SDCC 2013: Interview with the cast of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Animated Series!

TMNT

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around since the late 80s, and we’ve seen several different reboots or recreations of them throughout the decades. Some TMNT fanatics might say that nothing tops the original late 80s/early 90s version. On the flip-side, the current generation would probably say that nothing tops today’s version. As a person who’s seen the original 90s and the current remake, I’d say that they’re both absolutely great. The cool thing about this debate is that Nickelodeon gave us the chance to briefly speak to the voice actors and I asked them about what they felt about the TMNT franchise itself.

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The first two voice actors that I spoke to were Greg Cipes (Michelangelo) and Mae Whitman (April O’Neil), who were an interesting pair to say the least. Mae and Greg sat down and laid their personas immediately on the table before I even began asking questions. They started playing with our recorders and said that they’ll be recording us now (by the way I thought it was hilarious when they did this). Just this playful start already shows that they are probably fun to work with at the studio. I started by asking them how they became involved with TMNT and how they liked their characters. Mae and Greg both chimed in saying that they’ve been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since the beginning, along with the comics and were absolutely excited to be part of the project. The entire time they didn’t stop their hilarious banter with each other about Greg’s yoga and surfing, to Mae’s love of detective games. Since these two intrigued me, one of the questions I then asked this wonderful duo was what they thought about the new Michael Bay version of TMNT

Greg and Mae:

We try not to think about it, you know? Because Michael Bay…didn’t invite us. (laughing) Yeah we bless anything with the Turtles (TMNT) since it’s cool, it’s positive. We’re all about the positive vibe here.

Mae and Greg were also happy to be at Comic-Con since they both admitted to geeking out. It definitely shows that everyone, no matter who you are, has a geeky/nerdy side. On a side note: The entire time when Greg was speaking, it totally reminded me of Michelangelo from the cartoon. Yes, he’s the voice I know, but he has a very laid back, traditional surfer, and open minded attitude. Mae was also wonderful to speak with and had a playful atmosphere about her. It was a definite pleasure to interview them both, despite the short amount of time.

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The next two talents from the show are legends in the voice acting community. If you want to speak to someone who’s seen it all and been in the voice-over game, it’s both Rob Paulsen (Donatello) and Kevin Michael Richards (Shredder). They’ve known each other for quite some time and have a lot, and I mean A LOT, of respect for each other. Speaking to these two was a treat since they wouldn’t stop complimenting one another; which I found to be entertaining. As I said both Rob and Kevin have been in the voice acting game for a while, so it’s understandable why they treat each other this way. Some people may not know this, but Kevin pointed out that Rob Paulsen was the original voice actor for Raphael in the original TMNT Cartoon in the 90s. So Rob has been with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since its inception. One of the things that Kevin said about Rob was:

When I found out he was one of the original TMNT (voice actors), I was like…OH MY, OH MY GOD!!! And I remember he did the animated series for The Mask, and he was a high energy guy…changing into these other personas, and I’m literally sitting next to him going like, how the hell is he doing this?! I was literally so green (beginning his voice acting career) at that time.

With all the camaraderie between these two, I asked them what it was like at the studio with all the other voice actors. Rob Paulsen immediately resonded with:

It’s complete wackiness…complete wackiness inside the studio. You know, it’s also that Kevin does these great impersonations of the rest of the voice actors too like Phil LaMarr, Greg Cipes…. (Kevin immediately does a Phil LaMarr impersonation and everyone starts laughing)

Kevin, who voices Shredder was very cordial when I asked him how he felt about filling the shoes of James Avery (Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince of Bel Air) who voiced the original Shredder.

It’s very cool, you know? Very cool. James Avery is a gifted and talented Shakespearean actor and it was very cool. I fell into that role a little easier. This situation was followed after another situation where Mark Hamill was the Joker (speaking about him taking on the voice acting role of the Joker). At that time, I was a little nervous and upset because in my mind Hamill is the Joker. I don’t know what you guys (studio executives) are thinking. But for this situation….hey man…no complaints. James is very cool. No complaints.

Finishing up, both Rob and Kevin really like this new take on the TMNT. Rob felt that it takes all of the lovable elements from the original and beautifully combines it with what is now the new CGI Animated series. Before Nickelodeon staff closed off the interview, Rob graciously voiced out one of my personal favorite characters from the past: Yakko from the Animaniacs. My head almost exploded just from that since I was an avid Animaniacs fan when I was a kid. As I said earlier, these guys are legends and I hope they both are in the business for years to come.

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The last and final voice actor that I was able to speak with was Mr. Sean Astin. If I started cheering “RUDY! RUDY! RUDY! RUDY!”, would you know what I was talking about? Better yet if I said “Come on, Mr. Frodo! I can’t carry it for you….but I can carry you!” would you be able to guess then? Yes, Mr. Astin has been a great Hollywood actor for some time now, and he’s best known for his role in Rudy along with his most famous character, the lovable Hobbit, Samwise Gamgee, from The Lord of the Rings. Sean Astin now voices the hard-nosed turtle, Raphael.

I asked Sean if he was a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and he was truthful in the fact that he wasn’t at first, but he is now that he’s part of the show and knows what it’s about.

I didn’t like them originally. I didn’t know of the comic books. If I had known the comic books, I would have liked them. What I knew of them was the live-action version, which I thought was strange, and then marketing with the toys. With the ‘Cowabunga!’….it’s just that, I reacted poorly to it…I’m a fan now.

I thought voicing Raphael came second nature to Sean since he’s already a talented actor, so I asked him what it felt like working with Rob Paulsen, who was the original Raphael of the series. Sean stated that he was nervous in his approach to this role and would actually look for an approving nod towards Rob during recording sessions to make sure it was done properly in the spirit of Raphael. I thought this was cool because it shows that Sean actually has respect for the roots of the character along with Rob, who made an initial impact on it.

In this specific business, most voice actors will record separately in the studio since they have hectic schedules. I asked about this specifically to Sean, since I wanted to know if all the voice actors are there in the studio when they record.

Mondays are our days to do TMNT. We all do it together. We all have it on our calenders. Sometimes we can’t do it a certain Mondays. I mean, I traveled a lot this year: I was in Japan, I was in Dubai, Vancouver…so when I get back to town, I have to go in there by myself, like a make-up test. I do those 2 or 3 episodes all at once by yourself. Then the next Monday, all us are there again. Some of us are always in the studio.

Another cool thing about Sean is that despite the celebrity status, he still likes geeking out from time to time; although his geeking out is a little different. He does like walking out on the floor of conventions (incognito of course) and seeing everything that’s on display. He breaks it down like this:

If it’s on the floor of Comic-Con, somebody created it. Someone loves it, and someone believes in it. I walk through without much capacity for discernment, you know? I just walk through and I mostly feel left out, because there is so much stuff that I’ve never even heard of. Like the anime, you know? Like who are these chicks that are dressed/cosplayed like this? I mean, I love everything.

Nickelodeon finally wrapped up our short interview, and I was a little sad that it ended. Sean Astin is a class act and I enjoyed interviewing him along with the rest of the voice actors on the cast. This is probably one of the best cast of voice actors on a television show, since they all genuinely love the TMNT franchise and enjoy working with each other. I’ve seen several episodes and I will admit that I’m a fan of this re-telling. As much as the first generation of TMNT had an impact on me, I sincerely hope that this series goes on for a long time and makes an impact on the kids that are now tuning into the show.

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