Filmmaker Andrew Stanton has worked on a host of beloved animated characters during his career as one of Pixar’s go-to talents, from the “Toy Story” gang to the robots of “Wall-E.” But Stanton will readily tell you that of all the characters he’s created or written, none is as symbiotically linked to a performer as “Finding Nemo” sidekick Dory is to Ellen DeGeneres. “Honestly, Dory is the only character that I have that kind of history with when it comes to an actor and a voice,” says Stanton, who hails from Rockport. “They bound together at such an early stage, they truly are chicken and egg.”
DeGeneres gets a new opportunity to demonstrate her flair for the memory-challenged Pacific blue tang in “Finding Dory,” a sequel that she had playfully lobbied for on her talk show. She discussed the film by phone from Los Angeles the morning after its Hollywood premiere.
Q. It’s been 13 years since “Finding Nemo.” What was your level of confidence that we’d ever see a sequel?
A. Zero percent. It really was just a fun joke [from my show] that kept going. And then my joke turned into a big movie premiere last night. So I take responsibility for every penny that this movie makes.
Q. You’ve got to try joking around like that more often.
A. I should [laughs]. It’s kind of true that if you say something long enough, you really can manifest whatever you really believe in and want. It made sense that there should be a sequel — it was a great, iconic film. I think maybe the pressure was, how do you follow it up? But Andrew found a way, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Q. What was it like on your first day back in the recording booth?
A. It was like it had been a year, not 13. I kind of worried about whether I would still have Dory in me. I mean, obviously it’s me, but it’s also tweaked. But she came back pretty quickly. And she’s just so lovable and innocent and optimistic, she’s really fun to play. There’s not a negative fish bone in her little fish body.
Q. You’ve said that you didn’t expect the sequel to spotlight Dory. Were there other things that surprised you about what Andrew and Pixar came up with this time?
A. I was pleasantly surprised by the cast. I couldn’t believe everybody he added, with Ed O’Neill and Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy and Ty Burrell. The additions were great. [Coughing slightly] See, right now, I couldn’t go in and be Dory. I’d be a fish with a frog in her throat, which would be odd.
Q. We know it’s rarely the case, but did you have a chance to record in person with anyone?
A. [Sounding disappointed] No — and most of my scenes are with Ed O’Neill, who I adore. But once they played me a little bit of Ed’s recording, I could just hear and see him, [even] with Andrew reading his part, and it was pretty easy to play against that. And it’s brilliant, the way they edit these movies, much less the animation. Ed’s character, Hank, is an octopus — well, a septopus is what he is — and that is hard to do, but they did it so well.
Q. Was there ever any talk during production to the effect of: Guys, we could be looking at some story changes — the octopus is just too complicated?
A. I don’t think so — I mean, unless there’s something I don’t know about [laughs]. No, I think even if somebody said, “You can’t do an octopus,” [the response] was always, “Yes, you can.” I think everybody was like, as Dory says, “There’s always another way.”
‘It was like it had been a year, not 13. I kind of worried about whether I would still have Dory in me. . . . But she came back pretty quickly.’
Q. When you made “Nemo,” you didn’t have your talk show yet. Was it tricky to coordinate your schedule this time?
A. No, I just worked on my days off. The hard thing was I would be done with a big chunk of it, and they would come up with different things and rewrite it.
Q. Was there a particular scene that you had an especially good time playing or improvising?
A. I just loved surprising everyone and saying things that would make them ruin the take. As a comedian, that’s what you’re hoping for. But as an artist, you do want it in the movie, so you end up trying to do it again the exact same way. And there’s so much emotion for Dory in this movie, I did cry. If I hadn’t, then it would have sounded like I was pretending. It’s really rewarding to see it work when you’re acting with just your voice.
Q. Baby Dory’s parents try teaching her a song about watching out for the undertow, but she can’t remember it. Is there any memory trick that could help her?
A. If there was, I’d like to use it for myself. My memory isn’t quite as bad as Dory’s, but I have a pretty bad one.
Q. What sort of things give you trouble?
A. Oh, lots of things. You know how you’ll hear a certain song, and it brings you back to an exact place in your high school? I’ll get that, but then I’ll think, Oh, I wish it was a memory of more than the hallway and the lockers — I wish it was all kinds of things from my childhood. It would be pretty incredible to have that.Interview was edited and condensed. Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.