Jason Isaacs talks about his delight at being asked to voice a couple of characters in Cars 2, as well as how he came to realise the secret behind Pixar's success. He also reflects on some of his own car experiences, including performing stunts with Jackie Chan.
When you were doing the voices for Cars 2, weren't you also busy working on something completely different? Did that involve an interesting process for you?
Jason Isaacs: I was filming something else in Los Angeles and the phone call came and they said: "Listen, John Lasseter wants..." I said: "I'm in!" They said: "No, it's a little part..." But I said: "I don't care, I'm in! I don't care what it is!" So, they said it's Cars 2. So, I reiterated: "If they want me to go to Pixar and clean the windows with my tongue, I'm in..." I'm a massive fan of all their work, and particularly John's work, and for all the fantastic technological achievements, he's also a master storyteller and that's the most important thing. So, I trusted him and I was in. So, the caller then said: "Well, they've invited you to Pixar for the weekend." I'm a total techno-geek, so the idea of doing that was a total wet dream for me, but I couldn't go because I was filming. So, I went instead to a studio where I expected to be for about 10 minutes because I'm fleetingly in the film, luckily playing a brilliantly realised character [Siddeley, the jet], but instead all the storyboards were there. My first meeting was with [co-director] Brad Lewis, before I met John, and this uncontainable enthusiasm was in the room. People from Pixar just couldn't help but share the story. I knew I was a big fan and I'd read articles about the process, but to see it first-hand, to see how they just were bubbling over with passion... they wanted to talk me through stuff that was already drawn, stuff that wasn't drawn, show me the models... I thought: "Now I get it, now I see why the films are so great..." It's not just attention to detail as a work of craft, it's an act of love, really, giving these stories to the world.
And you were then asked to do a second character [Leland Turbo]...
Jason Isaacs: Yes, I recorded Siddeley and I guess it worked out alright, or I was very cheap, but they very kindly asked me to do another part and I then had to re-record it while I was shooting in Scotland. So, John and I Skyped while I was in Scotland and we talked about baseball for an hour and a half before we even started recording. I was slightly star-struck, I have to confess... it took me about an hour and a half for me to get over the fact I was talking to John about baseball. But then we started recording, it's true that as you'll see they're incredibly collaborative and congenial and lovely people who love their jobs and are driven by storytelling. But there's something else as well... there's an obsessive perfectionism. So, when you record, even my tiny amount, they didn't let it go. It wasn't just 20 minutes of recording. You'll keep doing it until there is something truthful and dynamic and exciting and real and mysterious and all the things... I actually thought the work would be easy: it's a microphone, it's a plane, it's going to be... but no, they don''t really go easy on you when they record it because what you've heard about happens - they care about each other'' stories, they work with each other all the time and they don't want to release anything from the studio that isn't every bit as brilliant as the films they've made before. So, that's why these films occupy this pride of place in my household with my kids. So, I jumped at it all, whether it was recording in Scotland at 2am, or whatever. And the offer is still open to clean the driveways with my tongue!
Why do Brits make such good spies?
Jason Isaacs: I think that we don't say what we mean almost ever. Socially, we don't do it... from Jane Austen onwards, that's why the adaptations are so brilliant. We're very good at saying one thing and meaning another entirely and being utterly manipulative. With Americans, one of their great strengths and maybe weaknesses is that you know exactly what they're feeling and thinking when they talk most of the time. So, that's maybe it... we're maybe more successfully manipulative.
What is your favourite car? What was your first car? And do you have a favourite car memory?
Jason Isaacs: My first car, for which I saved up during my gap year before university, was a Talbot Horizon and James Nesbitt, the British actor, was going off on a tour of the world in a production of Hamlet and he gave me all his worldly possessions. So, there were three bags - one I remember was only shoes - so I put them in my car and went off to do a filming job and when I came back the council had taken it away and cubed it! The car I always wanted to drive was Kris Kristofferson's Ferrari Daytona from A Star Is Born, in which Barbra Streisand had one of the most terrifying perms in film history! But the car was very cool. And the only car thing I remember, which made me think of driving fast, was that I did a film with Jackie Chan a few years ago, called The Tuxedo, and we were sitting in the car one day and they were waiting to clear all the streets for the car chase. I remember that at something like 40mph they were going to double the speed, which I'd never done before, and Jackie said: "I hate all this... we don't do all this in Hong Kong [clear the streets]." I said: "What do you mean?" And he replied [in Jackie Chan voice]: "We don't clear no street, you don't tell the public, you drive, you crash, you pay people money..." I felt quite comfortable with our way of doing things!
Interview: Rob Carnevale Photo: Disney/Pixar