"I answered, 'Yes, I'll do it. Who is this?" Burrell said of the initial phone call from the Disney-owned animation studio, adding, "Who am I speaking to?"
“Finding Dory” follows the journey of a wide-eyed blue tang fish, voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, who suffers from memory loss and embarks on a search across the ocean to find her family.
This story presents a modern twist on the true meaning of "family,” something with which Burrell is familiar from his role as Phil Dunphy on the hit TV comedy series.
Burrell said he thought “Finding Nemo" set the tone in terms of "not having to look the same to be a family."
He added: "You kind of make your family out of the people around you and who you love."
A major theme in “Finding Dory” is "about people with flaws and that you can kind of make … each other whole through friendship," Burrell said.
Burrell, 48, provides the voice of Bailey, a neurotic Beluga whale in captivity at the Marine Life Institute, convinced that his echolocation does not work properly. Neuroticism is something to which he can identify, Burrell jokingly said.
Based on his own research and thoughts of what a Beluga whale would sound like, namely because of the way they look, he came up with a unique "voice" to try for his character.
"You know, there's a bulbous head. And I thought that looks like something that would sound congested. So I came in with a congested voice,” he said.
The directors "were very polite," Burrell said. And after he finished the reading, they told him, "maybe now what we'll try is the rest of the movie in your regular voice," the actor recalled of the humorous situation.
The neuroticism and voice weren't the only things Burrell brought to the table: He spent some serious time homing in on his whale sounds to prepare for the role.
"I'm in the car and, and I'm making these sounds, trying to come up with an echolocation. And I can tell people in the cars around me; basically, they feel like, when I'm pulling up that there's like a clinically depressed ambulance somewhere in the vicinity. Because I'm going, 'Ooooh' with my windows down in the heat."
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