John Ratzenberger Talks About ‘Toy Story 3’
Toy Story 3, perhaps the best movie of the year, is being released on Blu-ray on November 3. In anticipation of the much-desired disc, Disney has provided ComicMix with a series of interviews, beginning with this chat.
Question: How does it feel to return to the role of Hamm in Toy Story 3?
John Ratzenberger: To be honest, it feels like I never left Hamm because I’m constantly asked about the character. I bump into people at airports or I meet people whilst picking up my dry cleaning and someone will always tell me, “My 4-year-old son, Jason, loves Hammie the pig.” I’ll usually say, “Well, get him on the phone.” So we call him up and the mother will explain, “Hi honey, it’s Mommy. There’s somebody who wants to say hello.” Then they hand the phone to me and I’ll do some Hamm for them, “Hey Jason, it’s Hammie the pig. I understand you’re not eating your spinach…” I’ve been doing things like that ever since the first Toy Story came out, so Hamm has never been too far away.
Question: How would you describe Hamm?
John Ratzenberger: Hamm is a wise guy. He throws his opinion out regardless of whether anyone’s listening or not, which is what makes him so much fun. He’s a smart Alec and he’s not so offensive that people shun him, but he makes sure his comments are heard.
Question: What do you bring to the role?
John Ratzenberger: I bring whatever I have in my bag of tricks. They let me play around with the script at times, so there are a lot of my own words are in the movie. That’s the nice thing about Pixar: they let the actors experiment.
Question: How much fun did you have in the recording booth for the movie?
John Ratzenberger: Recording the voice of Hamm is always a great experience, but all of the heavy lifting has already been done because the guys at Pixar spend four years working on the story before I’m called in. All I have to do is give them five different readings of the same line so that they’ve got a variety to choose from. That way, they’ve got a great potpourri of lines to choose from.
Question: How much do you improvise in the sound booth?
John Ratzenberger: I tend to stick to the script, although I let
loose every now and then. There’s a line in the movie where Hamm says,
“Holy moly, guacamole!” That was my creation. There are quite a few in
Toy Story 3.
Question: It’s human nature to become lazy. Why is Pixar an anomaly?
John Ratzenberger: Because they are the originators. This is
John Lasseter’s world and he’s a pioneer. It’s as simple as that. Pixar
think of every single film they create as though it was their very first
movie. Every time they start work on a new film, they try to improve
themselves. It’s extraordinary.
Question: How much do you relate to the character of Hamm?
John Ratzenberger: Hamm loves trivia and irrelevant facts – and
that’s something I’m very fond of. When I was 14 years old, I decided I
wanted to learn how to build a house and everything inside it, so that’s
what I did. I pick up facts and knowledge about things that people
don’t normally cross in their day-to-day life. I’ve always been
fascinated by stuff like that. There’s no such thing as useless
knowledge to me. It doesn’t exist. You’re going to use it somewhere,
sometime, and at some point.
Question: Were you interested in acting from a young age?
John Ratzenberger: I didn’t act until I got to college and
that was because they were having more fun than anyone else. But I
didn’t even act then really. I was the understudy for the lead role and I
thought to myself, ‘This is great. I can go to all of the parties, but I
don’t have to do a thing.’ Then the lead actor quit the night before
opening night and I hadn’t even read the play.
Question: What was the play?
John Ratzenberger: The play was called Summer And Smoke by
Tennessee Williams and I had the lead role, Dr. John. I ended
improvising the entire second half of the show because the first act
didn’t go very well at all. I tried to perform the play word-for-word
with the help of a script girl hidden behind the stage curtain, but it
was painful for the audience. I didn’t know any of the lines, so I had
to keep walking off stage. You could hear the audience groaning, so I
decided to improvise for the second act.
The success of Toy Story 3 means you’ve got the chance to be the number one most successful actor of all time…
Well, you never know. It might be a nice thing to put on my business
card. ‘John Ratzenberger: number one box office star of all time.’ There
won’t be any phone number or anything else. Just that. I’ll let you
know if it happens.
Question: Why have we seen you in so many blockbusters?
John Ratzenberger: I don’t think there is a solid explanation;
I was just in the right place at the right time. During The Empire
Strikes Back, I was living in an abandoned building in London. I was so
poor that the green grocer used to save his rotten vegetables for me.
I’d carve out the rotten bits and put everything in a pot to make a stew
or a soup. I was having a tough time and I wasn’t making any money. I
spent my time throwing rocks at rats in an abandoned building and that
was it. But then I got a job on The Empire Strikes Back, but I had no idea if the movie was going to be a success or not. To me, I was just happy to have a job.
Question: What’s your favorite movie from all of the early blockbusters you worked on?
John Ratzenberger: I have always enjoyed traveling, so I guess Gandhi is my favorite because I got to go to India to shoot that movie. I also enjoyed working on a movie called Warlords Of Atlantis,
but nobody has ever heard of that one. I went to Malta to shoot
Warlords, so that was a great job. I’m not taking anything away from
Pixar and Toy Story 3, though. I have had a great time working on every single Pixar movie. Toy Story 3 is one of the greats.