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Bob Bergen with Nancy Cartwright at Annies

Interview: Bob Bergen, The Voice Behind Luke Skywalker

Veteran voice actor Bob Bergen, retells the ins and outs of how he became the voice behind “Luke Skywalker,” among other iconic roles like “Porky Pig” and various parts in Miyazaki’s masterpiece Spirited Away.

IR: Quick fanboy moment – What voice(s) did you portray in Spirited Away?

BOB: A few things. I did a character called “No-Face.” I did this little frog that No-Face ate. That’s all I can think of right now. I think those are the two characters I played. Really fun movie – really creative. It’s one of those you know kind of “honor to be in” movies. Anytime you work for a genius like Miyazaki is pretty cool.

IR: You’ve had a lot of success as “Luke Skywalker” in Robot Chicken: Star Wars, as well as other Lucas characters in the Star Wars universe for TV and video games. How much of voice acting is mimicry or impression and how much of an actor’s arsenal are emotive “genuine” voices? Is there a difference?

BOB: OK, your Star Wars question about voicing “Luke Skywalker.” Here’s the thing:
I’ve been doing the Star Wars games and whatnot for a long time now – close to twenty years – and when I got the audition for “Luke Skywalker,” I turned it down. I told my agent, “I can’t do Mark Hamill. I just don’t do his voice.”

And so my agent called LucasArts and she said, “He’s gonna pass,” and they said, “Well, we wanna hear him anyway.”

And my agent said, “You got nothing to lose. Go to the audition.” So I went to the audition, and they were very nice people, and I said, “Guys, I gotta tell ya. I don’t sound like Mark Hamill. I can’t mimic Mark Hamill.”

The producer – I think Darragh O’Farrell – just a superb, fun, great guy to work with – and Darragh said to me, “Don’t try to do Mark, just do Luke.”

And I thought for a second and I was like, “Oh. That makes perfect sense.” Because I didn’t go for trying to sound like Mark Hamill, even though our voices – when he played “Luke” – I’ve got a similar voice to him – I don’t sound like him, but we’re the same type – but the character, the personality – the heart of the character – that’s what I tried to go for.

There are two versions of “Luke:”

There is pre-Jedi and post-Jedi – and very different personalities. It’s almost like science-fiction puberty. So I really worked on and studied the character traits, and what was in his thought process, and his growth, etc., as I would attempt to play the character.

It’s funny – the first game I ever did, the LA Times did a review and one of the comments was “Isn’t it great that LucasArts used Mark Hamill for ‘Luke Skywalker?’”

So I popped a note to the producer and I said, “Did you replace me with Mark?”

And he’s like, “No. That reporter obviously didn’t read the credits.”

So that’s my “Luke Skywalker” process.

IR: How much of voice acting is informed by your personal take on the visuals (the animation) as opposed to direction alone? Are you aware of the final creative that you’re reading for before you go in for an audition or spot or are you reading “blind?”

BOB: When you do cartoons, most of the time, they record the voices first, so there is no visual. It’s the written word. It’s you and a cast if it’s a series animation, or it’s you alone if it’s a feature. The only visuals you might see is a storyboard, and it’s rare to even see that.

If it’s an audition – if it’s a really good audition with a very smart casting director – and fortunately the majority are very smart – they know what we need as actors. You’ve got a script, a description, and a picture. If you look at the character’s body language, facial expression, what they’re wearing – that really does help in creating a character.

When you’re in the actual session, a half hour cartoon is, by contract, four hours, and an animated feature is, by contract, up to eight hours. An animated feature might take you know, one to four years to complete in the recording process, and you don’t record in the order of the film. So you might go in and do five pages, in the middle of the film, and come back in a month and do one page, then come back in a week and do twenty pages. Then they do some rewriting and you come back and do that first session again.

Then they’ll animate – both the feature or the episodic cartoon – and they’ll want to do some tweaking or some changing, and you’ll do what’s called ADR, which stands for “Automated Dialogue Replacement.” Then you are working to picture and matching sync.

But that’s really the only time during the process you get to see the visuals, unless you’re doing anime dubbing, where you are dubbing from Japanese to English, and watching the picture, and matching sync, and reading the dialogue, and acting, and staying in character – all at the same time.

There are times in an animated feature I won’t get the entire script – I just see the pages I’m doing when I’m at the studio recording. Then I see the finished product and I’m like, “Oh! That’s the story,” or “Oh…that’s what my character looks like? I would have played that totally different.”

But you can’t. You did it years ago and it’s animated, and you got paid and you probably already spent the money. But it is also very collaborative. When you record an animated series you’ve got a voice director, you’ve got producers and writers, you’ve got often times network people, studio people, and when they’re on the other side of the glass – the people producing and directing you – they’re gonna do their darndest to get the performance they want out of you, and they’re also relying on you to bring life to the page. The script is a skeleton, your job is to give it a body.

They have specific ideas of what they want, but they’re also extremely open and available to what else can you bring to the character and to the project.

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