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'Finding Dory': The genius secret of how Pixar cast its 'Nemo' sequel

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Pixar

From now until our Summer Movie Preview hits newsstands April 15, EW is bringing you 20 scoops in 20 days. Follow the hashtag #20SummerMovieScoops on Twitter and Instagram to keep up with the latest.

Here’s some fish food for thought: You’ve got a sequel, 13 years in the making, to the second highest-grossing film of 2003, a slew of new characters to cast (Beluga whales! Sea lions!), and one very recognizable voice who will share a scene with most of them.

What do you do? Pull up YouTube and get your hands on all the Ellen Show clips you can find, of course.

That’s the way Pixar went about casting Finding Dory, its long-awaited summer follow-up to Finding Nemo, which followed a humorless clownfish (Albert Brooks) on his quest across the Australian seas to track down his captured son (Alexander Gould). This time around, the focus is on Ellen DeGeneres’ Dory, a blue tang with short-term memory loss who embarks on her own journey to reconnect with her lost parents.

As such, Dory encounters dozens of new faces in the big blue — and fortunately, DeGeneres has interviewed most of them.

“Sometimes casting can be the hardest thing because the editors have to find obscure clips from TV shows and try to cut them together with other characters to see what they would sound like,” producer Lindsey Collins tells EW. “But because it’s Ellen, we’d be like, ‘Well, what does she sound like with Ty Burrell? I’m sure she’s interviewed him five times.’”

“She’s interviewed everybody in the world!” adds director Andrew Stanton, who says there was frankly no difficulty in casting this time around. “How does she sound against Eugene Levy? How does she sound against Diane Keaton? It was all there.”

The method of temporarily subbing in desired voices (before making an offer to the actor) is a tried and true one at Pixar — for instance, early Inside Out tests used Parks and Rec spots to land on Amy Poehler. But entire months of animation can be thrown out in seconds, thereby negating an actor’s valuable time in the recording booth, so temp dubs are critical. With Ellen interviews immediately at their disposal, Stanton says the Dory cast vetting process was but a sea breeze.

The second part of the buoyant casting boon, of course, is that basically everyone said yes. It is Pixar, after all, and even if Finding Nemo hadn’t become such a cultural phenomenon in its release, it’s hard to imagine any actor today would voluntarily decline a chance to let loose for the studio.

“My dream casting from the get-go was if Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy can be Dory’s parents… that just makes so much sense to me,” says Stanton. “And that was one of the easiest phone calls we could have made.” The director also landed his first pick for Dory’s new companion, a curmudgeonly octopus named Hank, voiced by Modern Family star Ed O’Neill. Stanton adds names like Ty Burrell (as beluga whale Bailey) and Kaitlin Olson (as eyesight-impaired whale shark Destiny) as “really easy casting choices, too.”

“We had a lot of people who hadn’t done much voiceover,” Collins mentions, citing first-timers like Keaton and Idris Elba (who plays a lazy sea lion opposite his The Wire costar Dominic West). “Diane Keaton had never done anything, which was shocking. Diane Keaton! And Idris, at the time, hadn’t done Zootopia. But it’s a common thing. They think you want them to put on a voice — ‘I can do all these crazy voices!’ — and you’re like, ‘No, no, we just want your voice. We want who you are.’ There were some fun recording sessions to be had there.”

Plenty of voices from the original film will also return to reprise their roles, including Albert Brooks as Marlin, Bob Peterson as Mr. Ray, and Stanton as sea turtle Crush. Weeds star Alexander Gould, who was but a tyke when he voiced Nemo in 2003, is now 21– as such, he’s since been replaced as young Nemo by 11-year-old Hayden Rolence — but don’t flush Gould down the toilet just yet: The original voice of Nemo will still appear in the film in a cameo.

Finding Dory hits theaters June 17.

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