Joined: 07 Jan 2004
Location: Milford, PA
Fri Nov 22, 2013 7:52 am
In this edition of #BeyondTheBooth, we chat with voice actor Townsend Coleman, the voice of Michaelangelo from the original 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, as well as the lead voice on The Tick, and Gobo on the animated version of Fraggle Rock. For 16 years, he was the promo voice for NBC's Must See TV, and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
In Part 1 of this interview, we talk about his new look, his background in theater and architecture, his work in radio, and his first animation voice-over gig that led him to experiencing the legend that is Frank Welker.
Voice Chasers (VC): Hey, everybody! Kristy from Voice Chasers, here, and today I'm with Townsend Coleman!
Townsend Coleman (TC): Woo-hoo-hoo-hoo!
VC: So tell me, I noticed you have a little different look now. So what's with the... it's almost like a Bryan Cranston, Salvador Dali kind of a...
TC: Salvador Dali, I didn't even think about that. Nya-ah-ah! Yeah, it's a little bit of a different look. It's because I just did a play. My first stage production in 30 years. I did Ah, Wilderness! by Eugene O'Neill and I played Uncle Sid, the lovable drunken uncle. I needed to grow a mustache for the production. And, they had colored my hair for it. We closed the production a couple of weeks ago and I just decided it wasn't growing out quite fast enough for me, so I just wanted it trimmed off a little bit, and... we just went a little crazy!
VC: Now you just have to wait for it all to grow back?
TC: Well, I'm not even sure I'm gonna grow it back...
VC: You're going to keep shaving it?
TC: I don't know! It's just so new for me. I mean, literally, days new... Just a couple of days ago.
VC: We get the new look.
TC: Yeah, so this is a brand new look for me. I haven't looked like this since I was five. So, I don't know, we'll see!
VC: So speaking of theater, is that your background before you started in voice-over?
TC: Yeah, you know, I've been acting since high school. I'm from Ohio, originally, from Cleveland. I used to do a lot theater in high school, and then as I got out of high school and then went to college, and was a theater major there after being an architecture major for a short while.
VC: And what made you change?
TC: You want to know, honestly, what it was? After my first semester in architecture school in Boulder, I went up and saw the projects that were being done by the fifth-year students, and they so blew me away, and I was so overwhelmed by the immense talent that it took to create these things, I thought, "I'll never be able to compete." And I thought, "I can't compete." I want to do something that I can compete in. And then people say, "Oh, so you got into acting..." And, exactly, because I've always loved acting, and I've always felt very at home with it, and very sort of organic with it, and thought, I'd rather do that then spend five years trying to learn how to build buildings; I'll just never be able to compete at this level.
VC: So you were actually doing all the drawings, and all that stuff?
TC: I was doing all the mechanical drawings and all that stuff... I've been doing all that since high school.
VC: Do you still draw today?
TC: I don't draw so much today. I love illustration and I used to paint a lot. I love working with my hands. I've made jigsaw puzzles...
TC: Yeah, I mean, I've actually cut jigsaw puzzles.
VC: With a jigsaw?
TC: With a jigsaw. I actually have a scroll saw. I actually haven't done it for a couple of years now, but it used to sort of be one of my many forms of therapy. That, and my various hand drums; I just wail away on my cajon box. But yeah, the whole art thing is something that's always intrigued me. I never really pursed it, so, it never became a big part of my life. But the theater did. So actually the last production that I did was thirty years ago, in the summer of 2003 I was Frederic in Pirates of Penzance. I mean, I moved out to LA in 1984, here, to be an actor, to be on TV, and movies, and such, not planning on coming out to really focus on voice-overs. I just knew I could do voice-over because I'd done so many voice-overs back in Cleveland having been on the radio for ten years as a DJ. And so I thought, I'd do a little VO while I try and get my acting career off the ground, and I just got ambushed by voice-over very quickly. Within six months, I got my first cartoon series...
VC: And you got signed right away when you got to LA?
TC: I did. I got my first agent three days after I moved here.
VC: Wow. That's unheard of...
TC: He's still my agent today, almost thirty years later. So acting, yes, it's a big part of who I am, and perhaps, more of where I'm going in this "next phase of my career." My life, as it were.
VC: So, back to the radio stuff... so what kind of VO were you doing? Were you doing commercials and promos?
TC: Yeah, you know, I didn't really realize that being a freelance voice-over person was something somebody could do. The radio always intrigued me, so I got into radio when I was twenty. So back in about '74, I got my first gig on the radio, and ended up staying in the Cleveland market for ten years, at five different radio stations. And at a couple of those radio stations, I was the production director, so I had to produce a lot of the local commercials. But I would listen to the commercials that would come in from New York and LA on tape that I had to then transfer to cart for air, and I would listen to how these guys did what they did. That was what really fascinated me, and got me hooked into voice-over.... well, I was going to say in the beginning, but that was the beginning of my career, because I've always really been fascinated by voices, and the sound of voices, and the power of what voices can do because you have to use your imagination when you hear the voice and you don't see the person. That always intrigued me, ever since I was a little kid. Because my dad was in radio, for a brief while, when I was younger, living in Denver. And, you know, I was at NBC for sixteen years as the voice of their "Must See TV" comedy promos and The Tonight Show promos for Jay Leno, but what a lot of people don't know is that my parents actually met while working together at NBC in New York in 1952. At 30 Rock.
VC: And that's where you were born... in the city?
TC: And that's where I was born. Right there in Manhattan. And I didn't know this, for many years later, but, it was my dad's goal while working at NBC, because he headed up the page department, guest relations is what they called it, but his goal was, he wanted to be an announcer for the network. And, somehow, crazily, I went on to fulfill that dream for him.
VC: Wow, that's cool. Carrying that legacy on. And on the radio, what was your radio, your hour, when you were doing your radio show?
TC: You mean when was my shift?
TC: Well, you know, Kristy, I worked them all. You know, when I first started I was doing the graveyard shift, and just on weekends, you know, so that was midnight to six. And I worked all different kinds of formats. The first station I worked at was called "Beautiful Music" so, I didn't have to do anything. I didn't even have to use my name. I just got on and did the time and temperature kind of thing, every fifteen minutes. But then I ended up getting fired from that radio station because, apparently, I couldn't do that well enough. But then, ended up getting hired in 1976 at a disco station in Cleveland, Disco 92. And I was there for about a year and a half, and, again, I started overnights, and then they moved me seven to mighnight, which was actually a great shift to work in the evening. And then they put me on morning drive. I was on six to ten in the morning, and sort of became "the guy" there at the station for about a year, and then got hired away to another station, it was a Top 40 station. And then I was trying to quit radio in about '79 to move to New York, thinking I wanted to pursue my acting career. And that didn't work... so, I never actually moved to New York, but was just there for a couple of months trying to see if I could get some things rolling. Didn't work. Went back to Cleveland, got back into radio at a big FM rock station there, and then went from that station to, what ended up being my last station that I was at, for about four, almost five years, and was production director at that station, as well. I worked in the evenings, and then I worked, mostly middays, I was ten to two, in the middays, and that was a soft rock station. It was fun, but listen, radio is, for the most part, is kind of a thankless job, and I didn't want to be a DJ for the rest of my life. Actually, after being on the air for ten years, found that I was making... by that time, I had a very active voice-over career doing freelance voice-overs in and around the Cleveland market... and was making more money a year doing just freelance voice-over stuff than I was at the radio station. And I thought, wait a second, here, I'm working six days a week, on the air, making this much money, but I'm making this much money, doing the freelance voice thing, going to different studios in town, seeing a bunch of different people, having a blast. It's like, what's wrong with this picture? So I quit radio after ten years, was just going to stay in the Cleveland market and continue to freelance there, when all of a sudden the house that we had been renting for a while was being sold out from under us. We had to make a physical move.
VC: Now's the time to make a change.
TC: I said, I just turned thirty, I'm not in radio anymore, we have to physically move, my kids have to be settled someplace by September to be in school, so I thought, maybe now's the time to venture out to either New York or LA, and I came out here in August of '84, and found a little place in Glendale...
VC: The rest is history.
TC: Yeah. Two weeks later...
VC: Got your agent, like that...
TC: We were living out here. And yeah, and literally three days later, because the only person I knew in LA set up an appointment with her agent. Met with them, and I left my voice tape with them, and they liked that, and signed me like, the next day. It was pretty crazy. You know, I'll be the first to admit I'm one of the luckiest guys on the planet to be able to do what I do, to have the fun that I have, to be able to live the dream.
VC: I think most guys in the industry feel that way, too. Guys I talk to, they all feel very, very fortunate.
TC: Yeah. And rightly so. It's just such a wonderful... I can't even call it a job. I just have fun doing what I'm doing, and I've been doing it for almost forty years.
VC: So you got your agent, and then the auditions started coming in?
TC: Yeah, they started... I'd go down to my agent's office every day, and read on new copy, and hopefully book something. Six months after I moved here, it was in the spring of '85, they sent me on an audition for a cartoon called Inspector Gadget. And I was familiar with the show because, my kids, who were about six and eight, at the time, used to watch it when we lived in Cleveland only six months earlier. So, I was a bit familiar with the show. And so, I went in to audition for this thing, never even thought about doing cartoons, but I thought, "How hard can it be? You look at a picture, and you come up with a voice!" But little did I realize, back then, it's not quite that simple. But I was also coming off, what ended up being a third callback for an on-camera commercial, that I ended up getting, and it was my first on-camera national network TV spot, for Kraft Barbeque Sauce. And I was coming straight from that callback, flying higher than a kite, because as an actor, you often just know, in your gut, when you've booked something. And I just knew that I had nailed this thing. And I had to go straight from this callback to this audition over at DiC for Inspector Gadget. It was a new little character they'd just created, and his name was Corporal Capeman. I almost wasn't even thinking about the audition... I was just walking on air. I met Marsha Goodman, she showed me a picture of the character, I read a little bit about what he was, and I immediately had this notion of what I thought he would sound like. I did it for them, and they laughed, which is always the best reaction you could get as an actor, you know, because then you just want to give them more! So yeah, and so I ended up booking the job, and went on my first session, and there, I was sitting in a studio with Maurice LaMarche, it was his first series, as well, Frank Welker was sitting on my left, and Don Adams was sitting on my right. It was just the four of us in the studio, and I just looked around and shook my head, and thought, "How in the world did this happen?"
VC: And what was that like with Don Adams there? Was that surreal?
TC: Well, it was surreal for me, because I was a huge Get Smart fan as a kid. So here, I'm sitting with Maxwell Smart, himself, you know, rubbing knees with him, and Frank Welker to my left. Because I really didn't know anything about the animation business, I wasn't familiar with who Frank was. But what was funny was, because I was familiar with the show, I knew that there was this character, Dr. Claw, on the show. And I remember being in Cleveland when the kids would have it on, I would hear it in the background. And I would hear this character come on, and I'd think, "Wow... what a huge voice." Whoever that guy is who does that must be eight feet tall, and this Andre the Giant kind of guy. So here, I'm sitting next to Frank, in my first session, not having any idea that he's the voice behind that character, and I remember thinking as we are reading through the script, and I'm sort of watching them to see how they're circling their lines, so I go, okay, that's how they do it. So I'm circling my lines, and I get to a page where there's a Dr. Claw line, and I'm thinking, well, it's not Maurice, and it's certainly not Frank, because he's very sort of quiet, and mild, and a very gentle man. And I knew it wasn't Don Adams. So, I figured it must be some guy who's not here, and he'll show up later and do his lines by himself, or something. So we get into the record, and we come to the page that has the Dr. Claw line on it, and I figure we're just going to skip over it, when all of a sudden, Frank opens his mouth, and out of his face falls this voice, and I just did... this, like... you've got to be kidding me! I mean, I laughed, and ruined the take, because I was so blown away by this man's talent and his versatility. I'd never seen anything like it. Well then, of course, come to find out, that he was living legend, and is the king of animation, and learned very quickly what the power behind Frank Welker was. So, boy, that was an eye opener for me. That was an experience.
Watch Part Two of this Behind the Booth interview with Townsend Coleman right here!