Larry the Cable Guy (whose real name is Daniel Whitney) feels blessed to have been cast to provide the voice for the lovable pickup truck, Mater, in the "Cars" movies. He went back behind the microphone for recording sessions to speak for Mater in "Cars 3," which races into theaters Friday.
Larry's voicing of the tow truck has been heard in the two previous "Cars" films that combined earned more than $1 billion worldwide. But it's not the money nor the notoriety nor even the long list of toys featuring Mater that have made the 54-year-old Nebraska native feel so honored to be part of the franchise.
"I do a lot of charity work so just the fact that I probably make 50 calls a month as Mater to kids in the hospital is the greatest thing in the world. People just don't realize the impact these movies have," Larry says. "What makes it all worth it is to have a kid on the other end of the phone who may be dead in six months and hear the excitement in their voice when they scream, 'MATER!'
"That's probably the greatest part of my role as Mater."
Having the opportunity to emotionally touch so many sick children fits with the other charity work that the Southern fried comic does, which includes the Git-R-Done Foundation, a non-profit organization he and his wife, Cara, started in 2009. That foundation named for Larry's catchphrase has generated more than $7 million for various charities that focus on children's and veteran's causes.
"The reason I like being so connected to 'Cars' and Mater is because I really can do those kind of calls with my other work," Larry says. "Little kids and people really relate to these characters, particularly Mater."
In "Cars 3," Mater is back helping Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) who has reached a crossroads in his racing career. The longtime champion is facing a world where high-tech automobiles are leaving him in the dust.
Mater has been such a hit that he's one of the leading merchandised images from the "Cars" franchise; there was even a series of animated shorts for the Disney Cable channels called "Mater's Tall Tales." Mater has a major spot in the Cars Land section of California Adventure _ a fact Larry's taking great pleasure in because of how much his mother enjoyed being at the theme park and hearing her son's voice as Mater.
Larry's role in the "Cars" franchise is very dear to him but just a small gear in the comedy engine of his career. Along with being a multiplatinum recording artist, Grammy nominee, Billboard award winner and one of the top comedians in the country, he has his own line of merchandise and continues to sell out theaters and arenas across the United States.
Technically, you won't hear Larry talking as Mater when he's on stage because he tries to keep Larry and Mater separate but the comedian laughs and says that since Larry the Cable Guy and Mater tend to have the same voice, there's really not a big difference. Either way, he doesn't waste a lot of time or energy worrying about it. Larry says he never dreamed that doing a voice of a stereotypical redneck with a heavy Southern accent was going to work when he tried it out on stage.
"I don't take myself that seriously. Larry the Cable Guy makes me laugh and takes me back to a time when I grew up on a pig farm," Larry says. "I just enjoy Larry and Mater.
"I know the 'Cars' movies have had serious stories about finding yourself and not doubting yourself that adults get. But, when it comes to Mater, he's just simple fun for young kids."
Along with the Pixar movies, Larry's launched his own comedy channel, "Jeff and Larry's Comedy Roundup" on SiriusXM. The redneck persona fit perfectly with the "Blue Collar Comedy Tour" which grossed more than $15 million and spawned a movie version. The DVD sold more than 4 million units and the sequel, "Blue Collar Comedy Tour Rides Again," has sold more than 3 million units.
When it comes to the big screen, Larry's best known as the voice of Mater but he has appeared on screen in several features including "Jingle All the Way 2," "A Madea Christmas" (2013), "Tooth Fairy 2 (2012)," "Witless Protection" (2008), "Delta Farce" (2007) and "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector."
When he has time, Larry likes to keep up with what's happening on the NASCAR circuit. He likes the sport but doesn't have enough interest in cars to call himself a gearhead. His choice of cars in his life does show that the bedrock for building Larry the Cable Guy was there long before he dropped out of college his junior year to try his hand at comedy.
"My first car was a 1969 Formula Firebird with a double hood scoop and glass-pack mufflers painted with metallic blue paint. I traded it in for a 1986 Trans Am with T-tops and a big blue eagle on the front. The next time you think I'm faking this redneck thing look at my history of cars," Larry says.