One of the pleasures of doing what I do for a living is the opportunity to meet people whose work has meant something to me over the course of my life as a film fan, and at this point, I feel like I’ve met a lot of biggest names on the list.
Until I was invited to the “Monsters University” press day, I didn’t realize how much I wanted to meet Billy Crystal, but once it was on my agenda, I got excited about it. One of the shows that I love the most from the ’70s was “Soap,” and every five or six years, I revisit the series and fall in love with it all over again. There are a number of reasons to adore the series, but one of the most significant things about it was the character Crystal played. At a time when gay culture was basically just a punchline for the mainstream, Jodie Dallas was allowed to be witty and sharp and decent and way more than just a joke. Crystal’s career could have ended there, but he somehow managed to avoid getting labeled or typecast.
His years on “Saturday Night Live” were interesting, and part of a very specific era in that show’s history. It was essential, though, and managed to kick off a new movement in his film career. “Running Scared,” “The Princess Bride,” and “Throw Momma From The Train” all gave him a great showcase for his comic abilities, and the collaboration with Rob Reiner led to the film that will most likely always define Crystal, “When Harry Met Sally.”
Like many actors, his filmography is hit and miss, and for every “City Slickers,” there’s a “Father’s Day.” He could easily have aged out of his window of opportunity if not for Pixar. His work in “Monsters Inc.” in 2001 is hilarious and sincere, and he and John Goodman made a wonderful team. When I sat down with him at Pixar, the first question I had for him was about the recording process. For many animated films, they record each role separately to make sure it’s clean and they can edit with it, but Crystal insisted on being able to record with Goodman, and it shows in the connection they have as performers and as characters.
My chat with him was way too short, but it was a lovely highlight of the trip to Pixar, and it’s one of my favorites of this type of interview so far this year.
“Monsters University” is open for enrollment this Friday in theaters everywhere.