With Finding Dory finishing up it’s first week in theaters (and breaking the all-time box office record for animated movies!), I was lucky enough to chat with one of the stars of the film, Ed O’Neill and gain some insight into his character: Hank.
Beth: Throughout your career, did you ever expect to play an octopus?
Ed O’Neill: No. it never crossed my mind, how could it, if I actually looked forward to playing an octopus, you would have to question my sanity. I got a call from my manager a couple of years ago, now, saying that Pixar would like me to play an octopus in their sequel to Finding Nemo. And I said ‘Ok, can you send a script over, and I can look at it,’ he said there was no script and there is no description, it’s a work in progress. So I said ‘ that’s unusual’ and it sounded like a cameo to me and he said ‘ well I don’t know, its Pixar, so they’re going to book you for a number of sessions and when you’re done, you’re done.’
Beth: So you didn’t know Hank was going to be such a big character?
Ed: I knew nothing about it. I just showed up and started shooting scenes with, well you know you work alone in conjunction with the director, in this case, Andrew Stanton, a couple of producers and some of the other writers. You do like a three to four-hour session and then three or four months later you come back and do another one and this just keeps going until- you know at some point I realized this wasn’t a cameo, but it was confusing because often times they’ll rewrite the session before because it didn’t fit into the animation properly, so I thought it was kind of like Groundhog Day, repeating myself over and over, and then I started to realize it wasn’t repeating, it was moving forward and at some point I thought ‘Well this has got to be like one of the lead characters’ because all of my stuff was with Dory. But they never told me! I finally realized it was one of the main roles.
Beth: How similar is Hank to Jay Pritchett of Modern Family?
Ed: Well the obvious is: they’re grumpy. And probably why they cast me as Hank, John Lasseter [Pixar] used to come to some of our table reads for Modern Family, so he probably got the idea for Hank from one of the table reads that he attended, along with Ty Burell. He got both of us in the movie. And they want us to use our own voices, they didn’t want any kind of trick voices or us changing our voices, they wanted us to be as natural as possible.
Beth: Did you have to do any research to prepare for your role as Hank the octopus?
Ed: The only research I did was for my own curiosity, I googled, like so many people have, Mimic Octopus, and I saw that one YouTube video that comes up that’s just awesome. But all the research was done by the animation department they’re the ones that had to recreate how they move and shape shift and camouflage and change color- that work was all done for me- my job was basically to make the octopus speak English. I had to kind of sync with the movements, the voice with the movements is a little tricky but that’s a technical problem that yet, you have to do.
Beth: Well Hank is a Mimic Octopus, so if you had the ability to camouflage yourself, like Hank, what would you do with it?
Ed: Me personally? Well I’d probably make myself invisible when I’m out in public… Exactly I could use a little bit of that [privacy] but then I wouldn’t get the good tables at restaurants so I’m not really complaining, it’s just occasionally, I’d be less visible.
Beth: Since Hank is technically a septapus, how did he lose that 8th tentacle?
Ed: We don’t know, it was never explained, just as we don’t know what made him so phobic and a loner, he wants to be left alone, he doesn’t like to be touched, he wants to go where no one will bother him. We don’t know the reasons for this.
Beth: So does that mean you’d be willing to reprise your role for another sequel? Like a Finding Hank?
Ed: (Laughing) I processed this with Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen DeGeneres is kind of behind this, she wants to do a sequel to Finding Dory with Dory and Hank and maybe a Hank backstory. I just think that’s a little premature, we [Finding Dory] just opened last weekend, so let’s just wait and see where this goes and then if Lasseter wants to do something else, I’m open to talk about it, of course.
Along with Finding Dory’s success, Modern Family is going to be entering it’s eighth season and O’Neill just wrapped a film called Sun Dogs, also starring Allison Janney and Melissa Benoist.
Finding Dory is in theaters now.
When Beth “grows up” she wants to see her creations appear on the screen and stage. In her free time, Beth blogs about her love of craft beer and writes screenplays. She received her bachelors in journalism from Youngstown State and received her masters in communication from The University of Akron. She is honored to be a part of the FanFest family.