Phil LaMarr is not only a great comedic actor – he was in the original cast of MadTV and Step Brothers to name a few, but he is one of the most in demand voice actors working today.
Phil can be heard as the voice of Hermes on Futurama, J.A.R.V.I.S. on The Avengers: Earths Mightest Heroes and Family Guy. Honestly, if it’s an animated film or TV show, Phil has probably worked on it.
His current gig is on the Hub Network’s new animated series, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters from Hasbro Studios. He plays school kid named Gabe, who, along with friends Ray and Allie, learn about a secret group called the Duel Masters.When Ray finds out he has a rare ability to communicate with fantastical creatures, the friends join the ranks of the Duel Masters to save the human race.
I talked to Phil at Comic-Con about Kaijudo, auditioning for animated shows and his advice to getting into the voice over industry.
Tell me about the show and your character real quick, because I know you’ve probably said this eight trillion times already.
Phil LaMarr: I play the voice of Gabe on Kaijudo. Gabe is one of the three kids in the show. The show is built around Ray and his two friends Gabe and Ally. Ray discovers he has this connection to these monsters and from there he realizes they’re in another parallel dimension and they can come over and there are people that have these gauntlets that allow them to battle each other through their monsters, the gauntlets control them. But what’s really fascinating is this show goes a little further than that. It’s like, well, where are these monsters coming from? Where are they going to? And how do they feel about being pulled over to battle for these little pink creatures and it takes you all the way into that.
You do a ton of voice work and you are, obviously one of the go-to guys in the voice over industry, do you have still have to audition for most of your work?
Phil LaMarr: No, you always have to audition.
Do you? You can’t just like send them, I guess your reel?
Phil LaMarr: No, because they don’t want you to do the same voice you did on another show. It’s a different character.
The thing is, the voice is only one small part of the character. You’ve got to make sure the voice matches with the story and with the design and the elements all have to fit together every single time, otherwise you wind up with what you have in these failed animated features where they have gotten some star and they just stick their voice in there because that someone was a celebrity and all of a sudden it’s like, well, that doesn’t really add anything to the character. That doesn’t enhance the design and the story line that we’ve got.
That’s why I always find that voiceover is the most merit based section of Hollywood that I’ve ever worked in. The guy who gets the job, nine times out of ten, is the guy who is best for it because you have to audition every time. You have got to put those elements back together. There’s no packaging in VO.
Do they normally send you the script and send you a character drawing and then you just spend time like, what, on your couch or in front of your mirror trying to develop a voice for that character?
Phil LaMarr: It depends. I mean for me, it’s usually about reading the script. The toughest thing is when they just send you the lines for the character and a drawing because then you have no context and you’re like, l know what he looks like but I don’t know how he feels. I know what he looks like, I know what he’s saying, but I don’t know how he feels about it or what he’s responding to and that makes it a lot harder. You just have to assume at that point they’re just looking for a sound and then they’ll bring you in for a further audition and sort of give you more context and then you can actually start acting, you know. That’s the thing, voice acting is voice and acting and you need both.
Preparation wise, is there anything different that you do for on camera work as opposed to voice over?
Phil LeMarr: Yeah, with on camera, you have to memorize it. Yeah, which is a huge difference, you know. It means that the size of the character makes a huge difference in how much preparation you have to have and if there are physical elements. Here, we have fight scenes all the time. I don’t have to stretch.
You don’t have to shower or shave either if you don’t want to.
Phil LaMarr: Exactly.
Do you get asked to audition for a lot of voice over roles where you’re like, “Huh? That sounds ridiculous.”
Phil LaMarr: Not really. I mean every once in awhile an audition will come across and you’re like, really, that’s what they’re looking for, huh? All right. I’ll give it a try. But, again, because you don’t have to memorize it and you don’t have to commit to nine months in Prague for it, it’s easy not to judge. It’s like, somebody wrote this, somebody drew this and they feel it’s worth doing, let me take a swing at it and if they like my take on in then I’ll help them do it. Then there are things that really speak to you more so. And those you feel more personally committed to.
What is your advice to actors or people who want to get into voice over work?
Phil LaMarr: Anybody interested in getting into voice over work I would say go to www.Iwanttobeavoiceactor.com. A friend of mine, a fantastic voice actor and the voice of Gargle on Kaijudo, D. Bradley Baker, put up a primer basically on how to get started in voice acting. It’s a lot of information that is essential to getting started and the sort of questions you should ask yourself before you get started.