Guys. A.J. Buckley is rad. Nicest guy ever.
You probably know him from TNT‘s Murder in the First or FX‘s Justified.
But I got to sit down and talk with him about his new, Disney/Pixar animated feature, The Good Dinosaur. And I was his last interview of the day so we really got to kick back and talk about the themes of the film in depth. It was so cool!
Buckley was candid and thoughtful and had some beautiful things to say. In particular, he shared his thoughts on the significance of the Father/Son relationship in the film, his own biggest fear, and what it means to become a man.
In the film, Buckley is the voice of Cowboy T-Rex, Nash.
Nash is the son of Butch (voiced by Sam Elliott) and brother of Ramsey (voiced by Anna Paquin).
Nash and his family play a key role in helping Arlo (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) along his physical journey to find his way home and, more importantly, along his personal journey to overcome his fears and grow as a young man:
Legion of Leia: The movie is really funny! And I feel like we are all talking about the emotional aspects of it because it is, incredibly emotional. But do you have a favorite funny moment from the film? The bug harmonica maybe?
A.J. Buckley: Yeah! The harmonica. I actually started to play the harmonica before I went up there in case they asked me actually play it. And then I realized that they’re just going to get a person who can really play. But I still learned how to play the harmonica which was cool.
But, what was so fascinating to me, and it’s all a credit to [director, Peter Sohn], was that in any comedic scene that I have done, [there is] another actor there and you’re in front of them and you set up the joke. And you feel what they’re throwing at you and then you kind of go off of their rhythm and then there’s the punch line!
There was nobody in the room [when I laid down my tracks for The Good Dinosaur] so we didn’t realize that it was a comedic scene – We knew the dialogue was kind of funny and Peter was laughing but I didn’t know how Anna was delivering it, I didn’t know how Sam was delivering it. So, in order for that scene to work, that was all Peter sort of guiding us.
He’d already heard the tracks and he knew how to set up the jokes. And then when I saw it, I was like, “Oh my God! That’s so funny!”
And some people today have said, “Your guys’ chemistry was so cool!”
And I’m like, “There was nobody there!”
Legion of Leia: You didn’t know each other!
A.J. Buckley: Yeah today was the first day we all met!
Legion of Leia: That’s so cool!
A.J. Buckley: I know! So that’s all to Peter but I would say the campfire scene [was my favorite funny moment].
Legion of Leia: I read that this is going to be your daughter’s first movie! Has she seen it yet?
A.J. Buckley: Not yet! This will be the first movie that she’ll see, yeah.
Legion of Leia: I also read that you got her a bunch of dinosaur stuff. Do you think she’s getting it yet?
A.J. Buckley: Yeah, I got her a bunch of dinosaur stuff and, over the last couple of months, I’ve been saying to her, “Daddy’s a dinosaur!” And, for the longest time, every time I’d say it, she would say, “Noooo.”
[And I would say,] “This is Daddy!” And she would point to another picture.
[And I would say, again,] “Daddy dinosaur, Daddy T-Rex!”
And then, finally, one day, she said, “Daddy dinosaur!”
… And she’s seen the trailer but I don’t think I can take her to the actual theater yet because I think it might be a little overwhelming. I don’t want to scare her. But there are parts of [The Good Dinosaur] that she has to see– Like the scene where they go running through the fireflies which is awesome; just all of the fun stuff! The stuff in the beginning with the eggs, which is great. There will be moment that I will show her but what’s great is that it’s a timeless movie.
Legion of Leia: I was just going to ask you that, yeah!
A.J. Buckley: Yeah, it’s a timeless film that, you know, ten years from now she’ll be able to watch. You know, my street cred, for sure, is through the roof. I’m literally going to be the hit at so many birthday parties. I mean forget, Buzz the Clown, (sits back and points to himself) – This guy!
Legion of Leia: Yep, throw on that Nash costume and you’re done!
A.J. Buckley: Yep, yep! That’s it! (laughs)
Legion of Leia: I feel like this movie resonates with people on so many levels, depending on what they need to get from it and what they connect to. And that’s so special. Are you excited about that?
A.J. Buckley: Well, what’s special is something that happened today— So many times you’ll do junkets or you’ll be interviewed and stuff and there’s a disconnect from the work and the material and being interviewed. And then something happened today which has never happened to me in my career where people who came in and sat down on the EPKs or sitting with you or at the roundtables– every single person has said how much this film has affected them—like “I cried” or “I brought my daughter and it’s her favorite movie.”
And to be part of something like that is so… I’ve never experienced anything like that. It’s a really cool feeling and that’s what Pixar does. … And I finally understood what Pixar is for the first time today when I saw people come up and be like, “Man, this movie really affected me.”
And it’s an amazing thing—that these animated stories are based in real life and are tangible things.
I mean, crying over a cartoon, really?!
Legion of Leia: I know! I was sobbing!
A.J. Buckley: Sobbing! I was a mess.
Legion of Leia: I was a wreck; I was ugly crying, hard.
Legion of Leia: (laughs) I looked over at my brother, he’s 25 and he’s a big muscly guy like you, and I said, “Hey! Are you crying?!” – Well, I actually said (in a sobbing voice), “Are you crying?!”
A.J. Buckley: (laughs) Yeah!
Legion of Leia: And he said, “No!” And his eyes were all puffy and red.
A.J. Buckley: Yeah! Allergies! Allergies! (laughs)
Legion of Leia: But you know I really think this movie is going to change the way that people, not just parents and children but all people, really understand each other.
A.J. Buckley: You know somebody said today, “Is it too heavy?”
And Sam [Elliot] actually said it the best—and [what he said was, the “heavy” stuff] is part of life. And the world that we live in, unfortunately right now—especially with everything that happened in Paris, what’s so special about this movie is that, it’s about family. And it’s about respect and honor and facing your fears and working together and then, through that, people go to the theaters together and see a family movie.
And my biggest fear—I didn’t really have fears in life; I did but they were stupid things like heights or things that were really sort of irrelevant. But my biggest fear now that I’m a dad is my mortality. And am I ever going to let my daughter down? Like, what will my daughter say about me when I’m gone?
That [makes me think about the theme in the movie], what’s my “mark?!”
… I had an incredible father. I was very blessed to have the father that I had and he passed away four years ago coming up this Christmas of cancer and he always said, “Be proud of the work that you’ve done.” That was his mantra to me.
[And it makes me think of] Arlo and his father [in this film] and how Poppa speaks to Arlo and gives him these words of advice. And there are just so many things about the Father/Son relationship; and it really is a special, special movie.
Legion of Leia: When you were a kid, if you had seen The Good Dinosaur, what would you have taken from it?
A.J. Buckley: I don’t know if I would have understood this movie as a kid. Because, for me, where I am now in my life—this film affects me because of the journey that I’ve been on. And how it will affect my daughter when she first watches it and then when she watches it with her kids fifty years from now– she’ll have a different experience.
It’s like putting a piece of art up on the wall—How you look at it and interpret it and how I look at it will be different because we’re coming from two different places.
Legion of Leia: Do you think there is one message from this movie that you feel is all encompassing or any message that you feel particularly proud of?
A.J. Buckley: I think it comes down to the ability to realize that, on your journey, it’s okay to make mistakes and be flawed and realize how much work you have to put in to actually become a man; and the journey to becoming a man is not easy.
To say, “I’m a man” and actually becoming a man are two different things. And you become a man one day—and you don’t choose it. You just become a man and things happen in your life that define you and it’s usually through facing your fears.
And you have to face those and that’s the day that you become that and you can’t fake that. And that’s Arlo’s journey – he couldn’t fake those things, he couldn’t fit it but when he went away, something happened. He was a man. And I think that’s what this movie is.
The Good Dinosaur is out in theaters everywhere now!!!
So go see it! It’s an incredible film!
To learn more about the film, you can check out my movie review here!