Ed O’Neill was a little surprised when he was asked to be the voice of the cantankerous octopus Hank in the new animated Pixar film “Finding Dory.” He’d done a scant amount of voice work over the years.
He doesn’t completely dismiss a suggestion that the team behind the movie was just looking for someone who could come across as grumpy and his was the first name mentioned. He’s made a career of being humorously bitter on programs from “Married With Children” to “Modern Family.”
O’Neill’s theory is that Pixar chief John Lasseter had a lot to do with it.
“I found out that he used to come to a lot of the table readings for ‘Modern Family.’ I didn’t know he was there, because we have people who come in all the time,” O’Neill says. “Finally, someone told me who he was: ‘That’s the Pixar guy.’ ”
That Pixar guy has turned the animation studio into a major success with The first two “Toy Story” movies, “A Bug’s Life” and both “Cars” films. In 2003, Lasseter was executive producer of one of the biggest fish tales in Hollywood history in “Finding Nemo.”
He’s got the same job with the sequel that follows Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) as she tries to find her missing parents. Hank gives Dory the means to get around a marina where she is certain her family lives.
Whatever the reason, Pixar turned to O’Neill to voice Hank. The offer didn’t come with a script or even a few pages to explain what Hank would be doing. As far as O’Neill knew, Hank would be little more than a cameo appearance for him.
“I wanted to know, ‘Why would I sign on to do the project without more information?’ They said, ‘Because it’s Pixar.’ I took a leap of faith.”
Complicating matters, O’Neill had not seen “Finding Nemo” at the time of the offer – an oversight he has since corrected.
We have all either been parents or had parents. That’s universal and makes this a powerful movie.
Ed O’Neill on the appeal of ‘Finding Dory’
His character is a mimic octopus – it can impersonate other local species and predators. That skill comes in handy as Hank takes Dory on her long search. Early in the movie it appears that Hank will be the villain of the film because he’s only helping Dory as a way of bettering his own life.
Slowly, O’Neill began to see the real octopus behind all those tentacles.
“He is a very unhappy creature in his situation. He’s a loner. The accidental meeting with Dory is interesting because it is something she won’t remember,” O’Neill says. “But, they are drawn together by a mutual need.
“Over time, their friendship develops.”
O’Neill, not usually an actor who likes to deliver messages in his work, says “Finding Dory” is a move that “touches adults more than kids. We have all either been parents or had parents. That’s universal and makes this a powerful movie.”
That message is about family which fits perfectly with his starring role on “Modern Family.” O’Neill, the guy whom many groups were protesting against for his work on “Married with Children,” has settled into a career of family projects.
“People have asked me if I tried harder on ‘Finding Dory’ because of all the children,” O’Neill says. “That always reminds me of Jack Dempsey who said he didn’t need to dislike someone to fight better. Everybody gets the same thing no matter what job you are doing. If you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be in the business.”