Joe Pantoliano, Sean Hayes for “Cats and Dogs”

Action, adventure, comedy, and talking animals, it’s all there in the hilarious computer-generated farce, Cats and Dogs, a film that provides a comical glimpse into the ultimate battle for animal supremacy. And actors Joe Pantoliano [Memento] and Sean Hayes [Will and Grace] are two of the humans who had a blast bringing their respective characters to life. Paul Fischer spoke to both of these guys in Los Angeles.

It’s clear that Joe Pantoliano is having the time of his life, enjoying a career resurgence few actors could but dream of. Beginning with Memento, Pantoliano, currently the voice of a Chinese hairless dog in the farcical Cats and Dogs, is astounded by the success of Memento, “Over a million bucks so far and it’s been out since March.”

Flashily dressed in a swanky pink coat and lime green jacket, Pantoliano’s career is on a high- except you WON’T see him in the next two Matrix films. “They just didn’t want me”. The actor is discovering a rejuvenation in his career, what with the surprise success of Memento, not to mention TV’s The Sopranos. “I wouldn’t have it any other way”, he says laughingly. Pantoliano the perpetually cynical tough guy, is somewhat different voicing a dog in the CGI-animated Cats and Dogs, and happily admits that , “I get to bring my young kids to see something I was a part of, because so often my kids aren’t able to. You’ve got to be twenty years old to see most of the movies I was in.”

Pantoliano explains how he felt watching the technologically advanced film come together, “I find it fascinating to watch this kind of process. For me, I’m always looking to find the chink in the armour. You know, how did they do that? It’s becoming so seamless; I just think there’ll come a time where I won’t have to go to work at all.”

Sean Hayes, best known for playing “Jack” on Will & Grace stretches his comic depth as the voice of one Mr. Tinkles, the villainous Persian cat who wants to take over the world. He jokingly remarked that he got into his feline character by “killing at least 23 people.” Or perhaps a cat from the past helped him out. “We had a cat in college named Chloe and it was the most evil, awful cat in the world. When we left, its paw would come out from underneath and try to claw us with its paw. It was just awful.”

On a different note, Hayes expresses amazement at this predominantly computer-generated film. “It’s quite amazing what they did? I don’t know why they never thought of this before. It’s the simplest story in the world – cats versus dogs – but I’ve never seen it before. I mean, it’s right there.”

The premise of Cats and Dogs is simple: Unbeknownst to their human companions, dogs have been fighting for thousands of years to keep mankind from falling under the rule of cats. When a rogue feline, Mr. Tinkles, initiates a plan to strategically disable the world’s dog population and leave humans defenceless against his tyranny, a crack team of dog agents and a loyal puppy named Lou are all that stand between mankind and slavery.

Hayes describes Tinkles, as “a very frustrated Shakespearean actor. He never got on in theatre, so he decided to take over the world.” Seeing him as the aggressively gay friend on the hit sitcom Will and Grace, Hayes may not seem the most obvious choice in the world to play the villainous Mr Tinkles. “I slept with a cat,” he explains when asked how he got the role. After getting the part, director Larry Guterman put Hayes through his paces to get the right accent. “I tried it with a German accent and it came out like Chinese or Japanese. Then I did a French accent and THAT didn’t work, so I just came up with this crazy, very authoritative, refined American, British combo. Mr. Tinkles is going to be on Frasier, because that’s how they all talk on that show.”

Hayes, a rather physical actor, comments on the difficulty in hiding behind a voice, and creating a vocal character. “You don’t have a face to work with, so your voice has to do all the work until you see the animation. So, a lot of it I had to pull back because it was too big. It’s the combination of trying to find the middle ground of where Mr. Tinkles is too small or too big and matching it with the animator’s facial expressions.” But there is a distinct advantage in being a voice, because “I can just show up in a baseball cap and sweats” to the studio and go from there.

Hayes is enjoying his work on Will and Grace, and even though he remains identified with Jack he still manages to break into a part like Mr. Tinkles. “Slowly, people are seeing outside the box and realizing that I became an actor to play other roles, not just one role for the rest of my life. And I’m writing some stuff for myself because some people just don’t get it that I want to do other things.” As for what kinds of parts does he want to play, they include “very introspective characters like Edward Scissorhands or Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade or the outcast characters. I like them a lot.”

Hayes is about to return to the Will and Grace set, and has hopes for a Cats and Dogs sequel. “I’d like Tinkles to actually disguise himself more, because I think that’s really funny when he does, but actually put on a disguise and pretend to be different things.”