Dave Foley is having a good year. His recently revived career in stand-up comedy is going well, he's shooting a new sitcom in Toronto, and he voices a character in Disney-Pixar's Monsters University, continuing a relationship with the studio that started when he played the heroic Flik in 1998's A Bug's Life.
It's good to see Foley in a happy place. A little over two years ago, he opened up on Marc Maron's WTF podcast about a disastrous divorce settlement that wiped him out financially and kept him from coming home to Canada for several years for fear of arrest. The stand-up tour was the start of his own economic stimulus plan, and the exposure led to more work. In Disney's Toronto offices, we talked about monsters, voice acting and other less comfortable situations.
You and Sean Hayes play Terry and Terri Perry, two heads of the same monster. Did they let you record together?
Sean and I did get to record together, which is atypical - usually you never see the other actors. But because we were a two-headed monster and because Sean and I know each other and have worked together before, [director and co-writer] Dan Scanlon wanted to have us in there together so we could ad lib and talk over each other. You know, two-headed monster - they should really have a tight rhythm.
You've been doing voice work for a decade and a half. Has it become easier? Is there a specific muscle you develop over the years?
Yeah, you get better at it. And I've been lucky because I've had such great directors to work with. My first time doing animation was with John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton co-directing. You learn to trust the director, and you also learn to visualize the scene [and] remember that you have to act. That's the hard thing when you're in there, of course. "Oh, I do have to act this."
What, like a body language thing?
Yeah - you kind of physicalize it, and also you have to internalize it. "Oh, I've got to remember what the character's going through and what the action is." You know - what the stakes are, all that sort of thing.
Terri and Terry have smallish roles in the film. How many recording sessions did it take to capture them?
Sean and I did four sessions together. Usually we'd come in and pretty much record the whole movie - but every time we'd do it they'd rewrite, and as they were animating they would rewrite [again]. You know, Pixar, they'll follow whatever the best idea is, wherever it comes from. So if somebody in the [course of] animation has an idea for a different direction for a scene to go, they'll change course.
You come back in and re-record the scenes you've already done with new dialogue or a new intention. You just do that over and over again. You record the whole movie several times.
Does that get weird? Do the alternate versions build up in your head?
Yeah, in my head I've seen four or five different versions of this movie. It amazed me when we were doing A Bug's Life how they would just throw out, like, six months of work just because they had a better idea.
In the final film, your key relationship is between Terry and Terri, but then the two of them are also meshing with the rest of the Oozma Kappa fraternity.
Yeah, that conflict between individual goals and the needs of the team. You know, as a Canadian, I see a certain socialist theme to the whole movie: "Being an individual's great, but you've gotta be responsible to your team, your society."
Pixar is notorious for providing deep background on every character in their movies. Did Terry and Terri come with an elaborate backstory?
It was mostly just that the older brother was embarrassed by his younger brother, who has no inhibitions. It was very much like my children, my eldest and my middle child. My middle child's an extrovert, and my eldest is a complete introvert and is constantly embarrassed.
So you got to just watch them and pick the characteristics you liked.
I have nieces, and watching them interact is terrifying - they're replicating things I'm sure my brother and I did as kids, and then they do girl things I can't even understand.
The great thing about children is that they're too small to be very dangerous. If they were full-sized, children would have to be locked up in cages.
It's like the joke about cats - if they were just a little bit bigger they'd be picking us off daily.
Yeah! I have a German shepherd, and I sometimes think, "I have an animal living in my house. I go to sleep next to an animal that could kill me any time it wanted to."
It sounds like it's working out well so far, though.
Yeah, so far so good. He hasn't figured it out.
Your personal life has been a bit of a roller coaster, and you've discussed the resulting legal issues in a number of interviews in the last year or so. Is it weird to talk so openly about such intimate matters?
Well, I talk about it in my stand-up. I've always been the kind of person who if you ask me a question I'll answer it - in part because I'm almost pathologically incapable of lying. And I've lived my life publicly since my early 20s. A big part of the Kids in the Hall was always putting ourselves out as people. So it doesn't really bother me. I don't really care too much about privacy.
People spend so much time talking around personal stuff in interviews. But in stand-up if you're hiding a part of your life - as various comics have done in the past - the audience can usually tell.
Yeah, I don't know. I started out as a stand-up as a kid, but now I'm going back to stand-up as a celebrity, where everybody already has that background knowledge about me. I figured I really have to talk about myself and my life - maybe more than I would otherwise. So a third of the act is about me and my life, and the rest is about things I think are interesting. I've got a special [Relatively Well] on Showtime in the States; I don't know where it'll run up here, but it'll come out on DVD soon.
And you're in Toronto shooting a new TV series, Spun Out.
It's a multi-cam sitcom. We shoot in front of a live audience, much the same format as NewsRadio, and it's been really fun. It's afforded me the opportunity to be in Canada again. The good people at Bell Media are paying the ransom [laughs].
Is that taking your full attention, or are there other projects on the horizon? More voice work, more stand-up?
Spun Out's the main thing I'm doing right now. When I get back home I'll probably take some time and do some writing, and see if Spun Out gets picked up for another season.
Last question: Have you seen Stories We Tell? Diane Polley was very close to the Kids back in the day, and I was curious whether you've caught up to it.
No, I haven't! I've known Sarah [Polley] since she was a baby, and Diane was one of my dearest friends. Yeah, I'd love to get a copy of that.