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"I've never been a toy before, hence I've never been to Toy Fair."
When Emily Mortimer took the stage in front of a crowd full of toy industry experts, media and hardcore Disney fans, in some ways she seemed at home-- decked out in a bright red ruffled dress ("For Valentine's Day," she explained), sitting on a couch for an interview in a setup that mimicked a late-night talk show, and discussing her new project, all familiar for a veteran actress. But then Mortimer was presented with a Lego version of her latest character, a purple sports car and spy named Holley Shiftwell. That part, she made very clear, was a totally new experience.
In Cars 2, the Pixar film coming to theaters on June 24, Mortimer voices one half of a British spy team that becomes convinced, for reasons unknown, that the dim-witted tow truck Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy) is in fact a brilliant international spy. Mater has traveled to Tokyo with his friend Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) as Lightning participates in the Grand Prix auto race, but quickly Mater is caught up in the international spy operation with Mortimer's Holley Shiftwell and Finn MacMissile, a sleek Aston Martin voiced by none other than Michael Caine. As Mortimer puts it she thinks Mater is a "rough diamond," and there may even be the beginnings of a romance there, though the two are probably too busy saving the world to take it very far.
Caine took the stage alongside Mortimer during the presentation, and both of them admitted the children (or grandchildren) in their lives were part of the reason they were there. "Otherwise they'll never see me in a film until they're 18," Caine cracked while talking about his grankids. (As it turns out, he made another children's film-- 1992's The Muppet Christmas Carol-- so that his daughter could see it).
After the presentation, when Mortimer left the stage with her purple car under her arm, I got the chance to talk to Mortimer about her experience working on the film. She couldn't spill too many plot details, but that's mostly because she doesn't know them-- as she explains in the interview, the process of recording a voice for an animated film, especially one made with as much precision as a Pixar movie, means you don't really know where you fit into the whole. Read below as she talks about recording her scenes for director John Lasseter-- she says her husband accused her of having a crush on the Pixar founder-- and at what point she figured out that her part was pretty good after all. You can hear Mortimer and see Holley Shiftwell this summer when Cars 2 opens on June 24.
Pixar hasn't had a lot of female heroines in their movies. Is this your chance to step up and become an icon for little girls?
It's so strange, because it only dawns on you toward the end of the process what your role is, because it's such an organic process. You say yes without even reading the script. You're offered a part in a Pixar movie and you're like, "Yes, of course" You get to read something of it, but not really in a way that makes it clear exactly what the story is, because at that point they don't really know themselves.
You lay down a lot of dialogue in the first session, which goes on for many hours. And they're videoing you at the same time, and I think they use that in the animation, some sense of your physicality, so that you really start to become this character. Then they take that away with them and start devising the storyline kind of as you go along, and working out the role that your car is going to play. The scenes, they change all the time. It's not like every time you do a session you re-read the script again, because they come back with scenes that have changed from the initial recording. So it's hard to see what's going on around you. This film is being constructed around your ears, but you don't really have an overall feeling about it.
Until you get to something like this.
I know! "My part must be quite good, I get a car." So I don't know, I hope I'm an inspirational character in the movie. But that's what's interesting about it, you do your little bit then it gradually becomes clear. Then they keep asking you back, and you say "I must have a quite good part." But it takes a while. I didn't set out to be the sexy Pixar heroine. I just recorded myself doing the voice of an overenthusiastic British spy.
What's the time commitment like? Michael was saying earlier he worked on Gnomeo and Juliet for like 4 years.
This was comparatively a very quick one for them. I think I just had my baby, and she's a year and a month old. So it was over a year ago that I started recording it, but that's quite quick for one of these films. I've done about 7 or so sessions.
The first movie was very much Lightning's movie, but this one feels more like Mater's movie based on what we've seen so far.
All I know is that all of my scenes are with Mater. There's sort of two threads to the movie-- one is the spy kind of thing, and the other is the Grand Prix thing going on. He's always there, and I'm not quite sure how much of the movie that part of it takes up, and how much of it takes place in the world.
Did you and Michael Caine do any of your voice work together?
No, I hadn't seen him at all until today. It's so amazing, that part of it. There's somebody else reading the dialogue--Brad Lewis is generally the person reading the dialogue for the other characters. It's a very odd experience, but it's very liberating in some ways. At first you feel kind of self-conscious because you have to really go for it, you can't be shy. You have to be big and hope for the best. But it's cool, because it forces you to commit in a way to something, anything, something strong and definite, and you can experiment because there are no other actors there. There's only John [Lasseter], and he's so psyched about everything, and such an enthusiast. You can try things out you wouldn't have the confidence or time and luxury to do on a film set, where lots of people are waiting for a scene to be shot. You're much more restricted to what it is that you have in your head. This, you can do anything. The more you become aware of that, the better as it goes along, and the more liberated you get about trying anything and seeing where it takes you.