Albert Brooks

Finding Nemo is Pixar’s second most successful animated film – pulling in $339m in the United States back in 2003.  That’s some serious coin.


The film is being re-released in 3D and is out in Australian cinemas from this week.  I was thrilled to speak with the amazing Albert Brooks about the film, it’s re-release and a few other things.


You can download the full audio extract by clicking here.


Matt:  Finding Nemo was released in Australian cinemas 9 years ago and the man I’m speaking with is obviously a fan because he’s still promoting it.  I say good morning to Marlin the clownfish… also known as Mr Albert Brooks.  How’s it going?


Albert:  (laughs) I have been non-stop promoting this film for 9 years.  Fortunately, it’s back in a theatre now and it’s starting to pay off.


Matt:  Over the past few years we’ve seen so many classic animated films get upgraded to 3D and re-released like The Lion King and Beauty & The Beast.  What’s going on here?  Has Hollywood completely run out of ideas?


Albert:  Well I can’t speak for Hollywood.  I know I’ve run out of ideas. (laughs)  This movie was so visually amazing that I was always assumed that they would do this.  Pixar does this particular upgrade very well and with the ocean and surroundings of water, I would think this should have been out in 3D ten years ago if they had the technology.


Some movies, I do agree with you… but I don’t think Pixar takes this stuff lightly.  It doesn’t take an hour to do so.  This is a long, arduous process.


Matt:  What are your own thoughts on 3D?  Is it something that you think can enhance the film-going experience?  I know some people see it as a bit of a novelty.  Do you make an effort to see 3D movies over 2D?


Albert:  I took my kids to see Avatar and I think that was a really good 3D experience.  I won’t go to a movie just because of 3D.  If something is appealing and it’s 3D, I’ll go to the 3D version.  But you’re not going to trick me to see something in 3D just because of that fact.


Matt:  When it comes to animation, few could argue with the success of Pixar.  I’m talking about Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Ratatouille, WALL-E and Up.  You had the chance to work with them so closely on Finding Nemo.  What’s their secret?  How do they keep churning out good movies again and again?


Albert:  I don’t know.  It’s really amazing.  They have the best track record in the business in terms of animated movies.  They’ve always said that the story is the most important thing and then everything else flatters the story.  If you start with the tricks instead, it doesn’t seem to work.


Matt:  Can you remember how you were approached about Finding Nemo?


Albert:  Someone contacted my manager at the time.  They asked if I’d like to do it and to show me what it might look like, they took a little bit of Marlin and they put a speech from a movie I wrote called Defending Your Life.  So I went into a darkened theatre and I watched this fish give a speech from one of my movies.  I thought this is so creepy that I have to do it!  (laughs)  It was very clever on their part.


Matt:  I remember reading an interview with Woody Allen where he said that once he’d finished a film, that was it.  He’d never go back and re-watch it.  With Finding Nemo now getting a re-release, I have to ask – do you go back and watch some of your prior works, your prior films?


Albert:  I don’t usually re-watch my own films.  If I’m on the treadmill and something comes up, I’ll watch 10 minutes of it.  The great thing about film as opposed to television is that you can leave it.  You can work your head off on a project and then it’s done.  You don’t have to revisit that character.


It was a little different with Nemo because with kids, it was on the television so much in our house.  I’d walk into the kitchen and I’d hear them watching it with Marlin yelling at Nemo and I’d get all confused thinking that I was yelling at my own kids. (laughs)


I’m going to go to the premiere here in September and will see it in 3D because it’ll have to look amazing.


Matt:  While on the subject of animation, I can’t pass up this opportunity.  My favourite TV show is The Simpsons and one of my favourite episodes is You Only Move Twice where you play the head of the Globex Corporation, Hank Scorpio.  Did you ever realise that episode was going to be as popular when you were doing it back in 1996?


Albert:  No. no.  I don’t think you ever realise when something is going to take off.  That’s become one of the most talked about Simpsons episodes in its 24 year history.  It’s funny about that and how the episode has endured.

Matt:  I want to go down to work right now and tell all my staff to head down to the Hammock District.  How much credit can I give you for the dialogue or was it largely scripted?


Albert:  It was largely ad-libbed.  Even they will tell you that.  They certainly had a story but the great thing about doing stuff for The Simpsons is that if you can “riff on it”, they love it.  They’ll leave a tape machine on for 5 hours.  By the end of that session, I don’t think I had another comedy thought in my head for a month.  I said every funny thing I had as Hank Scorpio.


Matt:  I travelled last year to the Toronto Film Festival and I remember my last film on the Saturday night was Drive.  I know you picked up a swag of critics’ awards and were great in the film but I have to ask – where had you been hiding?  We hadn’t seen you in a movie for years.


Albert:  Well, I wrote a book.  Amazon has funny rules that say you can only buy it in America.  It’s called 2030: The Real Story Of What Happens To America and it took about 3 years to write.  So I was a novelist for a while and then I got offered this part and it was too good not to take.  I’m playing Paul Rudd’s father in a movie that’s coming out this Christmas – Judd Apatow’s movie This Is 40. 


I’ve split my life between making my own films, and acting in other films, and now writing books.  Once I get involved in something, I sort of close the world out.


Matt:  And how did you miss out on an Oscar nomination this year?  Was that Christopher Plummer running a smear campaign against you?  It seems he won everything by the end of the season.


Albert:  I’m shocked he did!  He played a Nazi in The Sound Of Music! (laughs)  Honestly, I don’t know how any of that happens.  All of a sudden, you wake up one day and you’re a horse in the Kentucky Derby and people are betting on you and putting saddles on you.  People are coming out my house and brushing my hair.  Then you wake up, and it’s like “oh, too bad” and then no one talks to you again.


You know, that thing, my answer is that if you want an Oscar, you do a movie for Harvey Weinstein.


Matt:  Yeah, that does seem to be the way to go.  I guess I’ll finish up with one final question and I’m sure it’s one you’ve been asked before.  With all you’ve done and achieved in the entertainment industry, what’s been the highlight for you?  What’s been your favourite role?


Albert:  Because I’ve had such varied roles, I don’t really think like that.  If we had long enough time, I could tell you some that were really great experiences and some that were hell.  The ones that were hell, I’d probably have a foul memory of just because of that.


I know roles that people like.  I get more mail 20 years after making Defending Your Life that any movie I’ve ever done.  I got 12 letters today from people trying to deal with fear and loss.  They come across the movie and they write these great letters.  Was it my favourite?  I don’t know.  I loved doing Drive last year.


I guess I’m afraid to answer the question because it means I’m going to die. (laughs)


Matt:  Well hopefully I’m going to be seeing you in many, many, many more good movies.


Albert:  I hope you will!


Matt:  Mr Albert Brooks, it’s been an absolute honour.  Thanks for talking with us this morning.


Albert:  My pleasure.