We spoke with actor Stacy Keach this week about his role as Skipper in Disney Planes! Keach is known for many roles over the course of 50 years, including that of Mike Hammer. This year he brought his talent to a Disney animated film for the first time! Here is our interview.
MS: How did you get tapped to play Skipper in Planes?
SK: Well, I did a documentary about 5 years ago called The Pixar Story. It was a documentary that I narrated, and it was shown at the Marin County Film Festival. I was invited to attend, along with the director/writer/producer of the film, Leslie Iwerks. Her grandfather (Ub Iwerks) used to work for Disney, as a matter of fact. During that festival, I had the opportunity to meet John Lasseter. I got a letter from him about 2 years later, almost 3 years ago now, asking me if I would like to be in Planes. I was thrilled, because for many years, I’d tried to get a job at Disney as a voice-over artist, and I’ve never succeeded. I grew up in that part of the world, and I’ve always loved Disney films. So when they said “You’re in”, and what part I’d play, I was thrilled. I love Skipper. Skipper is a wonderful character. He’s a good guy, which is is unusual for me because I usually play the bad guy (laughing).
MS: What other animated films had you voiced previously?
SK: I’ve done The Simpsons a couple of times, and I’ve done Rugrats and Scooby-Doo, Batman…so I’ve done other animated voices. But I’ve never done a Disney film.
MS: What’s it like being immortalized in a Disney film? Planes will probably be still watched 100 years from now.
SK: I love it! I’m thrilled. It’s great. Particularly this role, it’s a wonderful part. He has a history, a backstory that gives him a different dimension than just being the straight mentor/teacher of Dusty. Have you seen Planes? I just wrote a memoir, called “All in All“. It’s just came out. I am lucky enough that Planes was in the works, and was ongoing when I was writing my memoirs so I had a chance to talk about it a little bit.
MS: We’ll make sure to link to your new book in our article!
MS: Director Klay Hall has a deep interest in aviation, I believe he’s also a pilot. We’ve talked to him. His father and grandfather are both pilots, so aviation runs deep. Do you have any interest in aviation?
SK: Yes and no. I was in the Air Force ROTC when I was at Berkley. I like being associated with the Air Force. A couple of years later when I got out of school, I decided I wanted to learn to fly myself. I took some flying lessons out of Santa Monica Airport for about 3 sessions. The third session, my regular teacher was not there, and a substitute came in who was not…well, I had a bad experience with him. It was on a Saturday, we were coming in for a landing, and it was very, very busy. So, when you’re coming in for a landing, you are supposed to do a crab move where you go left a little bit, and right a little bit – so you slow down. Just about as I was ready to land, the instructor started saying “GET YOUR NOSE UP, GET YOUR NOSE UP! (laughing), and scared the hell out of me. I decided that I was going to leave it to others in the future, that it wasn’t something I wanted to do. But I have a lot of friends with planes and who fly, and I love flying. I don’t have any problem with flying as a passenger. My piloting experience is very limited (laughing). I enjoyed it until that moment. That moment crystalized my anxiety. I could have used that a little bit as Skipper in terms of the fear of heights and the fear of flying that he has to teach Dusty to overcome.
MS: That is something I related to as well. I have a fear of heights and a fear of planes, but I love to travel. You are braver than I! How do you relate to Skipper?
SK: Well, I have 2 kids. My son Shannon is studying at MIU for his Masters Degree in International Public Relations; my daughter Karolina is at Pepperdine University as a junior, studying theater. So as a teacher, I taught some courses at George Mason University via Skype in acting. I think that Skipper…he’s a father figure, and also a teacher. I have both ingredients in my system.
MS: In the film, Dusty tells Skipper that maybe can do more than he’s built for. Have you ever felt like that?
SK: Oh, always! Sure. I think everybody has. I think certainly in athletic events, I wanted to be better. And as a musician, I always want to improve. I think it’s about improvement, it’s not necessarily about change. It’s about getting better in what you do in order to grow.
MS: What is your favorite scene in Planes?
There are so many! I love when Skipper finally gets off the ground and comes to Dusty’s rescue. That’s my favorite scene. But the other characters are so wonderful. El Chupacabra – I love that plane. All of his scenes I love. But my favorite scene is when Skipper finally overcomes HIS fear and comes to the rescue.
MS: I’ve read that Skipper is a cross between Klay Hall’s dad and John Lasseter’s father.
SK: I know! That is interesting, it may be a composite. I didn’t know that John Lasseter’s dad was also in aviation until the premiere. It was a nice discovery, I really enjoyed that. Klay I knew. Klay told me stories about his dad, and his own love of aviation and his own expertise. Klay was the perfect director for this project, because he really understands aeronautics.
MS: When you worked on Planes, did you work with any of the other actors?
SK: I worked just with Klay, one on one with him in the microphone booth. That’s the way it was put together.
MS: Thank you so much for your time!
Disney Planes comes out on Blu-ray/DVD on November 19th, 2013.