Joined: 07 Jan 2004
Location: Milford, PA
Fri Dec 06, 2013 3:35 pm
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 3 of this interview, we learn about what other voice actor was up for the role of Michaelangelo in the original 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, the audition process for The Tick, and how the voice of that character evolved.
Watch the rest of our interview with Townsend Coleman here:
Part 1 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ACmO_z2RpX8
Part 2 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EF2vYFu7B4
Voice Chasers (VC): How did that transition to probably your biggest role of all time, the Ninja Turtle role, Michaelangelo...
Townsend Coleman (TC): Well, yeah, it led directly into it because Stu Rosen, who was the voice director on Fraggle Rock, came into a session one day and pulled out a Ninja Turtles comic book out of his bag and said, "Hey, you guys, you're not going to believe this, but this is the next show I'm going to be directing." And he showed us the comic book, and we're all like, "What? You're kidding, right?" And I did think, I mean, we all commented about how that's not going anywhere. It's too weird, it's too out there. But these were the days of My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake, and those little cutesy shows that we were all doing. And so to look at something like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was just, at the time, in 1986, was, it just felt a little too edgy. A little too cutting edge. But Stu, he brought many of us who were in the cast of Fraggle Rock in to audition for Ninja Turtles. I auditioned for all four turtles. And the rest, as they say...
VC: And you got the Michaelangelo role.
TC: But initially they didn't cast me as Michaelangelo. They narrowed down the four guys who were going to be the four turtles, and they knew that Barry [Gordon] was going to be Donatello, they knew that Rob [Paulsen] was going to be Raphael, but they hadn't yet decided, even right into our first session, whether Cam [Clarke] or I were going to be Michaelangelo, and Leonardo, or vice versa. And so they worked it was Stu Rosen, it was basically, really just a crap shoot or a toss of the coin. He says to me, Townie... he said to both of us... we're going to try both of you guys out in both parts, and then we'll make our decision after the read-through, and we'll proceed from there. And really, it was just a random choice, he just said Townie, why don't you do Michaelangelo first, Cam, you do Leonardo first, on this first pass, and then we'll switch. And after that first pass, and I've told this story before, and still have never found out what the answer to it was, and I don't know that I'll ever find out, but there was something going on behind-the-scenes in the control room where there obviously was some bit of friction going on. And this idea of changing parts after that first read-through became unimportant. There were other things that they were more concerned with dealing with, clearly. So when we went to do our second read-through, I asked Stu, do you want us to change, and he said no, just keep it the way it is. Sort of, we'll talk about it later, kind of idea. And that was that! We would never talk about it after that, we did that first episode, and they just kept me as Michaelangelo, and kept Cam as Leonardo. He never got a chance to try Michaelangelo and I never got a chance to try...
VC: I was going to say, did you ever hear his version of the character?
TC: No, but I know that Cam does a great surfer, valley dude. And so really, honestly, in my ear, back in those days... and again, being relatively new in town, and, you know, I was starting to get a feel for the landscape, and kind of who was who, and who the big guns were, and I knew Cam was starting to get a lot of work at the time, too, and I knew his kind of surfer dude, and had heard it, and I thought, to me, I was thinking, he should do Michaelangelo, because he does his way better than I do. All I was doing was, sort of, trying to think of, kind of, Sean Penn and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, you know, kind of a burned out thing, and they just didn't want Michaelangelo too drugged out, too burned out. So I had to pull back on that and amp up the fun aspect of it. But in my mind, I was thinking Cam should be Michaelangelo. I can do that sort of, straight ahead, leader kind of guy just fine. But just never did it, so it just stayed the way it was.
VC: And what about The Tick? How did that whole thing happen? That was an audition process, I assume...
TC: The Tick was an audition process, and, as I recall, they were auditioning everybody in town. And I remember when I went to audition for it, it sort of took me back to... I don't really have a process that I go through. I know that there are a lot of guys in this business who really have a process, and especially, like I said, the guys that work so much are good impressionists, they've got another actor, or another character actor, or another public figure, or somebody that they can channel that they think might be a funny take on doing a particular character. And so often, that's true, because you hear them do that, and you think, who would've thought that a Don Knotts character as this ba-dum-ba-dum would work? And it does. And it's hilarious, and there you've got Jeff Bennett doing it, and you're on the floor rolling.
VC: A lot of A-List people in that show.
TC: In which show?
VC: In The Tick.
TC: Oh my gosh, yeah, we had a great cast. Yeah, for sure. And it was such a treat, as much as I loved working with Micky Dolenz because, you know, I was a huge Monkees fan when I was a kid, and so meeting him the first time was such a trip for me. I was just peeing my pants. But, it came out of the audition process, and what I was going to say was I don't really have much of a process that I go through, and not being an impressionist, and not having anybody to draw upon, I'm sort of shooting in the dark. Sometimes, very often, the things that I try tend to be very generic. Kind of safe and not particularly creative, but a way to go. But the guys who come up with these killer characters and these impressions are very often the ones who nail this stuff because it's so hilarious. You get it. You laugh, out loud, right from the start. But when I looked at The Tick, there were a couple of voices that came to me that, when I read the lines, as bizarre as they were, and I looked at what the character was and I read the description of him, I thought to myself, very much what I thought when I auditioned for the very first character on Inspector Gadget. When I first looked at that picture of him, it's like I immediately knew what he sounded like, and I just did it. Well, I felt the same way about The Tick. I immediately knew what I thought he sounded like. And I didn't get it. And I kept pressing in that direction. And the direction was what I ended up doing, once I ended up getting the part, but I get it the first time around. They went ahead and did it with someone else, the first episode, and decided they didn't like it, wanted to recast the character of The Tick, and brought a few of us who had auditioned the first time back in for a call back. They brought me back in and Sue Blu, who was going to be directing the show, and who had directed Ninja Turtles all those years, explained to me, here's what they want. Here's what they're really looking for. And I'm listening to her, and I'm thinking, okay I hear you, but I still don't think that that's exactly it. They really wanted to go lighter register, younger, guileless, kind of genie. Sort of a very wide-eyed sort of thing. I got that, I could understand that, I could see where they were coming from in terms of wanting an aspect to his character to have that feel. But for me, there needed to be something... and what I was going to say is, so what immediately came to mind was Gary Owens. Ted Knight, Ted Baxter on Mary Tyler Moore. And then this character from Fireside Theater that I had grown up in high school listening to, they did this character, Nick Danger, Phil Austin just did this great character, it was such a great bit. And in high school, the big thing when I was a junior in high school, was to memorize this entire, 20-minute long bit of Nick Danger, the Third Eye. I remember loving his character so much. There was something about these three characters that mashed together with some of my own stuff thrown in, that seemed to embody what I thought The Tick was. So I kept pressing for that, as much as I could, but tried to balance it out with what they were saying they wanted, because I wanted to get the part. So they cast me. And because they had already recorded the first episode once, what they needed was for me to come in and just re-record The Tick's line for that whole first episode, and they brought Micky Dolenz in because many of his scenes were with Arthur. So it was just the two of us in this studio over at Screen Music, so we did that first episode like that, and then the rest of the three seasons beyond that were all done together, ensemble, as a full cast. Which is really the way you want to do it because so much happens in those sessions where you're playing off of each other that gives so much more energy and life to the show, to the episode, then you could possibly get if everybody was recording their lines wild, like they do with so much of the feature animation now. So that's how I got that...
VC: And your intuition won out, I guess, the way you wanted to play the character.
TC: Yeah, it did. Yeah, it's funny, if I listen to those first couple of episodes, I can hear how his register is quite a bit higher and lighter, and a little more earnest and stuff, because I sort of relaxed into it, as we all kind of got a feel for the show, and the various characters, and the interplay. And the writing was always so brilliant on that show, that he kind of morphed into what he became. And it was the most fun I ever had doing animation. You know, at the end of each of those episodes, Ben [Edlund] would write this sort of short rant The Tick would go off on, about something. And I remember being so blown away by the silliness and just the writing of those little moments at the very end of each episode, that it got to the point, for me, where when we would go to record an episode, I'd show up, and they'd give me my script, and I'd go through the script and circle my lines, and kind of read through it and kind of get an idea of where the episode was going. But when I got to that last page or so with that rant on it, I wouldn't read it. I didn't want to read it. I wanted the first read-through to be cold because I found that, as I read it for the first time, out loud, it would hit me in such a way that would just... it was like the gears would start turning, and I would start getting amped up and into the fun and the spirit of whatever that rant happened to be. And more often than not, they ended up keeping that first take of what I would do on those. Gosh, that was fun. Those were fun days working on that show. That was a blast.
Stay tooned for Part Four of this Behind the Booth interview with Townsend Coleman, coming next week!