Joined: 01 May 2016
Location: Las Vegas
Wed May 11, 2016 2:16 am
Beyond the Booth: Maurice LaMarche (Part 2)
by Sherry A. Moore
|Voice Chasers staff member Sherry A. Moore sits down with two-time Primetime Emmy® Award winning voice actor, comedian, and impressionist, Maurice LaMarche to discuss his career in this two-part interview. You know him best as the voice of The Brain in "Pinky and the Brain," Kif Kroker, Mobo, and Calculon in the animated series "Futurama," Egon Spengler in "The Real Ghostbusters," Dizzy Devil in "Tiny Toon Adventures," the official voice of Lexus cars, and many, many more.
Read Part 1 of the interview here.
Sherry Moore: I know you still audition to this day for everything…
Maurice LaMarche: Right
SM: … Have there ever been specific roles where they knew they wanted you specifically and they cast you based on that?
ML: Yes. Damned if I could think of one right now.
SM: That was my next question [laughs].
ML: Yeah, I get a lot of Orson Welles work. You know, there are certain directors who know what I can do and they just call me up without an audition; I'm always flattered by that. But I never ever feel as though I shouldn't go. "Hang on, look who I am." My friends, friends of mine who don't know much about the business. My civilian friends, when I say "I'm off to an audition," [they say]: "They still make you audition? Don't they know?" No, actually, I mean there's a new crop of people every few years who are entering casting, to them I'm not even the voice of their childhood. They're too damn young.
ML: So I constantly prove myself.
SM: I'm now obsessed with Rick and Morty, thanks to you telling me to watch that.
ML: Great show.
SM: Yes. How did you get involved in that? Did you audition for that? Or did the creators, like you said, want you from the get-go because they knew what you could do?
ML: That's a great story because [creator] Justin Roiland had on the same day of episode, I think it was episode two, he had Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and me all on the show. And that's one of those ones we didn't get an audition. So I walked in, I said, "I don't know what these characters sound like: what about my demo reel made you think I could play this dog accountant?" [laughs] He said, "I didn't listen to your demo reel, I've been listening to you since I was a little kid and I used to come home from school and watch Animaniacs and Pinky and The Brain. And I've always drawn and I've always known I wanted to do a cartoon series. I promised myself if I ever did a cartoon series, I would hire you guys. So here I am hiring you guys. I know you can do anything. Just give me what you think is right for the character." So I just thought, "God, that's fantastic." We didn't know in 1993 that we had one person in America, one little kid in America who's going to grow up and become this show creator. Now all I could think was, "there's got to be about five more coming down the pike. Maybe it will be the other guys who just knew us, loved us and keep us working until we're about 80 and have gruel cups." [laughs].
But I mean with Rick and Morty, man is that just so, it's such an honor to work on something so brilliantly written, to think that a genius like Justin Roiland thinks enough of my work that he just kind of grandfathered me into the show. Still has me on every few episodes. Just when there's time for a Moe, it's time for a Moe part, he just calls me in. I'm just thrilled to be there, to be part of that universe.
SM: It's a brilliant show.
ML: Yeah. And [co-creator] Dan Harmon, the same, and Dan and I are close in age. I think maybe we're only, I think he's 10 to 15 years younger than me. But I don't know if we quite had that same connection but I consider myself so lucky that this guy likes me, too. He's just a genius. Two geniuses get together to create a show. Two geniuses walk into a studio to create a show called Rick and Morty and it's the smartest thing on TV since Futurama.
SM: A lot of Rick and Morty seems to be off-the-cuff, completely random. How much of that is improvised? Given the nature of the show, it seems like it would be more improvised than written.
ML: Yeah, I mean, Justin has said, "use the words but if you need to go off where you figure out something funnier, go for it." I couldn't tell you what was improv and what was written. I know Justin improvises, he just riffs like crazy. You can hear it. Even in the fact that the characters speak as haltingly as they do. Just throw [him] in there, give him a couple of drinks as he records. I wish I had the luxury of having a couple of drinks but I've been sober since 1989 so I can't.
SM: [Laughs] And that's good.
ML: Yeah. It isn't easy but the world's a better place, thank God.
SM: Good. Do you find it to be true that in those shows or movies where the creators are also the writers, like with Team America, South Park, and Rick and Morty, that they tend to give you more creative freedom than on a show like The Simpsons that has a substantial writing staff? You think there's a difference?
ML: I don't find it that different, no. I try to give the same honor to the material no matter what. When we were doing Team America, Matt [Stone] and Trey [Parker] directed every session. They were co-directors, neither was more in charge than the other one. So whenever we recorded, they just kept throwing ideas at me. So much of the improvisation was them writing on the fly. It was bloody brilliant. The amount of collaboration that can occur on a project like their projects is very satisfying, but when I go in to do a Simpsons, it's equally satisfying. But with Simpsons and Futurama, words have been thought about very carefully, these are wordsmiths, comedy wordsmiths of these shows and I don't want to mess with their rhythms; it's too good. They even have a very specific rhythm in the acting, with throwing things away more than other shows. It's a particular style: it's brilliant.
SM: A lot of your characters seem to have a megalomaniacal yet endearing streak. Are these the type of characters you're particularly drawn to or is it just a coincidence?
ML: I think people just saw The Brain and they think of me for that, I don't know. I'm a bit of a control freak in my private life and in my personal life. I tend to like things exactly as I like them but I don't think the world would be a better place if I ran it, you know in real life. So I don't know about how megalomaniacal I am. My son may say I'm megalomaniacal around the house about dishes and that type of thing.
When I was younger, my father was a… he had many careers. First, he had a career in broadcasting and then he went into pharmaceutical sales. He left; the money wasn't coming fast enough in broadcast. He wanted to do something where he could write his own ticket, so he worked for a pharmaceutical company. He'd practice the names of the different medicines that the company put out. I'd go with him on his rounds, on a Saturday we'd stop at two or three pharmacies. He spoke to the pharmacists and sold them the drugs. That had a legitimacy to it; selling drugs when I was a kid didn't sound like a bad thing. Now it's got a connotation that's somewhat sinister.
So I'd watch him practice the names and I'd practice the names with him. And I think from that, I was only 5 or 6 at the time, I learned to say big words with authority. [laughs] So I learned to sound very scientific along with my dad, and I think that's what gives me that scientific genius thing that has allowed me to play Egon Spengler and Etno on Space Goofs and The Brain, Dr. Splitz on Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys. I keep getting cast as the scientific genius and I just love big words.
SM: Out of all the characters you play, which ones…
ML: I'm like Trump, I've got words.
SM: [laughs] You mean Drumpf?
ML: Drumpf. [as Donald Trump]: "Oh I got words…" Let's not deviate…
SM: Out of all the characters you've played, which one do you think is least like the others? To me, I think it's Kif.
ML: I don't think I've ever had a character quite like Kif. He's different from anybody else I've ever played. He's the most vulnerable character I've ever played. I love him.
SM: I do, too.
ML: I want Kif for a friend. Apart from not having a backbone, which is anatomically true. [As Kif] "He's supported by a system of bladders." He's probably the most noble-hearted character I've played. And you know, we talked earlier on the panel ["Psychology of Cult TV Shows" panel at WonderCon] about finding your inner hero. My favorite episode for Kif is "Where the Buggalo Roam" because he comes to the rescue and finds his inner hero. Yeah, so he stands apart and he's got a lot of dimension and depth, so I'm very thrilled that Matt [Groening] threw that character to me. He originally wanted [Kif] to sound like Jon Lovitz. He may have had Lovitz in mind for the part. It may have been because I know Zap [Brannigan] was supposed to be Phil Hartman so he may have had a Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz dynamic in mind.
SM: And [Kif] has a sarcastic bent a little bit; it's there.
ML: Oh definitely. That's what's so much fun about it. There's so much in that one sigh. [As Kif]: "Oh geez."
ML: He's so put upon and that's such a fun note to play.
SM: You posted about this earlier and I thought it was interesting, especially in light of the "Psychology of Cult TV Shows" panel you were on earlier today. It was about that DC article about revealing The Joker's back story.
ML: Oh my goodness. I'm so not thrilled about that.
SM: I believe you mentioned that it's best if the villainous character stays mysterious. Any further thoughts on that?
ML: Well this one specifically. I mean [Joker] arrives on the scene fully formed, we get a little bit of that Red Hood origin, because I guess they just had to explain why he's got white skin and green hair and ruby red lips but you just don't know what life he came from. I love the scene in Dark Knight where they've got him, he's in the cell, and they go, "there's no match on his prints, and his clothing is custom so no labels, we've got absolutely no way of figuring out who this guy is and what his real identity is." That's what makes him so f*** scary. Did Satan just drop him in the middle of the world and go, "go have fun"? And I think that revealing that backstory, I mean the Jack Napier thing, that's why, to me is why [Mark] Hamill's Joker in the cartoon series [Batman: The Animated Series]: you don't know where he comes from or what makes him that way. He's got a level of charm in the Batman cartoon series, that Mark Hamill infuses him with, as well as his terrifically dark sense of humor, he's not quite as psycho, psychotic killer as Ledger's character, he just wants to introduce chaos into order. Yeah, I think DC could be making a misstep here but they aren't asking me for my opinion so I'm not under contract to them but that's just my IMHO, hashtag IMHO. That's my humble opinion.
SM: Do you think this recent trend of delving into a character's backstory, discovering what makes him tick, stems from the self-esteem movement, that these characters aren't really evil, that there's a reason behind this and they're really just misunderstood?
ML: I think it's that. I think it's the over-psychologization of everything. That we've got to understand everybody and that everybody's still basically, that there's a human being inside each of us, we must connect with their humanity and know their backstory. But I think in terms of our fictional villains, at least, makes them less effective, robs them of their fire. I don't want to understand why Joker is the way Joker is. In fact, I was a little disappointed when I was watching Dark Knight, when he, even though it was a powerful scene, where he puts the gun, the knife in the guy's mouth and gives that whole, [as Ledger's Joker] "my father was a drinker and a fiend." But then the next time he does it, the story's completely different, and then the next time he does it, he's about to tell another story when we realize we're never going to get the truth out of this guy. It actually infused him with more power the more often he changed his backstory.
SM: It made him more sociopathic and scarier.
ML: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. You don't know if there's a soul there in that character.
SM: Do you find your interest in psychology infuses your characters with more realism, that it makes it easier to find who they are?
ML: I don't know, I don't know. I mean, I'll use whatever I've got and I do know I have an interest in the way the mind works. Maybe compensates for lacks that I have in other acting skills, like my lack of improv, but it certainly, I do try to get inside the skin of my characters and go, "what do they want?" I think that's the most important question an actor can try to find an answer for in playing a character: "What does he want?" If you don't know what your guy wants, what you as the character want, you can't move forward in the scene. You're just saying lines. That's why Brain was such an easy character to play, we knew exactly what he wanted.
SM: From the first episode.
ML: From there we could just roll forward and have fun with that, especially since he was never gonna get it.
SM: Right, because it was always about the journey, not the destination.
ML: Yeah, absolutely. If he did ever take over the world, that would be a hard episode to write. What would be a world run by The Brain? Would it be a better world or a worst world? Don't know, but certainly the struggle would be over. Just like Seth MacFarlane did so brilliantly in that [Family Guy] episode, that cartoon he made about Wile E. Coyote finally getting, killing, and then eating the Roadrunner. He doesn't know what to do with his life. He actually goes tremendously downhill without his nemesis. Genius.
SM: I believe you've said that you play villains as if they believe what they are doing is right.
ML: You have to because every villain does.
SM: Do you find that sometimes not to be the case, that they know what they're doing is wrong but they do it anyway? You ever play a character like that?
ML: I think most of what we call the criminals and the bad people of our society know that the rules say they're not supposed to do what they're supposed to do, they feel justified in doing it. They don't necessarily feel like a good person but they always feel like this is what they need to do.
SM: On some level.
ML: Yeah. But when you're playing a villain character, you've got to play him as though he thinks he's right to do what he does. He may not think he's kind to do what he does, but he's got to think he's right. He's got to think he's following the path he's got to follow to get what he needs.
SM: The ends justify the means type of thing?
ML: Yeah. I think a villain can, if it's written in the script, to question what he's doing, but then he's on a different journey. The villain really questions his villainy.
SM: I've noticed, as many people have, that you've been popping up in a lot of Disney projects lately: Wreck It Ralph, Frozen, and now Zootopia. Approximately how long does it take to record dialogue for a Disney feature versus a TV project? My understanding is that for one TV episode, it takes only one session on average.
ML: Yep, yeah. Disney, they have the luxury in the features of constantly revising, adding scenes, adding lines of dialogue. So I probably came into the process of Zootopia at about [the] "5 months before release" point. So [Mr. Big] was sort of a new scene, a new character. But I probably went in about 5 or 6 times because they kept coming up with funnier stuff for him to do. And they gave me an additional scene at the end there. They didn't just re-use one of my "Ice 'ims." They actually had me come in and record new "Ice 'ims" for when they hang Alan Tudyk’s character [Duke Weaselton] over the, you know, when they try to get the information out of him. So that was pretty cool. Tell me the original question again.
SM: I was asking about the difference between a TV- and a Disney-animated feature.
ML: They just have a lot more, they have the luxury of time and money to really massage the piece. In a limited-production schedule of a television episode, they may think of a better joke and maybe they'll do it in ADR [Automated Dialog Replacement] after the animation comes back but they got to get it up and running as quickly as possible, whereas a movie like Frozen, we added some scenes in Frozen for the Dad and with Mr. Big. There was a three-year production schedule. As they came up with better ideas, we can go back and do them. It was great.
SM: And for my last question. What projects are you currently working on that you can discuss, that you haven't signed a NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement] on? Or I should say "on which you haven't signed a NDA," to be grammatically correct.
ML: That's best, yes. Ending a sentence in a preposition is something up with which I will not put.
ML: Hmm, I signed a NDA on that one.
SM: Aw shit.
SM: You can tell me, I'll just not publish it. Kidding. I'm a lawyer, it's confidential…
ML: Yeah, I mean… I’m not supposed to say…
SM: Yeah of course, I know.
ML: But it is another Disney project. So there is something coming down the pike from Disney I get to be in again.
SM: Awesome. Thank you for your time!
ML: My pleasure. Thank YOU!
Read Part 1 of our interview with Maurice LaMarche.
About Sherry A. Moore:
In addition to being a staff member of Voice Chasers, Sherry A. Moore, Esq. is an attorney in Las Vegas, Nevada specializing in the default servicing industry representing lenders in a variety of matters, including creditor rights, foreclosure, litigation, mediations, and bankruptcy. She is also a PADI Divemaster who frequently dives throughout the world. Whenever she is not doing those things, she can be found “getting her nerd on” at various comic cons.