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Conversations With Voices – Dee Bradley Baker

Voiceover has always fascinated me. Raised a geek, I simply never grew up; instead, I just found smarter cartoons to enjoy in adulthood.

The next stage of the game is my role as “Captain Dada” to Future Geeks of tomorrow. As such, I spend most of my day still watching cartoons, and find myself appreciating the talent behind the voices even more. Ultimately, I find myself becoming a fan of the personalities behind the animated characters and start following their work onto different genres and across different media, playing a multitude of varied personas. Easily one of the most notable is

Dee Bradley Baker.

As his own bio states, “Dee Bradley Baker’s first public vocal performance was heard when he was dropped on his head in a church in Indiana.”  I guarantee you know and are a fan of his work, even though chances are you never realized it was him unless you paid attention to the credits. DBB is in extremely high demand for everything from educational pre-school cartoons, to Germanic talking fish on prime-time animation, to most of the disgusting zombie voices you hear in games and movies. FACT: You need great voiceover work for absolutely anything, you call Dee Bradley Baker. Period.



FLIMgeeks: One of your most recognizable characters right now is Klaus from American Dad. With Seth McFarlane (aka FOX’s new golden boy) now dominating a full 90-minute Sunday night line-up,  is there more pressure or expectation on set than in your usual work? Or is it just insane with a seemingly limitless set of boundaries?

Dee Bradley Baker: No pressure in the record, but we do have a table read in a room full of network people a couple days before we record. But it’s fun – a live show where we read it straight through. Seth is great, as is the whole cast and the writers, of course. By the way, Klaus was originally written French and I chose to read him German because I speak the language and thought it funnier. Wait until you see the Christmas episode (premiered at Comicon 09). It’s really a knockout episode.

FG: How does it compare to Disney Playhouse work—going from uber-G-rated to “I thought we were going hiking?” Are there as many hilarious out-takes as I imagine (and hope) ?

DBB: Records feel similar to me, oddly enough.  The outtakes are essentially the same whether it’s Playhouse Disney or American Dad—totally inappropriate, ironic, insane stuff that no one should ever hear. You would die if you could hear what voice actors say after we finish saying the lines. It’s really the funniest stuff I’ll ever hear, the “in-between takes.”

FG: You also do multiple voices for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, where you perform different voices for a multitude of clones by inflection/emphasis. Do you lose track of which is which?

DBB: The clones we record separately straight through with a different feel or weight or whatever, especially in episodes like “Rookies” which are wall-to-wall clones. (Like that one? Just wait…)  This keeps them distinct (hopefully).

FG: What is it like working with a franchise so open, yet guarded like the Star Wars universe? With a pre-existing established mythos, do you try to emulate a, for lack of a better term, Star Wars style?

DBB: Familiarity with the Star Wars universe is imperative to working the show.  It’s a great thrill to work on something that I loved as a kid, that is very cool and getting even better in season two.  You won’t believe some of the stuff coming up—this weekend’s episode has battle scenes that are jaw dropping, well beyond what they did in season one.

FG: Seriously, how awesome is [voice director] Andrea Romano? My rule of thumb: “If Romano is directing, then the production has its priorities straight.”

DBB: Andrea Romano can do no wrong by me.  Whether it’s Nickelodeon’s Avatar or Ben 10 or Sponge Bob or Batman or anything else I work with her on, she can do it all.  She loves us, protects us and really cares about the projects.  She understands it so well and is a real asset to have on a show because she makes it all better than you thought it could be.  Can’t say enough about Andrea.


The Industry:

FG: It appears we’re enjoying the latest boom (or resurgence, depending on your point of view) of animation, both the big news of the Marvel/Disney merger, and subsequent restructuring of DC Universe. Animation will have a profound effect on the industry. How do you feel about the renewed interest in toons both as an actor and a fan?

DBB: There is more amazing cool animated entertainment now than ever in history.  Jeez, when I think of how much more cool stuff a kid now has access to it makes me sick with jealousy.  Of course, there is way more dangerous/boring/sociopathic garbage around as well.  But kids are way smarter…  I hope.  I love how boring or crappy stuff now has less of a shelf-life and there are other cool/weird alternatives to what the Great Entertainment Machines want to feed you.  Some of their stuff is great, but there is a whole world of artists/geeks/enthusiasts making cool animated stuff that you can get involved with as much as you want.  I love it and envy any kid for whom this is normal.

FG: With studios pinching pennies, it seems to make economical sense when you compare the cost of cartoons vs. live action. It’s an obvious choice for capes and cowls, but there are plenty of stories that could be told much better through animation than any other medium. Do you think people are ready to take the medium seriously enough to really stretch beyond just funny-book cartoons and children’s fare?

DBB: With the right creative people running the show, you can have incredibly successful and dirt cheap live action or animation these days.  That said, cartoons, fantasy, computer-generated content STOMPS live action, in my book.  The imagination can fly with animation.  Heroes can win.  Monsters can rampage.  The world can be different.  How much more would I rather see something cool and imaginative and animated for the holidays than some giant studio’s depressing, over-produced star vehicle calculated to get an Oscar nomination?  I want to have fun and be entertained.  Animation is a medium of no limits—Looney Tunes took Vaudeville way beyond what live action people ever could.  Animation can be way more political/satirical/deviant than live action would ever dare.  And animation can get away with it too!  It can go so many more places than this real world will show, than the conventional mainstream world will show, anyway.  Who needs to take something seriously when you just love it and want more?

FG: Cartoons… “you know, for kids.” The new range of cartoon demographics reaches from pre-school kids and tweens all the way to adults. Do you prefer to perform for a particular audience?

DBB: As a live performer, I’ve found that kids are actually the best audience in the world–they aren’t polite or reserved, they are brutally honest and they offer instant feedback on your performance.  And they want to be entertained. They listen and will give you a chance and love you with all their hearts if you are good.  This is what a performer needs.  Children’s theater is sorta like stand-up comedy, but without the booze and cigarettes and pretense.  Of course, as voice actors, we don’t perform live.  I really do miss that.  But it is a thrill to hear an audience react to your show.  If I perform again, I’d probably prefer it not be for money.  Just no time for it now.

FG: I’m curious how technology affects the industry, and how the business itself changes and evolves. Is promotion difficult for VO in more text-based web (Twitter)? Or does multimedia (Youtube) counter-balance? Do you see potential in online animation features, or is it already too mired in low-quality homemade shorts?

DBB: I love technology.  I think art has nothing to fear from technology, just like religion should have no fear of science.  As far as new forms of content delivery, I don’t see why animation can’t be delivered in a coffee cup or on your fingernail.  Anywhere you want it you should have it.  Those clever enough to figure how to monetize new forms of content distribution will avoid extinction.  The rest perhaps deserve to be selected out of the picture anyway.


‘Celebrity’ VO actors vs. accomplished VO actors:

FG: The ever elusive balance between big names vs. experience seems to be a recurring theme behind the scenes and amongst fans. How do those in the industry feel about this debate?

DBB: I can understand casting the press release.  If I were sitting all scared on my big pile of money, I’d probably cast stars too.  Usually, money people don’t know any better and don’t really value anything but fame, because they associate fame with money.  Occasionally, famous people can voice-act–but ‘stars’ are often hard as hell to direct because they are suddenly trying something that is unfamiliar and really difficult to do for them.  When you are standing at the mic, there is nowhere to hide and no one, no costume, no lighting, no makeup to help you.  I’ve seen celebrities sweating bullets in an animation voiceover session (though again, some can do it beautifully).  There are stories too numerous of Big Stars who are brought in for all the wrong reasons and are complete nightmares to work with.  I love to hear stories like that.  Keep telling them to me over and over, please.  Most end up in the picture because the studio wouldn’t dare replace them and it becomes a sort of “emperor has no clothes” type performance.  Examples of this in feature animation are far too many to mention, but they are obvious enough to spot.  Unforgettable, really.  I’ve always found it odd–like some kid even knows or cares who the Big Star is.  And the assumption that Famous People voice-overs bring in big bucks—well, lots of examples of how wrong that is too.  Most of all, it just sucks to hear bad voice acting.  Ultimately, I don’t pay the bills, so I’m not casting, so I don’t get too bugged about it in a session–but when I’m paying to listen to it and watching it in a theater, BLAUGHH.

FG: Is there any resentment over less available roles based solely on the marquee? Or do you simply end up more starstruck with great geekcasting? (aka “Holy Shit, I’m working with James Remar today! Warriors!”)

DBB: I get to work with people who were my heroes all the time, people I loved and admired as a kid.  It’s really a thrill.  But I gotta say, it’s the biggest thrill to work with the great voice actors I see in the sessions all the time.  They never fail to impress or even inspire me, plus they are nice people and really funny and smart.  It’s a great gang to be working with.  I’m getting paid to work with friends.  There’s the dream come true.  Closest to a star struck moment: working with George Miller on Happy Feet.  Can’t tell you what a delight that man is and I so love Road Warrior and Babe (note the lack of “star casting” in the latter).


Video Games:

FG: Bigger business and an increased focus on video games is leading them to be more cinematic and epic. Games can be an evolution of storytelling not limited by time restraints, with the portrayal of IPs/characters in a new environment that is interactive with the audience. You have extensive work in this new field. Hhow different is it from work in traditional VO?

DBB: Games are very similar to television and movie voice acting in that you need a good actor who gets the tone right.  The work load can be heavier in games, plus they pay no residuals, so in general, it’s more work for less money.  Personally, I love games because I’m a gamer and I love monsters, and games always seem to need really insane monsters and critters.  That’s a vocal realm I focus on because I love it.  So, I’m into game voice-acting.  For some “A-listers” it’s too damaging and too little pay.  After dying a thousand deaths, there’s often little voice left.

FG: How different is the process/preparation for something that is interactive and dynamic, rather than simply telling the story?

DBB: The biggest difference in preparation would probably be on the other side of the studio glass.  I still walk in, usually not knowing what the hell I’m going to do, glance at a picture or two maybe, and start delivering the best I can.  Games are recorded solo which is a different kind of project, more solitary.  Television is often in a group, which as an actor is more gratifying to be with your cast, though some shows record everyone solo as well.  My “prep” is being healthy and feeling good and energetic and enjoying my lucky life.  That’s my prep.

FG: Are there unique difficulties: repetition, branching plot/dialogue, sound effects (ie when the script says,”Argghh”)

DBB: Gotta be very focused to maintain a sustained and specific performance in games.  It’s hard work, but fun.  A real workout for the mind and voice.  If you don’t have the world/the scene/ the event and the other characters specifically in your mind for each read in a video game, your performance will be dead.  That is why this is hard and why it is ACTING.  A bad voiceover performance is a failure of acting, which is to say, a failure of imagination.


Quick Hits:

What do you watch? (always find that fascinating)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, all monster movies, 80s horror/fantasy/sci-fi, The Daily Show, So You Think You Can Dance?

Biggest influences?

My parents, high school acting teacher, Frank Zappa, J. S. Bach, monster movies, Looney Tunes, Cronenberg, David Lynch, early Spielberg and Zemekis, Nietzsche, Carl Sagan, Dr. Seuss, Mr. Rogers, The Prisoner series, Twin Peaks series, Robert Persig, my college invertebrate zoology teacher, a bag of chips, Monty Python, failure with girls during first half of life.

How much do you reasearch a role?

As little as possible.  I need to clean up the kitchen.

Do you watch your own work?

Sometimes, but I don’t usually seek it out.

Do you fully emote in the studio?

If I don’t, the performance will suck.  You cannot hold back in voiceovers.  One of my favorite words: “emphatic”

Do you read to kids in a multitude of voices?

My oldest now allows me to.  I’m halfway done reading her Lord of the Rings.  Up and till recently, she only wanted me to “talk normal, Daddy.”  Which I was fine with.  Got to read her Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” last year, some of the most fun I’ve ever had reading.

What roles would you most love to play? *any character ever*

Right now?  Appa and Momo in The Last Airbender feature film.

‘Legends’ in the biz you’d like to work with?

Can’t think of any that would impress me more than my day-to-day colleagues.  Okay: David Lynch.

Do you fight/argue in menacing voices?

No, at the end of the day, my voice is too tired usually

Chicken or the Egg: dialogue or animation 1st?

Good lord, dialogue always.  There is no discussion here.  I could go on and on.  Don’t make me come over there!


FLIMgeeks: More than ratings or attaching a dollar amount, VO actors achieve immortality through a roster of memorable characters and versatility. Accolades from peers and fans, more than box office results and executive satisfaction, seem to be the highest achievement of VO. My kids are big fans of your work for Disney, my wife the horror movie junkie has at least a dozen of your movies, and I geek out to most of your sci-fi/fantasy roles. With sincere thanks and appreciation I thank you for taking the time.

Dee Bradley Baker: Glad you guys enjoy my stuff, but remember, I’m just a part of it–there’s a whole army involved bringing each character and story to life.  They all deserve equal credit.  I’m very lucky to have such great projects to work on with such great people.  I feel I’m living the dream.

Dee Bradley Baker can be heard in American Dad on FOX, Sundays at 9:30PM as well as Star Wars: The Clone Wars Fridays on Cartoon Network in the US or Teletoon in Canada.

He also appears on Tommy Tallarico’s live video game concerts: Video Games Live

His official site is and you can follow his twitter feed @DeeBradleyBaker

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