Speakeast with - Voice-over actor Bob Bergen stars in Basement Theatre show
You've probably never seen Bob Bergen before, but chances are you've heard his voice. For 25 years, the Los Angeles-based voice actor has worked in film, television shows and commercials, and is probably most famously known as the current voice of Porky Pig. Atlantans will get the rare opportunity to lay eyes on Bergen when he brings his one-man show to the Basement Theatre on Oct. 17. He also teaches a two-day animation voice-over workshop at Captive Sound Studios on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 18-19.
How autobiographical is your one-man show?
It's completely autobiographical. It's called Bob Bergen: So Here's the Deal. The Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Wanted to be Porky Pig. At 5 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to be Porky Pig when I grew up. It sounds like a 5-year-old wants to grow a tail and snout. At the time, I didn't know there was such a thing as "voice-over actor," but I did know that one man was doing all those voices on the cartoon. When I was 14 we moved to Los Angeles. I did everything from looking up Mel Blanc in the phone book to becoming friends with Casey Kasem to working five years in a day job at Universal Studios before getting established.
Is it harder to perform using a voice established by someone else, like Blanc did with Porky Pig, or to create a new one?
I think creating new is much more difficult. Ninety percent of my career is creating new. My day-to-day job is recording pilots for new shows, animation for Disney and things like that. Usually you're given a picture of the character, a description of the character and dialogue. If you have more than 15 minutes of preparation with a script, that's a lifetime. When I teach classes in how to be original and creative with your characters, I explain the three parts of a voice-over performance: The first is the voice you pick, the second is the acting, and the third is the signature – the little extra something creative. It's like Porky Pig's stutter or Fred Flintstone's "Yabba dabba doo."
What do you think of the trend of hiring famous movie stars for voice-over roles, which many computer-animated features seem to do?
It's not new. It started with the very first Disney animated films, but the celebrities of the day they chose from radio. Partly it's happening today because there's just more animated product than there used to be – there's a whole Cartoon Network. Producers think, "If we get a celebrity to be a voice in it, people will go see it!" Well, Brad Pitt proved that wrong when he did the voice in the animated Sinbad movie. Pixar does it very well. They'll hire people with personalities who fit the character, like Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo. I've done almost every Pixar animated feature, and almost every Disney animated feature for years. I don't get to play the lead, but I get to play a goat or a squirrel, and I get the same money and the same residuals, so it's not worth complaining about.
What's it like being Luke Skywalker for video games and other projects?
I've been doing Luke Skywalker for a while. LucasArts asked for me for a video game voice and I said, "I can't do this, I can't do Mark Hamill." And they said, "Don't do Mark Hamill, do Luke Skywalker." So I tried it, and later, the game's first review said, "Kudos to LucasArts for getting Mark Hamill!" I called them and asked, "Did you end up getting Mark?" And they said, "No, the reviewer just didn't watch the voice credits." I did Luke Skywalker on "Robot Chicken Episode II," coming up this year. It's a hoot. Carrie Fisher is doing Princess Leia.
You've done a lot of anime, including the No-Face character from Spirited Away. How does recording English-language voices for anime compare?
It's much more difficult and it pays far less. For an original film, they record the voices first. For anime, you have to watch the screen, read your script and synch up the words with the action. The difference with Spirited Away is that Pixar and Toy Story director John Lasseter produced the U.S. version, and have different writers and producers who respect the voice actors' ideas. I will say that the fan base in anime is far superior.
Did you know Don LaFontaine, the famous movie trailer voice actor who recently passed away? To compare you two, it seems like you do romantic comedy trailers, and he did the serious "In a world..." trailers.
Yes, Don would be the "The world is coming to an end!" guy, and I'd be the "Here's the best friend of Jennifer Anniston!" guy. Every time I'd see Don he'd tell me imitates a Porky Pig stutter, "God, I wish I could do what you do." Then he'd get in his limo and go to his $5,000 gig. People who like to imitate him are better off trying to find their own brand and their own voice. Business doesn't need another voice like the one they've got. For all deep-voiced people practicing "In a world...," get over it. They don't want that, they want you.
How do you do Porky Pig?
You have to come to the show to find out. The show is an homage and tribute to Mel Blanc and his characters, and it has a lot of audience participation. I get the whole audience to do Porky Pig.