In 1995, a boy called Andy got a Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday. It was from his favourite movie. This is that movie…
Lightyear is the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear — the hero who inspired the toy — and follows the legendary Space Ranger on an intergalactic adventure alongside Sox, a robotic cat and Buzz’s personal companion.
We speak to actor Peter Sohn who plays Sox about playing one of the cutest (and helpful!) characters we’ve seen so far this year…
What can audiences expect from Lightyear?
I’m hoping that they can expect, on top of the amazing sci-fi adventure, really great characters that they can fall in love with. Then hopefully, once they empathise with that, [they can] feel that emotional journey that Buzz is going through.
In what way does Lightyear differ from a Toy Story movie?
They’re not toys. Maybe you could consider Sox a toy, but he’s a companion robot, he’s got a useful function. There are layers of depth to this Buzz of Lightyear that were not in the original Toy Story movies. And these layers of depth deal with regrets and mistakes that he’s made in his life that really haunt him throughout the movie. I feel like just that alone changes the tone of the type of character that Buzz is between this and Toy Story. I love the Toy Story Buzz but it’s just different in that way – more human.
What genre would you fit Lightyear in?
I would say that it’s a proper sci-fi film with a good layer of humour on top of it. The first act of what Angus [MacLane – director] and the team did, really bring you into this immersive world. Building a world is not easy to do and trying to make a world that has that immaculate reality of a place, with all the backstory to it and feels real, is so hard. They did an incredible job. The first half of the movie really brings me to go ‘this is a sci-fi movie’ for sure.
What can you tell us about Sox?
I was surprised with how far they went with Sox. When Angus first pitched this, we were all excited about the film. But we had no idea of the characters that he was going to build around it.
So reading those first pages, it was like, ‘okay, so Buzz needs a robot to help him psychologically’. That concept alone was really fascinating. Like what happened to Buzz that he needed something like that? So that start really brought me to the sci-fi shows and movies that I loved and the types of characters that I love from there – that he was tapping into the logic systems of Spock or the practicality of a Data or the gadgets of an R2D2. All of those things that he started mixing into… I don’t know if he was mixing those personally but that’s what I was bringing into his mixing of it.
But ultimately, seeing the film a few months ago – the animators brought so much stuff to Sox that I had no idea but it was so fun to see.
What can Sox do to help Buzz on his mission?
There are all these little secret compartments in him, especially his mouth, which was really funny. What I love about the compartments is that they’re all tools for very specific uses. But then they start flipping some of the uses for them. For example, there is a moment where Sox realises that he might be shut down, and he uses this dart that comes out of his mouth in a way that wasn’t meant to be! I loved how Angus and the team kept flipping what gadgets he would have.
How do you even prepare to play a robotic cat?
Well, what’s funny is that it wasn’t the robot side, it was that clean slate – like an android. They would be pleasant [like] androids in sci-fi movies, where they’re almost like a butler, where they’re pleasant and they’re helpful.
So I remember starting off with that and trying to be very professional. “Yes, captain, how can I help you?” And it was that start, but then you could feel like the lines going into the more friendly side of “I could make you breakfast if you want?” So those two pieces of it started to merge as we were doing the voice for the reels and from there it started growing.
What’s your method to get into the character when you’re in the recording booth?
You get [the scripts] on the day and so there’s not a lot of prep for it at all. Once you see it, you try to go through it and try to find where it’s funny, and then listen to Angus and what he needs out of it and try to balance those two.
He’s very meticulous about what the lines are and he allows for some improv in terms of trying to make fun of it and then he’ll jump in.
With the process… [the phrase] “Yes Captain” was my key to the practical side and “Hey Buzz”, was the key to the friendly side. So it would just be a mix of trying to find those two pieces of him.
Did you work with any of the other cast when recording?
It was all on our own through the COVID Zoom world of just being in a booth and being separated. I only recently got to meet part of the cast. But it was mostly just in a room looking at Zoom and trying to connect through the digital.
What do you want audiences to take away from the film?
I really do hope that they get the vibe of ‘that was the Buzz movie that inspired Andy’. That not only inspired Andy but that they would be just as excited about a big new movie like that.
Angus always talks about it the idea that this is a film that was made in 1995 but obviously it looks like it’s brand new. That idea that it’s that inspiration of a sci-fi movie that would have got you cheering in the way that those movies did. I know that that’s what they were hunting for and I feel like they were so successful doing it.
Lightyear will be released in cinemas on 17 June 2022.