As a green, one-eyed "scare assistant" named Mike who resembles a billiard ball with legs, Billy Crystal gets to sing, wisecrack, and woo the ladies in the latest Disney/Pixar computer-animated feature, Monsters, Inc. But Crystal might have been a Pixar player from the start, if he hadn't said no to playing Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story.
"I hate that this comes up," said Crystal, who nevertheless admitted, "It's the only regret I have in the business of something I passed on."
But Toy Story, which became the top-grossing film of 1995, was then in its early planning stages. "Only Woody had a name then," he said of the cowboy doll that Tom Hanks eventually voiced.
"It was at [former Disney executive] Jeffrey Katzenberg's house, and he showed me a pencil test of Buzz singing 'You've Never Had a Friend Like Me.' He said, 'Look at this different form of animation.' But also, it was a big business dispute," Crystal added. (Disney owns both Mr. Showbiz and ABCNEWS.com.)
Crystal threw up his hands to gesture, 'Enough!' "This is many years ago."
The Perfect Fit
Still, Crystal admired the Buzz Lightyear test Pixar made, using his voice with their drawings. "It's hilarious, but I don't think I was right for that. Tim [Allen, who became Buzz's voice] is a beautiful guy with a resonant voice. Mike is a better fit for me."
To convince Crystal to come aboard the Pixar fantasy wagon this time, the folks at the San Francisco-based computer shop took no chances: They had CEO Steve Jobs call Crystal with the offer. Then they showed Crystal his "audition" tape, which they always make to demonstrate how right an actor's voice is for their character.
"They used a test from My Giant where I'm saying, 'Without Goliath, David is just a punk throwing rocks,'" Crystal recalled.
Still, he didn't feel Mike should "sound like me. I'd done this character on Saturday Night Live, Willie, who was a masochist. For Mike, I edged him up and gave him espresso — he's Jiminy Cricket on speed. Once I had that and felt that was cool, it was very freeing."
Monsters, Inc. opens Friday.