Monsters University Brings Back Mike and Sulley
By: Lynn Barker
In 2001, comic actors Billy Crystal and John Goodman gave voices to monsters Mike and Sulley, lovable characters who were more funny than scary and Monsters Inc. became a fave animated film that you might have now in your home video collection.
On the 21st, the guys are back… way back.. to their days in college in Monsters University. So what was it like for Billy and John to revisit younger versions of their characters years later? What actually scares the two actors in real life and what scared them as kids? Did they feel like misfits when they were college age?
We have those answers and more….
Young Mike arrives on campus
Kidzworld: The first film came out in 2001. Kids that were 6 or 7 then are teens now. Are you hoping they’ll be return customers and go see this one?
- Billy: They’re now the same age that Mike and Sulley are now, so they look at it in a totally different way. I was at USC (University of Southern California) a couple weeks ago, and we screened the movie for about 400 film students. They went berserk because it’s them. It’s them. They’re making decisions in their lives, like Mike and Sulley are in this. These guys are very important characters to students and little kids.
Billy and John at our interview
Courtesy of Lynn Barker
Kidzworld: When you were college age, were you a little bit of a misfit like Mike, and even Sulley are in the movie?
- Billy: I have to admit, I was a little bit of a misfit. I was a film-directing major at NYU, and I’m still not sure why I became a directing major when I was really an actor and a comedian, but there was something that drew me to doing that. I had made a few films on my own, and I loved it. So I felt like I was a misfit, in a way.
- (I was in school with bigtime filmmakers) Oliver Stone, Christopher Guest, Mike McKean and our professor was Marty Scorsese who was intense. He was so fluent in movies and passionate, and I really felt like I wanted to be in front of people still, so I was a little out of it.
- John: (laughs) I ain’t never been in no college with famous people like Billy here. I was a drifter for a while. I just was desperate to fit in with a group. Really, I was swimming. I was lost, treading water, trying to find my way. I wanted to play football. It didn’t work out. I didn’t really know what I wanted until I found acting in a theater department, and then everything fell into place, and I had a passion about something. Then, I started living my life.
- Billy: Yeah, that’s how it was for me, too. Once I found a theater group, then you’re just like a gym rat, but you’re a theater rat, and then that becomes your fraternity house; your extended family. In this movie (Mike and Sulley) find out who they are. Mike has a dream, and the dream may not work out, and then he has to readjust and recalibrate. He does that with the help of his friend (Sulley), who tells him who he thinks he is, and he starts to believe it himself. So for me, that really happened then.
Mike and Sulley and frat brothers
Kidzworld: What is it about each of your characters that you enjoy the most?
- John (Sulley): The fact that he’s a blowhard. No, I think the reason they work so well together is that they complete each other, in a way. I think Sulley really, really needs Mike Wazowski. It makes him complete. He lets the air out of him a little bit. Especially in this film, when they’re not completely formed monsters yet, they learn from each other. They learn how to adapt, how to let go of their pre-conceived notions of themselves and of the world. They’re good for each other.
- Billy (Mike): For me, Mike is fearless. He’s really the favorite character I’ve ever played. I’ve really missed doing him until John Lasseter (head of Pixar), at a party, came to me and said “We have the idea. It’s a sequel, but it’s a prequel. They’re in college”. And he just walked away, but he left an idea, and I went “Oh, this is gonna be great”. It was so fun to revisit them at this time in their lives. It was such a brilliant idea to put them in that time period where they’re about to become who they’re gonna become. That’s what was so interesting to me.
Ooozma Kappa victory!
Kidzworld: Do you guys record the voices of Mike and Sulley in the same sound recording booth?
- Billy: We work together in the studio, and we can act together. So, we’re not just reading lines; we’re performing them, and we’re playing them, and we feel them. I think that’s why their relationship on screen is really great because it’s a real thing.
Billy and John in the sound recording booth
Kidzworld: What do you notice that has improved tech-wise since you made Monsters Inc. like ten years ago?
- John: Before, we were just flabbergasted by the fact that they could animate fur and animate hair. That was a big deal then. It just seems like they’ve gotten so much better with their technique. It’s constantly amazing. So the thrill is still there because they’re such wonderful storytellers, great writers, and everything is reality-based and grounded, so you can believe in it, and it makes it fun.
- Billy: The difference was it’s maybe a little bit faster than before. They can do things a little quicker but the imagination is even broader because they can do even more. The imagery is phenomenal in this movie. The art design on the first movie was astounding, with the door sequence and the chase sequence. This has moments in the scare games that took years for them to think these things through.
Mike goes to class
Kidzworld: What was it like to recreate these guys but make them younger than you acted them the first time?
- Billy: The first day that we reported to work together, they showed us renderings of the guys. We just started laughing because oh, sure, make us look younger, given what we look like in the movie, and they do. Sulley is a little trimmer and a little slimmer. I’ve got this retainer, but there’s a little more youth in his uh…eye. They just carry themselves differently.
- John: With the voice thing, I thought I was gonna come in and talk like a kid (very high-pitched voice) “oh, hello” but it just happened organically. You pick up on other energies and the characters’ focuses, and it just happens. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s there.
Sulley joins the cooler frat
Kidzworld: Sulley isn’t exactly the most prepared student on the first day of school. What are the best excuses you’ve heard or used for getting out of school?
- John: Well, I was very elaborate. I would go to the nurse’s office and fill up a glass of water…I was really good at fake vomiting, so I’d go to the nurse’s bathroom (makes a hacking noise) and then slam the water into the toilet bowl. That was an immediate ticket home. Marlon Brando used to take a thermometer and rub it on his leg, and then put it back in his mouth.
- Billy: I just would fake the sore throat thing. (Very weak voice) “I can’t. Ma, I can’t….I don’t know how this happened. Yesterday, I was fine”. Then, she’d go “okay”.
Sulley and Mike with Oozma Kappa frat bros
Kidzworld: Mike and Sulley end up in a loser frat (Oozma Kappa) and turn it into a winner. Was that a fun story for you?
- Billy: Well, it’s a story that you’ve seen in other movies. It’s the underdog, and it’s great, and it works, and I loved that Mike sees something in them, but at the same time, he finds out something about himself. That happens also through Sulley.
Sulley, Mike and their Fraternity brothers
Kidzworld: Mike and Sulley are “Scarers”. What used to scare you boogeyman-wise when you were a kid?
- Billy: My Aunt Sheila was terrifying because there was the napkin in the mouth, (he reaches out with a napkin as if jabbing it at a face) “you’ve got something on your face, dear, that thing. Let me just scratch that off your face. Let me sand your cheek”. I still don’t love the darkness, though I’ve learned to smile in it a little bit now and then. The unknown has always been a little scary when you think about those things, especially as you get older.
- John: Me, it was just run-of-the-mill Frankenstein. Scared the heck out of me. But I love those old Universal movies, especially when they’d switch off and Bela Lugosi would play Frankenstein. It’s just not a fit.
- Billy: But still scary to me? Psycho. Mr. Hitchcock knew what he was doing. To this day, it’s still terrifying. It’s that music; it’s the lighting; it’s the shooting. It’s all of that. It’s just genius.
The gang at the Scare Games
Kidzworld: There are a lot of new characters in this movie who weren’t in the first one. Which is your fave?
- Billy: They were all great. I think they’re all terrific. Charlie Day’s character Art, the purple guy, was great. Sean Hayes is hilarious as the two-headed monster and Helen Mirren is terrifying (as the Dean). I’ve worked with her before and she’s the most fun, hip, great, down-to-earth lady, and she’s really scary in this movie. There’s a regalness to her. It’s a very great cast.
Mike and Sulley in college
Monsters University is in theaters June 21st!