NOVEMBER 2010 ;e Costco Connection 55 By Bryan Reesman HE’S BEEN CALLED Pixar’s lucky charm. The actor who came to prominence and won over America’s hearts as chatty, know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on Cheers, Costco member John Ratzenberger has voiced a character in every one of Pixar’s 11 hit films, most notably the smart-aleck, tech-savvy pig Hamm in the Toy Story series. But the congenial thespian has no idea how he arned his special distinction. “At the beginning I thought it was a clerical error—my name just kept coming up,” he tells The Connection with a laugh, relaxing in a Pixar conference room. “I’m just very fortunate. But I don’t have any Polaroids of Steve Jobs at a New Year’s Eve party, so quash that rumor ight now.” Ratzenberger had no clue when he did the first Toy Story movie that it would be a global phe- nomenon, or that the third and latest installment would become the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. “You can’t predict anything like that,” he says. For example, he says, “I was a car- penter and tractor driver at the Woodstock festi- val. To me it was a job. I just showed up one day. I had no idea it was part of something much larger.” Indeed, the actor’s career has taken many unusual twists and turns. First off, he never went o drama school. When he began his career in the performing arts, he had been a house framer. During the 1970s and ’80s he landed minor roles in major films such as Superman, Superman II, The Empire Strikes Back and Gandhi. Playing Cliff Clavin made him a household John Ratzenberger In the studio with John Ratzenberger, at left, (voice of Hamm) and Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich. The Costco Connection Toy Story 3 is available on Blu-ray and DVD at all Costco locations, and on Costco.com. name, and the everyman persona he brought to that role has been echoed throughout his life. One cause he has been championing is a foundation called Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs (
www.nutsand boltsfoundation.org), whose mission is, according to its website, to inspire “the next generation of manufacturers, welders, and more ... one tinkerer at a time.” In an age of computers, Ratzenberger wants to start an industrial re-evolution. Of course, his continued fame has come about through digital technology, and Pixar is now known the world over for advancing ani- mation technology rapidly. Despite all of those changes, the process does not affect the way Ratzenberger works. “I can’t speak for everybody, but being over- prepared gets in my way,” he says. “That’s just my background. When you want to throw a piece of paper in a basket, if you don’t think about it, it’s going to go in, but if you start measuring, thinking and fussing, then you’re going to miss every time. So just do it—your mind and your body will take over and figure it out for you.” Even though it had been 11 years between the release of Toy Story 2 and
3, Ratzenberger did not find it hard to get back into the groove as Hamm. As he notes, director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson did all the heavy lifting, having worked on the production for three years. It has been the same with other Pixar directors in the past. “They know every breath, every comma, every punctuation mark, so you just simply listen to what they say,” the actor explains. “Pixar takes care of the story, and if the story isn’t there then they don’t go any further,” he asserts. “A director friend of mine, who will go unnamed, was working on a film that didn’t have a script yet, and the studio had already said what the opening day was. They were getting posters ready, but there was no script. That’s fairly common in Hollywood, and that’s why Pixar’s old-school. They will not go forward unless the story is right and correct.” Nor, apparently, until they’ve made sure Ratzenberger is on the cast list. C Bryan Reesman has been published in The New York Times, American Way and Inked. Lucky charm, lucky actor
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