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NYCC 2013: Talking with Rob Paulsen About Donatello in Season 2 of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles"

On Saturday at New York Comic Con 2013, Toonzone News was able to get a few minutes backstage with Rob Paulsen, who plays Donatello in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Some of his past roles include Raphael in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Pinky in Pinky and the Brain, Wakko Warner in Animaniacs, Arthur in The Tick, and many, many more (you did check out our interview with Rob Paulsen before the premiere of TMNT last year where we ran down all that stuff, didn’t you?)

TOONZONE NEWS: How far ahead are you guys in recording now? I know that they picked up season 2 and 3 of Ninja Turtles.

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, season 2 is actually going to premiere today. I think we are now in the fourth or fifth episode of season 3. Clearly the folks at Nickelodoen have decided that we have a bona fide hit on our hands, and I think it’s pretty hard to dispute that. The show looks great, is doing really well. It’s selling toys! But I think most importantly, it hits all the right buttons with respect to Turtle fans. It’s pretty cool.

TOONZONE NEWS: I understand some time in season 2, there’s a throwback episode to the original Turtles.

NYCC 2013: Rob Paulsen with Nickelodeon's Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesROB PAULSEN: Yeah! Yeah, we get to have the original group back together. They got the band back together for an episode, so Townsend Coleman, who was Michelangelo, Barry Gordon, who was Donatello, Cam Clarke, who was Leonardo, and I was Raphael in the original show. They got us all together for an episode, and these guys make a quick appearance, but an appearance nonetheless, and it may set it up for doing some other cool stuff. Whenever I do a fundraising event and I get my original Turtle guys together, it’s huge, or when I do something with the new Turtle guys, it’s huge, so it is a cross-generational property that is so successful on so many levels, but I think the most important level is that it really just makes everybody so happy. I don’t care whether it’s nostalgia or whether it’s just that they dig the Turtles or whatever. These cats walking around in the Turtle costumes (right), whenever they go anywhere, the most jaded press people just smile and go, “Oh my God!” All the celebrities go, “Dude! Get my picture taken!” All these handsome and beautiful actors from Hollywood all want to get their pictures taken with the guys in the Turtle costumes, man. It’s really cool.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you get to have a conversation with yourself during that episode?

ROB PAULSEN: I did, yeah! I think I said a couple of things to myself, which is kind of cool. The truth is that Don and Raph don’t sound all that much different from me anyway, but it was very cool. When Ciro Nieli said that we were going to do this episode, it was great fun just to hear the other guys do the Turtle stuff…it’s nostalgic for me, too. It’s great.

TOONZONE NEWS: Did you guys get to record all together?

ROB PAULSEN: No, unfortunately, we did not record all together because everybody’s got crazy schedules. But I heard them and I talked to them before we did it, and it was very cool.

NYCC 2013 Rob Paulsen Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesTOONZONE NEWS: Do you know if the other cast members got to record? Were any of the older cast members able to record with the new cast? I remember how everybody was talking on your live podcast about how they grew up with the Turtles.

ROB PAULSEN: I’m not sure. Something tells me that they did, or maybe a couple of them did. Townsend and Cam, maybe. I’m honestly not sure. We all recorded the original shows together, and to this day, if that option is available, it’s always the better option. At least in my view, I’m much better when I’m around other good actors. They make me better, working with guys like Townsend and Cam and Barry, and Renae Jacobs or Pete Reneday or Pat Fraley and James Avery, and Jim Cummings…these really great actors, working with those guys all the time. They just made me better. it’s unfortunate that that doesn’t always happen because of scheduling conflicts, but the cool thing about doing animation is that you can still do the show and it can still be successful and well-done, even though everybody can’t be together. It’s not like doing a movie where you’ve got to re-light everything, and you can’t shoot a scene unless you have everyone. With the technology they have, it’s seamless, but from a selfish standpoint, it’s always nicer to have the other actors there. I prefer that.

TOONZONE NEWS: Do you detect that there’s been a change in your approach or in the writing for Donatello for seasons 2 and going forward?

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, I think there is a little bit. Ciro Nieli, actually, mentioned it yesterday at the panel. Giving Donny a little bit more of a leadership role, because Donny creates so many machines and gadgets and gizmos, so I think that they’ve given him more of a hands-on, sort of co-leadership role. Certainly Leonardo is the de facto leader, but Donny is not afraid to express his mind. In our version, this version of the Turtles, Donatello is much more opinionated. Not afraid to give his opinion, he’s not just a nerdy guy. He can also kick ass when he needs to. Plus, he’s got an enormous crush on April O’Neil, and that is a whole new dynamic to the story. To have a romantic vibe between two characters, and now Casey Jones comes in, and now Casey and Donny are rivals for April’s affection, and that adds a really cool dynamic as well. I really gotta give Ciro and Peter Hastings a lot of credit, the way they handle coming up with new ideas and ways to enhance the story and still remain true to the ethos of the Turtles, because they’re very respectful of the fans. They absolutely understand how important Turtles are to millions and millions of people, and they will never condescend to the audience, ever.

NYCC 2013: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mutation StationTOONZONE NEWS: A lot of times now, voiceover actors have to do their auditions on their own, and direct themselves at home. What’s your advice on how an actor should direct themselves for that audition?

ROB PAULSEN: When I get a script, usually there will be something that’s kind of a breakdown in terms of what the producer is looking for. I try to understand that and honor that as much as I can, and do that maybe once or twice, a couple of takes. Then I always add something that may be 180-degrees different that’s my own spin. I mean, if the guy’s asking for some really, weird spooky, creepy creature sound, I don’t do something that sounds like an Easter Bunny, but I will do something that I think is different so I can red-flag myself. Because what happens is, now, there are so many people auditioning for the same project, and the odds of your getting the job are even less than they used to be. So my feeling is that you should use the opportunity to have somebody hear your stuff, as a chance for you to show them what you can do. You don’t want to give them 47 takes. But 2 or 3, maybe 4 if you really feel comfortable with it.

Often, you get 2 or 3 days to get the stuff in, so if you record something and come up with your own spin on an audition, let it soak overnight. Let it bake a little bit, and come back the next day with fresh ears and listen to it, and often you’ll say, “Ehh, I don’t like that. I’m going to get rid of that. It was a good idea at the time, but I don’t like it.” Or “Hmmm, I like that,” or “I’ve got something better.” So give yourself a chance to do that, but I believe that if you’ve got this opportunity to get somebody’s ear, then take it, because they might call you up and say, “You know, Ed, what you did was so not right for what we were casting, but you were really thinking on your feet, and we’re now doing something six months later and that thing that you did was so cool, we want to hear you again.” So even if you don’t get the job, use it as an opportunity to let people hear your chops.

TOONZONE NEWS: What else can we be expecting from you soon?

ROB PAULSEN: Well, of course, more Ninja Turtles, and the podcast! The cool thing about the podcast, Talkin’ Toons, on iTunes, robpaulsenlive.com, or the free iTunes or Android app…we have been doing our show live at the Jon Lovitz Comedy Club in Hollywood, and we just finished our last one there a week and a half ago there with Chris Hardwick, the Nerdist. We’re starting it live again on October 30, at the Improv in Hollywood. So we’re very excited. We’re very grateful to Jon Lovitz and his crew for a year and a half at the Lovitz, but now we’re moving over to the Improv, which is this venerable old Hollywood comedy institution and I’m so flattered and humbled to be working there. Our first live show, which will also be broadcast on Ustream TV, is with Billy West and Maurice LaMarche. So it’ll be all 3 of us, live on stage, taking questions, so October 30, Talkin’ Toons live at the Improv with a good chunk of Futurama and me.

Toonzone would like to thank Rob Paulsen for spending the time with us, and for Nickelodeon PR for setting it up. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season 2 airs on Saturdays at 11:00 AM (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon. Don’t forget to check out our interview with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles executive producer Ciro Nieli and our coverage of the TMNT Panel at New York Comic Con 2013.

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