Exclusive Interview: Carl Weathers on ‘Toy Story of Terror’ & Creed

Combat Carl

Getting to interview Carl Weathers last week was a double treat. Not only do we get to talk about the latest in the Toy Story franchise, the Halloween special “Toy Story of Terror,” but Weathers has been in some of the most defining ‘80s action movies of my film education.

In “Toy Story of Terror,” out on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, August 19, Weathers voices Combat Carl, a soldier toy whom Bonnie’s toys meet when they get lost in a scary motel. Combat Carl has a miniature version of himself, Combat Carl Jr., also voiced by Weathers. Weathers played a commando in the classic Predator, and Apollo Creed in the first four Rocky movies, plus a few more obscure favorites of my own. I transitioned smoothly into Weathers’ action past after delving into his vocal performance and the bonus features of “Toy Story of Terror.”

CraveOnline: Was the character in “Toy Story of Terror” already named Combat Carl before they approached you?

Carl Weathers: That’s a very good question. I don’t know the answer but that’s the character’s name when I came onto the project, so I assume they made that decision.

Did you feel that Combat Carl was in your likeness?

Yeah, more or less. It’s a character in that whole wheelhouse of animation. It’s like any comic book rendering or drawing. It’s never quite exactly the same, nor in my estimation should it be. But, I thought it was funny and charming. There’s a lovable childlike quality about not only the rendering but also the character as written. Give me that combination of traits and of course, who wouldn’t want to adapt and adopt those personalities that at least approximate your likeness?

Did playing a soldier again bring back memories of Predator?

Well, of course. I think that’s an easy one to call that clearly Predator and the whole action genre of war movies was somehow captured with that character. It certainly gave you some sense of Dillon from Predator, except that Combat Carl I think maybe harkened back a little more to World War II movies, but I loved it. I absolutely loved it and was really honored to be a part of it.

How did you do the voice of Combat Carl Jr.?

That was all basically me, but them doing electronic manipulation of that. So I really didn’t have to do very much. I thought I was going to have to find some other part of my vocal range to do that, but I thought it was just beautifully done mechanically or electronically. There wasn’t a heck of a lot to do except try to replicate Combat Carl but in obviously a Mini Me sort of version.

So you just said the lines normally?

Pretty much, yeah.

When did you do the TV commercial for Combat Carl with the public service announcement?

That was a bit later. There’ve been different sessions over a period of time for both the movie and then more for the movie and then for the commercials.

Combat Carl is missing a hand. Do you think that was a reference to Happy Gilmore?

[Laughs] Well, it could’ve been but also if you remember in Predator, Dillon lost an arm with a submachine gun in it. So I have a sneaking suspicion that in writing this, there was a lot of tongue in cheek homage to those characters, both those characters.

You had done a voice in Adam Sandler’s cartoon 8 Crazy Nights. How different was recording for Pixar?

That’s a good question. Voice work in itself is always a bit of a challenge if that’s not your oeuvre, if that’s not what you do as an artist generally. It’s always a little bit of a challenge because you’re dealing with more than anything, just the imagination and hopefully some renderings. You’re not playing to anyone in particular or responding to someone else. In this case, it was really different because I was familiar with none of the people in the booth as it were. I wasn’t familiar with anyone because I’d never worked with them before.

So that’s always a little different because you’re trying to find the rhythm and the tone of what the directors and the producers and the creators are looking for. In 8 Crazy Nights, I knew Adam and had a sense of Adam’s sense of humor and what that was all about. Adam is a fountain of characters and voices in his own right, so it was very easy in a way to just do 8 Crazy Nights because it was basically Adam and his invention. In this case, it wasn’t that it was difficult, but it was different to find the tone. It took some time of course to, I guess, get into the rhythm of this piece.

Combat Carl talks very fast, doesn’t he?

Combat Carl does, yes, he does. Combat Carl’ll get in your face in a moment.

And it’s even faster on the commercial.

Yes, yes. Again, the brilliance of Pixar is they’ve been at this for so long and of course this franchise has been around so long that they know exactly what they’re doing and where to dial it and how to dial it. So I think for most artists, it makes it pretty easy and enjoyable.

The commercial is very much like “G.I. Joe.” I think they crammed every episode into that one minute spot.

Why doesn’t that surprise me? “G.I. Joe” was such a fantastic character for kids and I think probably still is. But, Combat Carl obviously is homage to G.I. Joe and so many other great characters, both live and fictional, live-action and cartoon throughout the history of movies, that I think you can do that and take those liberties. For the kid in all of us who are old enough to really remember “G.I. Joe” from childhood, it’s homage completely.

Combat Carl and his toys are off to find Billy. Do you think we’ll see them again?

You know, I would certainly like it because it was truly an enjoyable time that I spent working on that character and at Pixar. I don’t see why not. Billy has a lot of mileage to travel and the toys do as well. So to find that group of warriors together out there searching for Billy I think could make any number of adventures.

Did you hear that they’re making a movie about Apollo Creed’s grandson?

I did hear this. In fact, I’ve heard it on more than one occasion. It’ll be interesting.

I think it’s a fantastic idea to approach the Rocky characters from a different angle. How do you feel when you hear someone else might be playing the next in line for Creed?

I think it could be wonderful, if it’s pulled off today with the kind of energy and I guess passion that we worked with, why not? I was always in favor of trying to do a spinoff of Creed when I was this young actor and I was looking for something else to do. That made perfect sense to me to do a spinoff of Creed or to do a prequel to Rocky and Creed’s life, but that didn’t get any traction from anyone. So why not have Creed’s gone, long live Creed?

Why didn’t your idea happen? Was Stallone resistant to it?

I don’t know. I don’t know how much control over doing that at that time he had. Anyway, the idea didn’t get traction so that’s that.

Do you know Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler who are doing the new one?

I’ve met Michael B. and we actually met at a celebrity poker tournament to contribute to Lupus. Really, really sweet young guy and I had of course seen him in the movie shot up in Oakland that he got a lot of acclaim for, Fruitvale Station. So really nice, young guy and really wonderful actor. I can’t imagine him not doing a good job in this.

They’re doing another Predator too which I imagine will be all different characters. Was that a really significant movie for you in your career?

Absolutely, it was significant on so many different levels, both professionally and personally. I got a lot of relationships and friends that I connected with as a result of that movie and my association with so many people, including Joel and Craig Baxley, so many of the stuntmen of that movie and of course all the actors, our ex-governor and with Shane Black who I understand is writing and directing this new Predator. Yeah, really significant.

Was that a hard shoot in the jungle?

Very. Yeah, very. I guess you could call it sweating by day and sweating it all out of us after drinking at night. It was all day long in the jungle and in the heat. We had just a group of wonderful, crazy guys and stuntmen and technicians on that movie, so then the guys are all together at one bar, club or another drinking at night and having a good time and eating great food, lying on the beach. So the jungle was tough, but Puerto Vallarta wasn’t bad.

When you saw that monster, did you know that was a creature that would stand the test of time?

Not at all. Not at all, but the great designers of that, Stan Winston and the makeup artists who helped put that whole thing together did such an amazing job. Clearly, the Predator himself was as significant [as the heroes]. The old adage, you need a great antagonist to create a good protagonist, that movie had maybe one of the all time great antagonists, with someone in the suit who just did a spectacular job. Seeing it for the first time was as exciting to me as I’m sure it was to any member of the audience.

You mentioned losing your arm in Predator and that was a great death scene, but which death scene did you like better: killed by Predator or killed by Ivan Drago in Rocky IV?

Well, being known for quite a few death scenes, that’s really a double edged sword, no pun intended. In those movies, when that occurred, what I really tried to do was just do something as dynamic as possible. In each one and in others, when whoever I was playing at the time bit the dust, the attempt always just was to leave a lasting memory of that character. Not only in the performance leading up to that but in the actual final death throws of that character, how can you create a sense in the audience at least of real empathy for that character no matter what side of the fence that character was on in your mind’s eye? Whether it was a good guy or a bad guy. There’s no real preference to me. It really comes down to trying to move the audience. If they were moved, then I did the job.

I think you did, as I hope you can tell it lasted with me.

Yeah, I think traveling around the world honestly I’ve had so many people remark about those scenes in those movies and how they affected them. It’s kind of like the old adage about movies or plays: open big, close bigger. In closing out one of those characters, how can you do that in a way that’s again, really memorable.

You mentioned your association with Joel Silver. Did Action Jackson come up as a way to give you your own action character?

Yes, Joel and I had, through the course of the movie, I really had an affinity for his talent as a producer. We had many conversations because he was a real fan of the Blaxploitation era. I realized that and started talking about different movies. At one point in the conversation, I said, “I’ve got an idea.” And he said, “Why don’t you write it?” So I wrote the idea out for this character called Action Jackson. He liked the idea and he took it, found the writer and the rest is history.

I like that one too. Was “Arrested Development” a big resurgence for you?

Yeah, it was something that, quite frankly, I hadn’t anticipated. I never thought about comedy as my calling to be honest with you. I’m not a comedian but I really appreciate laughter and I appreciate great comedians. In this particular case, I got a call from Mitch Hurwitz’s office and they wanted to do something. That didn’t really appeal to me at the time, but in conversation I said, “But I’ve got an idea.” Of course you don’t want to assume at all that your idea’s necessarily a better idea or funnier or anything else, but it just made sense to me in terms of what I thought I could do effectively. I thought one thing I’d never done and something I remember so well was being in the company of people who were always looking to get something for nothing, get on your check or always asking for a loan or whatever the deal was.

I pitched the idea and they liked the idea, and consequently ran with the idea. Lo and behold, it was much funnier than I could’ve imagined it would be. People who of course know of “Arrested Development” and watch the show, fell in love with that Carl Weathers, the cheapest guy in the world. For me it was kind of a reinvention, which I think most actors are looking to do anyway. You’re constantly trying to reinvent yourself, and it really stuck. It was a joy to be a part of that group too. That is one of the funniest, wackiest groups and Mitch Hurwitz is truly one of, in my opinion, one of the comic geniuses writing out there today.

Has Stallone not called you for an Expendables movie yet?

I have not been called by Stallone or anyone else.

I think that would be a good fit. Maybe for Expendables 4.

I think it could’ve been a great fit too. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be, maybe not.