As the voice of everybody’s favorite talking Jack Russell terrier Max in The Secret Life of Pets 2, Patton Oswalt not only brought his own unique, edgy humor and laugh-out-loud sardonic tone, but he was also stepping into Max’s paws following Louis C.K.’s removal from the role—a situation Oswalt graciously doesn’t dwell upon. With six voice roles on film and some 35 in television, Oswalt explains how he goes in ‘cold’ on voicework scripts, lest the spontaneity be lost, how following his rip-roaring success as Remy the rat in Ratatouille, he leaned into trusting his own style, and why he’d relish a Ratatouille sequel.
DEADLINE: I counted your voice roles and I think it’s 35 TV shows and six feature films. Does that sound right to you?
PATTON OSWALT: Oh my! I guess. I had no idea. Wow, that’s crazy.
DEADLINE: Often people with acting talent begin doing voices as a child, was that the case with you?
OSWALT: I didn’t know for sure one way or the other if I was good at voices. I just always kind of did them in my act, and I guess people saw me performing and that led to people going, “Oh, hey, you want to do this cartoon?” And then when you start doing voiceover, it’s kind of a small, insular world. They all know each other, and then word gets out, and then from one job to the next. It’s nice. It’s cool that way.
DEADLINE: What do you love about voice work specifically?
OSWALT: I just love that it’s such a looser creative part of yourself that you have to use. Everything that you’re physicalizing, everything that’s happening, motion and action-wise is through your voice and that’s what you have to use. So, you end up kicking loose different parts of yourself acting-wise, you didn’t know you had and that is really, really exciting.
DEADLINE: Can you recall an experience of that?
OSWALT: I can’t give you a specific example from a piece of work that I’ve done. It’s a lot of cold reading. It’s not like I studied the scripts beforehand. You go in and read it cold. It makes it sound more natural that way, you know?
DEADLINE: How do you know you want to do something if you haven’t really looked at the script closely. What’s the process there?
OSWALT: Usually, they’ll send me like, “Oh this is this director, this is this writer. They’ve done this, they’ve done this. These are these animators.” I watch a lot of animation. I know the people that are doing it, so I know the kind of the cool fun areas that it’s going to be in. So, a lot of times I don’t necessarily need to read the script. It’s just something that you can sense is going to be fun and good.
DEADLINE: With The Secret Life of Pets 2, obviously you’re taking on a role that’s already been established. How did you set about bringing your own flavor to it?
OSWALT: I didn’t really overthink it ahead of time. I just went in and tried to bring a reality and a comedy to each scene rather than think about the overall, “Okay, how am I going to let this be different?” I just look at the scene and go, “Well how would I do that myself?” And then that’s how the scene ended up going.
DEADLINE: Did it give you any pause to follow on from Louis C.K.?
OSWALT: A lot of people have taken over characters that other actors and actresses have done so it’s a thing that happens in the acting profession. It wasn’t like it was a new thing that had never happened before. And I’m like, “Well, people do it all the time.”
OSWALT: I mean they just kind of said go in, we’ll read the script and then we’ll just kind of adjust it from there. And that’s just sort of went from that way… I don’t mind discovering it [the script] on the way with the director, with the writer. I certainly want their input. I’m not going in and going, “Oh, I’ve made my own decisions here.”
DEADLINE: What’s your take on the finished film?
OSWALT: I thought it was great. I thought it was really, really fun. They didn’t just stick to one story. It was more of an ensemble piece where you see all these different characters dealing with different aspects of life and growing and letting go and stuff like that. My daughter loved it. I was just really, really happy to get to do that. When she was really, really young, it was really fun watching her slowly realize that I was the rat in Ratatouille. That was so much fun.
DEADLINE: Remy in Ratatouille is one of the all-time great voice roles. Do you feel like you took anything away from that experience for your future voice work?
OSWALT: Ratatouille definitely taught me just to relax and trust my voice a little bit because I was in there, I said, “I’m going to bring a voice to this. I’ve got to bring a character to this.” They’re like, “No, you can just use your own voice. We just want you to talk like yourself and to do that and see it like work. That just was really, really gratifying and filled me with a lot of confidence for future jobs.
DEADLINE: You recently tweeted your support for the idea of a Ratatouille series. Would you ever do it? Or a film sequel?
OSWALT: Oh absolutely. Any sequel to Ratatouille hinges on Brad Bird coming up with an idea that he likes and would want to pursue. I love that Pixar goes with the pace of the creators. They wait until something amazing happens. So, if he drew up something, that would mean that a truly big inspiration had hit him and he wants to do it. I would absolutely run and do that.