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When Pixar’s Toy Story of Terror! needed the perfect voice for a never-say-die action figure, producers turned to an actor who’s long been one of film’s great fighters: Carl Weathers.
As Combat Carl, the unyielding plastic commando encountered by Woody, Buzzlightyear, Jessie, Mr. Potato Head and the rest of the gang in the Halloween-themed entry, Weathers tapped his iconic image as a man of action – as Rocky Balboa’s boxing rival Apollo Creed in Rocky, the alien-fighting CIA operative George Dillon in Predator and the titular maverick super-cop in Action Jackson – to create one of the toughest toys on the block.
Initially airing last fall as a television special on ABC, Toy Story of Terror! makes its Blu-ray debut today. In an interview with Spinoff Online, Weathers recalls how he found his inner action figure (in two different play scales) and looks back on an explosive, action-packed career.
Spinoff Online: Tell me how you got into the head of both Combat Carl – and his tiny doppleganger.
Carl Weathers: Ah, Combat Carl Jr., yes! First of all, the character is such a wonderful character, as it was rendered and how he was integrated into the story, that it was, first of all, just a joy to be a part of the Pixar franchise of Toy Story of Terror! So, getting into him really wasn’t that tough, because he was so reminiscent of the movies that I really loved growing up as a kid – the war movies – and, of course, then being a part of Predator – Combat Carl just seemed like a great fit. And it was written with such charm and such humor, at the same time, and with a little bit of an edge that was just a kind of loveable gruffness and take-charge kind of quality that you just couldn’t miss the fun in Combat Carl.
These movies have come to mean so much to a couple of generations of kids. Was it something that meant a lot to you, to get the invite to participate?
Absolutely. I’m a fan of Pixar movies, and there’ve been so many great ones, and to be asked to be a part of this particular franchise and the Toy Stories franchise, with all the great talent in it, and also the wonderful stories. And Pixar animation and Pixar storytelling has been a part of our lives for a few decades. I couldn’t have been happier to be asked and, of course, these characters were just right up my alley – both Combat Carl and Combat Carl Jr.: tough, gritty, but with a sense of humor and a kind of charm.
Most importantly, did you get the Combat Carl action figure?
I haven’t gotten it yet – I’m waiting for it!
The way that toys can spark a child’s imagination has been such a great part of this franchise. What were your favorite toys when you were a kid? What were the your go-to playthings when you were growing up?
Wow, that’s really a great question. Of course, I’m sure you remember all the toy soldiers: those green, plastic soldiers that had a little base to them and you could move them around, and some of them were down on their belly so they could crawl. They were in the form of the World War II soldiers. I had a box filled with that kind of stuff. And of course, how can you not have a train if you were a boy? I remember my grandmother bought me my first train, and it wasn’t a very large toy and it only went in a circle. Probably, the circle was no wider – I can imagine now – than maybe three feet, and it just went round and round. And then you could add pieces and maybe put it on a little journey, under chairs and things like that. So, an electric train. So those things were really my go-to toys. Because then you didn’t have all this electronic stuff, your imagination, in a way, was exercised to a far greater degree, I think. You had to create the visuals, and you had to create the drama, and you had to create the explosions and the battles in your mind. So it was really a rich and beautiful time.
Along with this project over the past year, you got to return to Arrested Development, which I imagine must have been a treat to be able to see the resurrection of that show and be involved in it.
Absolutely. Mitch [Hurwtiz] and that whole group – what can I say about it except “insane”? Just insane and funny and a joy to be around.
I’m sure that for years you’ve had people come up and drop an Apollo Creed quote from the Rocky movies on you, or to drop a quote from Predator on you. Did you notice when it started to shift and people started dropping Arrested Development quotes of yours on you when they ran into you?
Oh, yeah! Yeah – the joy of doing television, and the joy of, I guess, having a career where a lot of people have been fans for a long time is when you can do something that is not expected, and it turns out well. Then of course, something like Arrested Development, people just love, and there’s a certain demographic of people out there, of young people [in their] 20s and 30s, who, once they’ve discovered Arrested Development, can’t stop talking about it and can’t get enough of it. So, yeah, there are a lot of lines of that Carl Weathers that people found that they couldn’t not quote. I’ve heard so many: “Let’s get a stew going,” “We got a stew going,” “All I need are some crackers” and “Let me have that chicken bone.” “Don’t get rid of those bones.” They go on and on and on.
What has it meant to you to have some bona fide classics – obviously, Rocky and Predator in your filmography – to have made movies that continue to keep audiences excited still today?
Well, it’s fantastic. I think most actors want to do work that not only is appreciated, but that’s memorable, that stands the test of time. And of course, I’ve been fortunate that I’ve done a few and those characters have been a part of [a mythology] – some of them are in the capsule circling the Earth. So that in and of itself is really rewarding, But then, of course, when you meet fans who love those characters so much and who have been thrilled by those characters and entertained by those characters and they come up to you or tweet you or write you or whatever and want to let you know how much they’ve enjoyed it – that’s a great feeling!
One movie that jumped out at me on your filmography that I’d forgotten that I’d seen you in was Close Encounters of the Third Kind, another genuine classic. What was that experience like, to film that with Spielberg, right during his big moment as a filmmaker when he was really getting into gear?
Yeah, well, how can you not be a fan of Steven Spielberg’s, first of all? But to get that call – this was right after I’d finished the movie Rocky, the first one, and to get that call out of the blue, to go in and do one scene in a movie. And literally, I was flown to the East Coast, went to the set, did the scene, had a bite to eat, got on a plane and within 24 hours, I was back home. And you know, in the original release of that movie, to see that was just, again, thrilling. To be in a Steven Spielberg movie and to have it be such an enjoyable experience in the movie and of course, be in the big scene with Rick Dreyfus – as a young actor, those experiences are wonderful experiences, and great to have to be a part of the filmography and to have people ask you questions about it, because in its own way it’s a piece of trivia for a lot of people that might not remember it. When these movies were then re-released, that scene was not really a necessary scene in the movie, and it was subsequently cut out to shorten the movie. But in the original it was there, when it was originally released, so it’s great to have been a part of that.
For the younger fans that have discovered you over the course of your career – if you could point them to one movie where you think, “That’s the Carl Weathers movie I’d like you to see, if you haven’t seen it yet,” what’s the movie that you did that you’d like to point fans to, in case they missed it?
Wow – that’s a good question! You know, there isn’t “one,” I don’t think. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve really done the movie yet that – how can I put this? – is complete, for lack of a better word. I think it’s a real challenge, for most actors, because I watch other actors as well, and every once in a while, I’ll see a movie and I’ll think, “Wow, man – did they hit it out of the park on that one!” Because it’s a combination of how a character is written, rendered, how the movie is ultimately produced, what the actor’s skill set is, tone of the movie, the story, how it’s shot – there’re so many elements that go into really creating that one movie that sort of captures, I think, the essence of that particular actor and delivers a character that is complete. I, unfortunately, haven’t had that one yet, in my opinion. I think all of the movies I’ve done, and even the television work that I’ve done, there are aspects of it, in each one of those. Or it goes so far, but doesn’t quite capture the completeness of what I think my skill set is as an actor, and as a talent.
Of course, your most iconic role is Apollo Creed, and we’re hearing there’s going to be a movie with the grandson of Apollo. Have you any thoughts on expanding Apollo’s cinematic legacy with this film?
No, I think it’s a great idea. I think the young actor, Michael B. Jordan, is a wonderful young actor, and I wish them well. I think it’s a great idea. If it works, fantastic. But clearly if audiences want to see it, and it’s done well, then it will continue Creed’s legacy.
Just looking at some of your early work, even as you were coming up, you got to be on some really cool TV shows: The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky & Hutch and Kung Fu – so many classics. What was that experience like, in that era of TV, to go be a guest star on these shows that later became iconic in and of themselves?
Oh, yeah – I remember that as one of the richest and fondest times in my career. All of the Quinn Martin shows: [The] Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, Cannon. The TV shows you’ve mentioned, TV shows like S.W.A.T., which wasn’t long-lived, but was really great. Delvecchio. There were so many at the time that were just great. In about a two-and-a-half-year span, I did about 16 or 17 episodics and had a great time, and it was a great time to learn and work with wonderful directors, and you know, work with actors who I really revered growing up. So I couldn’t have honestly had a more enjoyable, spectacular beginning in Los Angeles as a professional actor than I did.
Bringing it back to Toy Story, has anybody given you any notion that there may be more Combat Carl in your future?
No, I haven’t heard anything, and I can’t imagine that Pixar wouldn’t be looking at that possibility, because the Toy Story franchise is so strong and Toy Story of Terror! was such a joy, and people who I know saw it enjoyed it so much – not just because I was in it, but they and their kids just really enjoyed the story. And so it would seem to me that it would be a natural, but those calls are made by other people and at the appropriate time. If it is to be, I’m sure I’ll hear something. And if it isn’t, then we at least did one that I’m really proud of.