Wednesday, March 13, 2013

John Ratzenberger — So Much More than Cliff Clavin

  Patrick McElhenney/FX

It’s practically impossible to hear the name John Ratzenberger and not picture him cozied up to the mahogany bar at a place where everybody knows your name. But the 65-year-old actor has long outlived the legacy of know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on Cheers.

Among his numerous credits are appearances on TV series like The Drew Carey Show , 8 Simple Rules and a recent guest spot on Legit. And he has the distinction of being the only star to appear in all 11 Pixar films to date. In a recent conference call interview Ratzenberger talked about his CGI film history and what he’d do if couldn’t be an actor any more.

John recalled how he first got involved with the famous animation studio, “It was 18 years ago that I started working with Pixar. The first Toy Story came out about 16 years ago, so my first meeting with them was 18. It’s like getting the brass ring on the merry-go-round twice.  The first one was Cheers and, all of a sudden, these fellows from Northern California give me a call.  They wanted me to put my voice to a pig. I really like these guys:  John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Darla Anderson. I thought, ,What fun people they are.,

 “I think the phrase is high standard,” he praised the company. “They start with a high standard and they stick to it.  They never lower their standards. That’s why Pixar is Pixar.  So, my association with them has been nothing but a blessing. It’s been nothing but good because to be associated or work with or work for a company, whatever you’re doing, whether you’re making brake linings, pencils or animated films, if you have a high standard, that lifts you. That makes you work harder and better and smarter. It’s been a joyous ride.”

One thing John insists that he doesn’t do is stick his nose in creative matters behind the scenes. As he explained, “My philosophy, whether it’s in this industry or out of it, is if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. I just leave it as it was right from the beginning because they do a good job. So, I don’t stick my nose into where it doesn’t belong. If I’m asked, certainly, we’ll have a discussion about this or that or what the character should do or what the lines should be. But, otherwise, no, I let the captain steer the ship.”

As everyone knows there’s no formula to making a TV show or film funny, but as John conceded, “Making it funny is, the old expression, ‘If it’s not on a page, it’s not on a stage.’ The writing is the most important part. If you ever noticed with Cheers and ‘Legit,’ they’re very similar in that you never see the joke coming. With most TV comedies, you know what the joke’s going to be. You can see it three pages away, but with ‘Legit,’ you don’t see it coming. That’s what I like about it.”

He certainly has comedy down pat but if John could show off a special talent in a future gig he confessed, “I like to dance. Maybe I was born too late but that era of Hollywood where you were expected, if you were on stage, to be able to sing, dance, act, to have all those skills. If you look at the old movies like James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, that was an actor. He could be a tough guy. He could be a tap dancer. I wouldn’t mind doing a show where they got back to the tap dancing.”

And if he had to give up acting, John has a less glamorous idea for how to make a living in his back pocket. He confessed, “I’d like to be a tugboat captain, because I like tugboats… I grew up near a shipyard. I’d watch the tugboats come in and out at all times of the day and night, in the middle of blizzards. These tugboats would just all of a sudden appear through the storm. I thought, ‘Wow! How cool is that? They just never stop.’ So, I guess it’s just part of me. That’s why I like going out to sea. I spend a lot of time on boats and things like that. I’d like to do a whole series as a tugboat captain.”

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