Ed O’Neill is an actor who thinks of himself as a hired hand. On “Modern Family,” as on “Married with Children,” he likes to stick to the script, do his job and go home. So he’s perfect for animation, a job that requires laying down a vocal track and then letting the animators do the rest. “Finding Dory” isn’t his first animated film; he did a bit part in “Wreck-It Ralph” and an episode of “The Penguins of Madagascar.” But it is his first major role. He plays Hank, a mimic octopus with seven tentacles who grouchily helps Ellen DeGeneres’ absent-minded blue tang as she searches for her long-lost parents.
Even people who don’t cry at movies get choked up at Pixar films. Do you?
I haven’t watched that many Pixar films. But I got choked up on this one! I remember thinking, “Oh my god, I’m going to cry!” I think what they do is they earn it. They earn the sentimentality. That’s what makes it work so well. Often times the emotion and sentimentality is not earned. You get a little choked up, but you forget it 10 minutes later. On this movie the opposite is true. It will stay with you.
A friend who’s a parent left the movie a blubbery mess.
Of course! And it works on so many different levels. If you’re an older parent you think of your parents, or if you’re a younger parent you think of your children. It covers the waterfront.
Dumb question, but how do you get in the mind of an octopus?
Who the f— knows what an octopus thinks? Although they certainly do think. They’re kind of an amazing animal.
How so? What did you learn doing research?
I Googled “mimic octopus” and saw something on YouTube. It’s stunning. There are many different kinds of octopi. The mimic octopus — and listen, don’t quote me on this — is among the most amazing, because it shapeshifts, it color changes, and it either seems to be thinking or is using some evolutionary tool. It adapts itself to so many different situations. If it’s in an area where there’s predators who are afraid of coral snakes, it will make itself look like a coral snake. That means it has to be aware of predators. If it’s in an area where fish are afraid of lionfish, it becomes what looks like a lionfish. It’s amazing. Google it!
Learning about things you might otherwise learn about is definitely one of the big perks of being an actor.
You’re exactly right. I’ll tell you my favorite part of being an actor: When you go on location, wherever it is, you experience that part of the world in a way you never would in another situation. When you vacation, you don’t get a feel for a place the way you would as an actor. If you went to Austria for a series or a miniseries, on your downtime you’re not going to travel far, but you’re going to find out everything you can about that locale — which tourists don’t generally do. You do one day here, one day there. You’re jumping around, so you never really get to see anything. When you’re an actor on location for four, five or six weeks, you get to know that place pretty well.
Do you even get a chance to travel much, given how much of your year is dedicated to “Modern Family”?
Not that much anymore. I used to do it a lot when I was younger. Now I have two daughters and I don’t like to be away from them too much. We have a place in Hawaii and we go there every chance we get. I’m doing an independent film right now, but that’s shooting in Los Angeles [where he lives]. Even there, though, we’re shooting in a neighborhood I was never in. It’s over in Studio City, but it’s up in the hills a little bit. There are old homes, all this acreage. I had no idea it was even here.