As we prepare for the forthcoming release of Pixar’s Monsters University – a sequel to the much celebrated Monsters Inc. from 2001, we had the great pleasure of attending the press conference for the picture, taking place at a monsters-themed Kings College University in London, where voice-over star Helen Mirren was joined by the film’s director Dan Scanlon and producer Kori Rae.
Given the overall theme of fear is one somewhat prevalent in Monsters University – with Mike (Billy Crystal) and Sulley (John Goodman) entering in to a scaring competition to prove their worth, Mirren was on hand to discuss her own relationship with fear, and her inspiration behind her role as the severely intimating Dean Hardscrabble.
“I was thinking of my interview for my first school earlier today,” she recounted. “I remember the sheer terror of the whole thing. I mean, she was a nun as well, and I was so frightened of her. But she gave me the best advice I’ve ever heard. She said, the worst thing about fear is fear itself. I’d like to think a part of her is in Dean Hardscrabble.”
When the panel were fielded with the question asking what scares them all the most in real life, Rae wittily responded with “public speaking”, while the other two cited a rather similar terror. “Oh God, clowns, clowns are horrifying,” said Scanlon. “Oh I was terrified of clowns, you’ve stolen my answer!” Mirren responded. “I’ve only just remembered that. I am terrified of insects, too, any insects really.” Despite being scared on insects, Mirren managed to find a positive in playing an animated centipede on screen, “Having a hundred legs would just be an excuse to buy a hundred pairs of shoes!”
Fear and terror seemed to be a reoccurring theme at this conference, as the panel were also asked who is their favourite monster of all time. “Well I’m kind of biased towards this movie, but Dean Hardscrabble,” said Rae. “Godzilla was always great, but I think the uber-scary monster who Hardscrabble would appreciate is the alien from the Alien movies,” Mirren added. “I think stop motion King Kong was always really creepy. It’s just the way the old stop motion characters moved which made them really scary,” Scanlon added finally.
Mirren, who stole the show at the conference with her typically alluring persona and infectious gusto, spoke of her own experiences with fear in the film industry, while finishing up by discussing her decision to get involved in a children’s animation that comes with such a fine reputation.
“Well there were certainly actors when I was younger who were very intimidating,” she said. “I bet people would even see me now as intimidating, which I sincerely hope they don’t. But I grew up in the 50s and you didn’t go and sit at the same table as Olivier or Gielgud, so I always found them very intimidating.
“Every stage of my career has been different and interesting. Travelling through Africa for Conference Of The Birds, for instance, and doing things like that people would sometimes say, “What are you doing that for?!” Sometimes you just have to jump into the deep end, even if you feel like you’ll fail miserably.”
However it’s safe to say in this instance, that failure certainly isn’t on the agenda, as a film that will delight both adults and children alike. Check out our more intimate interview with Dan Scanlon and Kori Rae from the very same day here.