“When I got on board it was just pencil sketches, black and white of an octopus,” O’Neill told ABC News. “They told me to Google 'mimic octopus.' It’s an amazing animal actually. I didn’t even know they existed.”
O’Neill said he’s not quite sure how he was chosen for the role.
“My guess is John Lasseter who is the head of Pixar. [He] has come to a couple of 'Modern Family' table reads,” O’Neill said. “I think maybe that he got the idea of me, for Hank, and Ty Burell for the Beluga whale, that’s my guess. But I got a call from my manager saying they want you to play an octopus, um, that was it. And I said, ‘Can I look at a script or pages or something, a description? He said, 'It’s Pixar.' So I said, 'Okay.'”
O’Neill added, “I thought for months it was a cameo.”
O’Neill worked on perfecting the voice of the character for about a year with a team of producers, directors and animators.
“There’s a team there [that will] help you,” O’Neill, 70, said. “I’m not in a booth. I’m at a lectern, a podium with a headset and a script in place. And they’re in the booth and you can’t hear them in there. You’ll do a take that can be very strenuous. You know, you trying to escape octopus trouble, there’s danger. Its 30 seconds of this all-out effort. And then you look in the booth, you see them, but you can’t hear them. And then you get, (O’Neill makes strained faces) ‘Ah, that was great Ed. Next take, if we could amp it a little bit more,’” he joked.
He continued: “It’s like a kid in a sandbox playing by himself, but you have all of this help. You have to use your imagination a little bit more.”
Moviegoers will quickly learn that O’Neill’s octopus is damaged mentally and physically. O’Neill joked that the character is a lot like himself.
“He’s phobic. He’s a loner. He doesn’t like to be around people. He hates where he is,” said O’Neill. “And he wants to be transferred out.”
When O’Neill isn’t taping the upcoming 8th season of "Modern Family," he’s busy practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu. O’Neill discovered his interest in the sport 25 years ago when a friend who practiced martial arts offered him a free jiu-jitsu lesson and challenged O’Neill to hold him down.
“He said, ‘Can you hold me down, do you think for 4 seconds?’” O’Neill said. “I’m thinking 4 seconds, sure, 4 seconds. So I squeezed him and boom, he’s on top me,” said O’Neill. “I said I’ve got to learn this.”
“Finding Dory” hits theaters today. Pixar is a subsidiary of the Walt Disney which is the parent company of ABC.