Ty Burrell and Kaitlin Olson are best known as Phil Dunphy on Modern Family and Sweet Dee on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia respectively, but in director Andrew Stanton’s long-awaited sequel to Finding Nemo, called Finding Dory, they play a beluga whale named Bailey and a whale shark (and childhood friend of Dory’s) named Destiny. Both reside at the Marine Life Institute in California, where Dory heads to track down her missing parents, and while Bailey has trouble with his echo location and Destiny is exceptionally near-sighted, they both do their best to help her in their quest.
Olson and Burrell are just two of the new cast members joining Ellen DeGeneres and Albert Brooks in Finding Dory, which also features Ed O’Neill as a curmudgeonly octopus, Idris Elba voicing a sea lion and Eugene Levy and Diane Keaton as Dory’s folks. The two sitcom vets sat down with Screen Rant to talk all about jumping in the pool of charm and humor that is Finding Dory.
Do you approach characters like this the same way you approach live action characters? Prepare for them in the same way?
Kaitlin Olson: I did, yeah. I wasn’t worried about how to play a whale shark, I was more focused on, you know, her qualities and who is she and, you know, what’s important to her and things like that. It was a very similar way to how I approach most characters.
Ty Burrell: Yeah, I think it was kind of the same. As soon as you start to work with Andrew and the people at Pixar, you figure out that story is the main thing and you’re just trying to hopefully convey the story accurately, without always knowing the whole story, because you don’t always have the whole script at your disposal. And then, you know, obviously trying to make it funny as well. But really, yeah, just trying to hopefully tell the story well.
Do they show you what the characters look like early on, and does that help you too in any way just to get a picture of what you’re going to look like onscreen?
Olson: Absolutely. Every recording session starts with “Here’s what we have” and “here’s the pictures” and as you go along, here are little clips, and that’s invaluable. (to Burrell) Don’t you feel like…?
Burrell: Yeah, yeah.
Olson: Towards the end, being able to see the scene, even if it was rough — they’re really smart over there. They know how to work with actors.
Burrell: But then at the end of a session, they’d have to show me pictures of me so I could remember who I was —
Olson: So you could get back to real life —
Burrell: Go back to me and get back in my car.
Olson: That was only for you.
Burrell: That was just for me? Aw, shoot.
So that you don’t just jump in the water at the end of the session…
Burrell: Yep. Yeah, exactly.
Did you learn anything interesting at all about your particular species, whale sharks and belugas?
Olson: I learned that whale sharks don’t have teeth, they’re filter feeders, and that was pretty cool. And they’re the largest fish in the sea. That was kind of great, ‘cause I had a couple of people say that they were worried about Dory and if she wanted to eat Dory (laughs). But she wouldn’t eat Dory.
Burrell: I don’t really know much about beluga whales, other than the echo location.
Kaitlin, did you study whale calls when you were working on the voice?
Olson: All I did for that was, I’ve seen Finding Nemo so many times — especially now that I have kids — I just copied exactly what Ellen was doing and just did it.
Now somebody told me, correct me if I’m wrong, that you two worked together in the recording sessions, and were the only two actors that actually did that?
Burrell: Oh yeah.
Olson: Twice we did. We got to do it twice together and that was so much fun. It’s a little bit more natural, it’s easy, Ty’s a very funny improviser, he’s a very generous actor, so we got to go back and forth, and that’s kind of what I’m used to, is working with actors, so…
Burrell: Yeah, the feeling is mutual. It was basically — I think a lot of that stuff got used too, and I think Pixar may do that more than other companies because that dynamic seems to really help.
Because of the way it works, was there anyone in the cast that you never met until this press junket?
Olson: Not today, but when this whole thing started about a month ago, I met Ed for the first time, and Diane, and lots of people.
Burrell: We have a lot of incredible, iconic actors that I was meeting for the first time. Albert Brooks, one of my heroes. Eugene Levy, Diane Keaton…and it was for press. The whole thing (film production) was over.
Olson: It was all over. And we’re like, “Hi, we’re gonna take a picture together, it’s really nice to meet you and I’m gonna put my arm around you now, is that good?”
Finding Dory opens in U.S. theaters June 17, 2016.