Phil LaMarr Interview | NYCC 2018 | NowThis Nerd

Hi, I'm Moose, and at New York Comic Con, I had the privilege of sitting down with one of my all time favorite voice actors The one and only Phil Lamar

From 'Static' to John Stewart, Hermes Conrad to Samurai Jack, Phil has played some of the most hilarious and heroic characters across TV, film, and video games Why couldn't you do those names in alphabetical order, mon? That would have been much better I began by asking him about how he got his start in showbiz and why he made the switch to voice acting I did my first cartoon, actually, in high school, Mr T? Yeah

Which was just a weird one off type of thing and I never realized then, or at any point, that I would come back around to cartoons again But weirdly enough, that's where my career started and that's where the heart of it lives now While we were doing 'Mad TV' we'd would do claymation pieces and that's why I was really getting my mic time, you know And then after 'Mad TV' I had a little more time, and I began to actively focus on doing more voice work and it just started to click You know I started getting, you know, I got 'Weekenders,' 'Futurama,' you know these things

And not only was I getting steady work I was getting great shows with fantastic writers and producers and fellow actors I mean, the first few shows I did I was working with Grey DeLisle, Jason Marsden, Kat Soucie, Billy West It was the best way to start, it's like, "oh I see how to do it at an incredibly high level and that's what I'm going to aim for" after finding his voice in minor roles, Phil's career took off after playing two of the most important superheroes of the modern era, in a time where Black superheroes were nowhere near as visible as they are today Phil helped bring to life two characters who paved the way for a new era of representation: Static, and the Green Lantern, Jon Stewart Working with Denis Cowan and Alan Burnett and Dwayne McDuffie on 'Static,' all you knew is this was a great show We were dealing with topics, but it wasn't the, you know, 'Diff'rent Strokes' very special episode kind of things, just like, "this is a day in your life

Some days are more heavier than others" and they were able to capture that feel in a Saturday morning cartoon, you know? and the fact that it was the only African-American superhero with his own show was a happenstance I mean it wasn't like anybody was trying to make that And in fact that one of the reasons the show didn't have a longer life was because of the hurdles that it faced We didn't have any toys And of course Saturday morning is not about ratings

It's not about quality It was about toys Yeah And the fact that 'Static' wasn't generating merchandising is the reason they canceled Bro, if you think about these things too much, your head will explode

Well and even with 'Justice League,' again, diversity was not a buzz word But Bruce Timm looked at the Justice League he was putting together and he was like "I don't want to see seven white guys save the world every week," because to him, from a creative standpoint, that's boring It wasn't as exciting It didn't give him as many, as much story to tell So again, it wasn't about politics, it was about quality, you know, excellence, like, "what is the best story we can tell?" And also, I mean, I think the reason that John Stewart resonates with people is, again, because they took that character places that most legacy characters don't get to go

And the fact that he wasn't burdened by as many decades of continuity and whatnot, and also people's expectations In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power, GREEN LANTERN'S LIGHT! It's been years since Phil first stepped into these iconic roles, but like a lot of his animated peers, their performances have stuck with fans far more than any live action actor What is it about the voice actors that just make these characters so iconic and make them last so much, and have such an impact on us? I think it's twofold It's, one: people engage with animation at a different level than they do with on camera stuff

And I'm not exactly sure why, but some of it is you come to it younger, you know, when you're in this impressionable stage, and you take it in, just on a DNA level, and you carry it with you for the rest of your life You know, there's also something about voices, in particular Sweet pyro of Cairo! That's true! I remember the first episode of 'Scooby Doo' I ever did You know, I was playing just some, you know, guest character, but when Casey Kasem walked into the studio, he got behind the mic, and they said "Casey, can you say a couple of lines as Shaggy just so we can get a sound level?" He began to speak I can already taste those chocolate covered hot dogs! And the hair on the back of my neck stood up And I was transported back to when I was 8 years old with a bowl of cereal in front of the TV, watching 'Scooby Doo

' There's something about a voice, the quality of it, like when you hear your mom's voice She doesn't sound the same now as she did when you were four, she's aged It's different, but there is something in there that your body on a chemical level responds to her sound I always feel like as a voice actor, I'm really at most a third of the character, because without the art and without the writing the characters are not whole, you know? And the fact is, 'Samurai Jack,' 'Justice League,' 'Futurama,' those shows in and of themselves are works of art the writing, the design, all of that stuff comes together and impacts you as a viewer Like, "this is amazing!" Phil made his name in animation, but in 2001, he made his mainstream videogame debut, portraying the twisted terrorist Vamp in 'Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

' I asked Phil what it was like stepping into Hideo Kojima's extremely strange saga With 'Metal Gear,' I had the benefit of having played 'Metal Gear Solid 1' and loved it It's like, you remember trying to, just like, "I'm just going to shoot my way out!" No Iif you don't do the stealth, you're dead And I loved it

And the cinematics was so amazing, it was unlike any game at the time, with what Kojima was doing in terms of storytelling and 'Metal Gear,' you couldn't just have random people say the lines anymore, you know? Like, "I'm going to get you!" It wasn't that, it was so much more emotional, and you know, it was complex So, I mean, I had the benefit of knowing how the game worked so I could figure out you know, oh this is a line that I'm saying, you know, as an attack line I shudder to think what some, you know, older actors who had never played a video game would have done in the boots, like [BABBLING] "What am I saying?" But Chris Zimmerman was the voice director and she is a genius So she was always able, I'm sure, to get, you know, performances out of people, like, give them enough information to get access whatever they needed to do it emotionally In 2016, videogame voice actors participated in a highly publicized strike for fair pay and better working conditions

Phil was a vocal supporter of the strike so we talked about some of the unique challenges performers face in video games compared to cartoons The the main two challenges are the work itself There's so much of it You know, when we talk about vocal stress because again most video games are violent and you have to do tons of death screams But even without the death, to talk for four hours straight, I mean, you ever gone out with your buddies to a bar? You know, you get there, you get there at 8:00, by 11:00 you've been talking over the music and everything, you go out to your car, how does your throat feel? Not great

Yeah, gosh, "I sound like this," that's just talking You don't actually have to be, you know, killed or electrocuted or cut in half with a chainsaw So there is a much greater amount of work, you know, physically that's required, plus also just culturally, because you know, games come out of the tech world, and initially there wasn't really a lot of performance It was programming with a little bit of, you know, voices or whatever sprinkled on top Remember, I'm the monkey and you're the cheese grater

So no messing around But now, it's become so much more cinematic And, they have become the largest growing sector of entertainment It is entertainment

This is not just, you know, programming So a lot of the people involved in that world still don't get it They don't get the fact that you've evolved You're now an entertainment company, you know, and you're depending on artists, you know, for the work you create And they're depending on you for their livelihood

You know, so, you know, a game sells 650 million dollars worth of units or downloads in a weekend Doesn't it make sense to share some of that with the people who helped you make it? And I'm not just talking about the actors I'm talking about, you know, the programmers and stuff who slaved for 20 hours during crunch time to get it done But their culture is "No Only the people who own it get to benefit from that success" Which is weird and dumb

From videogames to animation, voice actors are slowly starting to earn more respect There's still one area of entertainment where they're still not getting their due: Big budget movies They think that, well, LeBron James makes hundreds of millions of dollars for the NBA and Nike He'll make hundreds of millions of dollars for us, which doesn't make any sense at all Why would somebody who is a Cleveland Cavaliers fan suddenly want to go watch your animated feature just cause Lebron's in it? It's like, "no, I like him when he makes jump shots, I don't care what he says

But, part of it is, these things are so insanely expensive that executives need to justify their costs And so, when you have a list full of celebrities, that makes it seem like a better bet And there are certainly some on-camera people who are fantastic voice actors who bring humor or a persona like Chris Rock You hire him, you get this voice, and you put that into a character, It's something just makes that character a little bit more funny But then there are times when it's like, "OK dude, nobody is paying to hear Brad Pitt

" He's a great actor but How can I do anything else? My friend Phil's solidarity with his fellow performers is no surprise

Thanks to the unique nature of the biz, voice actors have formed a supportive, tight knit community Because it really is a village The way that the work is done, a lot of the time you're working with the exact same people week in and week out, sometimes day in and day out, you know, and you run into each other at the studios and it's always been that way I mean it was just that same group of people doing all the work And that mentality has continued, it's, you know, it's very close knit

And if there's a part that, you know, somebody sings in audition to me and I'm like "that's not really my wheelhouse, But you know who would kill that? Rob Paulsen I would recommend him, because there's not the competition that you find a lot in on camera Everybody feels like, one: there's enough work for everybody, and two, if it's not meant for you, you won't get it anyway You know I find that it is, of all of the realms of entertainment I've worked in, probably the most merit based, you know, 95 percent of the time, if I don't get a job, when I hear the person who did? They're better than what I did Voice actors have never been more visible, and the future of animation looks brighter than ever, thanks to a new renaissance of talented creators dreaming up amazing stories and compelling characters

More people are aware of that work and there's also a nostalgia factor, like a generation that grew up watching cable cartoons Those you know, 24 7 Nickelodeon are now adults and they have this huge sweet spot in their hearts for those cartoons And now, they know who those people are And because of the Internet, they have access to us It's like, "I'm going to follow Rob Paulsen on Twitter and tell him I loved Pinky

" People just feel a greater sense of connection to these things from their childhood, you know, and the real twist has been in the last seven years, I'd say, where it's not just nostalgia, but also current animation, like the new 'Voltron' on Netflix There are people who are as deep in a fandom for that as there are people who were watching 'Futurama' 15 years ago They care and they have access So I think that's been the shift in the change And for us, it's great because, you know we're performing alone in a dark room to a microphone

So it's sort of delayed applause, you know for the performances We're in the middle of a second renaissance, and it's interesting because it's not CGI It's not like, over the top action, you know, toyetic mumbo jumbo where you have to sell vehicles and fortresses and stuff like that It's just quality animation– That's hitting people where they, I mean, like, what Rebecca Sugar's doing on Steven Universe She could start a religion, because that show affects people, like, on the deepest deepest level

And they love it And that is just so wonderful to see, you know, that she, once she was given a chance by a major corporation, because you know, a generation before, that would have been an independent thing that people were passing around, tapes, saying "hey, did you ever hear of this thing?" But the fact she's got a major platform to do something that authentic, you know, is, you're right, that's that's what makes this time a really special time How'd you get so talented? Don't focus so much on talent, Stephen A piece of art is a conversation Every choice you make is a statement Be true to yourself, and people will appreciate your honesty

your honesty Phil LaMarr was one of the coolest people I've ever gotten to interview, and I want to thank him so much for taking the time to talk with us He didn't even have anything specific to plug, but if you're interested in his future projects, you should check out 'Goblins Animated,' a Kickstarted DnD-inspired animated series starring some of the most beloved and talented voice actors in the entire industry

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