entire second half of the show because the first act didn’t go very well at all. I tried to perform the play word-for-word with the help of a script girl hidden behind the stage curtain, but it was painful for the audience. I didn’t know any of the lines, so I had to keep walking off stage. You could hear the audience groaning, so I decided to improvise for the second act.

The success of Toy Story 3 means you’ve got the chance to be the number one most successful actor of all time…
Well, you never know. It might be a nice thing to put on my business card. ‘John Ratzenberger: number one box office star of all time.’ There won’t be any phone number or anything else. Just that. I’ll let you know if it happens.

Why have we seen you in so many blockbusters?
I don’t think there is a solid explanation; I was just in the right place at the right time. During The Empire Strikes Back, I was living in an abandoned building in London. I was so poor that the green grocer used to save his rotten vegetables for me. I’d carve out the rotten bits and put everything in a pot to make a stew or a soup. I was having a tough time and I wasn’t making any money. I spent my time throwing rocks at rats in an abandoned building and that was it. But then I got a job on The Empire Strikes Back, but I had no idea if the movie was going to be a success or not. To me, I was just happy to have a job.

What’s your favorite movie from all of the early blockbusters you worked on?
I have always enjoyed traveling, so I guess Gandhi is my favorite because I got to go to India to shoot that movie. I also enjoyed working on a movie called Warlords Of Atlantis, but nobody has ever heard of that one. I went to Malta to shoot Warlords, so that was a great job. I’m not taking anything away from Pixar and Toy Story 3, though. I have had a great time working on every single Pixar movie. Toy Story 3 is one of the greats. 

What’s your favorite Pixar character?
P.T. Flea from A Bug’s Life is my favorite character because he always makes me laugh. I love his attitude towards life. He never lets go of the gas pedal. There’s no brake and there’s no pause in his life; he’s full throttle all the way. When he wakes up in the morning, if he sleeps at all, he’s just thinking about ways to make a buck.

How would you describe P.T. Flea in one word?
I would say, ‘avarice’. Look up the word ‘avarice’ in the dictionary and that’s exactly what P.T. Flea is like. We meet people like P.T. Flee every day in our lives and I always find them funny. I have to laugh and bite my lip because they’re trying to hustle you and sell you something. They try their hardest to make a couple of bucks, which is what P.T. Flea does all the time.

TOY STORY 3 is Available on Blu-ray and DVD November 2nd!


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