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MTV Talks To Billy Crystal About Bette, Movies, And Hosting The Academy Awards

Billy Crystal Takes On Adventures In Babysitting With ‘Parental Guidance’
Actor talks to MTV News about working with longtime friend Bette Midler on a movie that tells ‘a story for everybody.’
By Kara Warner
August 29, 2012

As MTV’s extensive Fall Movie Preview extravaganza continues, we take a bit of a jump forward into holiday movie territory with a look at “Parental Guidance,” which opens Christmas Day. The film is the brainchild of Hollywood vet and beloved funnyman Billy Crystal, based on his own experiences trying to follow his children’s rules in babysitting his grandchildren, and features his first-ever onscreen performance with longtime friend Bette Midler.

MTV News had the pleasure of speaking with Crystal recently about getting “Guidance” off the ground, the key ingredients to good-not-cheesy family films and what we can expect from his next film, “Monsters University.”

MTV News: So this movie was inspired by your real-life experience with your kids and grandkids. Can you walk us through the process from start to finish?

Billy Crystal: Well it’s a long story, it actually is! [Laughs] We, [my wife] Janice and I, had the experience of having our two granddaughters stay with us for five days, the first time we had them for that long. On the sixth day I was exhausted and came in to the office and said, “OK, here’s the movie.” And it was all about trying to follow the rules of our kids and you know, “Don’t do this, don’t do that, they don’t eat this, they don’t eat that, they say this, say that, we don’t let them watch this, we don’t let them watch that.” All the things that as parents, they’re trying so hard to do the right things with their kids. And we tried and tried and you know we did great but it’s exhausting.

So I started fashioning a story about these grandparents coming to babysit for kids, but not like us, [for “Parental Guidance”] we made them grandparents who are not the best grandparents. They haven’t seen them in a while — families get very fractured at times — and with the economy, people can’t get there and they make all kinds of excuses. But to me, you have to be there for them. And so we wrote that into the story and it became a really powerful part of it, the mending of a family altogether based around these five or six days that Bette Midler and I, who is phenomenal, [she plays] my wife, that we have trying to do the right and all the while doing the wrong thing.

MTV: From the photos we’ve seen so far, it looks like a fun, warm, fuzzy film.

Crystal: It’s a really funny movie that will surprise people with its heart and depth; it’s more along the lines of “Parenthood” than it is something silly. And to me, that was a struggle to make. It took five years to get this movie made finally, with two different studios, and then here we are, and [director] Andy Fickman did an amazing job, working with Bette was like, perfect.

MTV: That seems like perfect casting. Whose idea was it to consider Bette Midler for the role?

Crystal: We were looking at all different kinds of people, and you have to understand, it’s interesting, women actresses are afraid, we found this with both parts, actresses are afraid to have kids of a certain age [onscreen], and then the other actresses, the older actresses were afraid of being cast as a grandparent, and Bette basically was like, “F— that.”[Laughs] Andy [Fickman] used to be her development executive and he said, “What about Bette?” and I went, “Of course.” So we met, and we’ve known each other 30 something years and we’ve never worked together, and when we sat down at the first meeting, it was like we already were married. And it was phenomenal, I’ve described it as us being like a pair of old shoes and that’s what we were, we just fit perfectly and it was great. She doesn’t have grandchildren so it was great to see us kind of become the actual on-set grandparents for these wonderful kids.

MTV: It seems like the two of you would provide the makings for a great blooper reel…

Crystal: I already cursed once in this interview but she’s got a pretty good mouth. Yeah, we just really enjoyed each other and we even get to sing together in the movie in a very fun way. Marisa Tomei plays our daughter and Tom Everett Scott plays our son-in-law Phil and these kids are really, really tremendous. They’re very funny but in the end they’re really moving.

MTV: What do you think about the new parenting techniques you’ve seen versus “old-school” parenting?

Crystal: Well, when we were kids it was basically, “Go out and play,” and we turned out OK, which was an alternate title for the film. [Laughs] Now there are so many theories, the world is much more complex now and there are different technologies and everyone’s got a theory, everyone’s got a book, and everyone’s got a show, there’s almost too much information other than basically the “sit down and tell me what’s wrong and maybe I can help you” kind of approach. I think that comes with experience and I just think that sometimes it’s just thought out way too much and kids are over-stimulated. My character basically is, I’m one of those “go out and play” types.

MTV: It sounds like you have the makings for a perfect holiday film, one that is lighthearted and not depressing or violent, like so many of the big holiday movies tend to be in and around awards season.

Crystal: You know, I finally felt it was safe to go see the “Dark Knight Rises” and the trailers, which I’m a big fan of, I think that the film was phenomenal, but the trailers ahead of it for what was to come, were terrifying. They all felt like the same, they all were bleak, “It’s all an apocalypse, it’s all after the earth’s dead,” and I’m going, “God, isn’t it going to be nice when Bette and I ring the doorbell and say, “We’re here,” that there’s finally a story for everybody.

MTV: Last but not least, what can you tease about “Monsters University”?

Crystal: I finally saw about 20 minutes the other day, during one of my last recording sessions. I have to tell you, I have to curse. It’s f—ing hilarious. It’s just so charming and different you know, it’s a prequel. It starts with them meeting, Mike is 17 and he’s got a retainer, and he’s dropped off at university in the opening of the movie walking to campus and he’s just so thrilled to get there. His dream was to work at Monsters Incorporated, and that dream started as a kid which you see in flashback, and he meets one of the great scarers of all time who gives him a hat that he keeps with him and it’s sort of like, it’s very similar to my seeing Mickey Mantle when I was a kid.

You tell [the writers and animators at Pixar] stories about yourself and they turn it into beautiful stuff. Sully is his arch rival, they don’t like each other. One is a little green guy and the other is this massive blue guy, so there’s that envy, and they don’t like each other but they end up pledging the same fraternity, and there’s a game sort of like it’s the scare games where the fraternities all pit themselves against each other, “Who’s scariest?” and that’s where most of the comedy is, in doing this sort of like “Olympics of scaring” and the movie, when they find out things about themselves, it also, it’s very touching. It’s just, I don’t know, these little computer-generated images you find yourself crying about. It’s going to be great.

MTV: You’re pretty busy these days. Are you holding out any time in your schedule to host the Academy Awards again?

Crystal: We’ll see what happens…

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