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Actor visits students at Eagle Hill

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Actor John Ratzenberger recently visited Eagle Hill Southport. He is shown here with student Ryan Austin.

Hamm the pig, Mack the truck and P.T. Flea recently visited Eagle Hill Southport School — or at least the actor who voices the characters did. Actor John Ratzenberger the voice of these and many other Pixar movie characters, talked to the students about his life on and off the movie set.

While most of the teachers know Ratzenberger as Cliff Clavin on the long-running sitcom, Cheers, most of the students recognize his voice from the Pixar movies, of which he has appeared in every one, including Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and Cars. Ratzenberger glided in and out of various character voices, but spent most of his time answering student questions.

During the exchange, students asked about his favorite movies, memorable lines, famous friends, and life in the spotlight. In the process, students learned about Ratzenberger’s childhood in Bridgeport and how much he enjoys acting.

“If you find something you love doing, you’ll never work a day in your life,” Ratzenberger said. “I’ve held jobs growing up in Bridgeport unloading cement bags on railroad cars and working as a deckhand on an oyster boat, so I know what hard work is, and what I do is not hard work.”

He said he learned to memorize his lines from the nuns at St. Ann’s School. At the time, students who misbehaved there had to stay after school and remain until they could recite a lengthy poem, including Paul Revere’s Ride, Casey at the Bat and The Charge of the Light Brigade, by memory.

“We had to memorize these verbatim, and because of that, memorizing lines is not difficult for me at all,” Ratzenberger said.

Ratzenberger has appeared in more than 50 movies, and students were especially surprised to learn that he had a part of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. He was Rebel Force Major Derlin.

Asked why he keeps getting acting jobs, he said, “I show up on time, and I know my lines.”

Asked about the creativity process, Ratzenberger told the audience, “You start with nothing and just write down what you’re thinking, and that’s it.”

Following the dialogue with students, Ratzenberger remained at the school to sign copies of his photo.

The students were thrilled to have a celebrity in their midst.

“He was really kind and sweet, and I don’t think all actors are,” said Kayleigh Keefe, an Eagle Hill student. “He went from being a carpenter to a movie star; it showed that you can become anything.”

Ratzenberger also enjoyed the visit.

“They were such a lively audience, and the questions I was asked here were questions I’ve never been asked before,” he said. “The questions were more insightful than other places I’ve been.”

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