Finding Dory is in theaters now!
In addition to our other exciting interviews during the Finding Dory press trip, we also had the chance to sit down with the voice of “Charlie,” Eugene Levy. He plays Dory’s dad and he’s a unique and dynamic character on film. What is the actor like in real life and what does he think about his role in Finding Dory? Let’s take a look at some of my favorite questions and answers from the interview.
We sat down with Eugene Levy to discuss his role in Finding Dory
How did you get to be a part of Finding Dory?
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, kind of 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 actually a bit of a privilege because this doesn’t really happen that often. I did have one session that I worked with Diane [Keaton] 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 and 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 quite lonely actually. But that was fun and the great thing too was when I was working with Diane was that I was kind of 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 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 about this whole experience?
Well, it’s a great story. You know, animated features are, 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. These sessions usually are 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.
It’s odd and exciting in a way especially when you’re working with somebody like Andrew Stanton who is so great at doing this. He’s like a genius. I mean, [Andrew] 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’ve gotta be a great director, you’ve gotta be a good psychiatrist, to keep the morale up and he just laughs a lot. He laughs at a lot which makes you feel good and kind of 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 to 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?
The role, as written was 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 kind of 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 child who is memory impaired let’s say and the idea [of] how dangerous that can be when your kid doesn’t really remember short term so all 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 movie is – she gets lost and is gone and the fact is unlike any other kid fish, she will not remember what she was not supposed to do and what’s gonna happen and that’s something a parent has to live with in this case. I mean any parent of a child with any kind of impairment goes through things that normal parents don’t necessarily have to deal with on a day to day.
So 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 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 always great to play a parent who is that supportive and 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 own issue and that’s how that dad kind of dealt with this. But in this case you do have to be very positive and you have to be with Dory. 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 actually help trigger something that you know 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 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. There was some adlib-ing. 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 in the course of doing the voice work the director he will let you know, just go crazy with this or just do whatever you want.
He’ll kind of 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 every 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.
Besides your own character which is your 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 – this is one of the recording sessions. They actually they showed 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 [Collins] – her daughter who came in to do a voice, the way I understand it, came in to do 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. But great characters. I think Marlin [is] 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 scattered sentences that are put together in such a very funny way. I thought the cast was really great and strong and just really honored to be part of it.
The first time you saw the film complete, what was that like for you?
I think the thing that kind of impressed me the most about it […] 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 but how the story just when you think you’ve got a handle on where the story’s going and then it just kind of opens up and then it opens up some more and just when you think you’re bringing it home it’s opening up some more and then it gets into such an adventure. It turns into an action movie at some point and it’s so incredibly real. That animation is so brilliant because those those car crashes and honestly the animation is….
I looked at a shot of the ocean at one point maybe just before Destiny hops into it and I’m looking at the ocean going I wonder, did they actually shoot the ocean? That’s the real ocean because you’re seeing 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 keeps going and going and going and just picks up energy and picks up pace and wow, you get caught up in it.
I really like the parenting that Dory’s parents used in the film. Do you think that kind of has a way to get extra hope or extra advice or support to parents who have children with disabilities?
I hope so but I really think that parents who that do have kids with disabilities I think by in large 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 autistic kids and I know how much energy it actually takes to get through a day or even part of a day.
And you would have — if you’re not at all familiar with that you would have no idea how much energy and perseverance and patience that it takes. I think parents that have kids that have any kind of impairment are — I think they’re doing the job. If they pick up anything from this movie then that would be a wonderful thing.