With director Andrew Stanton’s Finding Nemo sequel, Finding Dory, now in theaters, a few days ago I got to sit down with Albert Brooks for an exclusive interview. During our wide-ranging conversation he talked about the status of getting Defending Your Life on Blu-ray (along with his other films), Drive, if he ever thought they’d make a Nemo sequel, story changes, all the great new characters, and more. In addition, I asked him about future directing projects, if he purposely took six years between projects or if it was due to financing issues, how he’s been recently working on an FX animated pilot with Louis CK, and Donald Trump.
As most of you know, the sequel finds Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) setting out on an adventure to discover answers about her past. Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (newcomer Hayden Rolence) are back along with Bob Peterson as Mr. Ray and Stanton himself as Crush the super-chill sea turtle. New additions include Dory’s fish parents, Charlie and Jenny (voiced by Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton); a beluga whale named Bailey (Ty Burrell); a whale shark called Destiny (Kaitlin Olson); and the curmudgeonly octopus, Hank (Ed O’Neill).
COLLIDER: I gotta start with the most important thing – what do I need to do to get Defending Your Life on Blu-ray?
ALBERT BROOKS: Okay. I’m trying to get Defending Your Life on Netflix in September. I mean it. Because there’s this show I saw the preview of on NBC coming up called The Good Place and it looks like some sort of sitcom in a place that looks like Judgement City and I just want people to know that that was me already. I’d love, I don’t know how that works. I’m tending to think that these discs are going away – that it’s only streaming. So I don’t know how to campaign, I’ve tried. I don’t know how those choices are made. Defending Your Life always sells, if you look at it on Amazon, it’s always a low number after 25 years. You know, it’s 1500 out of hundreds of thousands, but they don’t choose to put a Blu-ray and I don’t know why.
Well, speaking of Netflix, you obviously have a resume of films. Are you trying to put all the films on Netflix?
BROOKS: I would love all the films to be on Netflix. And I’ve been actively campaigning. And it’s like the hardest thing I’ve ever done because they’re with different studios, and one person Netflix says, “well, the studio won’t be fair to us on that,” and the studio says “Netflix doesn’t want it,” I just can’t argue with them anymore. Now I’m concentrating on Amazon Prime. [laughs] Because I buy so much toilet paper anyway, you know.
I say this all the time, I love Amazon, I have since I first started buying from them, they’re great.
BROOKS: I’m totally with you. There are a few giant companies that I love and I love Amazon. Their customer service is impeccable, sometimes just for the hell of it I’ll sleep on a mattress for three years and return it. [laughs]
BROOKS: Well they are available – but there’s no Blu-ray.
Like an HD version of some of these films.
BROOKS: And you know, anything shot on 35mm film, the information’s there, it’s all there to make it as high definition as you want, film takes all that information so it’s not like it doesn’t exist. I don’t know why. I’ve been hesitant to do commentaries, and maybe a little of it is my fault because if I said, “okay, well I’ll go and do the commentaries and we’ll ask Rip Torn to sit down,” maybe they get a reason. I don’t mind, after all these years, maybe Criterion could do one or two.
Ah, that’s also something.
BROOKS: And that would be interesting.
So I have to jump backwards before we get into Dory. How often do people still want to talk about Drive with you? Because I could do it every day. I mean like, I see you on the street, I’m talking about Drive.
BROOKS: You know, a lot. Drive had a big impact. Sometimes these movies come and they stick. And I’ve been lucky to be in a lot of movies like that, like Taxi Driver. And Drive was one of those movies. It just flew out of nowhere and sort of stuck to the wall. I don’t know if people want to talk about it a lot, but people have seen it and they like it.
Yeah, I love it. I think he did such a great job with that film. But jumping into why I get to talk to you today, with Dory, it obviously took a long time to get the sequel going, when Andrew finally called you up to tell you he was thinking about doing it, where you like “get the eff out of here, it’s been so long” or did you always think there was more of a story to tell?
BROOKS: No, I thought that after six, seven years this was done. And quite frankly I think Ellen [Degeneres], if she didn’t have a national television show, would be berating him four, five times a month. I don’t think they would have done it. [laughs] So, I have to give her credit because she had a platform to say like, “why don’t you make this?” But so many years had passed, I just stopped thinking about it. I didn’t really think about it anyway because I’m not tuned into the animation business. It’s funny, in the middle of making The Muse, I was offered at the time the first Ice Age, the part that Ray Romano took, I was offered the elephant. And I couldn’t even stop to breathe, so I didn’t do it. They’ve made like six of them. And in the animation business, for a voice actor, that’s what you want. You want six, you know? It’s a better business for you. So I sort of went like, “oh, gee, I could have had that elephant.” And yet, Finding Nemo was such a huge, important movie. You talk about movies that stick, I don’t think there’s been a movie that kids have taken to heart coming out of Disney for a long time, coming out of Pixar. It just seemed to hit those buttons. So you wonder, “well, they’re making another Toy Story.” But I stopped thinking about it.
Pixar is known, one of the reasons their films are so good, is that they constantly tweak the story until they get it right, so they’ll just tear it down, redo it. Tear it down, redo it.
How dramatic of a change was it for you on this film, on Dory, in terms of where there a lot of storylines that got changed along the way?
BROOKS: Hundreds, hundreds. I’m not privy to their – I’m just called every few months and I do these sessions and I can see by the sessions “hey, these are all new scenes, you know?” But I knew what they were trying to do. And I spoke to Andrew Stanton the first time he called me and he told me what the movie was. And I said, “without knowing anything, my gut says, ‘how are you going to handle the memory joke? You don’t want to do the memory joke for the whole movie.’” And you can see how he solved it. By not making it a joke and then adding the little character. So that was much different, he solved that problem, I thought. Because I just saw the movie yesterday and I was really pleasantly surprised. Because if you take a sidekick, which she was, and then you put her front and center, you don’t want the laughs that she got in the first one, you can’t rely on for two hours because it’s the same joke. So he somehow made it serious and made it more about an affliction than a gag. And I think that was a big deal. And he also, he changed a lot of stuff. He originally had the fish tank gang in there. They’re not listening to me, but I still say things and I said, “isn’t that too much coincidence? It’s great that we run into the turtle, but do we want to run into all of them, too? It’s a big ocean.”
I think the problem is that people love certain characters and you want to work them in, but if it’s not organic to the story –
BROOKS: That’s right. And that’s what I thought he did great because he brought back enough where it gave you that fix and he put in enough new where you can bring your kid and watch a whole new movie.
I think that one of the strengths of this film is it’s really funny. And all of the side characters that were brought in: Hank, the whale, the beluga, all of the side characters are so well done.
BROOKS: Yeah. Absolutely and that’s the key to doing this sequel. So you take the best of what you got, but you don’t overdo it so they’re not saying, “oh gee, be a little creative,” and you’re putting in a huge dose of new stuff. And also where it’s located, because instead of roaming, it was in this park and there were humans – my wife said to me, when we came home last night, “I didn’t know an octopus had three hearts!” She felt like she had been to some sort of exhibit.
I don’t want to say the actor’s name who plays a big part because I want it to be spoiler free, like our conversation, but how much did you laugh with the whole –
BROOKS: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. It was funny. I read that and I liked it.
I saw it last night, not at the premiere but at Disney, and the theater is rolling. Really funny. So how much during the process of recording have you been like, “come on, we can do some Dory shorts or some Nemo shorts?”
BROOKS: No, no. I never think about the shorts. I never brought that up, but I –
I was just thinking about the animation, you were talking about the Ice Age movies.
BROOKS: Oh, yeah, but shorts you can’t make a living off of, I don’t think.
So I have to ask, I’m going to jump into your writing process. It’s like almost every six, seven years or so you make a movie, or have made a movie. Was it one of these things where that was by choice or was that was where the financing came together and you were able to make a movie?
BROOKS: In the course of my movies, the financing and the releasing were always the tough part. Because I loved the creative, I loved the writing, I loved the making of it. Because I guess, I never had the giant blockbuster, I never got that sort of ease for the next one. So the next one was always, “how am I going to do this?” And that thing was sort of always the thing that made me a little chickenshit to go into the next one. The writing of it was great and the making of it was great, but how am I going to release this thing and am I going to find a studio? And just in the last 15, 20 years you can see, less than that, you can see that movies like I was making are fewer and fewer. They’re not shown in movie theaters. This kind of movie is shown in a movie theater. And there are still independent movies but they’re fewer, and I just didn’t like – I call it the third act of making a movie – there’s writing it, there’s making it, and there’s releasing it. The releasing it was my least favorite part, so I sort of shied away from that.
I’ve spoken to a few filmmakers and recently, some of them have told me that Amazon and Netflix…
BROOKS: No, I know that, but that’s not theatrical. That’s making a movie for television, which is great because you get left alone and you make it. I still like the movie theater experience, that’s sort of where I showed all my movies, and if I were to make another movie, I’d get it in the theater. I just think I’d have to find that kind of distributor that would be willing to play in that game. And that’s more and more of those are on Netflix and Amazon.
So I have to ask, is there a script that you’ve had for a while that you’ve been tweaking with that you’re like “this is the one?”
BROOKS: What I’ve been doing for the last, I’m working on an animated show with Louis CK. Myself and Louis are producing and voicing and writing an animated pilot and if it goes, it’ll go on FX. And that’s sort of what I’ve been doing and I’ve been enjoying it. So that was my foray into television.
Well, you picked a great partner.
BROOKS: Yeah, I know.
He’s real funny.
BROOKS: He’s real funny.
Does it have a title?
BROOKS: Yeah, it’s a little early, I want it to be picked up first. I don’t want to say the title yet. But it’s – we’re a good comedy team. We’re a very good comedy team.
I would be shocked if FX is not interested in an animated –
BROOKS: I don’t think they’re making it to throw it away, but nothing surprises me. After Donald Trump, nothing matters, does it?
Sir, everyday, I ridicule and make fun of him.
BROOKS: No, I’m saying, look at the world we live in!
Yeah, it’s fucking crazy.
BROOKS: Someone asked me last night, at Entertainment Tonight, I was walking the line, and someone said “what do you think of Donald Trump?” And I said, “I would rather vote for Hillary in jail.” [laughs] If she gets convicted, I’ll vote for her for president.