When I saw that we’d be interviewing Eugene Levy during the Finding Dory Event, I couldn’t help but get excited. I have been a fan since Splash, but come on, it’s his role as Jim’s dad in the cult hit American Pie films that he’s known for best. In Finding Dory, Eugene voices Dory’s father Charlie and in this exclusive interview, Eugene talks about baby Dory, playing a dad once again, and what it was like to work with Pixar.
Eugene Levy: Finding Dory Interview
How did you get to be a part of Finding Dory?
Well, I got a phone call. I got a phone call, and it was a lovely call, you know, asking me if I wanted to be a part of it. Of course, I said yes and jumped at it. Didn’t take too much thinking to be involved in the sequel to Finding Nemo so it was lovely.
Did you record your voice by yourself?
Well, I recorded by myself. I had a lovely session. It was a bit of a privilege because this doesn’t happen that often. I did have one session that I worked with Diane, and we were in two different cities. I was in Toronto. She was in Los Angeles, and they hooked up cameras so that I could see her on a monitor in my studio. She could see me on a monitor in her studio, and we were able to do the scene together which doesn’t happen a lot when you’re doing these things because mostly you’re working by yourself. It’s, uh, quite lonely actually. But that was fun, and the great thing too was when I was working with Diane was that I was mesmerized by just watching her on the monitor working even though I was doing a scene with her. I was very aware that it was Diane Keaton behind the mike, and I’m just like just fascinated, just watching the way she was working behind the microphone and then I’d have to go oh, yeah, I’ve got a line here, yeah.
What’s been your favorite part of this whole experience?
It’s a great story. Animated features, I’ve done kind of a few of them, and it is a different way of working than doing a normal movie. You have to get used to that process of going in, not having a lot of time. I mean these sessions usually are like three hours, and you get five sessions maybe over two and a half, three years. Whenever this started, I think, and it’s just going over every line and giving the director as many options as you can on every line so that when he’s putting it all together he’s got the gamut of delivery on a line from A to Z kind of, in a way. So it’s, it’s odd but, and exciting in a way especially when you’re working with somebody like Andrew Stanton who is so great at doing this. I mean he’s a genius. He wrote the story and directed it and when you’re directing actors in the studio working like this when you’re just pounding away at lines and giving different options. You gotta be a great director, you’ve gotta be a good psychiatrist, you know, to keep the morale up and he just laughs a lot. He laughs a lot which makes you feel good and gives you the confidence to go on and give him more things. But the storyline here was a great storyline and Nemo it was so kind of funny and had such a great emotional impact on it that Dory when I read the script had the same emotional impact. You could feel it when you were reading it, so you knew you were onto something hot.
What were the biggest challenges in doing this film?
Well, the role as written as kind of a nice dad. I’ve played a nice dad before. Yes and I’m doing it now in our television show which we’re shooting in Toronto, but this was kind of a role where you have to be funny. The character was written to be a bit of a jokester in a dad kind of way, you know, which is not necessarily really funny but thinking he’s really funny, sometimes embarrassingly funny. But also having a kind of a child who is memory impaired let’s say and the idea that how dangerous that can be when your kid doesn’t remember. These life lessons and safety precautionary things that you’re saying don’t do this and remember not to do that when they can’t remember from one step to the next you’re going wow. What’s gonna happen if we are never around? Which is exactly what happens in the movies, she gets lost and is gone. She will not remember what she was not supposed to do and what’s gonna happen? That’s something a parent has to live with in this case. I mean any parent of a child with any impairment goes through things that normal parents don’t necessarily have to deal with on a day to day. So there was — that was a big part of it too and still trying to keep everything kind of light and charming and funny which is the brilliance of the script that Andrew came up with because it’s all packaged in one. You have all these emotions kind of snowballing through the movie, and you’re kind of laughing and crying and feeling and touching, and it’s great. It really is.
One of the things I loved about your character is how charming he was of Dory that never was a disability to him. How did that play out for you may be thinking back to parenting your own children or thinking of other parents that you’ve encountered of really having that spirit of affirmation?
Well it’s, it’s all, it’s always great to play a parent who is that supportive and, you know, kind of life-affirming. It was a different story slightly in American Pie where you have a discovery like I did walking into my kitchen and then thinking as the parent instead of okay, we’ve gotta do something about this, taking it upon himself thinking it must be something I’ve done or not done as a parent. This is something I haven not discussed with my son. This obviously is a problem I have because how this is manifesting itself now has to be my issue and that’s how that dad kind of dealt with this. But in this case, you do have to be kind of very positive and you have to be with Dory. You have to — and one of the great things again about how this was written is because this dad always tries to be funny, to lighten the load sort of speak and not make it quite so heavy and not make it quite so scary for Dory. So it’s almost like you’re hoping this kind of positive feedback that you’re just putting out there might help trigger something that probably won’t happen, but maybe you get enough positive vibe out there, and things will start to happen. With Dory and of course it does because she does manage to figure out how to, you know, navigate very difficult situations.
Ellen said that she was able to adlib? Did you get the chance to adlib any lines?
Ellen’s the star of the movie. She can do whatever she wants. You do have to take a bit of a cue from the director. It’s not like you can just go in there and start playing around with the script. They work very hard on putting together a great script, so there’s nothing you necessarily need to be improvising but if, if in the course of doing the voice work the director will let you know, just go crazy with this or just do whatever you want. He’ll let you know where the sections are that he feels a little improvising might be beneficial. But just to go off on your own on the script is not something that I would be comfortable doing. But there were times now and then and it is fun when it works, and as I said, Andrew’s a great laugher, so it’s always very encouraging.
Do you have a favorite character?
Boy, it’s hard to pinpoint one. I have to say the little Dory is I think my favorite character because when I first heard that voice I honestly I got so emotional and this is one of the recording sessions. They played a little section of the animation which hadn’t been fully fleshed out yet, but that’s the first time I heard the voice and I mean I almost burst out crying. I’ve never heard anything so sweet in all my life. I said where did you get this voice? And it turns out it was Lindsey’s (Executive Producer) daughter. Her daughter who came in to do a voice for a guide track for the animators and they just heard her voice and loved it so much they said well, this is the voice. So that character, every time I hear that voice I just, I wanna hear more. So yeah but great characters. I think Marlin is a really interesting, funny character. Always great listening to Dory. Ellen doing such a great job on Dory and she had a lot to do too I mean a lot of lines, a lot of words, a lot of kind of scattered kind of sentences that are put together in such a funny, very funny way. I thought the cast was great and strong and just really honored to be, honored to be part of it.
The first time you saw the film complete, what was that like for you?
Last night. I think the thing that kind of impressed me the most about it and again when you’re reading scripts for the — I think I got the script in the very, very beginning. That’s like three years ago. And when you’re going through recording sessions you get little chunks of what you’re involved with but not necessarily the stuff that you’re not involved with so you’re just focusing on what you’re doing. But last night when I saw the movie I think what impressed me the most was number one just the brilliance of the entire project and how beautifully the animation is. What a great, fantastic job they did. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the story’s going and then it just kind of opens up, and just when you think you’re bringing it home it’s opening up some more and then it gets into such an adventure of it’s like an action. It turns into an action movie at some point, and it’s so incredibly real. I looked at a shot of the ocean at one point and wonder, did they shoot the ocean? That’s the real ocean because you see a million actual white caps and waves? And they said no, that was all animated. It’s just incredible animation, but that was the thing. The story just — it just keeps going and going and going and just picks up energy and picks up the pace and wow, you get caught up in it.
I like the parenting that Dory’s parents used in the film that supports parents who have children with disabilities.
I really think that parents who that do have kids with disabilities they kind of know what they have to do and how to do it because it takes an incredible amount of patience and perseverance. I know a couple of friends who have kind of autistic kids, and I know how much energy it takes to get through a day or even part of a day. And if you’re not at all familiar with that you would have no idea how much energy and perseverance and patience that it takes.
FINDING DORY is in theaters now!