Interview: Janeane Garofalo and Patton Oswalt from “Ratatouille”
Interview: Janeane Garofalo and Patton Oswalt from “Ratatouille”

The Massie Twins sat down with Janeane Garofalo and Patton Oswalt, voice-acting stars of the latest Pixar computer-animated feature “Ratatouille” to discuss their work.


The Massie Twins: We’ve heard little things here and there about the ridiculously awesome Pixar studio. Can you tell us about it?

Janeane Garofalo: Brigadoon!

Patton Oswalt: I felt like just because I’ve been invited to visit that place my career gone in a good direction – that was more of a reward than getting the part! It’s like the Willy Wonka Factory without the creepiness and the orange midgets. Everyone gets to design their own cubicles; one cubicle looks like a cave and one like a jungle and then there’s one cubicle that looks normal like something from Office Space. There’s nothing on it and it really stands out. But the wall moves and there’s a speakeasy there and they have their own underground casino with ’20s and ’30s jazz playing, a roulette table, and craps. They think, “What’s the coolest thing we can do?” and that’s what they do.

JG: And there’s random razor scooters leaning against walls that you can jump on. There’s also a make your own sundae bar, a cappuccino maker…

PO: … every cereal known to man …

JG: It’s not just “let them eat cake” decadence, it’s because it’s the pinnacle of that level of animation. There’s only a finite amount of jobs available for all those who would like to work at Pixar. It’s like getting into Harvard. And when you get there your reward is that you’ve gone to Brigadoon. It’s like Shangri La. Once you work at Pixar, you do not want to NOT work at Pixar. You can wear whatever you want, and there are no strict work times. They don’t want you to leave. They want you to stay and produce great art.

PO: There are trainers there. Trainers hang out and train people. The writers can take life-sculpting classes; computer programmers can take creative writing classes.

MT: How difficult was it to master your French accent, Janeane?

JG: I had never spoken French before, and I’ve never been to France, so I had a CD of a French man speaking English that I copied. I lost that CD so I turned on CNN International and they had a French anchor and I copied him. I did my vocal tracks over two years. I’ll let you be the judge if I had a good French accent.

MT: How much improvisation did you two get to do?

JG: None for me.

PO: I didn’t do any!

JG: You have artists animating the text. It would be terribly impolite to change the line they just spent three months laboring on.

PO: We’ve spent a lot of time writing, and we know when it’s time to “improv” but I also know when I look at a script and am anxious to read it the way it’s written. It’s a Brad Bird script – it’s airtight. Rather than “I’ve got to get the Patton Oswalt feel on this” it’s Brad Bird directing – I’ll just stay out of the way of this great movie.

MT: What’s your favorite medium? Standup, TV, movies?

PO: I like ‘em all. They’re all equally fun. Standup is the most fun, definitely. Acting is the most rewarding, but writing to me is the most satisfying when I do it well. I want to pursue them all equally. It’s like saying “which do you prefer more: water or food?” I like them both.

JG: I like standup the best, because I’ve been doing it the longest and I’m the most passionate about it. George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Cheech and Chong were a huge influence. Acting I don’t have control over. I don’t have any power in the business. I get hired if I’m lucky. I haven’t achieved the level where I have any control over whether I work or not work. It doesn’t provide the release of standup comedy. We’ve been doing these shows and there’s something so gratifying about the freedom. We write it, we say it; we can change it every night.

PO: I can do it any order I want, take it any direction I want. If someone says something or if something weird happens I can pursue that for awhile.

JG: I also like radio. I like that outlet – I like talking on the radio.

MT: What were your favorite scenes in Ratatouille?

JG: Mine are anything with Peter O’Toole.

PO: And anything with Ian Holm. I haven’t really enjoyed my performance because I’m so gobsmacked by the entire movie. Ian Holm as Skinner: when he describes how he’s going crazy – this is just an animated movie and it’s a guy talking but it’s so funny and that’s really hard to pull off.

JG: I like the apparitions of Gusteau. Is he really appearing, or is he a construct of Remy’s mind?

PO: They suggest that he doesn’t have any more information than Remy has.

JG: But he does in a way.

PO: He’s the part of Remy that he hasn’t tapped into and trusted.

MT: Is it difficult to get into character when you aren’t in an actual environment?

JG: Brad Bird and Brad Lewis guide you through it. You’re by yourself, but they modulate your performance. Their enthusiasm is never wavering. To Patton, they dumped water over his head, and pushed him around.

PO: You end up using your body and face way more than when you’re acting live, because you’ve got to get all this emotion out with just your voice.

MT: So Lou Romano (Linguini) really got kicked around?

PO: They threw him in a pool so they could see how his fabric would look like and how he would be moving with wet clothing, and they would shove him around. He’s an animator, not an actor. They would do these things called scratch tracks, where they would lay down dialogue and they eventually said, “This is perfect, this is the guy.”

JG: And that’s one of the things about Pixar that separates it from other profit-driven entities – that’s what they want. They don’t care if he was an actor or not. Although Owen Gleiberman was upset …

PO: … easy …

JG: I’m not gonna be easy. Owen Gleiberman’s review in Entertainment Weekly said that the movie didn’t succeed because there’s not a super famous voice.

PO: Pixar IS the famous voice.

JG: He said “I could’ve used an Owen Wilson.” He penalized the film because he didn’t recognize a voice. You don’t recognize Peter O’Toole? Was he offended by the speech about critics?

PO: It’s a love letter to critics. Critics saved Brad Bird’s career. He’s saying the critic is the hero of the movie. He’s the guy who risks the most and steps up at the end. [Gleiberman] would’ve preferred to hear someone’s voice like Owen Wilson, or someone of his stature.

MT: Like Sanjaya?

JG: Now you’re onto something there.