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Larry The Cable Guy, Nathan Fillion, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Lea DeLaria: The Cars 3 Interview

Thank you to Disney and Pixar for hosting me during the Cars 3 Event. All interview photos courtesy of Lousie Bishop/

I went into our interview with Larry The Cable Guy, Nathan Fillion, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Lea DeLaria with two goals. The first was to ask Nathan a question, and I had the perfect one ready. The second was to get Isiah to say his famous tagline at some point during the interview. To the first, my beautifully thought out question was asked by someone else before I even had the chance. (So much for any claims I might have on originality.) The second? Well, I opened the interview with a totally inelegant question hoping to get him to say it. And he didn’t. Don’t worry, though. This story, just like Cars 3, has a happy ending.

For obvious reasons Isiah’s famous tagline didn’t make it into the movie, but did it ever come out while he was in the recording booth?

Isiah: I don’t think so. I mean, I wish I had a better answer for you, but I don’t think so. I was trying to be respectful, you know? I think it probably came out at one point, and maybe they recorded it and it’s there, but I don’t think so.

That’s me, failing at one of my missions.

From left: River Scott (voice of Isiah Whitlock Jr.), Junior “Midnight” Moon (voice of Robert Glenn “Junior” Johnson), Smokey (voice of Chris Cooper), Louise “Barnstormer” Nash (voice of Margo Martindale), and Lightning himself (voice of Owen Wilson). ©2017 Disney•Pixar

Did they improv any of their lines?

Larry: Well, I always do improv on it, from when we did the first one. I remember when I first did it, my opening line that I ever did in Cars was. “My name’s Mater, like Tomater, without the To!” I remember going, “Hey, my name’s Mater, just like Tomater, without the To!” And he [John Lasseter] was laughing. And I go, “Well, can I do it another way?” He goes, “No, do whatever you want, as long as you’re staying close to the script.” So that’s when all of the “dadgum” and “gee!”…that’s when all of that stuff [was] coming about. There was a couple of parts in here. I haven’t seen it. So, there was a few parts where Mater was supposed to be doing something, but he was supposed to be singing a song, and we had a couple of things, but we didn’t know if he liked it. And they said, “Look, [we] need to come up with something else. Just come up with something else, and next time we tape, we’ll do those.” So I went home and I wrote a bunch of limericks. And so that’s when I actually went home, and actually wrote something. But for the most part, generally, when I’m doing my lines all free from for them, I’ll do it just like the line a couple or three times, and then I’ll do it, “Hey, let me try this one!” And that’s generally the one where they go “Oh, that’s good!”
Nathan: It’s so weird. Because when I improv, they always go, “That’s great, stick to the lines.” In the booth, you know? “That’s great. Stick to the lines.”
Isiah: I always say, just, look, I’m just gonna start talking, cut me off when you’re ready to cut me off. Just tell me. Just tell me to stop, okay?
Nathan: Stop. We’re at a table. [Laughs]
Isiah: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

How did Isiah’s voice role compare to acting on television?

Isiah: I always jump at the chance to do something different, different characters. And this opportunity came along and I was just thrilled about it. It was totally different. I was in the booth by myself, with my own imagination, and I found it quite liberating. Just laying down the voice and everything like that. To me, that’s kind of what keeps you going, is that you’re not always playing the same thing over and over and over again. And even when I’m doing that, I can always find something about the character that’s gonna be kind of interesting. So that’s what I try to do.

Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) Sterling (voice of Nathan Fillion) ©2017 Disney•Pixar

Nathan referred to his character as “charming” in earlier interviews. Does he still find him charming or more “slimy”?

Nathan: That’s fair, that’s fair. I always find that charming, I think, is one of the more misleading directions when you’re reading a screenplay, or a script. People see “charming” and they go skeevy, and they go a little weird. Charming people are not so much interesting as they are interested. They’re saying, “Hey. You are great. You are wonderful. You are the best.” But, in this case, as a businessman first, I think he puts Lightning McQueen into a “you are the best, you are the greatest, but I do have an ulterior motive.” So I think that’s where it gets a little skeevy.

And that’s me getting scooped by my friend Tonia. Another mission failed.

What called Nathan to this project?

Nathan: What called me to this is an opportunity to work with Pixar. I’m not going to lie to you guys. I’ve been to the Pixar facility twice. I’ve seen every Pixar movie. I’ve seen the Pixar documentary four times. I am into Pixar. Nothing happens in a Pixar movie by accident. They tell the story, one pixel at a time. It’s very, very careful filmmaking, and it’s very methodically planned out, and to be a part of it, you know you’re going to be a part of a story well told, and it’s going to be beautiful, and it’s going to last. It’s going to be a story that lasts. So, over and above anything else, I will do anything for Pixar. And, point of fact, I actually did some janitorial work for them two weeks ago. I’m not picky.
Larry: And he was charming while he did it.
Isiah: And skeevy.
Nathan: And skeevy.

Did they have an emotional response to the film?

Isiah: I found it very emotional. I found myself tearing up a little bit, and kept saying, “Okay. Think about something else. Think about something else. Don’t start crying.” But you know, when they deal with change and aging and things like that and moving on, you know… [Fake cries.] “That’s like my career!” I brought my sunglasses with me, so I could put those on, and pretend like I was just sitting cool in the movie theater. But I did see it, and I found it just extremely emotional. I think the story’s going to be powerful.

Was working on the third film different for Larry than the first two?

Larry: I gotta tell you, these are always hard questions to answer, because when we do the voices, we don’t see anybody else, we don’t know anything else, we know the script, we kind to know what’s supposed to happen, but you don’t really see anybody else, you don’t interact with anybody else. So, when you’re doing your emotional part that you’re supposed to be doing, you’re just doing it with John Lassiter sitting on a chair, with a piece of paper, telling you, “Okay, this is what is gonna happen,” and so you do the part…I’m glad that it’s ripping everybody’s hearts out, so that’s what it’s supposed to do. As far as Mater is concerned, I knew when I taped it, Mater had some pretty good scenes with McQueen. When I do Mater, I want Mater to be lovable, and I want him to be funny. Whenever there’s a scene when it’s really sad, you want Mater to pop in and lighten the mood up a little bit. So I hope that’s what Mater did.

Who are their personal or professional mentors?

Nathan: Bob Woods, who played my uncle on One Life to Live. I wouldn’t have moved to Los Angeles without his sage advice.
Larry: You know what’s crazy? That’s my mine too! [Laughs]
Nathan: So odd.
Isiah: I had a mentor in college, and he had seen me in a play in college, and he was kind of like this nutty, crazy professor that everybody kind of stayed away from, but this guy said, he pulled me aside and he says, “Look, I saw you in a play last night.” And he says, “I thought you were great. You got to get out of Minnesota, man. You got to go to New York, and you got to start knocking on doors.” And I thought, knocking on doors? What? Just going around to people’s apartments? Just knocking on doors? I took him literally… But the one thing he told me, he says, “If you really want to be a great actor, you’ve got to start studying psychology. You’ve got to know the human condition. You’ve got to know how people tick, and how you can figure out all of these characters,” and so I thought, okay, I’m gonna try that. And I studied psychology for about two years. And I just play a bunch of characters who’ve got problems. But it was some of the best advice I had ever gotten. And when people talk about mentorship, I always think about this guy, because I really did sort of learn about the human condition, and what makes people do what they do, and how they believe that they’re right in what they do. So, that was some of the best advice I’d ever gotten in my life.

(Pictured L-R) – Guido, Sally, Sarge, Mater and Luigi. Disney © 2017 Disney•Pixar

How did Larry come up with the name Larry The Cable Guy?

Larry: In all seriousness, I know I said Bob [was my mentor], but mine would’ve been Jeff Foxworthy. I have known Foxworthy for 30 years, and he really gave me awesome adviceabout the business, and how to be kind to people, and be kind to your fans, and so he would’ve been my mentor. But, how I came up with the name Larry the Cable Guy is, I was doing standup, and you always go on stage, and you’d try new stuff out. And I’m a big rodeo fan, and I used to watch mesquite championship rodeo on Sundays. I’m a country kid, so I grew up in a small town in Southeast Nebraska. And I did this rodeo cowboy, got kind of a laugh. And so the next day I changed it to a cable installer, and it got a big laugh. And I had a buddy of mine who had a morning show, and he said, “You’ve got to call our morning show, that’s funny. You should pretend you’re the cable guy.” And so I called up. And I remember the first time, the first thing I ever said on the radio. I called up and I said, “Hey, Ron & Ron, what’s goin’ on, fellers?” And they go, “Well, who is this?” “It’s the cable guy. Y’all said y’all wanted that hookup down there, didn’t you?” And they said, “Well, what’s your name?” And I didn’t really know. And I’m going, “Uh…Larry!” “Oh. It’s Larry the Cable Guy?” And it just caught on, and I started calling as Larry the Cable Guy, and then I got syndicated over in Orlando, which syndicated me into Tulsa and to Baltimore. And I was a standup. I was still doing standup. But I was doing these calls while I did standup. I ended up getting syndicated, around the country, on 27 radio stations, getting up every morning, doing radio calls. 27 stations. All different times. I think I did 14 was the most I did in a day, but I’d do five days a week, for 13 years every day, doing a commentary and “get ‘er done” just started getting popular from the radio, and so then everybody just started calling me Larry. And that wasn’t my name, but it was my radio name. And so it just kind of stuck. Kind of a nickname, more than anything else. And that’s how Larry the Cable Guy came to be on stage, when I was doing a show in St Petersburg. A buddy of mine owned a comedy club, I walked in, and it said on the billboard, “Dan Whitney, AKA Larry the Cable Guy,” and both shows sold out. And I said, “What’s going on, you got a convention here or something? I can’t find a place to park.” And they go, “No. They’re coming to see you.” And I said, “Wow. I didn’t know he was going to do that.” I went on stage, and people started going, “Get ‘er done, get ‘er done.” And I couldn’t do my regular act. And I went into Larry the Cable Guy, and [Cheers]. And then if I came out of the act… I couldn’t follow it. And I got off stage. And the guy, Lester McCurdy, from McCurdy’s Comedy Club, said, “Can you do your whole show like that?” And I said, “Yeah. You know, I act like a redneck all day long, ’cause I is one. It’s like what Jeff says, “’cause I is one.” And so he took my name off, and it said “Larry the Cable Guy.” And I took the stage as Larry the Cable Guy, and then I started weeding out all of the other stuff that I had and I started rebooking dates as Larry the Cable Guy. And that’s how I was born. That was it. It was all completely by accident. I never thought it out. It just evolved into what it became, so that’s how it happened.

So is he happy being called Larry?

Larry: It’s fine with me. Call me Denise for all I care.
Isiah: I think I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna take my name off, and just put “Sheeeeee-it.”

Victory is mine! Sure, I totally failed on my earlier attempt to get Isiah to say his line, but he did it in the interview and I’m taking full and total credit for it.

And audio, because this needs to be saved forever.

Has social media changed what they do?

Larry: Social media is just great for getting out. It’s a good way to talk to your fans. Me, as a comedian, I have a Facebook, but my Facebook has over five million people on it, and I always keep that updated. I always keep stuff funny on it. You want people to come to your Facebook. It’s become your new website, you know. I have a website, Larrythecableguy dot com. I don’t really keep it up, not as much as I do that,
because everybody is going to Facebook. So, everything on Twitter, I love, because Twitter is not as many people, and you can communicate with everybody. So, I mean
I have almost 500,000 on Twitter. But, you know, if you check it like I do all the time, I mean, when the kids go to bed, when my wife goes to bed, that’s when I pretty much just hang out on Twitter and talk to people. It’s fun, you know. It’s manageable, and you can talk. I can talk, I can generally talk to most people. Now, if I’m on there after something and you do something and, say, after my History Channel show, whenever that would air, there’d be 500 messages. You can’t get to those. But, generally, if you check it once every hour and a half, you’re going to have 17, 18 messages. You can pretty much answer everybody. I think it’s awesome. I think it’s really cool that you can actually get responded to by a celebrity. I mean, if  back in the day, when I was coming
up if I could actually go online, and my favorite baseball players or my favorite actors would actually send me a response, I would be a fan for life. And I think that’s the cool thing about social media, and I always try to stay engaged, as much as I can.
Nathan: I’m gonna completely agree. Engagement is a fantastic word. Because it’s a way to engage with your fanbase, that doesn’t revolve around work or any publicity due. It’s stuff that you’re entirely in control of, so you can personalize it as you wish. You can share, you can be personal with it, you can share your private things, you’re entirely in control. But it is one-on-one. There’s nothing in between you and the fandom at that point, so you can engage with your fans, one-on-one, or just kind of get a general idea of what everybody is about, but I love that word. Engagement. You can engage with people. And I couldn’t do that when I was a kid.
Larry: No.
Nathan: I would’ve been like, “William Shatner?!”
Larry: It’s awesome.
Nathan: Because, I do that, as an adult, and I get to meet him and hang out with him.
Lea: I feel the same way these guys feel about engagement with my fans. I mean…I’m not 110 years old, so I’m more over at Instagram. [Laughs] That was a shot. I go on Twitter more as an afterthought… You can go on social media and see how it tears down. My fan base, because of Cars and Orange is now a much younger base than I used to have. I’m a lot older than people realize, so they’re on Instagram. So I reach out a lot on Instagram, I post every day, I try to respond. Especially, they direct-message you, so only you can read it and no one else on Instagram. So, for that, I mean, just in terms, politically for me, as an openly gay activist, I get a lot of people that DM me, about problems, which I take very seriously. And I’m the same way. I try to keep up on it. I can’t do it every hour, every half hour. I actually have someone now who helps me with my social media, because it’s just gotten a little out of hand. But I think that it’s the best way to reach people, and also, Twitter is a great way to keep up with the president.

How did Lea become involved in the project?

Lea: They called me. Why would I want to be Miss Fritter? Have we seen her? She’s awesome. I mean, come on. Her stop sign is a buzz saw. She’s terrific. Also, I grew up where they do stock cars. I grew up where demo derby was a big deal. I grew up in a really small town on the very tip of Illinois that’s right by Kentucky. So that was like, a Friday night entertainment for me. So the idea of being the queen of the demolition derby? Awesome. And they let me say the high school that I went to. A shoutout to that. That’s the side of the bus is the high school that I went to. Which is, I mean, the people of Belleville, Illinois, which is a tiny little town, they’re gonna go nuts when they see that. It’s kind of awesome. And so when they came at me and said, “Do you want to do this?” I was like, “Yeah. I have a really good idea of how to play her.” And they were all in and, as was I. So it was awesome.

Miss Fritter (voice of Lea DeLaria) and Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) ©2017 Disney•Pixar

Did they have input into their character’s appearance?

Nathan: They eyes are dead on. [Laughs]
Lea: Miss Fritter, if she was here, I would say, she captures my essence. Completely.
Isiah: I didn’t have any input. And because of that everybody says, “Oh, it looks like you,” and I’m like, “Well, I didn’t design that…” but it’s loveable.
Larry: I had no input. My teeth looked just like Mater’s, until Pixar made me enough money to make veneers. I was [holds up Mater toy] this was the original inspiration.

There’s plenty of Cars 3 Event Coverage to catch up on. Cars 3 is in theaters now!

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

As The Bunny Hops®