By any criteria, Cars 2 was a fabulously successful sequel, but that didn’t stop nitpickers from downgrading the Pixar film for its decision to build a spy thriller around Mater, the dimwitted tow-truck voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy (née Daniel Whitney). Lightning McQueen’s loyal sidekick’s shift into leading-truck status fueled a $551 million global blockbuster, and LCG isn’t about to apologize for that. “As long as I’m doing the voice and John Lasseter’s laughing and smiling and thinking it’s funny, I’m good,” says Larry. With Cars 2 out on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, Nov. 1, the Blue Collar comedian and host of the History Channel’s Only in America talks to EW about how Mater became a star and his reaction to the film’s critical reception. Then, in an exclusive clip from the Cars 2 Five-Disc Combo pack, the filmmakers explain why Mater was the perfect character to keep us laughing in the world of espionage.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Going back to the first film, did it feel like Mater was originally written with your voice in mind?
LARRY THE CABLE GUY: John Lasseter heard me on the Blue Collar CD and he said, “That’s the voice. That’s the voice of Mater.” I mean, if anyone would know Mater’s voice, it’s John, because he’s the guy who thought him up. But I remember when I was doing some shows in San Francisco, all the Pixar animators came out to watch me and we had a great time after, so I think they pretty much [made the character] from that. I went in for a six-hour voice session, but I think I only had like 25 lines. But they really liked what I had done with the character so they ended up rewriting a bunch of the movie. I just kept going back, seven or eight times, until we finally got it. And then we were at a party afterwards and John went up and said what a good job I did with Mater. It was really cool. I’m very thankful.
At what point during or after the first film did you learn that Mater was potentially the centerpiece of the sequel?
Well that came during the filming — just everybody coming up to me and complimenting me on the job I did on Mater and everybody saying he’s their favorite character and how he’s the heart and soul of this movie. That’s when I knew we really had something going. Then after the movie came out, and you read a lot of the reviews, it was all Mater. Everybody was talking about Mater. So I think just getting to know me — I came to a lot of their wrap parties — they got a pretty good inclination of how Mater is and how he acts, what he would do in certain situations.
Were you surprised when they told you there’s going to be a sequel, that it’s going to be a spy movie, and that it’s going to be built around Mater?
They didn’t really say that it was -- they said that McQueen’s going to do all these races and Mater’s going to go and be a fish out of water. John always used to talk about that when he used to travel, because there’s a lot of Mater in John. He’s a regular dude. You know, his wife’s from Arkansas. He’s got boys, and he’s a regular guy, so when he travels overseas, he’s like a fish out of water. There’s a lot of customs that he has to learn and he doesn’t know. So, he’s Mater.
As a voice actor, was the experience any different the second time around?
Yeah, it was. The first one, I had no clue what the hell I was doing. I was just doing the voice and trying to do it the way they wanted me to do it. And the first one turned out so good and it sold a ton of toys. Then, I [voiced] Mater's Tall Tales and toys, and when you do the toys, you gotta kind of speed up a little bit and my voice was a little higher. So I was just nervous because I wanted to make sure I had the right tone, and I wanted to make sure I recreated this same thing that I did in the first one.
The sequel turned out to be an even bigger global hit than the original, but that didn’t stop some critics from saying it wasn’t as good. Were you sensitive to such comments especially since the criticism often seemed directed towards your character?
No, not at all, and I’ll tell you why: I’ve never gotten a good critical review in anything I’ve ever done. And I keep getting busier and busier and selling more tickets and more tickets and more tickets. So I’ve never really worried what the critics said. As far as these kinds of thing go, you’ve got to look at them freaking kids over there that are playing with the toy trucks. You know, if I look over there and see a critic that’s 50 years old playing with a toy truck, there’s something wrong with them. As long as those kids like it, as long as my kids like it, that’s fine. As far as the critics go… whatever. I can’t control what they do. All I know is I did a good job and it did 550-something million dollars. So if that’s a disaster for Pixar, then I would say, let’s keep the disasters happening.
Your Larry the Cable Guy persona is so huge, and as you do more and more, it makes me think of someone like The Rock, who sometimes is The Rock and sometimes is Dwayne Johnson. Have you given much thought to differentiating between Larry the Cable Guy and Dan Whitney?
I haven’t really given it that much thought. The closest thing I’ve ever done where I’m being myself is the History Channel show that I do. And that’s 50 percent character and 50 percent myself. I guess if you could say that’s me weening myself off it, you could, but I don’t think so. I mean, I like what I do. I don’t really feel a need to find myself. I know who I am. I can separate entertainment from myself. When I’m home, I don’t walk around saying "Get-R-Done!" all the time with the kids.
I’m guessing being Mater gives you some credibility with your own kids.
At first, I don’t think they really got it. But now that they’re getting older, I think they realize it. It’s pretty fun: If they want to see Cars, they’ll say, "I want to watch Daddy," which is kind of cool. Some little boy [at school] brought a Cars Mater truck in for show-and-tell. 'Course my little boy is telling everybody, "Hey, that’s my Dad!"