Kevin McKidd says he lives by an old actor’s maxim: “You only really know you did a good job when you get asked back again.”
So it was an easy yes when the “Grey’s Anatomy” star was asked to lend his voice to the new Pixar-Disney TV special “Toy Story That Time Forgot,” airing Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. on ABC.
The Scotsman had voiced the character of Lord MacGuffin in the 2012 Pixar big-screen blockbuster “Brave,” and when that film’s co-director, Steve Purcell, was chosen to helm the latest “Toy Story” TV adventure, he called on McKidd to play the new character Reptillus Maximus, a dinosaur soldier who is part of an elaborate, fictional game called “Battlesaurs.”
“As we were puzzling through who might play that character, I remembered that he had been in [HBO’s] ‘Rome’ and had played a centurion, so he was halfway there already,” says Purcell with a laugh. “And that character has such great range of emotions, and he brought so much to this little toy. It feels like a really rich character.”
In the half-hour film, it is two days after Christmas, and Bonnie — the happy owner of Cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks), space ranger Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), and Trixie the Triceratops (Kristen Schaal), as well as the collection of other familiar toys — has a play date at her friend Mason’s house. While she and Mason are distracted by shiny new video games, her toys go off to make the acquaintance of his toys. This is when they run afoul of the Battlesaurs, who, not realizing they’re toys, believe that they should be having Roman Colosseum-style gladiator battles with Mason’s other playthings, much to their detriment. Reptillus is caught between his loyalty to his fellow Battlesaurs and his affection for the endangered interlopers, particularly Trixie.
As it happens, the top of Reptillus’s head is red, which seems as if it might be an homage to the ginger-haired McKidd.
“I should say that I did that [on purpose],” says Purcell with a chuckle. “But we wanted Reptillus to be a warm color because he stands out from all the greens and purples of the other guys. He just feels more special that way, but it’s synchronicity that it happens to be Kevin McKidd inside that character.”
The actor, who also gets to sing the comically over-the-top Battlesaurs theme song in the film, had help getting inside that skin from the Pixar animators.
“They’ll give you as much information as possible, so I saw some early concept drawings of what Reptillus Maximus looked like and how much of a warrior he was, so that helped me develop the voice,” he says. (Mc-Kidd says he’s “trying to channel Ian McKellen and Laurence Olivier.”) He particularly enjoyed the battle scene and the allusions it made to his character on “Rome.”
Describing a moment in which Woody and Buzz find themselves in serious danger, he says it reminded him “of that sequence when Vorenus jumped into the gladiator pit to save his friend.”
Even though he’s playing a toy dinosaur, you may be able to make out McKidd under that reptilian visage, since the voice sessions were filmed as a reference for the animators.
“I can recognize quite a lot of my own expressions in Reptillus’s facial movements, which is quite disconcerting, I have to say,” says McKidd with a laugh.
He also got to do something voice actors don’t normally do: record with his costar Schaal, whose Trixie becomes the apple of Reptillus’s eye.
“Because a lot of the story is the romance between Trixie and Reptillus, they actually had Kristen and I in the studio to get those two characters very connected, and that was really fun,” says McKidd of the comedian and actress who also voices a character on “Bob’s Burgers.” “She’s such an amazing talent, funny, and has an amazing voice.”
“They totally were their characters that day,” says Purcell, who pulled double duty, both directing and lending his voice to the Cleric, the nefarious overlord of the Battlesaurs who wants to destroy all of Bonnie’s toys.
“He’s all my favorite villains combined in one,” says Purcell. “He’s got some Mr. Potter from ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ he’s got some Ebenezer Scrooge, and some Dr. Zaius from ‘Planet of the Apes.’
Following last year’s Halloween-themed “Toy Story of Terror,” producer Galyn Susman doesn’t rule out more TV adventures for the characters, who are slated to return to the big screen in a fourth feature film in 2017.
“You never know. We love to make stories with these characters, so who knows what holiday we’ll visit next?”