Cars 2 was a dud. Nathan Fillion explains why we still want more

Canadian actor Nathan Fillion stars in the third instalment of Cars. While its predecessor was panned, Fillion thinks this new story brings the franchise back to its roots.

Edmonton-born actor lends his voice to Sterling, a business car

Canadian actor Nathan Fillion plays business car Sterling, pictured left, in the third instalment of Cars. Though the predecessor was panned, Fillion thinks this story gets the franchise back to its roots. (Disney-Pixar/Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

There's no real way to put it politely — Cars 2 sucked.

The film made more than $560 million US at the box office, but the flat storyline was panned by both critics and audiences, tarnishing Pixar's previously flawless track record. It was the first and only Pixar film to get a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So why would the animation studio rev up the engine and take the 11-year-old franchise out for yet another lap?

"I mean, I don't know that we need it. I just know that we want it," said Canadian actor Nathan Fillion, who joins the cast as the business car Sterling. "I hate using the word franchise, but we have a successful franchise with characters we care about."

Nathan Fillion, far right, with his Cars 3 cast mates, from left to right, John Ratzenberger, Jenifer Lewis, Larry the Cable Guy, Lea DeLaria, Armie Hammer, Cristela Alonzo, Owen Wilson, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and Kerry Washington. Fillion said when he does voice work, he typically doesn't meet his cast mates until the premiere. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Cars 3 features characters like Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy), Sally (Bonnie Hunt) and Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson), who plays an aging race car struggling to keep up with a new set of racers. Fillion's character, new to the series, tries to pressure Lightning into retirement.

Fillion said the story gets the franchise back on track — something early reviews agree on.

"It started with a real amazing message from the heart," Fillion said of the first Cars film in 2006. "Went to a sequel [2011's Cars 2] with a good message from the heart about friendship but [was] kind of surrounded by an international story of world domination. And now we're back kind of [to] just the heart. Less world domination. More back to heart."

'I'm not thinking about suspension or tires'

Fillion, who grew up in Edmonton, has become a seasoned voice actor.

His voice has showed up in Rick and MortyRobot Chicken, Justice League Unlimited and video games like the Halo series, and the upcoming Destiny 2. So he's used to being in the voice work "vacuum" and not meeting his co-stars until the premiere.

"You rely very heavily on the director who has a direction for a movie and the scene involved in mind. You really have to have a lot of trust and throw it out there."

The Edmonton-born actor plays Sterling, a business car, in the new Cars movie 0:27

Fillion didn't treat the sporty grey business car he plays any differently, treating him like a person while in the recording booth.

"I'm just imagining you know, how would he feel. I'm not thinking about suspension or tires or anything like that. I'm not thinking about car things. I'm just thinking about feelings," he told CBC Radio's q.

Some of Fillion's mannerisms were actually incorporated into the car. He tends to talk out of the right side of his mouth, and so does Sterling — something he didn't notice until he saw the movie. 

"I said, 'Hey, that's totally what I do!', so it's actually honest."

'Edmonton will always be where I'm from'

Fillion has been an actor for more than two decades now, with well-received stints on Castle, the soap opera One Life to Live and the cult sci-fi hit Firefly. But he still thinks of himself as the kid from Edmonton who was just three months away from becoming a high school teacher when he got an acting gig in New York.

"Every time I get a job, it's like winning the lottery," he said.

"There was a whole period of time when I had what I call the imposter syndrome, where someone's going to come to me eventually and say, 'you're not really an actor, are you?' ... The thing is someone is going to do this job that you are doing right now. Why not you?"

Canadian actor Nathan Fillion, centre, poses with fans at the world premiere of Cars 3 at the Anaheim Convention Center on June 10, 2017 in California. (Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

And though he's a Hollywood star, he said his family doesn't think he is really that big of a deal. "My mom really keeps my feet on the ground. She goes: 'Why would they hire you? But why you?'"

One of Fillion's next big projects is Nomis, a Canadian-American thriller with Stanley Tucci and Ben Kingsley he filmed in Winnipeg this past winter.

His connection to Canada keeps him grounded too. ​Fillion still visits Edmonton every so often — just not in the winter, he jokes.

"I bought a home in Los Angeles. I live in Los Angeles now so let's say Los Angeles is my home. Edmonton will always be where I'm from."

About the Author

Haydn Watters is a roving reporter for Ontario, primarily serving the province's local radio shows. He has worked for CBC News and CBC Radio in Halifax, Yellowknife, Ottawa and Toronto, with stints at the politics bureau and the entertainment unit. He also ran an experimental one-person pop-up bureau for the CBC in Barrie, Ont.