BUNDY TALKS UNDER WATER
Voicing a cantankerous octopus named Hank in Pixar’s new feelgood family flick Finding Dory was a lot more difficult than Ed O’Neill had imagined
Oh, my God. I don’t think I wanna work that hard again. I did think about coming back for some kind of sequel, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of Hank being the star
Ask Ed O’Neill what springs to mind of his visit – with the rest of the Modern Family sitcom cast – to Australia in 2014 and a theme soon starts to emerge.
“I had those great meat pies down by that wharf … then I was up in one the oldest pubs in Sydney … then I found myself down at the docks where the big cruise ships come in and I had the fish ’n’ chips … Most of my time in Sydney,” he concludes, “was spent eating and drinking.”
It sounds as though it would be dangerous for O’Neill to spend too much time Down Under. “Oh,” he replies, “it definitely would be.” Though that Australian visit was almost two-and-a-half years ago, O’Neill had already started working on his new movie, Finding Dory. The long-awaited sequel to the beloved Pixar animation Finding Nemo, which sends the blue tang voiced by Ellen DeGeneres off on a whole new adventure, has been a lengthy and “interesting” ride, says O’Neill.
And giving voice to a cantankerous octopus named Hank – who’s missing a tentacle, has a caffeine habit and an ink-continence problem, would rather stay in captivity than return to the ocean, and who definitely doesn’t want to help Dory find her parents – turned out to be much harder work than O’Neill imagined.
“It was strenuous. These sessions are four hours long sometimes and the nature of the role (meant there was) a lot of tension, a lot of anxiety – trying to get from one place to another without being caught, and his frustration with Dory because she was always putting him in bad spots ... So it’s tiring.”
Though O’Neill had to “drink troughs of tea” to survive Hank’s yelling habit, the curmudgeonly sea creature did eventually find his way to a more soothing place.
“He started out damaged, phobic, mistrustful, angry, a loner, then because of a mutual need he started to have this adventure with Dory and before he knew it he was starting to like her and he was protected by her and he returned the favour,” O’Neill says. “Basically,” he adds, “Hank was pulled back into life.” Now the veteran actor is finding everyone who’s seen the film – including writer-director Andrew Stanton – considers Hank to be Finding Dory’s breakout character. Even the elder of his two daughters, 16-year-old Sophia, loved it – “and she can be critical,” O’Neill laughs. Could there be a Finding Hank in his future? “Oh, my God. I don’t think I wanna work that hard again. I did think about coming back for some kind of sequel, but I wasn’t thinking in terms of Hank being the star of the show, I was thinking more in terms of he probably makes a better sidekick.”
Far from looking for movies to headline, O’Neill admits he’s reached the point in his career where it might be time to slow down. After all, he did turn 70 in April.
“That was the hardest one,” he says. “Sixty didn’t bother me too much and 50 was a snap … but 70? No. That was a hard one. I’m losing the battle with that – I mean, what can you do?”
If it is time to wind down, O’Neill – whose defining roles include Ed Bundy in Married … With Children and Glen the nihilistic diner manager in Wayne’s World – can’t say he’s unsatisfied with his accomplishments.
“I could always say I wished I had a better film career … but overall, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. If you can sustain a career over 40 years in this business, you’ve gotta consider yourself lucky.”
We’re not finished with him yet, of course. He’ll step back into Modern Family patriarch Jay Pritchett’s shoes when season eight starts shooting in August.
“After eight,” he says of the show’s future, “I think we’ll either go on and do two more, or we’ll call it a day.” Finding Dory is in cinemas now