TORONTO - Billy Crystal has no shortage of memorable and iconic roles that have coloured his lengthy career, but it's his work portraying a one-eyed, miniature green monster that ranks No. 1 for the comic legend.
Crystal is back on the big screen in animated form, reprising his role as the voice of Mike Wazowski in "Monsters University," the prequel to the 2001 hit "Monsters, Inc."
"I love this guy. I actually think that this is the most, my most favourite character I've ever played in anything," he said Wednesday during a press day in support of the new film.
"I love his personality. I love that he stands up for himself. I love that he's forever positive. I love that when something gets in his way he either goes over it, around it or through it and somehow comes out the other side," added the quick-witted comic, the words tumbling out in rapid-fire succession.
"I love that he's a leader of monsters. I love that he has a great sense of humour, and I love that he stands up for himself and I love that he's cranky, too. I think that's great."
"Monsters University" shows Mike as a college student seeking to fulfil a long-held dream of being a professional Scarer by enrolling in MU's elite Scare Program.
Many are quick to dismiss the diminutive Mike, but the pint-sized monster holds steadfast to his sense of self-belief — a key character attribute that parallels Crystal's own approach to life.
"I have that same kind of drive. I think you have to," said the 65-year-old Crystal.
"Whatever you pursue, you believe in yourself. Otherwise, you're cooked. If you don't believe in yourself, someone's going to sense that you don't and they're not going to hire you or accept you at school or be a boyfriend or a girlfriend. I think (Mike's) got a great confidence about himself."
Crystal turned serious and introspective during a press conference when asked about his own fears.
"I think it's the unknown.... Time scares me," he said.
"Having enough time to do all of the things in my life — forgetting my business — that I want to do and want to accomplish, especially now with these little ones to get to know them and to get as far as I want to get with them," he added, referring to his grandchildren.
"We never know how long we're going to get. Fear is a really great motivator, though."
The veteran performer and nine-time Academy Awards host said voice work presents a different challenge creatively due to the amount of energy required, particularly for his "Monsters" character. He admits the "growling days" were tough.
"When you get the script delivered, it usually comes the night before your session, it'll just say: "45 minutes ... screams and assorted roars," said the "Saturday Night Live" alum, whose film credits include "Analyze This," "City Slickers," and "When Harry Met Sally."
"Those you hate because you're going to do 100 times of 'Errr! Aarrgh!' Whatever they are," he added, mimicking his voice interpretations for the role. "Those are the days you hate because you know you're going to be hoarse at the end of it.
"You see it (in the script) and you go: 'Oh, boy, let's do those at the end, because if I do them first, I'll have no chops left for the rest of the day.'"
"Monsters University"' sees Crystal re-team with John Goodman, the voice of towering, shaggy, spotted monster James P. Sullivan. While voice work is typically a solitary process, the pair recorded together.
Crystal said he only recently became aware of some of the other stars who lent their voices to the film, including Oscar winner Helen Mirren, comic actors Sean Hayes ("Will & Grace") and Charlie Day ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia") and Canadian talents Dave Foley and "Castle" star Nathan Fillion, whom Crystal called "terrific" in the film.
Crystal will be Broadway-bound this fall with his Tony-winning one-man show "700 Sundays."
The funnyman expressed excitement to be staging his autobiographical play beginning in November at the Imperial Theater where he saw "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1964.
"To play the same stage that the great Zero Mostel was on will mean a great deal to me to bring my show back home to Broadway."
As he prepares to shift gears to theatre work, Crystal doesn't rule out the possibility of priming his pipes for another "Monsters" instalment in the future.
"I think, you know, as time goes by, if it's another 11 years till the next one, they'll be in assisted living," Crystal joked. "They'll be just taking care of each other."
"Monsters University" opens on Friday.
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