Toonzone Interviews Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery on “Voltron Legendary Defender” Season 2
Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery have put their stamp on modern action animation, with both racking up numerous credits on TV shows like Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, Avatar the Last Airbender, and The Legend of Korra, as well as earning numerous credits on the DC direct-to-video animated features (and hey, if you don’t believe us, just check out the earlier interviews we’ve done with Lauren Montgomery and Joaquim Dos Santos in the past).
As co-executive producers for DreamWorks Animation Television’s Voltron Legendary Defender, the pair led a crack team to re-launch the iconic TV show for a new era on Netflix. We were able to talk with Mr. Dos Santos and Ms. Montgomery via telephone before the premiere of the next 13 episodes of Season 2 of Voltron Legendary Defender.
TOONZONE NEWS: Knowing how animation pipelines work, I’m guessing you were working on these first 26 episodes of Voltron Legendary Defender all along. It’s not like you had a break or anything.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: Your guess would be pretty close to the truth. It’s slow going, putting all the juice we can into it.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: Yeah, we’ve been trucking along on it for a while.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: As you know, animation is a long game. It’s not a quick turnaround.
TOONZONE NEWS: A clip was just released with Coran and Allura and the problem they face in that first season 2 episode. I thought it took what’s kind of a ridiculous situation and made it really serious, and the way you can jump between those two poles so quickly was something I really liked about the first season. Can you talk about how you make your decisions on balancing those two things?
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: I think we just use our gut. It’s sort of a culmination of the different shows we’ve been a part of, but I think it’s also just setting up a universe that’s broad enough to handle all those storytelling conventions. I point to shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer a lot, where some episodes were incredibly dramatic. Like when Buffy’s mom passed away? I had tears in my eyes. And then two episodes down the line, Xander was being stalked by his substitute teacher who was turning into a praying mantis. You just got to set up the universe to be that broad.
TOONZONE NEWS: Related to that, you got Weird Al Yankovic to play one of the characters in these early episodes. How did his casting come about? Did you write the role and say, “Hey, we should cast Weird Al for this,” or did you write something with him in mind?
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: I think we didn’t necessarily write the part for him, but whenever it comes time to cast a part, we’re always going through our Rolodex of “Who are our childhood heroes, and who can we selfishly get in here for our own purposes?” He was definitely one of the people who was on our list. It was like, “Can we get Weird Al to do anything?” When we found this character, it just seemed like the right fit. So we threw his name out there, and they said, “OK, we’ll see.” We are lucky enough to have Andrea Romano as our voice director and she’s a good friend of his, and she’s like, “Oh, absolutely! He’d love to do this!” And sure enough, he agreed, and he was just one of the nicest people in the world. It was a ton of fun.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: It was definitely a geek-out moment for us and the crew, for sure.
TOONZONE NEWS: Can you talk about anybody else really special casting-wise that we should be keeping an ear out for?
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: We try to just let people experience them on their own. I mentioned one guy in a previous interview, so I’m going to say him again, but pretty early on in season 2 there’s an appearance by Arnold Vosloo. He played the Mummy, and he’s just done a lot of really amazing voice work on shows that we worked on previously. We were always just fans of his voice and he’s really a great guy, and super happy to come and participate. But beyond that, we’re just going to let you guys figure it out.
TOONZONE NEWS: Weird Al shows up in the mermaid episode, and I know you previewed that at New York Comic Con last year. I think you said at the time that the episode was a “gimme” to Lauren, and I know you’ve got a great affection for mermaids.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: I do! It was definitely on my little list of things that needed to happen (laughs). The writers were nice enough to humor me, and we came up with his fun episode. It seemed like the perfect time because we have our paladins in a situation where they can end up somewhere totally random. It can be tricky to work these one-offs into a show that is so highly serialized, and has such an intense villain that’s driving the story. If you just take time out in the middle to go do something else, it can feel kind of weird. But it worked into the story perfectly at this point in time to be able to take that moment on that random planet. I was very very happy that it happened that way.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: I will say it was fun seeing Lauren’s reaction as designs were being done. She’d give these little claps of approval behind the character designer when we were doing the reviews and stuff. It was fun to watch.
TOONZONE NEWS: I don’t know how much you can talk about upcoming episodes of Voltron Legendary Defender, but can you mention any other big gimmes in the upcoming episodes for you or for somebody else on the crew?
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: I don’t know that there were any. I mean, we batted around all the gimmick episodes in meetings, for sure. I’ve definitely got a soft spot in my heart for pro wrestling, so I was like, “Is there any way we can do a pro wrestling episode?” But it was done so well on Avatar the Last Airbender, I think we’re going to leave that to Airbender.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: We definitely have all the tropes in mind. Like, “can we fit quicksand anywhere into this show?” “Can we have a shrinking episode?” We kind of made a list of “What are all the things that you saw in literally every show when you were a kid? And how can we work these in?” But if it shows up in the show, then you’ll know that we got it in there.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: I’m trying to make people, when they act crazy, just turn into Napoleon, but that reference just doesn’t apply any more.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: It did when we were kids.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: But it doesn’t take. They’re fun though. If there’s a spin that we can put on it, I think that makes it fun. But yeah. Everything’s on the table.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: I think we have in our head how the whole thing wraps up. As far as the actual number of episodes, we’re not at liberty to say if there are more or less coming beyond this 13. I mean…there’s definitely not less (laughter).
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: There are only 9 episodes in this 13 episode season!
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: So, SURPRISE!!!! (Laughter) But yeah, as far as the story arc goes, we definitely have a beginning, a middle, and an end that we know we want to tell.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: Yeah, it’s just a matter of seeing whether we get to tell them in that timeframe.
TOONZONE NEWS: I liked the number of times you had to apologize for when you completely lied to the press before season 1 premiered.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: (Laughter) Nothing has changed, we still have to lie on occasion, but we are sorry. It’s in our contract.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: But it was worth it, though! It was worth it.
TOONZONE NEWS: Are you willing to say whether you’ve lied to me yet in this interview?
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: (Laughter) I don’t know, I’ve done it so many times. It’s just…I can’t tell the difference.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: Now it’s the new reality.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: Nothing super-specific, but I can say that there’s some definite character progression, and that excites me. We get to see certain characters pair off that we haven’t seen interact a ton before, and that’s always fun to me. To see what do they act like when they have to partner up with someone, and how those dynamics work out. That’s fun. I like that.
JOAQUIM DOS SANTOS: For me, it’s kind of expanding the universe and evolving the characters in that universe. I think that’s one of the cool things, that our characters are definitely different by the end of each of our seasons than when they started. As a storyteller that’s super-exciting, and I think just seeing more of the universe, just seeing beyond Arus, and getting a deeper understanding of the mythology, it’s just fun to watch.
LAUREN MONTGOMERY: We have a couple of cool reveals coming up at least, before the end of this season, and we’re super-excited to see how the fans react to that.
Toonzone would like to thank Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery for taking the time to talk with us, and to the PR teams at Netflix and Click Communications for setting it up. Voltron Legendary Defender Season 2 is now available for streaming on Netflix.