As a prelude to the Friday, March 20th season finale of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, StarWars.com has posted recent interviews with Terrence “TC” Carson (Mace Windu) and Matthew Wood (General Grievous, Wat Tambor, Battle Droids). Several other cast members have been interviewed this past season at StarWars.com, including cartoon voice actor fan favorites Jim Cummings, Corey Burton, and Phil LaMarr. I’ve included only interview highlights in the block quotes below, so please click on any of the links to read the complete interviews.
Q: How has working on The Clone Wars been a different experience than some of your other voice over work?
A: When I tape most voice-over it’s usually just me in the booth working one on one with the director, however when we tape for Clone Wars usually we’re all in the room together which makes for a different read. You get to play off and with the other actors in real time which makes the dialogue much more authentic. Plus you get the chance to be in the room with some of the most accomplished and talented voices in the industry, so I always learn something new during the session.
Q: What are some of the benefits of voice acting as opposed to on-camera acting?
A: No wardrobe, no makeup, no sitting for hours while they get the lights right, no repeating a scene for the two-shot or 20th close up! We come in, joke around a little, do the scene and go home. Cha-ching!
Q: How do you prepare yourself to voice Wat Tambor? What’s the biggest challenge doing his voice?
A: I put a garbage can over my head and harass our sound designer, David Acord. The biggest challenge with doing Wat’s voice is trying not to have the vocal process spin out of control and having to grab the dial to rein it in. Ben Burtt and I named it the “Stallone Generator” — Eh Ah Oh Uh! Poor Wat can’t quite keep it together.
Q: As a voice actor, what are the specific challenges that differ from being an on-camera actor?
A: It’s great when truly gifted animators appreciate the voice actors, and the voice actors appreciate the animators. I do very little on-camera acting, so within a phrase as a voice actor you have to know how to convey when someone is 95 years old or 19 years old. Are they tired? Are they dying of thirst? All that has to be in your voice. When I was the lead singer of the California Raisins commercials there was a traditional actor there as well and he would do all these body movements without saying anything because he was “acting.” And the only acting the microphone picked up on was silence.
“I’ve never left the character or, rather, he’s never left me,” says Daniels. “I put him in the cupboard for a while, but people call and I take him out again. There was a time many years ago when I thought I should move on to other things, but then I thought that was stupid. I’m very fond of Threepio.”
Daniels says the voiceover performance of Threepio is a welcome respite from the rigors of bringing Threepio to the screen in live-action productions. He finds the animation process offers “quite a lot of freedom.”
“When you’re reading lines by yourself, it’s not always as easy to ad-lib,” Daniels says. “But what Dave (Filoni) and I do is to go over my lines before we start because, sadly, I am the world’s greatest expert. And I say that with a kind of wry fun, because Threepio is kind of like my best friend, and you know your best friend better than anyone.”
Q: It must have been a fun experience as well to meet the rest of the cast and interact with them as they do all the different voices.
A: They’re wonderfully talented people. When you talk to them aside from the recording, you get an idea of the quality of their personalities and their voices. Then when they get behind the mic they’re magically transformed into the characters they’re playing. So you really get into the fun and joy of acting and working with other actors.
Q: Do you feel like you have more freedom voice acting than you do with on-camera acting?
A: Each medium has its own disciplines. I do theater as well and in theater acting you use your voice and your body in a totally different way from motion picture acting where the camera comes up close and you can act more subtlety. With animated voice acting you have a whole different style of approaching that. You amplify and magnify your character a little bit more than you would in a feature film. That’s where the fun of acting comes in.
Q: Is there an acting medium you prefer over the other?
A: I’m an actor and an actor enjoys performing in every medium. Animation allows you to create a character with your voice. On the stage you’re using your body, your voice and your imagination to create a character. With movies you have to work closer to the truth of the emotion. You don’t use the grand gestures or vocal projections. I enjoy each of the disciplines.
Q: Your work history reads like a who’s-who of geek-culture icons. From Hermes in Futurama, to characters in Metal Gear Solid and The Animatrix, you seem to be involved in every corner of the sci-fi and videogame world. What keeps you coming back?
A: As a performer, there’s never a better time than when you’re working on something you’d want to watch or listen to. I’ve been a comic book, sci-fi, videogame fan since I was a kid. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be acting at a time when all those genres have moved into the mainstream of American entertainment. It’s possible I do a higher percentage of “genre”-oriented voice work than some other V/O people. If so, it might be because I watch all this stuff, and when you “get it” it not only makes it more fun, it makes it easier to do.
Q: What are some challenges that voice actors face that the viewer — who only sees the end product — would never know about?
A: One thing that is a huge difference between videogames and any other kind of performance is the sheer volume of work required. In a TV series, and even feature films, you’re voicing, at most, two hours of entertainment. And that is if you are the lead character and speak in every scene. But a videogame encompasses so many hours of gameplay, some of which the player may never get to. You have to voice all the scenes they might play as well as all of the ways they might kill even the most minor character.
“I like playing a villain because it’s just no-holds-barred,” Wood says. “Villains don’t have an inner critic; they just speak their mind and make demands, come hell or high water, with no ramifications.
Wood says he combines a low-pitched, deep voice, lots of yelling and a Bela Lugosi-influenced eastern European flair in his intonations of Grievous. When the voice is filtered through the computer, it is combined with the general’s trademark cough to signify his biomechanical nature. The bottom line for Wood is to capture the core of villainy within Grievous.
Wood also provides the voices of the battle droids in the series, which allow him to explore another end of the villain spectrum; as cannon fodder for the Separatists, the battle droids are used primarily as comic relief.
“I love playing both — and it’s especially fun when they’re together because I get to play that juxtaposition,” Wood says. “Grievous is so exasperated at the thought that he’s stuck with these idiotic, low-rent droids that can just be bowled over by Jedi, no problem.
“On the other hand,” he says, “the battle droids have this weird kind of desperation to them. They really want to succeed, but they just know that it’s not within their programming to do a good job. So there’s this weird, funny kind of sadness to them. It’s great to do both the villainy and the comedy.”
For Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Bradley finds himself performing an altogether new concept of “range” — voicing all of the clones and imbuing them with unique identities and slight variations. Bradley says the not-so-simple trick is to make all of the clones sound the same … but different.
“We start with a basic core voice like Rex, then we take into account the personality traits that are built into that character,” Baker says. “Some are younger and rougher around the edges, or older and more cynical. So we attach an adjective or two to each one, then we record each one separately, giving each character a different feel.”
“As you go through the recording sessions, you become familiar with the different feel of each character, so they really become individuals and it’s surprisingly easy to recreate each one once you’ve done it for a while,” Baker says. “When you paint a picture or write a book, each character you create becomes this little polished thing, so when you come back to it there’s this immediate familiarity. To that end, voicing all the clones is not as difficult as it seems.”
“It’s a great acting challenge to give these guys an individual sense of humanity,” Baker says. “One of the outstanding things about this series is that we’re giving the clones a sense of identity that they never had before. I think humanizing the mass of soldiers is really interesting and a wonderful addition to the storytelling.”
Q: What do you think of the new Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series?
A: I did a voice for one of the characters coming up in Season 2. In fact, Dave Filoni just texted me a little while ago to see if I’m available to do some more voiceover work. I kept harassing him to let me do some voices. I love the new TV show. The imagery is so beautiful!
Q: Do you like the freedom of voiceover acting as opposed to tradition acting where you constantly have to think about lighting and how you look and standing on the right marks?
A: Absolutely! It’s fun to be in the room with everybody. I’d love to do more voiceover work. I’ve always been doing films so I never realized how much I loved voiceover work until I started doing The Clone Wars. I have a lot of experience doing ADR (additional dialogue recording) which is kind of like voiceover work, but different.
Q: The announcer voice which opens each episode feels very affected in a 1940s movie serial kind of way. Was this a request of the production or did you come up with that yourself?
A: This came straight from George. That’s the genesis of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and was what he grew up on. The western serials and the radio dramas and TV shows that impressed him as a young man is what he wanted to bring to the movies. It’s a voice that I’ve done and do quite often for commercials and stuff — we call it the “March of Time” voice. I think it will work far better in a television series than it may have in the movie — I think people were expecting the standard crawl after the “A long time ago…” and may not have known what to make of it. I think it will be much more accepted as a vehicle for television.
Q: As a voice actor do you feel like you have more freedom with a character than you would if you were on camera?
A: There is more freedom in voiceover work, especially for someone who’s 5’4 and 110 pounds and doesn’t look the part that I’m doing most of the time. Like being the voice of Fred Flintstone, for example, for the first session the director refused to buy that I was the person doing the voice. I have that happen quite a bit where people who haven’t heard me yet think I can’t possibly do the voice, just based on my appearance. But if I do my job right, people won’t hear my voice and think James Arnold Taylor, they’ll think of the character. I love the people I get to work with when I’m voice acting. As opposed to a wretched hive of scum and villainy, you’ll never find a more generous group of humble people. [laughs]
Q: Considering that Ewan McGregor studied the voice patterns and inflections of Sir Alec Guinness in the original film trilogy, how did you prepare to voice a beloved character like Obi-Wan Kenobi?
A: I went back to the roots of the character Obi-Wan as voiced by Sir Alec Guinness and thought to myself, “What would he sound like younger?” Ewan and I have similar tones, so I tried it first as a young man in that voice. There’s a lot that goes on in my head when I match people, which is one of my specialties. I picture the person in my head, I feel my throat change, and go through all of that. So I really kind of pictured this young Obi-Wan and match that with what Ewan was doing for the films. In my iPod I have every line he’s ever said as Obi-Wan. And I keep all of those as my background template. I mainly studied their voice patterns and acting styles, and how they came together and find a happy medium of all three of us. Basically, I’m doing Ewan McGregor doing Alec Guinness doing Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Q: As a voice actor do you feel like you have more freedom than you do with on-camera acting, or is it like comparing oranges and apples?
A: Voice acting still has the core of acting to it. You are still becoming a character, even if you’re not on camera. You have to understand the motivation for saying certain lines and where the character is coming from at that point emotionally. At the same time, it is kind of like apples and oranges. When you do voice-over work, you don’t have the pressure about landing on your mark or having your hair fixed or worry about how your body looks at a certain angle. However, sometimes what’s nice with on-camera acting is that you have your body to work with. Your body language and facial expressions can help express a character’s emotional state. And you don’t have that in voice-over acting, so these things have to come through in your voice.