Martin Short's 40-year showbiz career has been long on variety, which is why he gets so many eclectic responses about favorite roles when he runs into fans.
"If you're talking to a 42-year-old guy, it's Three Amigos," says the comedian and actor. "If you're talking to a 32-year-old guy, it's Clifford. If you're talking to a 7-year-old, it's The Cat in the Hat. A 21-year-old might talk about Arrested Development. And a 55-year-old will talk about Damages.
"If they're 9. I don't think they know who the Three Amigos are. Maybe they should!" Short adds with a laugh.
The young 'uns have something new to pester him about now with Disney's Frankenweenie, out this week on DVD and Blu-ray. Short plays a trio of roles in the black-and-white stop-motion animated film, directed by Tim Burton and based on his 1984 live-action short.
Short voices Ben Frankenstein, husband of Susan (Catherine O'Hara) and protective father to young Victor (Charlie Tahan), who uses science to electrify his dog Sparky back to life and creates a hubbub in the quaint little town of New Holland.
With animals of all sorts coming back to life, oddball characters influenced by old horror movies and other assorted family-friendly weirdness, Burton had a particular vision he wanted Short, 62, to bring to Victor's dad.
"That he wanted very real, very reassuring, very centered. He always wanted it very simple," Short says. "The others, he said 'let's just experiment and try to find who these people are.' "
The former Saturday Night Live cast member also plays the Boris Karloff-esque kid Nassor, Victor's classmate who uses the Sparky treatment to resurrect his mummified hamster Colossus, and town mayor Mr. Burgemeister, the Frankensteins' creepy next-door neighbor with a gruff growl.
"I remember one day I was driving in, and I thought, well, what if he were a guy who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day but just gave up a month ago? He'd have this [wheeze] to his voice," Short says. "That's the kind of detail Tim loves."
Short also co-starred in Burton's 1996 sci-fi flick Mars Attacks!, which shares many similar cinematic sci-fi and horror influences as Frankenweenie. "Tim and I are roughly the same age, and I know where he's coming from when he does the films about 'them' or giant spiders," the actor says. "You just go, 'I know that film. I know the feel he's going for.' "
In the early 1980s, Short used SNL as well as SCTV, the Canadian sketch comedy show that also featured O'Hara and was a career springboard for Eugene Levy, John Candy, Rick Moranis and others, to carve out a healthy career in movies such as Three Amigos, Innerspace and Father of the Bride.
Still, during those years "I hoped I would make enough money to pay the rent that month," he says. "I had no agenda of becoming iconic. It wasn't in the cards."
In more recent years, though, Short's done more voiceovers for film and TV after first diving into animation with a short-lived 1988 cartoon featuring his nerdy, hyperactive SNL and SCTV character, Ed Grimley.
"The top films that are out there seem to be animation. Great people are therefore attracted to it, like great writers," Short says. "I like the speed of it. You don't have to shave to do it. You just go in and they go around your schedule."
He also admits that he's one of those guys who gets really into voice acting physically while in a recording studio: "It's tricky. Someone says, 'Can you put more of a smile into your voice?' Well, that's easier said than done sometimes, so you have to exaggerate your body - or, I do - to get that sound."
His next animated gig is Dorothy of Oz, a Wizard of Oz sequel of sorts out later this year with Glee's Lea Michele as Dorothy and Short as the Jester, the villainous nephew of the Wicked Witch. In the meantime, Short will be doing a concert tour in the USA and his native Canada that keeps him "loose and limber" for when he gets called into action for jobs like hosting SNL last month, he says. "It was in no way daunting because I'm always in front of audiences, so that makes it easier."
His youngest fans probably couldn't stay up late to see him in that. Short says his grandnieces and grandnephews are all fans of his animated work, but he doesn't have any grandchildren of his own yet - his three children with late wife Nancy Dolman are all in their 20s.
"It's a mixed bag," Short quips. "I'm missing that one market at this point."