Interview with Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice actor Dee Bradley Baker
Spring is here, Epcot’s Flower and Garden festival is ending, and it’s time for the next big event on the Disney Calendar: Star Wars Weekends. This is an annual event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios celebrating the Star Wars movie saga as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars. The fan event begins May 21st (which, by the way, is also the 30th anniversary of Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back) and runs for four consecutive weekends through June 13th.
The first weekend (May 21-23) will send in the clones for a fete for Fett! Temuera Morrison (actor, Jango Fett), Daniel Logan (actor, Boba Fett), and Dee Bradley Baker (voice actor, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) will be the celebrity guests celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Empire Strikes Back”. Dee Bradley Baker is the voice of all the clone troopers in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, including the popular Captain Rex and Commander Cody. Continue after the break to listen to and read along with my interview with voice actor Dee Bradley Baker.
To hear Dave’s interview with Dee Bradley Baker,
Dave Parfitt: Dee, thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Dee Bradley Baker: Oh it’s my pleasure, good to talk.
DP: Is this your first time attending Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios?
DBB: I haven’t been out to Disney for a while. I worked at Epcot Center for a good four and a half years. From ‘89 to ‘93 I believe it was.
DP: Did you really? And what was your role there?
DBB: I opened up a show, a health related sketch comedy show called “The Anatomical Players”. I started working out there doing that show at the Wonders of Life pavilion at Epcot, and then from there I went on to do a lot of the shows at the World Showcase, the traveling story-teller trunk shows that they had in England, France, and Italy. They also had briefly a really great little musical in Canada – a little melodrama musical with the Future World brass that was very funny.
So I was doing all those shows. I also opened up the Beetlejuice character, the walk-around character at Universal Studios when that opened up. I did a lot of shows for Saks Theater in town, improv shows with Wayne Brady, and I also did theater – I was Tony in West Side Story at the Orlando Civic Theater. I took voice lessons with Manny Luhan, he was a really great singing teacher out there. I got married while I was there too – my girlfriend, now wife, followed me out there. So, a lot happened for me, it was really a lot of fun. I really had a good experience out there.
DP: Yeah, it does sound like it was a really formative time for you then.
DBB: Oh yeah, yeah, it was a real springboard, and then I also got my first series which was “Legends of the Hidden Temple” for Nickelodeon where I did the voice of Olmec, and that got me thinking of maybe moving to Los Angeles. So I came and checked it out, and some agent who was starting up a voice over department said, “Yeah, we’ll sign you kid.” So I came back, gave my resignation, and two weeks later my wife and I were driving out to Los Angeles. (laughs) We just dropped all and came out here.
DP: Wow, good for you. While you haven’t been to Star Wars Weekends at Hollywood Studios, many other people from Clone Wars have appeared and will be appearing this year. Have you talked to them at all about what to expect?
DBB: Um yeah, I talked to Ashley Eckstein (voice of Ahsoka in The Clone Wars) a little bit and James Arnold Taylor (voice of Obi-Wan in The Clone Wars), and it sounds like it’s a lot of fun. It’s really exciting. It’s a really nice match because when I was out there the Star Tours ride was going on, it seemed like a universe that fit well with the Disneyland and Disney World thing. It sounds like it’s a lot of fun too. I’m looking forward to it.
DP: I think it may be a little bit different than other fan festivals like Comicon. They really bill themselves as being very fan friendly as well, or family friendly.
DBB: Oh that’s great. It’s a real wild mixed bag at Comicon, which I also really love, but, yeah I’ve seen the Star Wars show they have out here, the live show (Jedi Training Academy) at Disneyland out in Anaheim, and it really impressed me. I thought it was a real, fantastic take on it that was a lot of fun that worked very well for Disney, but really held very well with the Star Wars universe. I thought it worked really great.
DP: You voice the entire clone army (in Star Wars: The Clone Wars), how do you go about personalizing the voices so that the clones are more individualized? Could you give us an example of the different clone voices?
DBB: Well, the way to go about doing it is to take like…
(in different Clone Trooper voices) The basic voice, like that… and then you could have one who’s a little bit, a little bit rougher around the edges… or, you can have one who’s a little bit more of an officer, and who’s a little more educated and proper, if you will…
(back to speaking voice) It’s just little flavorings like that. It doesn’t take very much that will give a different appearance to the clones vocally.
DP: Sure, so you get a sense of the individuality of them then as you’re developing the voices.
DBB: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really key.
DP: In addition to your voice-work on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, you can also be heard on American Dad, Ben 10: Alien Force, SpongeBob Squarepants, Phineas and Ferb, Handy Manny, and the feature film Furry Vengeance.
DBB: Yeah, that’s coming out soon… laughs… I do most all the animal sounds in that. That was a lot of fun.
DP: Is it difficult doing voices for so many different franchises at the same time?
DBB: It’s the great thrill of my career to get to do that. I’m lucky that I have a vocal database of these characters and sounds to dial up. It’s a lot of fun, and it really just feels like fun to me – is all it is. Whether I’m doing an evil super-villain who’s just human or doing the creature sounds in Star Wars or the Nickelodeon series Avatar. That’s one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done right there – where I did mostly all the creatures in that. I love the great variety that I have as an actor, even on a daily basis. I just cannot believe the range of characters I get to do as a voice actor. It’s really gratifying and really fun. As an on camera actor, I’d never get to do that.
DP: That’s great. Is it difficult at all transitioning from family friendly Disney fare to the more adult oriented projects like American Dad? Or do you approach them all the same way?
DBB: You know, it’s all acting to me. It all feels the same. My life as a performer has been doing every kind of performing I can possibly and legally do… laughs… So it’s everything from musicals, children’s theater, stand-up, operas, summer stock Shakespeare, improv, stand-up comedy, theme parks, Christmas caroler, I’ve done so many different kinds of performing and it all feels in a way the same to me. It’s all acting and live performing, and it’s all fun. So it’s not a great effort to conjure that up. It’s just kind of what I’m used to doing as an actor.
DP: Klaus from American Dad may be your most recognizable character right now…
DBB: Well, I hope it is for the grown-ups, not for the kids… laughs…
DP: laughing… good point. So, how much input did you have in the creation of that character?
DBB: Oh, that’s a great question. That character was originally written as French. It was French-isms and it was like “sexy French fish loves the Mother” that kind of thing – it really loves the Mom. I mean for me, I studied German. I was a philosophy major in college, practically a minor in German.
DP: The traditional background for voice acting, of course.
DBB: Yeeaahh, well, yeah, that’s exactly right. Well, I’m not a trained actor. I’ve just done performance all my life. In a way, training can actually get in the way of being a professional at anything. Laughs…
But yeah, so, I had this weird take on Klaus. I thought this would be a lot funnier, and maybe, more importantly, I can do a funnier job at delivering this character if I do it in German. And so I did it in German. I didn’t read what the copy said. I did it the way I knew was the best way that I could do it, and so, that’s what I did. Because it wasn’t the writers original vision I think there was some push-back among the show creators, but ultimately in the end I won out. I was really glad I stuck by my guns and they said, “Yep, we like him better German.” It’s a weird, kind of an outrageous choice, but that’s a show that a weird, outrageous choice can work in. That was my calculated risk, and it paid off.
DP: you also have a connection to the Disney theme parks as well. I learned in my research you voiced Captain Jack Sparrow’s talking parrot in the newly refurbished Pirates of the Caribbean.
DP: Is that right?
DBB: Yeah, I’m the one who says…
(in announcer voice) FACE FORWARD, HEAD BACK, AND HANG ON, 5… 4… 3… 2… 1…!!!
(back to speaking voice) before you get shot off onto that fantastic roller coaster. I do that, and I also think I do the Maliboomer. Although, I’ve only done that ride once, and I don’t think I can do it again. Laughing…
DP: I think they might have taken it out though too…
DBB: Oh, maybe so, maybe so.
DP: Could you give us a little sample of what our audience should listen for from Captain Jack’s parrot as they ride through the Pirates of the Caribbean?
DBB: Oh that’s just, you know…
(in parrot voice) SQWAAAAK… pieces of eight… SCREEECH… dead men tell no tales… SQWAAAK… whistle…
(back to speaking voice) that kind of stuff.
DP: You are particularly known in the business for a wide range of animal, alien, and monster sounds. How did you come to specialize in that area?
DBB: Well, that started with me finding out that that’s something that I like to do that people like me doing when I would do stand-up. And in stand-up comedy it’s really great… well, it’s really horrible, but it’s also great… that’s it’s this kind of Thunderdome, trial by fire, of finding out what works about yourself on a stage in front of people. And I found, that one of the things that kind of works for me is to do weird sounds and odd characters like animals and monsters. So, I just kind of kept pursuing that, and part of why that resonated with me as well is because I’ve always loved monster movies and sci-fi and fantasy and that kind of stuff since I was a kid.
I mean, I was a big Star Wars fan when I was a kid. I loved Star Wars. I was really into it. And so, that seemed like a good fit. And so, I just kept doing it, and soon people said – oh, and he can do the dragon. Oh, he can do the alien. Oh, he can do… you know, and they just kept throwing me more and more stuff. So that’s part of it. I like it. It’s not just that I can do it, but that I really like to do it. And I like seeing those movies and TV shows and playing those types of games.
DP: So, doing what you do and being a voice actor does that change how you watch the movies or watch the series or play the games?
DBB: Well, ultimately you become sensitive to your own area of expertise. I mean, like, I couldn’t tell you that that scene was edited poorly, but I can tell you if the creatures mixed in a movie… well, there’s a certain movie, that was sort of a post-apocalyptic movie, starring Will Smith… laughs… that had all sorts of creature sounds mixed in there. For me it was… that just sounds like someone mixed a pig in with people screaming, and that doesn’t sound like a monster to me. They should have called me for that. So, I’m a little overly sensitive with that kind of thing. I mean a movie like “The Water Horse”, for instance, I would have loved to have had a run at that. I think I could have given them a better Water Horse than they had – if I do say so myself. But, a movie like “District 9”, for instance, another movie I would have loved to have done the creature effects, but who they got to do it, and the way they did it, I thought was just top notch. I thought it was great, and I don’t think I could have done… I think I could have done good, but I don’t think I could have done any better. And so, that one I was happy with. “District 9” might have been my favorite movie of last year.
So I’m overly picky, and may be overly sensitive. I can usually tell, in a cartoon for instance, I can tell when it’s the animator or the guy from ink and paint or whoever’s working around there at the office that they gave to do a voice because I can just tell that it is. It’s not nearly as good as it needs to be. And also when they hire famous people to do voices and sometimes they’re just horrible. I mean they look good on the press release, but, oh, just a disastrous decision. But also, there are famous people that do a very good job at what they do and it sounds fine so I can’t argue too much there.
Image: The cast and crew celebrate the 100th episode of AMERICAN DAD. Voice actor Dee Bradley Baker appears on the far right. ©2009 FOX BROADCASTING
DP: Right, I mean it must be a big conflict now. There’s so many of these animated movies that are coming out this day and age and they’ve gotten so competitive in their market. So it really does seem like the producers are struggling to get those names that will bring people into the seats.
DBB: Yeah, well, that’s their theory, but you can actually find movies with the famous people in it either on camera or off that bomb horribly. The whole hypothesis that famous people are what make people want to go see a cartoon or make children enjoy it more I think is completely false. I think it’s utterly wrong-headed, and I think the data would bear that out.
DP: I’d have to agree with you because it’s all about story. If it’s a good story and well done that’s what’s going to draw people in – especially for the kids.
DBB: Exactly, if it’s a good story, that’s well told with good actors, that’s what you need. That is what you need. You don’t need famous people. Famous people cost a lot, they’re high maintenance, and they’re usually hard to direct. And the people who hire them don’t realize that until they bring them in, and then it gets really hard… laughs. I love to hear stories about that, about how hard it was. We brought in this star or that star, and they’re high maintenance, and they’re hours late, and they walked out early, and you couldn’t direct them at all. Oh, I LOVE stories like that, and there’s lots of them… laughs…
DP: Sounds like you get a little bit of pleasure in that.
DBB: Yeah, I know. I do, but ultimately, it’s not a real chip on my shoulder because I feel good about what I do, and people hire me because I’m good at it. And frankly, Kevin Costner can’t make monster sounds. So… laughs… so, I think I’m OK there. But also for video games and that kind of stuff too most stars don’t want to sit around in a studio. They consider it demeaning I guess. Not all of them, but I’ve heard a lot of them do. They just don’t like sitting around in a studio. It’s not glamorous enough.
DP: Sure, I could definitely see that. Dee, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I do have one request though. My 9 year old daughter is a huge SpongeBob fan, and she would love to hear a voice if you would from SpongeBob.
DBB: Ha, I do a lot of voices on SpongeBob, and most of them nobody would know who the heck they are.
(in SpongeBob character voices) I do Perch Perkins Action News… I do Old Man Jenkins… often I’m a Cop fish… I’m a little kid… I’m a guy who’s ordering a crabby patty. You always hear that kind of voice in there often. I was Kevin… No Pickle!… I’m sorry that was Bubble Bath… I’m gettin’ them mixed up now.
(in speaking voice) Yeah, so it’s a little different every single episode on that.
(in SpongeBob character voice) Oh! I’m also Squillium Fancyfin in the show.
(in speaking voice) Squidward’s nemesis. So there’s a few for your daughter. I’m glad she loves SpongeBob. I do too.
DP: You say that she wouldn’t know, but my daughter would know. They would know. The kids know.
DBB: Well, good, good, OK. That’s a beautiful show. That’s just modern vaudeville in animated form right there. It’s just a great show. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
DP: There you go. This has been David Parfitt, senior correspondent for the DIS Unplugged, talking with voice actor Dee Bradley Baker who will be appearing May 21-23 at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekends. Thank you Dee.
DBB: Good to talk to you.
Category: Disney World