Back To School With Monsters University Interviews

In Features by Matt Isard

This July, Pixar takes us back to in time to see how those loveable monsters, Sulley and Mike, first met in Monsters University. To celebrate the return of the much-loved duo, Filmjuice sent Matt Isard to chat to the film’s Producer Kori Rae, Director Dan Scanlan, and actress Helen Mirren for an insight into the wonderful world of Monsters Inc 2 …

Dan Scanlan, why did you decide to go backwards instead of forwards with this movie?
We knew we wanted to do something that explored the relationships between Mike and Sulley further and we really just thought the best thing to do would be to go back.

This one is for Kori Rae. How many alterations to the story did you make during the filmmaking process?
Probably hundreds. We focused on the story, put it up on storyboard form, edited, cut it together and then looked at it with other directors at the studio and then tore it down. Then we put it back up and took all the notes and a few months later showed it again and got everybody’s notes and tore it back down. We worked on it constantly for the whole four years.

Helen, your character, Dean Hardscrabble, is quite an intimidating teacher did you base her on anyone in your past?
No I didn’t. Although funnily enough today I remembered my grammar school headmistress. I was so frightened of her, but she gave me the best advice I’d ever had. She said “The worst thing about fear is fear itself”. She was scary, but she was actually quite wise and I like to think Dean Hardscrabble is like that.

Was it difficult to get into character?
It’s wonderful to have a director who allows you to experiment and do different things. Eventually the character appears as a combination of you, and the director. Once I had found the right voice, then the character sort of followed quite naturally.

So what scares each of you?
Dan: Clowns are horrifying.

Kori: Public speaking!

Helen: Very scary clowns aren’t they? I was terrified of clowns too.

Helen, in a sense the film is about lost dreams. Can you identify with that?
What I think that it is very annoying – and we all experience this – is watching people who seem to get everything they want without having to work for it. The rest of us do have to struggle and fight and get knocked back and have to come forward again. There are a privileged few who seem to waft through life without ever hitting any adversity. I think 99.9 percent of professional people have had to struggle to get where they are.

What scenes and characters did you have to let go, Dan?
What’s nice about Pixar, and even the animation process, is it takes a long time so you have a lot of opportunity to fix things you don’t like. Around every corner Kori gave me an opportunity to make sure we dotted all the “i”s and crossed every “t”. There really isn’t a lot that I wish I could have done. Oh no we threw a ton out, don’t get me wrong. But I am glad it is gone.  … Every Pixar movie is horrible in the early stages. It goes through an awkward teenage stage and then hopefully it makes it out.

Who is your favourite monster of all time?
Kori: Well I am partial to this film and my favourite monster is actually Dean Harbscrabble.

Helen: I think the all-time terrifying monster that Dean Hardscrabble would be appreciative of was Alien …

Dan: Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion King Kong was really creepy.

The movie is all about fear. A question for all of you: how do you control your fears?
Dan: In regards to working on the movie we just focus on the story. There are a lot of distractions, but we don’t focus on any of that. Our job is to raise the baby that is the story and make sure that it is taken care of.

Helen: I think that’s exactly what you do – you get on with it. You go “OK I am frightened, but that’s not the end of the world”. The other good thing is to pretend that you’re not frightened. Someone gave me that advice: just to act as if you’re not frightened.

Dan and Kori, you tread a fine line in this movie … You want the monsters to be cute, you want them to be appealing, but they also need to be scary …?
Kori: The Production Designer and Dan, and the artists work on each character individually, trying to find what’s needed for the story and how that character fits in with the whole film. It’s a cool thing to watch because they will start out with something and, then a week or two later, it will morph into something else.

Dan: Hopefully the characters doing the scaring are the ones we are familiar with … Sulley and Mike. So the kids are fine with these guys.

Dame Helen, as an actor, do you ever stop learning?
I am always overwhelmed by other people’s abilities and want to learn from them. I would have loved to have been in a room with Billy [Crystal] and John [Goodman] and learnt how they did what they do so brilliantly.

Monsters University opens in UK cinemas on 12th July.