Dave Foley is going back to school for the first time in a long time, and he’s doing it with the help of some old friends. The Canadian comedy icon and member of the influential and beloved sketch comedy troupe Kids in the Hall never had any previous experience with going to university himself. By his own admission he barely had any experience with high school, let alone higher learning. But he did have a previous working relationship with once growing talents still trying to find their way in the world.
Foley, as most of you might recall, was the leading voice actor for Pixar’s second feature A Bug’s Life. He would continue a relationship with the now ubiquitous animation studio and shows up this week in the long awaited sequel Monsters University as Terry, one half of a two headed, not particularly scary monster. In this prequel to the 2001 megahit Monsters Inc. that marked Pixar hitting their stride creatively, Terry and his other vastly more manic half Terri (Sean Hayes) are one of the creatures that now find themselves roommates with then less than friendly Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sully (John Goodman) in the most derided fraternity on the Monsters University campus, Oozma Kappa.
Foley met up with us earlier this morning in a boardroom at the Disney offices in Toronto (with his very own Pixar coffee mug that I hope he got to keep) to talk about coming back to work at Pixar, why it’s great to have a film to show to his kids, rumours of Kids in the Hall getting back together, how KITH was a lot like the fraternity in Monsters University, and if he ever had any roommate troubles of his own.
You were in A Bug’s Life when Pixar was still sort of in its infancy when it came to making features, and now it has become this almost unbeatable force in animation. What was it like to come back to it now and how has it been different from the first time you guys teamed up?
Dave Foley: It’s really been an ongoing relationship over the past few years. I’ve always stayed in touch with them. I had done some other stuff with them and some Disney stuff, like Prep and Landing at Christmas time for ABC, which was overseen by John Lasseter. And, I mean, there have been some Flick cameos here and there. Toy Story 2 has a Flick cameo in it, and he pops up again in Cars when they’re at the drive-in watching movies and there’s the all car version of Bug’s Life.
The company’s definitely changed a lot since A Bug’s Life. They’ve have a lot more successes since then, that’s for sure. They have this huge new campus now over in San Francisco. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is how they make a movie, where it’s just a constant process of refining and being comfortable to tear things apart that they’ve already done and go back in and sometimes start from scratch to just make sure they are making the best work possible. They’ll follow the best ideas no matter how much work it means. That amazes me about them, and they always bring up these really talented directors from within their system.
With the advancements that Pixar has at their disposal, do you have a lot more freedom as an actor to change lines and improvise a bit?
DF: Not really, but it is easier to implement changes, and again, they never shy away from that work. When I was working on A Bug’s Life, somebody improvised something in a session with Kevin Spacey that they really liked, but they ended up having to bring me back in to re-do my previous session. Even if it was something they already partially animated, they would throw out the animation and start all over again. It was all about getting what they liked. But for the actors, the freedom was always there. They always gave you that and they took the burden of the work that it meant.
Pixar has so far failed to make a bad movie. I haven’t seen one of their films where I haven’t had a great time. It would be hard for me to pick a favourite. But you have these moments like the first 20 minutes of Up or the entire first act of Wall-E where you just recognize that these are exceptional moments in film history.
When you do a kids film like this where they can’t see you but they can hear your voice, do you get a lot of the kids recognizing you or is it more the parents?
DF: It’s usually the parents, and then I’ll startle the kids by just saying (in Flick’s voice) “Princess Atta!” (laughs) Then they just get scared. It’s like the alien from Alien just popped out of my chest. (laughs)
We’re you ever involved with the Bug’s Life section of Disney World at all?
DF: Yeah, yeah! I was. Very much so. We recorded the It’s Tough to Be a Bug 3-D film for the opening of the wild animal park in Orlando, and I was there for the opening that. And when they opened up California’s Great Adventure, they added a bug exhibit to that, and John brought me in to do some voices for that. It was kinda great getting to be involved with a theme park. It was something my daughter was very proud of, and I get some pretty sweet deals at Disneyland now.
Now that Pixar seems a bit more open to sequels, would you ever consider doing a follow-up to A Bug’s Life?
DF: I haven’t heard of anything, but I would definitely be up for it. I also wish they would do a 3-D release of Bug’s Life. I would love to see that in 3-D. I don’t think there’s any plans for it. We’re kind of a forgotten Pixar film. (laughs)
When you’re doing a film with this many comedic talents where you’ll rarely be in the same room at the same time, how do you approach and prepare for what other people might say or do if you sometimes you can’t see or hear it yourself?
DF: I generally don’t prepare at all… for anything really. (laughs) Especially when you walk into something like this, you really just have to rely on and trust the director. They have to have the full vision of what the actor has to do, what everyone else has done, and what the action is going to be and the tone of it.
On this one, I actually had the fun of being able to record with Sean Hayes. They scheduled it so that we could come in and play off each other, and improvise, and find ways to sort of talk over each other and make it feel more like that sibling dynamic that these two heads had.
When I did A Bug’s Life, I never actually met with any of the other cast on that one. There it was John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton in the room with me sitting with me and doing all of the character voices. Also, John would get up and act out the whole movie for you. I remember going to the audition for A Bug’s Life and John acted everything out for me from beginning to end just before I read. (laughs) It made me want to work with him, but I just wondered, “Who IS this guy?” (laughs)
What was it like having to be the straight man to Sean Hayes?
DF: (laughs) Well, I guess for me to be the straight man to Sean it was pretty easy. But I love working with Sean. I did five episodes of Will and Grace with Sean where I was the only boyfriend that Jack had during the whole run of the show. Actually, when I was doing that I went to Palm Springs right after doing those episodes, and I had never been more famous in my life. (laughs) Having been on Will and Grace and being in Palm Springs, which if you don’t know is kinda sorta like a gay retirement community in a lot of ways. That is THE most famous I ever was.
Is it a bit more relaxing to be in the room with the person you have to work alongside?
DF: Yeah, definitely. I think they’ve just always done it that way whenever they could. I think Billy Crystal and John Goodman did some of their sessions together, and sometimes Tom Hanks and Tim Allen would be together. But to get the supporting characters like mine into a room together was really rare. A lot of that is just scheduling issues and trying to cater to that.
hankfully, I don’t think we did anything raunchy that could get leaked. (laughs) I think we generally stuck to the genre pretty well.
Were you actually tethered to Sean Hayes, and if so, how long do you think you could last?
DF: (laughs) No. The sound engineers wouldn’t have allowed that. I could last years. He’s a delightful man to be around.
Did you have any similar experiences with higher learning like in the film?
DF: I barely had any experience with high school! So, no. I dropped out of high school. My only ever exposure to fraternities was playing on college campuses with Kids in the Hall.
Where do you think you might have fit in on a university campus?
DF: Um, not at all. (laughs) I never would have been in a fraternity. Maybe if the kind of fraternity like Oozma Kappa existed then I would join them. But I would never fit in with frat boys very well.
Your character in the film has a lot of offbeat roommates. Have you been lucky enough to avoid such things?
DF: For the most part, I’ve never had a roommate. I’ve just had wives. (laughs)
But you never had a house full of wives, right?
DF: No, but… wait… well? (pauses, laughs) No, I’m not like Andy Dick who has several of his wives living with him at the same time.
The only roommates I ever had were people crashing with me. I had Wally Langham from Larry Sanders and CSI living with me when he got divorced. He was there for a while and he once remarked that we were the less attractive version of Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. (laughs). John Kastner from the Doughboys also came to live with me for a bit when he first moved to LA. Those were the only times I ever really had roommates, but they were mostly just people who were living in my house. We never had to share the TV or anything.
Is it strange at this point in your career to get offered something that’s essentially a frat house comedy that’s decidedly more G-rated than your adult fans might be used to?
DF: I guess. I’m just thinking back on how un-genial some of my other stuff has been. (laughs) Yeah, but then again, I mean that’s the other side of my career. From Kids in the Hall onward there’s always been this dark side of what I do. I still enjoy doing that and doing things that even my own children aren’t allowed to see, but definitely doing something like this is great. It’s the other sort of ongoing side of my career to be able to come in and do animation and play roles I wouldn’t get to normally play otherwise. It was certainly the only way I was ever going to get the chance to play a college student. (laughs) I’m a little past that.
Monsters University has a really big competition aspect to it, and it’s kind of similar to what a lot of people have to do coming up as comics. Did you ever see any parallels there?
DF: (laughs) No, not at all really, thankfully. BUT the competition here that you see between (Mike and Sully) within the actual team was very much kind of like being on Kids in the Hall. The biggest competition we ever had was just trying to get past each other. There’s definitely that strong parallel: The fine line between competition and teamwork. I mean, with Kids in the Hall there was this bitter rivalry that came up. We were always really mean to each other, but at our best moments there was always tremendous amounts of teamwork. Once we could agree on what we were doing – which was always the hard part – everybody just worked really hard to make each other look good. That’s the message of this movie. There has to be that balance a lot of times in life between individual performance and working as a team and being responsible for each other. So, it’s a bit of a socialist theme. (laughs)
Is that balance something you often look for in your career to be able to go between projects like this?
DF: Yeah, but I just like all forms of comedy. The stuff that I usually come up with myself usually tends to be a little on the dark side, so it’s great to be able to expand that and work with other material. It’s also great to be able to do something that my kids can actually see. Also, I’m just a huge fan of animation and I have been my entire life. To get to be involved with animation has always an unexpected thrill. When I was growing up, I always wanted to be in animated movies.
Have you talked at all with the other guys from Kids in the Hall about possibly getting back together at some point?
DF: We have! We’ve been trying for the last year to figure out some time to get together and sit down and just write and thing about what we want to do. A lot of the time it’s just a matter of sitting down to write and see what that writing leads to, whether that’s a movie – which we’ve talked about – or something else. I would love to do another miniseries. I had so much fun working on Death Comes to Town. Also, every few years we would get together and go back on the road, so that could happen. In fact, all of the guys are going to come up and do a guest spot on the sitcom that I’m doing now. We’ll get together for that, so that will probably give us some time to figure out the next project.
You’ve certainly come a long way since having a bit part in Three Men and a Baby.
DF: Yeah! That was the only time my mother was ever impressed that I was in show business, and it was because I got to meet Tom Selleck. (laughs) I was a pharmacy clerk when he goes to buy diapers, and my one line is “Down to the end and two aisles over.” Of course, growing up I was a huge Star Trek fan and I got to be directed by Leonard Nimoy. His entire direction to me was [in Nimoy’s voice] “Faster David.” So that was kind of a thrill.
It’s interesting to hear that you’re such a sci-fi fan since you don’t have very many of those credits to your name. Is that something you would like to possibly try and do more of one day?
DF: Yeah! I love sci-fi. The only things I’ve done were an episode of Stargate: Atlantis and an episode of Eureka. Those were sadly the only opportunities I’ve gotten on that front, but I would love to do more of it.