Bonnie Hunt for “Cars”

Bonnie Hunt is one of Hollywood’s most comedic actresses, and gets to show off her inner car in Cars, in which she plays, I guess you could say, the leading lady. The movie revolves around Lightning McQueen, a hotshot rookie race car driven to succeed, that discovers that life is about the journey, not the finish line, when he finds himself unexpectedly detoured in the sleepy Route 66 town of Radiator Springs. On route across the country to the big Piston Cup Championship in California to compete against two seasoned pros, McQueen gets to know the town’s offbeat characters–including Sally,{voiced by Hunt] a snazzy 2002 Porsche, Doc Hudson, a 1951 Hudson Hornet with a mysterious past, and Mater, a rusty but trusty tow truck, who help him realize that there are more important things than trophies, fame and sponsorship. It was a perpetually upbeat Hunt that talked to Paul Fischer on the eve of the film’s premiere in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Question: Were you a NASCAR fan?

Hunt: A fan, no. I didn’t know anything about NASCAR. I’d heard of it. But, this is pretty humbling view isn’t it? Look at this.

Question: What kind of car do you drive in real life?

Hunt: drive a ’61 Buick Skylark convertible. I love my car.

Question: You are the kind of person who matches your personality with the car you drive, no?

Hunt: think so, kind of yeah. The car is kind of an extension of us in American. I mean, that’s how the advertising provokes us. In Los Angeles, you think more probably? I dunno, in the old neighborhood, your car is sometimes better than your house. That’s where you put your money and your kind of apparent prestige. When we were younger certainly.

Question: Why do you do a movie like this? Because Pixar called you up? The family nature?

Hunt: ‘ll tell you when I first met Pixar I felt I met this creative oasis in the middle of a business that I dreamed of being in as a little girl and just wanted to be a storyteller my whole life. And I got out there and I’m sure for you guys it’s the same thing, you have this dream of what you want to go and then you get into that world where your job takes place and there is not a lot of cooperation at the top for your intelligence and you’ve got to kind of….

Question: No, I never noticed that.

Hunt: Well, you’ve got to kind of figure your way through. And once in awhile you meet somebody who gets it. When I first worked at Pixar over tens years ago and each movie takes four or five years – this is my third film with them – there is just a lot of talent there and a respect of talent. And it’s all about story and character and the process and nurturing it. And besides, these people are obviously tenacious and passionate and responsible. They are great storytellers. So, I do these movies because I love working with them.

Question: When they tell you, you are playing a Porsche, does that help you understand your character right away?

Hunt: You know, I dunno. From the very beginning, when John first called me, we didn’t even talk about what type of car it would be. We just talked character, which is so true to Pixar’s passion. So, it’s whether you are a bug, a monster, a toy or a car or a fish and you’re in a Pixar film, you’re going to have a heart and soul and dimension. Both technically, artistically and emotionally.

Question: Did the model sort of evolve out of that discussion?

Hunt: don’t know if John always intended to have a Porsche, I’m sure they had a lot of ideas in mind. He was definitely a car geek growing up and he’s still fascinated with cars — that’s just who John is. I bet a lot of it had to do with his dream type of cars and who he could get clearance from, and who would be OK with it and who would collaborate and all that stuff. And how authentic he could be, which is always a big thing for him as well.

Question: How did the character evolve in the process?

Hunt: John is such a visionary that that heart and soul was always sort of the same throughout the whole process. There were very different tweaks here and there, and I was very fortunate to even get a writing credit on this film and I really feel close to the guys at Pixar. Certainly John Lassiter and Darla Anderson. These are just really respectful, talented people who don’t have a lot of fear that is usually in place with the decision making process in Hollywood. They don’t have a lot of fear, because they have the ability. They have what it takes.

Question: What is it about Sally that you most identify with?

Hunt: Maybe what we all identify with, when you get to be 40 I think there is a point where you go, ‘You know, I’ve been running for a long time. And what’s it all about?’ We all sort of go through that and I’ve definitely been going through that in my own life, so I could really relate to it with Sally. And there is a part of it that we can kind of accept the idea behind stopping to smell the roses and slowing down, but it’s always feels like a risk to actually do it.

Question: Do you know women who have actually done that?

Hunt: Well I gotta tell you, no matter where you to, there you are. I really think a lot of that rat race is in our own minds and we put the pressure on ourselves and I do it all the time. But there are moments where I am gardening where I am in Radiator Springs in my own garden.

Question: Are you looking to go back to Television?

Hunt: Yeah, ABC called me. They started calling me shortly after ‘Life with Bonnie’ was cancelled to do something, which y’know, kills me. It’s the same thing that happened with CBS when they cancelled my show, they called me to come back. I always say to them the same thing. ‘I’m going to write the way I write.’ And they say, ‘Yeah, well that’s what we want!’ (Laughs.) So, I did a pilot this year for ABC called ‘Crimes and Dating.’ I’m a detective who is newly divorced and in her 40’s and back out there in the world. It was a really thoughtful, funny and smart show. It really is. I’m hoping they find a place for it midseason. I was really surprised they didn’t put it on the fall schedule, because I thought maybe at this point they were willing to take that risk. In fact, when we did the focus group and the testing on the show and they asked the audience who do you think the show is made for, they said HBO. (Laughs.) And I thought, maybe that was a bonus and ABC will be really seduced by that, but no, they weren’t. But, it’s a really good show.

Question: What exactly is ‘I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With’?

Hunt: Jeff Garland is a guy who actually writes – is the executive producer of ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ on HBO, is a guy who I’ve known since I was 19 years old. We were in the Comedy circuit in Chicago. I was working full time as a nurse, which was my career which I had gone to school for. And I was working at Northwestern University Hospital during the day in the cancer ward and hanging out at the theater at night and working there in the shows. And Jeff was always hanging out there in the theaters and he used to say, ‘I just want someone to eat cheese with.’ Because Jeff was always overweight, always used to eat and had a heart of gold, but he could never find love. So, it’s about that time in his life. When he was working at the theater and was really lonely. And he was my friend then. Jeff is a good guy, so when called me to do this movie loosely based on that time I think it’s very accurate, but he always says, ‘Very loosely,’ I had to say yes, because my grandmother was sick and I was working the theater, Jeff would always drive me to take my shift, because my mother had all seven of us kids on a shift of taking care of my grandmother so she could stay in her own home instead of staying in a nursing home. So, I owed it to Jeff. That’s what ‘Someone To Eat Cheese With’ is about.

Question: Is it a comedy?

Hunt: It’s sweet, but it’s not sad. It’s funny and a little edgy at times. There are parts of it with some of the women he met along the way that are a little risqué. It’s really funny. It was fun to see it at Tribeca, because it was very simple. We shot the whole movie in 18 days.

Question: When you do press for this movie, do you often compare the processes of doing the different TV talk shows? What do they ask of you?

Hunt: You know, Ellen’s show is very great with me. They are very loose, we don’t do a lot of planning, because Ellen and I get a long very well and there is not a lot of fear. Some of the shows are really over produced, I won’t say the names of them. They literally try to script the host and they script you, and that’s really hard for me, because I really love the talk show experience and I love being a storyteller and for me as a kid, Merv Griffin Show, Mike Douglas Show, after school, Dinah Shore, Johnny Carson. I lived for those shows. I loved them so much, because it was almost a glimpse into seeing the real person behind the actor and I still love that, but we don’t see that on most talk shows anymore. But, then there are other shows like Letterman and I, we go way back. And that’s always loose and fun and revealing for both of us.

Question: Do you think to yourself, ‘This is more of an Ellen story, this is more of a Letterman story’?

Hunt: Definitely. Absolutely right about that. There’s Kimmel stuff. (Laughs.) It’s interesting, I do Dave’s show a lot and Jimmy I have known a long time, so if he needs me I’ll do that show, but the Regis and Kelly’s, I dunno. My humor always comes from the same place, some kind of humor and family experience, but you do kind of edit what you are going to do on those shows. But, I gotta tell you, every single time I do those pre-interviews, for me, and every show I’ve done. I never end up touching one of the subjects I pre-interviewed about, ever.

Question: And they haven’t caught on?

Hunt: What are they going to do? (Laughs.) But I don’t usually do it on purpose, what will happen is I’ll go out there and I’m honestly in the moment, that’s just who I am. And there are some guests you can just see the shot machine rolling in their eyes (she makes a weird noise) – ‘Oh, no, they are scared.’ So, you have to be careful and go back to what you know that they have prepared. Which I usually am able to do. Even if I go off book I am able to set them up for what they have.

Question: Do you have a route 66 or road trip memory you could share?

Hunt: just remember my dad, he would usually light up a Winston and the air-conditioning would be on, the windows would be up and it would be like a cancer oven. (Laughs.) And I remember one time my mother was in the back seat and there were six or seven of us kids we were all smushed in the station wagon and my dad was smoking a cigarette and we were going to Bassbreak Indiana, and my dad had exchanged this thing in this little motel where they redid the electrical wiring in the place and that was the exchange for the vacation and my dad would work the whole vacation. But, he flicked the cigarette into the back of the car and my mother and she’s got seven kids in the car and she’s looking for this lit cigarette and they were yelling at each other. It was literally 10 minutes of the funniest material I ever heard of in my life. I was like 12 and I could see the humor in the brilliance in their argument. Because the humor always came out in every argument.

Question: Are you going to do any more dramatic roles like ‘Loggerheads’?

Hunt: You know, I just love a good story. I’ve been so lucky with movies like ‘The Green Mile,’ ‘Jerry McGuire’ and ‘Return to Me.’ ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ is a whole other experience, it’s a little wacky for my taste, but I definitely for me, my role, I always try to bring some truth and honesty to it.

Question: Anything else coming up movie-wise?

Hunt: don’t think so. Who knows? We’ll see what happens.