Q & A: Jack McBrayer Talks His Voice Work on the ‘Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special’

Jack McBrayer

You know Jack McBrayer as ‘Kenneth’ from 30 Rock but did you also know he’s a voice over actor?

Tonight, his voice over talents are on display in NBC‘s, Kung Fu Panda Holiday Special. He plays ‘Wo Hop,’ a rabbit that is constantly at Po’s side throughout the special.

The special also features the voices of Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Dustin Hoffman, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross.

Jack talked to us in a conference call where he talked about how he came up with the voice of ‘Wo Hop,’ working on The Simpsons and more!

Can you explain a little bit about how you ended up working on this special and what it was like actually going in and recording the part?

Jack McBrayer: I play a rabbit called Wo Hop and traditionally with voice-over work a lot of times you’ll go into a studio and you’ll meet with creative people and the director and producer and they’ll give you an idea of what the character looks like and what their attitude is. And then you just give it a whole bunch of shots.

And there’s nothing really to look at it so it’s kind of – you’re just flying by the seat of your pants, which can be super fun but also pretty intimidating because you don’t know if you’re doing great or stinking up the joint. So really relying on the people working with you, the director and producer and any of the artists or animators who are there.

So for this one I was by myself just in front of a microphone and, you know, you lay it down based on what’s with the script. And then eventually you get to come back and see whatever artwork they’ve put to that recording and then make changes or make additions or anything like that. So it’s an eventual process but it’s wonderful and liberating but at the same time it can be pretty terrifying because you’re like, I have no idea what this is going to look like or how good it’s going to be or anything.

Have you done animation work before this?

Jack McBrayer: I have done a few voices. I had a small part in Despicable Me this past summer. And just random little things, there’s a Disney cartoon called Phineas and Ferb that I participate in. I play one of the little friends named Irving. He’s kind of a nerd who’s just very eager to hang out with Phineas and Ferb whenever he gets a chance. It is so funny. I probably get more street credit from stuff like that than I do from 30 Rock.

Are you finding the whole animation experience enjoyable?

Jack McBrayer: I do, I do. Once again, sometimes there is a huge level of intimidation when you’re just in there and doing your thing. Another thing is they’re sitting behind this soundproof glass so you’re sitting there and you’re just selling it like a champ and giving it 100% and then it’s just like dead silence because they’re behind this bulletproof glass or in a soundproof – bulletproof… It’s like I’m so bad they just start shooting at me.

But it’s a little hard when you’re sitting there just committing 1000% and then it’s just deafening silence but it’s because they’re talking to each other. And one of the executives at one point told me, you know, half the time we’re just talking about what want for lunch later and stuff. So it’s a little intimidating but my favorite part is when you see your voice with the animation. You’re like, that’s how they made it work.

Have you ever done what’s called, radio-style? Where a bunch of the actors are all in the room together?

Jack McBrayer: You know what, I did very recently do a voice on the Simpsons and that is the way they do it there.

That was pretty fantastic because I really was expecting to be by myself with a microphone but in that one it was all of the actors in the room and I was excited because my one little tiny scene takes place with the entire family. So I was in there with Dan Castellaneta and Julie Kavner and Yeardley Smith and Nancy Cartwright. It was crazy. It was so weird to see those voices coming from, you know, human beings.

You talked about being by yourself in the booth. Did you get to meet any of the original cast at all?

Jack McBrayer: No, I mean fortunately I had the honor of meeting some of them at different events but actually I haven’t seen any of them since I got to do this voice. So I can’t wait to go up to Lucy Liu and say, we’ve worked together. She’ll be like, who are you?

How do you determine the voice? Do you sit down with the producer or director and say this is how we’re going to do it or do they give you a little leeway? How does that work?

Jack McBrayer: It is definitely collaborative. The good news is, they knew who I was coming into it so they knew that, A, I didn’t have a British accent or particularly mature sounding voice – so from that they kind of decide how the character is going to sound and it is definitely very collaborative. But the good news is with voice-over work you get to do so many takes so even if stuff is falling flat or if it lacks a little color you can always go back and try it a different way. You have a lot of freedom in that sense.

Is it hard to keep up the voice?

Jack McBrayer: Well, fortunately for me all of my voices all kind of sound the same, not too – too hard for me but once again, they all made it so easy when they were working with me in the studio. It was super fun.

When do you actually get to see the final production?

Jack McBrayer: Actually I just recently saw a version of it and it is hilarious. It’s a beautiful thing to look at it. You just get so engrossed in it. It was, you know, just a little alarming to hear my own voice in it. I was like, oh, oh crap; I forgot I’m in this. But I’m excited for it to come on TV next week. Yes, I am excited to see. I’ve got kids in my family and stuff that I’m real excited to see how they enjoy it.

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