That’s why the 65-year-old’s taking his Tony-winning one-man show 700 Sundays back to Broadway next fall. The same sort of rationale was applied to signing up again for the prequel Monsters University, which opens June 21.
“I was going to be on board no matter what because I knew (Pixar) was going to make it great,” said Crystal at Pixar Animation Studios just across the Bay Bridge from downtown San Francisco. “And I loved (Monsters University) because it was a fresh idea.”
Monsters, Inc., the 2001 original Pixar animation, earned more than $562 million US worldwide thanks to the endearing exploits of sidekick Mike Wazowski (voiced by Crystal) and scare champion Sulley Sullivan (John Goodman), who generated energy for their monsters city by scaring kids at bedtime.
In the prequel, we find out how the unlikely team became best friends after a rocky college start. Returning from the first fantasy is the antagonist Randall (Steve Buscemi). New is the demanding Dean Hardscrabble (Helen Mirren), who is not impressed with the two freshmen, and tells them as much.
Also providing voices in Monsters University are Nathan Fillion, Charlie Day, Aubrey Plaza, Alfred Molina, Sean Hayes and Dave Foley, but the movie continues to rely on the connection between Goodman’s Sulley and Crystal’s Mike Wazowski.
To refine the connection, director Dan Scanlon had Crystal and Goodman record their voice sessions in the same studio at the same time, a rarity in the animation world.
“It allowed us to bring a real presence into the movie,” said Crystal. “John’s a great partner and a wonderful guy, and it helped because we take the characters seriously.”
As usual, he doesn’t take anything for granted. He understood that Monsters University would have a loyal following, but he didn’t realize the extent of it until the finished film was screened for students at the University of Southern California to a rousing response.
“They went berserk.” confirmed the actor who attended the recent preview. “Then I realized Monsters University is all about them, because they were six and seven when (Monsters, Inc.) first came out.”
After more than a decade, Crystal continues to be associated with the Monsters character, whose voice is a variation on his Saturday Night Live’s hate-it-when-that-happens Willie persona.
Now, Mike Wazowski is all in the family after two of his four young grandchildren started to realize their grandfather was famous; he showed them Monsters, Inc. to explain why.
“I couldn’t really put on When Harry Met Sally.”
Soon after, he was doing Mike Wazowski for them on demand. (“You have to call him by his full name because it sounds better,” said Crystal).
“So I answer the phone, and they say, ‘Is Grandpa Mike Wazowski there?’” said Crystal. “And I say, ‘Hey, Mike Wazowski, the kids want you to talk.’”
Raised in the Bronx, the comic’s been making people laugh since he was his grandkids’ age. “In elementary school I was always thinking of ways to be funny,” he said. “I had a tight 10 minutes.”
Graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he hit the road doing standup then landed the groundbreaking role of the gay son Jodie on Soap. That was followed by a brief stint on SNL.
He increased his profile mightily with box-office smashes When Harry Met Sally, City Slickers and Analyze This, and by hosting the Academy Awards in the 1990s.
Since Monsters, Inc. hit in 2001, he’s been low profile, although he did return to his Oscar duties in 2012.
He also kicked off a mini-comeback last year by teaming up with Bette Midler in the family film Parental Guidance.
Besides Monsters University and the 700 Sundays stage production this year, he’s working on a sitcom for FX called The Comedians, which starts shooting this summer.
Based on a Swedish series, the revamped show has Crystal playing a veteran comic trying to deal with a young upstart (not yet cast) on a Saturday Night Live type production.
“I didn’t think Swedes could be funny because it gets dark at noon there and the vodka comes out,” joked Crystal who admitted more seriously that he’s enthusiastic about the sitcom’s potential.
He’s just as excited about re-visiting his autobiographical one-man show bound for The Great White Way.
“Previews will start Nov. 5,” reported Crystal. “We are going to trim it down a bit and add a few things.
“But I wanted to do it again because I wasn’t finished with it in my soul. It’s still the most satisfying performance I’ve ever done and I missed it.”
Well, he does have another coveted engagement soon. He’ll attend yet another high school reunion
“I will probably do a tight 10 minutes,” said Crystal smiling.