Owen Wilson returns to provide the voice of hotshot race car Lightning McQueen in Cars 2, the sequel to the 2006 Pixar hit. In this action-heavy sequel, Lightning McQueen takes up the challenge of proving he's the fastest car in the world by participating in an international competition known as the World Grand Prix. Mater, voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, tags along to hang out with his best buddy, but instead of keeping busy as part of Lightning's pit crew, he gets tangled up with British spies (voiced by Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer).
Eddie Izzard's character Sir Miles Axlerod enters the picture as the creator of the World Grand Prix, a retired oil baron who's come up with a clean-burning new fuel known as Allinol. Together for the LA press day of the animated comedy, Wilson and Izzard talked about lending their voices to these animated cars, working with John Lasseter, and the appeal of being a part of a Pixar project.
Owen Wilson and Eddie Izzard Mini-Press Conference
How is voicing an animated character?
Eddie Izzard: "It's slightly annoying in a way. John gets it; it's John's game. John takes the essences out of our vocal things and they do film us while we're performing so that they can animate from that. But it means that you just put as much as you can into the voice and then you don't know quite where it will go after that, and then you see the finished product. But it's a director's oeuvre. What really annoys me - and I do love doing animated films, and this is great - but I would like to have met everyone on the thing. It never happens. We meet each other now but it would be great if we just even did a read-through before. I should tell this to John, if there's any way that everyone could sit down and do a read-through of the thing before it starts. It starts in fits and starts."
Owen Wilson: "Yeah, although on the first one I did get to work one day with Paul Newman. We went to New York and got to record with him and it was great. He actually had some questions about, 'I don't know if this would really...' because he was so knowledgeable about racing. And then John took what he was saying and went back and re-worked the script based on something that Paul was saying."
Eddie Izzard: "Did he ask for that to happen?"
Owen Wilson: "He didn't demand, he just raised some questions."
Eddie Izzard: "No, but I mean the idea of you two being together? That's unusual, isn't it?"
Owen Wilson: "No, I think it was John's idea and just thought it would be exciting for me to work with him."
Was it exciting? Was it the only time you met?
Owen Wilson: "Yep. No, then I met him when we did the promotion for the movie. We went to one of the [racetracks]. We went to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte and Jimmy Johnson was there. He interviewed Paul and me, and then Paul said he wanted to take one of the cars for a spin around the track. I asked the race car drivers how's he doing and they said, 'He's great.'"
You didn't drive with him?
Owen Wilson: "I didn't drive with him, but then they drove me around. You know, I also got to drive around in a Formula One type - not exactly a Formula One but that sort of shape where they kind of had a little place for me to sit. That was unbelievable because it felt like we're going in to make this turn, and we're bracing because you know from your years of driving you're not going to be able to make this turn at the speed that you're going. It takes a while for your brain to realize, 'Okay, this is a different type of high performance car than my Prius is.'"
Eddie Izzard: "Have you done race car driving?"
Owen Wilson: "Not really."
Eddie Izzard: "Because they got a show in Britain called Top Gear where they invite people to come and drive these really kind of ordinary cars around a speed track. And when you have to brake from 120 miles per hour down to 10... Braking from 120 miles per hour down to 10 miles per hour in half a second - I couldn't do it. I went around twice and practiced the thing. And my stomach, because I'm not a good traveler, I would not make a good racing car drive. So the fact that Paul Newman could do it I'm jealous of that."
Owen, from Cars 1, have you had a new experience with young kid fans?
Owen Wilson: "Yeah, I definitely... Someone was just asking me, 'Do you ever say Ka-Chow?,' and I say that. It's sort of because parents will say, 'This is Lightning McQueen,' and their kid just stands there, not even disbelieving, just more 'What are you talking about?' And then I'll sort of Ka-Chow!"
Do you feel that your characters in the movie portray an environmental message?
Eddie Izzard: "Mine is complicated. Mine is conflicted. If you're looking for a message from John Lasseter, it's interesting. It end up being an adventure story and the idea that it should be positive about alternative oil is probably [how he feels]. I know he probably is, and I know you are because you're driving a Prius and I'm not, but I think John is positive on alternative fuels, but you don't end up coming out with that message from my character. So, it's a little conflicted. But I just had to be as real as I possibly could and not use any comedy skills at all, which Larry the Cable Guy did, I think, beautifully."
Technology grows in leaps and bounds over the years, was the process from your prospective different from Cars 1 to Cars 2?
Owen Wilson: "It was different because this one seemed more sort of efficient, quicker. I think the story had been worked out better. The first one was figuring it out as we went along, so it was a longer process. That was the big difference."
With Midnight in Paris, did it surprise you how natural a fit your voice and style fits with Woody Allen's writing?
Owen Wilson: "Well, what surprised me was I guess I was playing the character that Woody Allen might have played - or would have played - and yeah, there probably is a cadence that you slip into. Obviously, we're from pretty different backgrounds but people would say that I sounded like him. This one woman said that I looked a lot like him. But Woody would kind of disagree when someone would say that. 'No, I don't think Owen sounds anything like me or is anything like me. We couldn't be more different.'"
What's the difference in the directing style between Woody Allen and John Lasseter?
Owen Wilson: "John is more sort of like a kid who's very enthusiastic. You get a lot of direction or context before you do a scene. And Woody was pretty hands-off. He might have some very gentle thing to say but not much in the way of direction."
Did they have to twist your arm to do this film?
Owen Wilson: "Well, I met John Lasseter I think at the Academy Awards years and years ago, and I didn't know him and he said he and his sons had liked Shanghai Noon and he had a movie that he was thinking about doing. I didn't know that anything would come to pass from that, but then they got in touch with me and so, yeah, I was excited to work on it. It's just a lot easier, an animated movie. I find it's more sort of...you're in your own imagination, more like a kid, whereas on a movie you go through wardrobe, hair and makeup. This, it's more sort of pure. They kind of tell you and you're, 'Okay,' and you start seeing it all in your head. I liked it that way."
Eddie Izzard: "I was asked if I wanted to do something with Pixar and John Lasseter and they've just done some incredible stuff. They really work on story really hard. I love this world. I really love The Incredibles - I know it was a different director. Toy Story is beautiful. Animation is going into a different place. I was talking with John just before this, the world that this goes to it gets so real, and I used to like toy trains and they had these little shops you could get. And I wanted to be in those shops. I think people do when they go to adventure films; they want to escape to those worlds because you have your own problems in real life. And if you can escape into these worlds... And it gets so real. London, that is London. It's kind of amazing that they can do that, so it's great to be working with them."
Do you remember your first car?
Eddie Izzard: "Mine was a mini. I grew up with Volkswagen Beetles, but the mini was my first car. It had holes in the front and the water was coming in, which doesn't make any sense because it means that we were actually driving through water. There was water where my feet go; there was water in the passenger seat."
Owen Wilson: "My first car was a Chevrolet Blazer."
How is being a star of an animated film different from being a star of a live-action film?
Eddie Izzard: "I just think it's a director's [film]. It really gives everything to the director and they can play with it. He must have come in a few times and said, 'Can you do this? We changed the story here.' I didn't know what the story was in the first place because they're making it up and you're just doing your bits. I love animation and doing that. It's great to do this. I get more gritty satisfaction from doing live-action because I can really control where I'm driving the character."
Being a parent, was it a different experience doing Cars 2 than doing Cars 1?
Owen Wilson: "Probably not so much. I mean, he's five months old."
Are you looking forward to him watching it?
Owen Wilson: "I am. I think that's they're building a Cars land at the theme parks. So something like that, I imagine, in a few years will be a fun destination for me."
Eddie Izzard: "That's going to be weird. So your kid is probably going to hear your voice throughout..."
Eddie, your style of comedy is much different than Larry the Cable Guy's.
Eddie Izzard: "It is, because we come from different worlds. Larry comes from a different world of comedy, but he played the character very nice. I just watched the first cuts this morning but, yeah, it's very nice - very nice timing because it can be overplayed. And I thought the way he looked that he would be more broad, but it isn't. It's really pared back so it's nice."
Owen Wilson: "I know that that was kind of one of the exciting things about doing this one was it just felt like kind of a new movie because it was more this great adventure, this international adventure, and then this world of spy and intrigue with Mater. And then our sort of friendship, I just thought it was funny the way they did those scenes."
What kind of a driver are you in real life? Do you get speeding tickets?
Owen Wilson: "The Prius is a good car because it's not a car you really feel that you want to fly around in, so it actually kind of...I don't get a lot of speeding tickets."
Eddie Izzard: "Can you tell what speed you're doing from the feel of it?
Owen Wilson: "It feels a bit shaky when it gets up to high speeds, so you don't want to just be hauling ass in a Prius along the PCH."
Is there a haul ass car besides the Prius?
Owen Wilson: "I do have a Porsche. Yeah, I have a Porsche that I got. I remember Luke, my brother, always wanted a Porsche and I'm not that big into cars. And then over on Wilshire there's a Porsche dealership and I went in there and ended up getting one. And Luke kind of felt like, 'That's the car I wanted!' and so then he got one. And then we, I'm sure, looked pretty obnoxious with matching Porsches because at that point we were living together."
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Cars 2 hits theaters on June 24, 2011.