Toon Zone News Interview Series: "A Life in Voice Acting" with Bob Bergen (Part 2)
In part one of our interview with Bob Bergen, we followed his training as an actor, his careers as a tour guide for Universal Studios and as the host of the Hollywood Christmas Parade, and his approach to acting in the studio. In part two, below, we focus in on his roles as Porky Pig for Warner Brothers, Luke Skywalker for Lucasfilm (and the fringe benefits that come with the role), and his other work as a voice acting teacher, a TV game show host, and the centerpiece of an autobiographical one-man show.
TZN: Now, you’re best known for doing Porky Pig. What sorts of requirements does the studio put on you when you’re doing Porky?
BOB BERGEN: Back when I first got the gig, at every session, they would play me reference tapes of Mel Blanc. The problem I had with that was they would have a 4 or 5 minute compilation reference tape, but some of the lines were from the 30’s, some from the 40’s, and some from the 50’s. And the character changed and evolved over the years, and the amount that they speeded up Mel’s voice changed over the years, and he grew as the character. And I would always say to them, “Which one do you want?” because they were all very distinct. I was grateful when that stage of the recording process ended and they finally just said, “You know what? He knows this character well enough, let’s just let him just do his thing.”
I’m also not fond of it when they write my stutter into the script. Not because their writing or their comedy isn’t good, because quite often, they’ll write some really funny stuff. But I’m having a difficult time finding the actual line because they’ve tried to type in my stutter. Or they’ll type in my stutter on words I would never stutter on. On the other hand, when it’s an independent writer or producer licensing the character, they think they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. I’ve never complained in a session about it. If I were to get a series and they had the stutter written in to the first two or three episodes, I’d ask the producers, “Can you tell your writers not to write the stutter into the script? It’s kind of distracting.”
But if I’m doing a commercial or a game…we did a video game about two years ago where they had written my stutter in, and I said to the producer, “Are you married to the stutter in the script?” He said, “Absolutely not. Do what you want to do. Make it your own.” Which is great…that’s exactly what I want. But had he said, “I guess we’re married to the stutter, do it here,” I would do exactly what he’s asking me to do, and then I would ask him, “May I try something different?” If the answer is, “No,” we move on, because my job is to perform and his job is to get the performance he wants.
TZN: Relating to that reference tape, do you find that kind of thing happens a lot?
BERGEN: Well, this happened, I’d say, for the first couple of years with the Warner Brothers characters. It doesn’t happen today. I don’t think I’ve had a reference tape for…oh, my goodness, 15 years. I don’t blame them for doing this, because from 1936 to 1989, they had one guy doing these voices. They never had to worry about a reference. Now they have a whole new crew of actors trying to do their best to sound as close to the original characters as they could. There was no rulebook. How do you do this? And, to be honest, the producers at Warner Brothers at the time were not cartoon historians, so what they were trying to do, I would imagine, is to give the voice actors as many references as they could so their new sessions could be as diverse and, I guess, have as much variety with the personality as they possibly could. Playing me a reference of Tweety didn’t help me at all because Tweety’s voice was sped up electronically. So, you know, that’s not going to get me the best performance of Tweety. I need to hear Mel’s real-time voice.
TZN: Do they still need to speed up Tweety when you do his voice?
BERGEN: Yeah, I record it in real-time, and in post production they speed it up.
TZN: So they do the same thing with you as Tweety as they did with Mel, then.
BERGEN: Sure. My Tweety is sped up, my Speedy Gonzales is sped up. My Porky is NOT sped up because my natural speaking voice is higher than Mel’s.
TZN: Has there ever been a moment when you were in the studio with a script and you looked at it and said, “That isn’t Porky?”
TZN: How do you deal with that?
BERGEN: It depends on the project. For instance, when I said to that producer for that game, “Are you married to this stutter? Are you married to this line?” The only time I got, I guess, adamant was for the film Looney Tunes Back in Action. My agent called me up and said, “Warner Brothers is doing this movie called Looney Tunes Back in Action along with 12 theatrical shorts that will be released for a year leading up to the release of the feature,” and they asked me to audition. And I said to my agent, “Can’t they just use 12 years of my career and call that an audition?” and they said, “No, they’ve hired an independent producer to take over the franchise, and he says that if you don’t audition, you don’t get considered, and whoever books this project will be the official voices forever.”
So I went down and I auditioned and I got the job. I got Porky and Tweety. And the first day of recording, this producer wanted to change the way I played Porky to a way where I sounded like Alvin the Chipmunk stuttering when I was sped up. His philosophy was to take old Mel Blanc cartoons, slow them down, have me imitate Mel Blanc, and then speed me up. And I told him the problem you’re going to have with this is that, first of all, Mel Blanc’s speaking voice was deeper than mine. He smoked. They used old-fashioned ribbon microphones, which are very different than the digital mikes that they use today. The old cartoons at Warner Brothers were actually recorded on movie sets. They didn’t have a recording studio, and you had a lot of room noise. That’s why Yosemite Sam screaming had echo to it, because you’re hearing Mel Blanc recording on the set of Casablanca. And everything today is soundproof. So you put all those factors together and then when you speed my lighter voice up like Mel Blanc’s, I’m going to sound like a Chipmunk. The other problem I had was with the scripts. The shorts had content that I found inappropriate. I’m not a prude at all, but there are certain things that I don’t think the Looney Tunes should do.
So for a month, between the way I sounded and the way the scripts were, I found myself arguing with this producer/director. I finally went to my agent’s office and I said, “You know, after wanting this character since I was five years old, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I want to quit.” And he said to me, “Well, you’re five minutes too late because they just fired you.” So I was fired from the project and they hired other actors to take over my parts. About six months later, I got a call to do Duck Dodgers, the series, which surprised me because as far as I knew I was fired from Warner Brothers, but evidently not…just that project. And about a week or two into Duck Dodgers, they called me up to go back and work on Looney Tunes Back in Action. The shorts had been shelved for inappropriate content and they fired the producer.
So, the moral of that story is to stick by your guns if you find something to just go against your grain ethically or morally. The only thing you own is your integrity. And there will be other jobs, and maybe this job will come back. Who knows? But if it screws up with your integrity, it’s not worth the gig. Fortunately…and I will say Looney Tunes Back in Action was not the world’s greatest project to ever come out of Warner Brothers. The animation was superb, and…it wasn’t the greatest script in the world, but it was amazing animation. Really good gag writers, gag artists, and the shorts got shelved, which is great. I mean, I would love to see Warner Brothers do shorts again. I think there’s an audience for it, but they have to be done right. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to be edgy. They should be edgy. They were edgy back in the 40’s. They need to be appropriate.
TZN: They were pretty transgressive back in the day.
BERGEN: Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, Bob Clampett and Friz Freling and Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, these guys…if they’d been around today, the gags would have been a little edgier, the gags would have been a little bit more audience savvy, but I don’t think they would have been inappropriate. And these cartoons were never made for kids. They were made for adults, and to entertain the people who were producing them. But I can’t see these guys doing the kind of content that I saw in these shorts.
TZN: If I can go back one Looney Tunes movie to Space Jam, I read an interview with Billy West a while ago where he said that the voice talent was exiled to the small theater for the Space Jam premiere. Is that true?
BERGEN: That is true. After recording the film, my agent tried to get me an invitation to the premiere, and she was told by whoever was coordinating that that, “Well, the premiere is only for talent.” To which my agent said, “Well, what do you think I represent?” After many backs and forths on, “No he can’t, I’m sorry,” my agent tried and tried and tried, and the producers finally decided to invite the voices of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck because they thought that they were bigger stars than Sylvester and Tweety and Porky, etc. So Dee Baker, who did the voice of Daffy in Space Jam — his wife was nice enough to allow me to go with him in her place. So Dee and I drove to the Grauman’s Chinese Theater together where the premiere was, kind of excited because neither one of us had ever been to a movie premiere, and we’re walking down the red carpet and we’ve got our tickets in our hands, and they look at our tickets and they say, “OK, you guys are in the overflow theater next door.”
So we go to the overflow theater, which is half-empty and occupied by secretaries and accountants and janitors from Warner Brothers. All the other voice actors could have been invited to the premiere in the overflow theater because there were plenty of seats. I think Billy was more upset by this than I was. I was not thrilled by it, but this is the lot of a voice actor. We don’t get to go to the premieres because the premiere is not to celebrate the opening of your movie. The premiere is to PROMOTE your movie. It’s a PR thing. You see Will Smith and John Travolta and Demi Moore going to a movie premiere with the paparazzi taking pictures, and you’re like, “Wait a minute, they’re not even IN the movie.” Well, no kidding. But their presence sells the movie for box office. So having a person who voices a classic character but nobody knows his face is not going to bring box office to the weekend grosses. So, I did get to go to the premiere. It’s kind of a sad thing, but we deal with it. Every once in a while, you get an invitation, but most of the time, no. I got to go to the premiere of Santa Clause 2, but I did not go to Santa Clause 3.
TZN: So that really hasn’t changed at all over time?
BERGEN: Not at all. I didn’t get to go to Looney Tunes Back in Action.
TZN: What do you think has to change for voice actors to get the same kind of recognition?
BERGEN: It won’t. Bottom line, it won’t change. There’s no reason financially for it to change. I mean, for the studios just to be nice people doesn’t bring in money. It’s all about money. It’s all about business. So how will it change? Well, it’ll change if the head of a movie studio is also a fanboy who worked his way up in the ranks to get this position, and decides, “You know, what, dammit, the voice actors deserve some respect.” That’s how it will change. But it’s his butt on the line if the money’s not coming in from the movies. And if he has to sacrifice a few voice over actors going to premieres for the celebrities to come in and have the paparazzi take their pictures, that’s what you have to do.
There are people out there, like the John Lasseters, who are very nice whether it’s Paul Newman or Bob Bergen. And I’ve been invited to most of the Pixar premieres that I’ve worked on. Granted, they’re usually up north, and it’ll be a weekend and I may not be able to go, but they’re terrific.
TZN: I’m also wondering now that he’s the head of Disney Feature Animation, but I guess they haven’t done a feature yet that’s under his reign yet.
TZN: The other really big name-brand role you’ve got is Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars video games. How did you get that role?
BERGEN: I auditioned. In fact, I passed on the audition originally because I told my agent, “I can’t sound like Mark Hamill.” So she called the people up at Lucas, and they said, “Don’t do Mark Hamill. Do Luke Skywalker.” So I went to that first audition and I just played the character as opposed to imitating Mark. And there are two Lukes. There’s pre-Return of the Jedi and post-Return of the Jedi, so I had to be able to adjust the personality accordingly. And I got the job, so I’ve been doing the games forever. I also played Luke on the special Star Wars Robot Chicken episode. Did we talk about Robot Chicken at all?
TZN: Not yet.
BERGEN: All the goodies that I wasn’t allowed to talk about at the time, I can talk about now.
TZN: Honestly, I’m still a little surprised that Lucas was willing to let them do that.
BERGEN: Not only willing to let them do that, but he voiced himself in the film. He invited us to Skywalker Ranch for a tour of the facility and screening the show. Just to screen Return of the Jedi in THX in Lucas’ screening room was pretty damn amazing. And then he gave us each a lightsaber.
BERGEN: And we’re all walking in the airport with our lightsabers going, “I ain’t checking this.” We all got on our planes with these lightsabers and the flight attendants were all looking at us like, “You’re either a bunch of geeks or you’re doing something with Star Wars,” and we couldn’t say a damn thing. We were all sworn to secrecy.
TZN: Are you talking about just handles, or are you talking about the whole…
BERGEN: We’re talking about the whole thing. If you saw Joey Fatone on Dancing with the Stars a while ago, he came out with a lightsaber one day and that’s the one he got from the Skywalker Ranch. It is the coolest thing! I wanted to get a Luke lightsaber, but they were out of Luke, so I think I got Darth Vader.
TZN: Well, you know, same DNA.
BERGEN: EXACTLY! This is what I’m sayin’.
So it was an amazing day and I couldn’t tell a damn soul, including my own agent, until it came out in the Sunday New York Times. I mean, they announced the project I think just before we met in New York, so I could talk about the project but I couldn’t talk about going to Skywalker Ranch.
TZN: I saw one interview where you said you thought your Luke wasn’t that good…
BERGEN: Oh, I didn’t say it wasn’t good. I just said I didn’t sound like Mark. I do my best to uphold the integrity of the character, but I don’t think sound a bit like Mark Hamill. It’s funny, there’ve been reviews of the games I’ve done where they’ve said, “Mark Hamill sounded great,” but it wasn’t Mark Hamill, it was me. They didn’t stay for the credits.
TZN: Mark Hamill has quite a career as a voice actor himself, now.
BERGEN: And he’s brilliant.
TZN: Have you ever met him?
BERGEN: Yeah. (laughs) Actually, I met him on a panel at the San Diego Comic-Con a couple of years ago.
TZN: Was it a Star Wars panel?
BERGEN: It was a voice actor panel. Billy West, me, Joe Alaskey, Mark, a bunch of us, and I was sitting in the front row, and Mark was behind me. During my Q&A or my introductions, the moderator said something about me being the voice of Luke Skywalker, and Mark was like, “Excuse me?! What??” Yeah, sorry, dude. But he’s terrific. His Joker is legendary, just brilliant.
TZN: Did you ever actually talk to him about being Luke?
BERGEN: No. It didn’t feel appropriate.
TZN: You’ve done quite a bit of stuff outside of voice acting, too. You were the host of Jep! which was a kid’s version of Jeopardy?
BERGEN: Basically, yeah. It was the same producers, and it was just Jeopardy for kids.
TZN: How did you get that job, exactly?
BERGEN: I was on a talk show in New York promoting Space Jam, and an agent in Los Angeles saw it and contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in hosting. She said, “Frankly, you were more interesting than the host.” I said, “I’m not interested in hosting, but thank you for asking.” Then my voice-over agent said, “Don’t be a schmuck. If they know your face, I can get you more for your voice.” So I went back to the hosting agent, and I said, “Look, OK, I’ll give this a shot, but I don’t want to do anything controversial.” At the time, Morton Downey, Jr. and Jerry Springer and Geraldo’s chair-throwing thing were all in the news. I said, “I don’t want anything that’s going to be, you know, ‘Lesbian Nuns who Like Men.'” It’s just not my thing. So, the first thing they sent me on was Jep!, and it’s not that I didn’t want it, but I didn’t have a passion for it. I went to the audition sort of like, “Well, whatever happens happens.” And I got several auditions, callbacks, and then they wanted to screen-test me.
The screen-test was basically on the set of Jeopardy doing a 30-minute episode with 3 kids who were plants. They were all the kids of the studio executives. And, you know, I said to my agent before the screen test, “Look, I’ve seen Jeopardy, I’ve never memorized Jeopardy, so I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do this,” and she said, “Just go with the flow.” So when I got to the studio, I walked up to each of the kids and I said, “Kid, if you make me look good, I’ll buy you each a car.” And they’re like “Cool! OK!” And then we start the game, and I had no idea what the categories are, and one of the categories is “Famous Cartoon Characters.” And for every clue that came up, I did the voice, so it would be Popeye and Yogi Bear and Bugs Bunny and I did the voice that matched the clue, and at the end of the screen-test, the producer came up to me and said, “OK, first of all, it was a perfect screen test, we’re going to contact your agent about negotiating the deal, but…have you ever thought of doing voice over?” They had no idea that I had a background of doing voices for cartoons and commercials. I said, “Well, actually, voice over is my day job. This would be my night job.” So I booked the job, and I bought each of the kids a Matchbox car. I didn’t tell them what kind of car I’d buy them, and that’s how I got Jep!
TZN: Did you learn anything about acting or about technique doing Jep!?
BERGEN: I learned that to host a game show is one of the most difficult jobs on television. You have to moderate the show, keep the show moving, you have to interact with the contestants, and allow the game and the contestants to be the star and not you, while trying to give it some personality. The problem that I had with Jep! as a performer was it was a kid’s game show and the producers kept wanting me to be “up.” You know, “really be up and energetic!” and I said, “Well, that’s not what I did in the screen test and that’s not me.” But, on the other hand, that’s what they wanted, so I did it. Creatively, I think I could have done a better job if I had toned it down a little bit, but it was fun, I had a blast, and I learned a LOT about that part of the business. I met some really nice people, like Harry Friedman, who also produces Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. I met some really neat people in the business who love what they do as much as I do. That’s was what was enjoyable about it. These people were passionate about game shows as I am about cartoons.
TZN: You’re also well known for hosting a popular voice acting seminar. How did that start up?
BERGEN: Well, what happened was that I was doing a play at the time, and in my bio it said that I was a voice-over guy. So one night at the theater, this guy came backstage and said, “Great performance. I’m opening up an acting school, would you like to teach an animation class?” and I said, “You know, I’ve never taught before. I don’t think it’s something I’m interested in doing, but thank you for asking.” And a few months later, I got a call from AFI and the SAG Conservatory asking if I would do seminars for them, like 2 or 3 times a year. And I said, “Well, what do you pay?” and they said “Nothing, it’s voluntary.” And I said, “Great! I’ll do it! Because this way, if I suck, I can’t feel guilty taking actors’ money.”
I did that for about a year or two, and I found that I had a knack for it and I was enjoying it. So then I called this guy with the acting school, and I said, “If you’re still interested, I’d like to give it a shot.” And I taught there for about a year, and then I went on my own. This year starts my 21st year teaching.
Daws Butler also encouraged me to teach. Daws’ classes were Wednesday nights. I was first asked to teach animation voice over on a Wednesday night. And I said to Daws “What do I do?” And he said, “Teach.” I said to him, “I can’t do it because it’s the night of your class,” and he said, “Sure you can.” And I said, “OK. All right.” So that’s when I stopped taking animation voice acting classes and started teaching it.
TZN: What’s changed in the seminar over time?
BERGEN: What’s changed is my experience in the business. Even after 20 years of working in the business, I learn all the time from my students. I learn every time I work. And with my experiences over 20 years, I’m able to bring that to my students. I’m able to take the technique I came up with and fine-tune it to where it’s concise and it’s specific. I’ve got a very specific technique on how to create characters. But I also bring a lot of my knowledge of the business. 20 years ago, I didn’t have as much business savvy as I do today, and I share that as much with my students as much as I share the creative aspect, because you could be the most brilliant talent in the world, but if you don’t know how to work as a business person, you’re just entertaining your friends.
TZN: I did think that was one of the unusual things about your seminar, that you talk about the business of being an actor.
BERGEN: Well, most actors are not good business people. A lot of bad actors get out there and they get heard because they happen to be better business people than they are actors. I’m in the process right now of putting together a book proposal just on the voice-over agent, because the most common question I get from people all over the country is, “How do you get an agent? What are they looking for? What are they looking for in demos? How do I get it heard? What’s protocol?” Cover letters. All that stuff. So I’ve come up with a 40-question interview for every voice-over agent in the country, so no matter where you are, whether it’s New Mexico or New York, you’re able to cater your voice-over career for that market. And if you’re planning to leave your market for a bigger market, you’ll know what the bigger markets are looking for.
TZN: What kinds of things have you picked up from students over the years?
BERGEN: Well, first of all, when you’re at the mike working or auditioning, you’re not able to direct yourself the way you can direct someone else because you’re too busy performing. So, it’s really helped me in my choice-making to direct other people. I’m able to come up with ideas for my students that I could never do for myself while I’m working on the copy because I’m too busy. And I’ll take those ideas and I’ll use them myself.
TZN: You also do a one-man show periodically about your life as a voice actor. When did you decide to do that?
BERGEN: I decided to do it…oh, gosh, about 8 years ago. I came up with an idea to do a pilot script about a voice actor who’s working at a major motion picture studio as a tour guide.
TZN: Sounds suspiciously familiar.
BERGEN: There you go. A writer buddy of mine joined me in trying to come up with a treatment, and as we’re coming up with this treatment, he said, “Hollywood gets thousands of scripts every day, could you present this as a one-person show?” I said, “Probably.” So we started adapting it as a one-man show. And then he said to me, “You know, I think the audience would get a kick out of hearing something about how you got to this point and how you wanted to be Porky Pig, and now you’re working as a tour guide.” So, we added that chapter to this, so it was a two-act thing. And we did it for an invited audience in Burbank. I was working on 3×5 cards. There was nothing memorized. He videotaped it and showed the video to his friend Ken Kragen, who was a personal manager, and Ken Kragen says, “If you can take 20 minutes of this, I need an opening act for my client Kenny Rogers for the rest of his summer tour.” And I said, “Well, when would you need to know?” And he said, “You’d be performing in Oakland, California in two days.”
TZN: Wait a minute, Kenny Rogers the country singer?
BERGEN: So I said, “You want me to take 20 minutes of a show that I’ve not memorized and perform it…How many people?” He said, “About 7,500.” And so I was 35 people the other night, and now I’m 7,500 people in two days in Oakland? He said, “But I need an answer right away.” And my writing partner said, “Yep. We’ll do it.” So, I did a 5 city tour at the end of his 1999 summer tour, came back to Los Angeles and performed it at a comedy club called the Ice House in Pasadena, and I did two nights at a theater in Sherman Oaks, California. A producer saw it and said, “I’d like to put this up in my theater in North Hollywood.” It ran for three months in North Hollywood, and then last year, I taught a voiceover workshop on board a three-day cruise to Mexico and for my students, I decided to perform the show because we had a free night. I thought they’d get a kick out of it. I kind of got the bug, and I had 8 years worth of life experience to add to the show, so called my original writing partner, we futzed with the script a little bit, made it now a three-act show, and booked a theater out here in Los Angeles. So now I’ve got people interested in booking it for other venues around the country. A producer saw it opening night last year, and wants to do a documentary on me, so she’s been shooting that. It’s been really fun.
TZN: Is the documentary a home video thing or theatrical?
BERGEN: No, actually I think it’s being produced for the Internet. She’s got 26 episodes she’s doing. I’m the first one. She had June Foray and Don Pitz, my first agent. She came to a session with me and into a class. It’ll be on my website, too, but I can’t put anything up until it’s actually on-line.
TZN: To close things out, here’s where I play James Lipton and ask a set of the same six questions to all the interview subjects. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever had to do in a recording studio?
BERGEN: The first thing that pops into my mind was when we did an episode of Fraggle Rock where they wanted us to sound like we were underwater, so they put bowls of water in front of the microphone and we talked into it. And I was terrified that the mike would fall into it and zap me. Oh, and one more. When I did the movie Gremlins, there was a scene where a gremlin jumps into a pool and it bubbles and multiplies. We were laying on the ground and they were pouring Kern’s Apricot Nectar into our throats, and we were choking and gurgling on that. So those are two odd things. I gave you two for the price of one, I’m sorry.
TZN: What do you do when you can’t find a character’s voice?
BERGEN: You wait tables? (laughs) No, I’m just kidding. First of all, I’m not opposed to passing on something if I don’t think I’m right for it, but it’s rarely not finding the voice, it’s not finding the character. And like I said before, sometimes you have 5 minutes with the script before you have to audition, so you have a little Rolodex of characters in your head that you try to go to, and based on what you’ve done on the past and the information they’re asking for, you try to find a happy marriage. But, there have been many times where I’m thinking, “I don’t know what they want” or “I don’t think I can do what they’re asking for,” so I’ll just give it my own twist. Totally opposite of what they’re asking for, and more often than not that’ll give me a callback, because it’s creative. They’ll hear something other than what they’re asking for, so it sticks out amongst the masses of sameness.
TZN: What’s the fastest way to get you to turn down a role?
BERGEN: Well, don’t pay me. (laughs) The fastest way to get me to turn down a role is if I find that what they’re asking me to do is unethical. I mean, for instance, I won’t do cigarette ads. I won’t do cigarette ads that run in Europe, since they don’t run here. If I find what they’re asking me to do is distasteful to the point of, “Yeah, we’re advertising this for children, but it’s really not.” I don’t do a lot of games for that reason. I’m not a prude at all, but I turn down CD-ROM games more than I accept them because they’re SO violent and they’re SO crude. They’re also very throaty. I know they say, “M for Mature,” but the kids are going to get it. If I don’t have to contribute to that, I’m not going to.
TZN: What’s the quickest way to get you to say “Yes” to a role?
BERGEN: Offer it to me. I’m serious. The nice thing about voice-over is that every day is a different adventure. I don’t know if it’ll be a promo, a commercial, or a cartoon, but if I audition for it and they like what I’ve got and they’re paying me, I’m there.
TZN: What piece of advice would you give the young you, just starting off in a voice-acting career?
BERGEN: Become a solid actor first. Study acting. If you’re a kid, get involved in school plays. Get involved in college theater. Community theater is great. School plays — terrific. It’s not about the voice, it’s about the acting. A good solid actor will always have the voices. Study improv. Study study study.
If you want to be in the voice-over industry, you have to be where the voice over industry is. If you want to be in animation, you’re going to have to be in Los Angeles. Commercials are anywhere, but the big commercial markets would be Los Angeles, New York, or Chicago.
It’s obvious, but start watching cartoons. Continue watching cartoons. Start mimicking. Record yourself. Keep a list of every character that you can do. Have a repertoire. Read comic books out loud — they’re like storyboards with written dialogue. But I think the most important thing you need to do is act. You’ve got to be a good actor.
TZN: What do you want of yours in the vault after the apocalypse hits?
BERGEN: You know, honestly, it has nothing to do with my career. I want the vault to have some remnant of a note that says, “Yeah, he was a nice guy.” Seriously! To me, that’s more important than a work legacy. I think for anybody, no matter what your career is. There’s some kind of respect factor there. But, work-wise? You know, as far as I’m concerned, there’s one Daws. One Mel. One June. One Don Messick. But it would be really nice if that there’s a history book of animation, and it lists all the people that just worked in this industry that I love so much, just to have my name associated with Mel Blanc, Daws Butler, Rob Paulsen, Tress MacNeille, Charlie Adler, Don LaFontaine…the people who I respect and the people who I think are admirable at what they do. Just to be amongst those is the highest compliment I could have careerwise.
Toon Zone News would like to thank Bob Bergen profusely for allowing us to take up so much of his time for this interview (and for taking so long to get it published!). Visit his official website for more information about his upcoming projects, voice acting seminars, the return of his one-man show, and the upcoming documentary film. Keep an eye out for more in the “Life in Voice Acting” Interview Series soon!