Interview: Larry the Cable Guy immortalized in new Cars Land ride
Back in 2005, Daniel Whitney, better known to the world as redneck comedian Larry the Cable Guy, received a fax from his management company.
They asked him if he was interested in being the voice of a buck-toothed tow truck named Mater in an upcoming Disney-Pixar animated film titled "Cars." The Nebraska native wasn't quite sure how to react. He had struggled as a stand-up comic since 1985, but finally caught a break in 2000 when he became part of the Blue Collar Comedy Tour alongside comics Bill Engvall, Ron White and Jeff Foxworthy.
"They sent me that letter and asked me if I wanted the part of the 'small town tow truck' and I knew it was a movie directed by the guy who did 'Toy Story,' John Lasseter, but in all honesty, I had no idea what it was," Whitney says during a recent phone interview. He says he then called his manager and asked where he would have to go to audition for the part and his manager informed him that he was already being offered the gig.
"I put down the phone and I put down the paper and started to cry," he recalls. "I was so happy. I remember that moment. It was so awesome, but I would have never have thought on that day in a million years that it would have turned into what it has turned into."
As he researched more into his character he began to see what "Cars" creator, director and executive producer John Lasseter had seen all along – Larry the Cable Guy was a perfect fit for Mater the tow truck.
"I said 'Yep, they picked the right guy'," he says. "I'm kind of like the real life Mater. My wife said that to me, but I think I have nicer teeth. But the way he acts is honestly how I've been acting my whole life outside of entertainment – just as myself. It was really close to me which is why I think I did such a good job with it. I knew what Mater was all about so I was really able to bring it to life."
Whitney went on to voice Mater again in "Cars 2" in 2011 and is now excited to be apart of the Cars Land attraction opening at Disney's California Adventure on June 15, where Mater the tow truck has his very own Junkyard Jamboree ride. According to the Disney website, the ride is hosted by Mater and guests board a small trailer pulled by baby tractors and are treated to some country-style music sung by Mater himself. Whitney, who grew up in Nebraska but also lived in Florida, shares that he has never been to Disneyland in California, but has fond memories of family vacations and field trips to Disney World. He's looking forward to sharing his "Cars" ride fame with his wife Cara and two small children, Wyatt, 5, and Reagan, 4.
"Oh heck yeah my kids are coming out with me when we do this," he says of making his first trip to the happiest place on earth this month.
Since his kids were too young to realize that Mater was actually their father in the first film installment, Whitney says that now, with a second film and all of the promotion surrounding it, as well as the opening of Cars Land, his kids are finally making the connection.
"I took my little boy to preschool and we walked in and there was a Mater and he said 'Hey Dad, there you are'," he recalls. "My little girl too, if she sees a Mater now she says 'That's my Dad.' That feels pretty good. It's got to be weird for my kids though because I was touring so heavily when they were born and I got this tour bus and we really traveled around probably 210 days a year together on that bus, then they see their dad as a cartoon or see me on a commercial – I think they figured that that's what all dads did but now I think they realize that not every dad does what I do."
Whitney, who turned 49 this year, says that this summer he's finally taking two months off – in June and July – to spend some much needed time with his family. In August, however, he returns to film another season of "Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy" on the History channel and he has stacked up comedy show dates in between his filming schedule as well. He is also a part of an animated feature that he, Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Lisa Lampanelli created for CMT and he will continue to do commercials for the gastro esophageal reflux disease drug Prilosec, a product he says he's not only the face for but uses frequently.
Though his pal Lisa Lampanelli did a season of "Celebrity Apprentice" only to be fired by Donald Trump after making it to the top four, Whitney has no desire or interest in appearing on the show. He did toy with the idea of appearing on the last season of "Dancing With the Stars," but ultimately turned down his offer to spend more time at home. After seeing himself on an episode of "Only in America," in which he was standing next to the Naked Cowboy in New York City, he realized he needed to lose some weight.
"I got me a trainer on Feb. 20 and I've gone from 289 all the way down to 242," he shares. "I going to go down about another 20, I want to get to 220. I guess I'm going to have to get rid of some of the fat jokes from my act."
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