Among Crystal's favourite characters, Mike is the same as ever -- positive, uplifting and jovial -- as he heads off to Monsters University to major in scaring. Yep, scaring. Along for the ride is his eventual pal, Sullivan/Sully (voiced by John Goodman), and they get into monster-sized trouble trying to make names for themselves on campus.
Moviefone caught up with Crystal on a press junket in Toronto, where he filled us in on what he's scared of, how Mike's college experience compares with his own, and how his four grandkids react to their grandpa's fame.
Moviefone: How do your grandkids feel about seeing/hearing their grandfather in the "Monsters" movies?
Billy Crystal: They've seen it all. I'm a nightlight! No, but I was at a mall with my grandkids and this creep paparazzi jumped out and starting snapping pictures of me. He scared [the kids] and they asked me why this guy was taking pictures of me. I explained to them that I was "internationally famous," [Laughs] and that I was Mike from "Monsters, Inc." I couldn't exactly show them the orgasm scene from "When Harry Met Sally." Then I was Grandpa Mike for a year. They'd call and ask, "Is Mike there?" They saw me on billboards when I hosted the Oscars, so now they're kind of used to it. It's bragging rights at school.
You've said before that you identify with the character of Mike.
I love this guy. I think he's my most favourite character that I've ever played in anything! I love his personality, I love that he stands up for himself. I love that he's forever positive; when something gets in his way, he goes over, around or through it and somehow comes out on the other side. Every picture he takes, it's just the top of his head, but he doesn't even care that he's not in it. He's a leader of monsters and has a great sense of humour, but he's also cranky.
What scares you?
This could get dark. [Laughs] I'm still scared of the dark, but it's not the darkness itself, it's the dark of the dark. Does that make sense? It's the unknown. Time scares me, having enough time to accomplish all I want to do before my time is up, especially now with my little ones. We never know how long we're going to get. Fear is a really great motivator, though.
How protective were you in terms of the legacy of the first "Monsters" film, and preserving the quality in the second?
You have to just know you're in great hands with Pixar. It's a level of trust. John Lasseter is our Walt Disney. He's created a life for all of us in the film world. He has an amazing imagination, to the point where I think even Mr. Disney himself would say, "Wow." At his 50th birthday party, he came up to me and said, "We're going to make a sequel. It's a prequel, and they're in college." This is 12 years later, but I thought, man, what a great idea.
How does your own university experience compare with Mike's?
Nothing like it. I finished up at NYU in the film program, but my fraternity was the theatre. They became my campus family. That was my place. I was very shy in my freshman year -- I was a young baseball hopeful at a little school called Marshall University. I ended up becoming a DJ at a campus radio station. I sort of became Mike-ish in the theatre department, at 18 or 19 years old, when we built our own theatre and we formed our own actors' equity company.
Did you work closely with John Goodman, or were you working solo?
We always work together. On the first movie, I came in on my first day and he wasn't there. They played his tracks of the scene. I said, "This is not good." If a thought occurs to me to improvise something, he's already locked into the dialogue and the tone. It wasn't natural. I asked for him to come in. We called him and he came in -- and they hadn't done it before. Tom [Hanks] and Tim [Allen] didn't work together on "Toy Story." I think it's just natural to work together, and when we do work as a team, the funny moments just have a great repartee. It also works in the tender moments -- it can be heartbreaking!
"Monsters University" opens on June 21.