In ‘Monsters at Work,’ a Roz by Another Name Is Just as Sour
She’s watching you, Wazowski. Aaaaaalways watching. Even if you don’t know her name, the gravelly, languid drawl of Roz, Pixar’s paperwork …
She’s watching you, Wazowski. Aaaaaalways watching.
Even if you don’t know her name, the gravelly, languid drawl of Roz, Pixar’s paperwork-obsessed slug-woman and thorn in the side of Mike Wazowski’s weekend ambitions, is instantly recognizable from her role in the 2001 movie “Monsters, Inc.” and her quick cameo in the 2013 prequel, “Monsters University.”
And now, in the new Disney+ spinoff series, “Monsters at Work,” Roz gets a twin sister: Roze.
“It’s the exact same voice,” Bob Peterson, 60, the Pixar animator, screenwriter, director and storyboard artist who voices both characters, said in a video call earlier this month from his home in San Rafael, Calif. “That’s the fun of it.”
Peterson, who has been with Pixar for 27 years, has voiced several of the animation studio’s most memorable characters, like the squirrel-loving dog Dug in “Up” and Mr. Ray, the tuneful manta ray teacher in “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory.” As a story artist, Peterson has worked on films like “A Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2.” He co-directed “Up,” and he was the story supervisor for “Monsters, Inc.”
Roz became a fan favorite for her relatable grumpiness (Why can’t Mike just do his paperwork?) and infamous laugh (“Ahh-haa-haa!”). But a kind heart lurked beneath the perpetual frown and black horn-rimmed spectacles — she’s a killjoy, but an appealing one. (“We are all Roz at times,” Peterson said.)
“Monsters at Work” added Roze, Peterson said, because having someone of her temperament brings balance to a series that is mostly concerned with silly comedy, bright colors and general buffoonery.
“Having a great curmudgeon like that grounds you a bit,” he said. “Truth tellers like Roz keep you from flying off the handle creatively.”
Peterson discussed how he landed the initial gig, shared his inspiration for Roz’s distinctive monotone and revealed her fire-breathing past. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Roz was your first role in a feature film. How does someone who isn’t a professional voice actor end up in a big Pixar movie?
I was the story supervisor on “Monsters, Inc.,” and was doing some dialogue writing as part of the Roz team. I stepped up to the mic and just tried to suck all the fun out of the room. I conjured up a voice that was like a didgeridoo, which is hopefully the most appealing pathetic sound you could make. We auditioned a bunch of actresses, but Disney eventually just said, “Oh, just put him in.”
Is it common at Pixar to have men voice female characters?
It’s pretty unusual. The other one is Edna from “The Incredibles,” who’s voiced by Brad Bird. You don’t see it as much anymore.
Once you got the gig, what kind of instructions were you given?
I work with Pete Docter [the chief creative officer of Pixar], and I was one of his lead creatives. I was directed to tone it down at times or slow down a bit if I was getting too fast. But it’s such a weird, unique voice that no one knew how to direct me on it.
How would you describe Roz’s voice to someone who’s never heard it?
It sounds like a gravelly slug — like the removal of all goodness in the world.
What was your inspiration?
I thought about the apple trees in “The Wizard of Oz.” And our lunch staff when I was in junior high, who’d say [in Roz voice], “Here’s your yellow wax beans.” But when I play any of these characters — Dug, Roz, Mr. Ray — I don’t know what’s going to come out until I stand up there. It’s a bit of improv, and if I just release and let it flow, sometimes these weird voices will come out.
The voice sounds like you’re running your vocal cords over sandpaper while chain-smoking a pack of cigarettes. I assume you have cough drops?
I can’t do it for very long — maybe 20 minutes. When we were recording for “Monsters at Work,” I’d record for a little while, take a break, or come back the next day, because I can start sounding a little chewed up. I have lemon tea and Throat Coat to keep me going.
Roz gets an “identical twin sister,” Roze, in “Monsters at Work.” Their voices sound identical. Please settle the score: Are they secretly the same slug?
Aren’t twins very much like the same person? Mike thinks he’s rid of Roz, only to meet Roze, who, except for her colored hair and no glasses, sounds exactly the same. People should keep watching Roze — there are some surprises coming up, and people can conjecture, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to guess what they are.
When can we expect a Roz/Roze spinoff series?
That would be fun. We could do it — I’d find a way.
You’ve voiced a number of memorable Pixar characters, including the squirrel-loving dog Dug in “Up” and Mr. Ray in “Finding Nemo.” What are some of your others?
I generally do scratch recording [a temporary voice recording] for every film I work on. For “Luca,” I played the dad for a while, and, at that time, it was more of an Italian accent, and I just could not do it. I was so glad when they said, “We’re not going to use you.” I was in “Finding Nemo” as the jumping dolphins and as the bird who, when the bubble comes up, says, “Nice,” and flies away.
Do you ever break out the Roz voice in public?
Before my mom passed away, when we’d go to the Monsters, Inc. ride at California Adventure, she’d want to make sure all the ride operators knew I voiced Roz. As we were getting on the car, she’d say, “Oh, my son, he does Roz; do the voice.” And I’d be like, “Eeeeeeh … Wazowski,” and the ride operator would be like, “That’s great, come on, let’s get on the car.” No one cares. I don’t do it too often, but sometimes I’ll do it to make a point — if someone insults me or something, I’ll give them an “Eeeeeeh” [in Roz voice]. Mostly I keep Roz contained, but, like the Hulk, she breaks out every now and then.
What is something fun about Roz that didn’t make it into the film?
She used to breathe fire! When we storyboarded her the first time, we had Mike and Sully going to her office and her yelling “Get out!” — and then we’d cut to them running down the hallway as a flame pursued them. But I think the fire was just too evocative and big for how low key she is, so we killed that.
Why do you think Roz has resonated with people?
I love her personality; she’s such a curmudgeon. Someone will tell me, “I have a Roz in my office,” or, “I have a Roz in my school.” Everyone has a Roz in their life.