Voice of Wicket W. Warrick in Ewoks (1985)
Beginning his career as an actor, Jim Henshaw has appeared in such films as The Last Detail, Monkeys in the Attic and Lions for Breakfast. In addition to acting, Jim writes screenplays for both film and television. His screenplays for film include A Sweeter Song (with director Allan Eastman). Among Jim’s acting credits in television are the eight-hour mini-series The National Dream (which also featured Adderly co-stars Ken Pogue and Jonathan Welsh and Friday the 13th: The Series co-star Chris Wiggins) and the TV movie Red Emma. He wrote episodes and was the Senior Story Editor for the fondly remembered series Adderly (which starred Droids voice actor Winston Rekert), Friday the 13th: The Series (also known as Friday’s Curse, where he doubled as the Executive Story Consultant), War of the Worlds: The Second Invasion, Bordertown and She-Wolf of London. Jim’s script for “The Charnel Pit” (the Season 3/series finale) episode of Friday the 13th: The Series was nominated for a 1990 Gemini Award for Best Writing. Jim has also been the voice of various animated characters for several animated productions including The Devil and Daniel Mouse special, the feature films Care Bears The Movie, The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation and he was the voice of Tenderheart Bear in The Care Bears TV series. Jim now writes for and serves as Executive Story Consultant for the hit CBS series Top Cops, the CBS series pilot Moment of Truth and he has also written stories for the new NBC series Secret Service. For the animated Ewoks (1985), Jim was the voice of the young Ewok scout Wicket W. Warrick.
Jim, you started out as an actor and then you began to write for film and television. When did your interests turn towards entertainment?
I started acting in high school plays and continued with it when I got into college. By my second year of college, I decided that acting was what I wanted to do and I started to major in it. When I graduated, I went to work for the Globe Theatre in Saskatchewan and a couple of years in British Columbia. Then I came to Toronto and I mostly worked in theater productions for about ten years. Around 1975 or 1976, I started writing. I sold some scripts to various television shows and I wrote my first feature film. Also around this time, I did some voices for an animated special called The Devil and Daniel Mouse for Nelvana [the same company that would also create the animated segment of The Star Wars Holiday Special in 1978 and the Ewoks and Droids series in 1985]. I ended up being one of their staple voices soon after. I was among the voice people who were already working at Nelvana when Ewoks and Droids came along, so I ended up being a part of it. After we finished production on Ewoks, I moved on to The Care Bears as Tenderheart Bear for about three years. My script writing also lead to story editing. I think that I was actually doing a stage show when Adderly came along [which ran from 1986 to 1988]. I worked on Adderly for more than two years as Senior Story Consultant. Now I’m Executive Story Consultant on Top Cops.
Wicket the Ewok became a very popular character ever since he first appeared in Return of the Jedi. What aspects of his personality did you want to bring out in the animated series?
The main thing that Rob Kirkpatrick (who was the voice director of Ewoks) and I tried to work on for Wicket was that, even though he was a young kid, Wicket knew that he was going to be a grown-up eventually. He was just sort of making the best of his childhood in a way. Plus he had this amazing… not just courage, but tenacity to hang in there in all kinds of situations. He also had a heart and a warmth about him that I really liked. Wicket always had a nice, subtle sense of humor that was fun to play with. He was like, half grown-up and that made him a really interesting character to play. When we were doing the series, anytime that we had a section with Wicket, it was just a joy to do! Robby and I would end up laughing on the floor whenever we would come up with some new little frustration for Wicket. So we just had a great time doing it.
One of the unique qualities of the Ewoks was that they would sometimes use expressions in their own language.
Yes, that was actually the most fun to do. I remember Robby and I spent a whole day with the vocabulary, trying to figure out how many different ways to say “Beecha-wawa” – to make it sound “dirtier”! (Laughter) There was a lot of work that was done on finding the proper inflection for some of those Ewok “cuss” words. We wanted to give people the right feeling behind the words, so that you would know exactly what they meant! We all had a loose-leaf Ewokese dictionary that had suggested inflections and pronunciations of all the different words. I don’t think that we ever used everything that was in the dictionary, but in-between recordings, we’d look back at our dialogue and see if we could stick one in every now and then to keep it alive. When there were long speeches of exposition, to get a story rolling or something, we’d stick in a few more choice phrases – and all of a sudden, we would sound like we really did come from another planet! So it was really a lot of fun to do!
Jim, would you like to return as the voice of Wicket if the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour were to return with new episodes?
Yeah, because I enjoyed doing Wicket a lot. I think of all the anit was coming from and what it was going to be, that it had to have a level of quality that would out-shine anything else on Saturday morning TV at the time. All of the episodes were really just well done stories and the animation was terrific! We were all pretty proud of what we did with the series. I have nothing but good memories of doing the Ewoks!
The Ewok Princess Kneesaa in Ewoks (1985)
Currently [then in the early 1990s] starring as Hillman College student Freddie Brooks in the hit NBC series A Different World, Cree Summer Francks began her acting career in voice for animation. As the voice of Penny, Cree co-starred with Don Adams (of Get Smart fame as Penny’s uncle Gadget) and her father, actor/musician Don Francks (as arch-foe Dr. Claw) in the Nelvana/DIC series Inspector Gadget. She has since portrayed several animated characters for a variety of other animated series that include Strawberry Shortcake, The Care Bears, The Real Ghostbusters, Widget, Tiny Toon Adventures, Captain Planet and the animated films Care Bears the Movie and The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation. One of the main characters that Cree played in the animated Star Wars series Ewoks and Droids was the Ewok Chief Chirpa’s daughter, Princess Kneesaa.
Cree, how were you first introduced to acting?
Well, In actually started out by doing narration and voice-over work. My first job was Inspector Gadget. I got that because I went with my father [Don Francks] when he auditioned for the voice of Dr. Claw. The young lady who was supposed to audition for Penny didn’t show up, so they asked, “Why don’t you read, Cree?” I did and I lucked out!
A few years later, you joined your father, Don Francks in the cast of the animated Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour series.
Oh yeah! I loved doing those! My family an I are really big Star Wars fans, so we never, in our wildest dreams expected that the two of us would be working on either Ewoks or Droids. So when they came around, we were really excited! My favorite episode of Ewoks is “Asha” [the season finale] – the one where Princess Kneesaa discovers that her older sister [Asha] was still alive after being lost for several years. I also got to portray Kneesaa’s sister, Asha. That was the best!
As Princess Kneesaa, did you find the Ewokese expressions difficult to do at first?
Oh, no way! When you do animation, you usually have to portray characters like bears, dogs or mice – things like that. So, I’m very used to doing animal sounds and voices. If anything, doing Ewoks was easier, because it was an animal language, as opposed to a sound. The Ewok words that we used were like, “ubnub”, that sort of thing. We never had anything that was too way out, becuase the majority of it had to be in English.
Was the cast allowed to improvise some of the Ewok dialogue?
Oh, we all did, from time to time. There was an Ewok vocabulary that we all knew, so we could ad-lib Ewokese here and there. And the majority of the time, it was kept in. So maybe there wasn’t enough Ewokese is the answer to that! (Laughter)
You also did some voices for Droids.
Yeah, I was Princess Jerin [in the “Mon-Julpa” story-arc]. That was lots of fun, but she was a really straightforward character. Kneesaa was more fun to do. Unfortunately, when you play a human being, it’s usually a pretty straightforward role. You don’t get to be as far out as you can if you play something like an Ewok. I’d definitely hang out with Kneesaa before I’d hang out with Jerin! (Laughter)
Your father, Don Francks now [then in the 1990s] narrates the CBS series Top Cops. Have the two of you worked together since Ewoks and Droids?
We worked on a short-lived animated series called The Garbage Pail Kids. I loved it, but the show got thrashed! We’ve done lots of other work together though. He still intimidates many a young gentleman caller of mine!
He greets them in the voice of Dr. Claw…?
That’s right, then they say, “Oh no! All my intentions are pure, Mr. Francks!” (Laughter)
Are you are involved with environmental issues like your character Freddie Brooks on A Different World?
Yes. I do some work with Green Peace. As Freddie, I get to comment on things like the wearing of furs, the depletion of the ozone layer and the destruction of the rain forests. So I get to make some really heavy statements that I don’t think that I’d be able to make if I wasn’t playing Freddie.
Cree, you were born in California, in the USA, but you grew up in Canada. Where
I grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada. I lived with the Plains Cree Indians on a reservation called Red Pheasant. That’s how I got my name.
What was it like growing up there?
Oh, it was beautiful! And it also gave me a wonderful appreciation for the Earth and being around in the natural world… I wouldn’t trade that for anything! Give me a paradise instead of a parking lot any day!
The Ewoks revere their world, the Moon of Endor, in similar ways…
Yes! They definitely do. They’re very similar to the Native People.
In addition to starring in A Different World, you also do the voices of several characters for the animated Tiny Toon Adventures.
Yes! I’m Elmyra. She’s sort of a deranged, younger version of Elmer Fudd. Elmyra’s the sort of chick that, if she saw a beautiful patch of flowers, she would destroy all the others just to get at the one that she thought was the most beautiful! She’s my favorite to date, I think! (Laughter)
Is it difficult to do an animated series and a live-action series at the same time?
No, because animation sometimes only takes about twenty-five minutes to do an episode. So right after work, I go home in time to watch the show! (Laughter) [Meaning another episode airing that same day]
In addition to acting, you’ve recently  recorded some music as part of Jasmine Guy’s first album.
Yes, I co-wrote a song for her album and I sang some background [vocals] on it.
Cree, if the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour were to return with new episodes, would you like to…? [before I could get out, “…play Princess Kneesaa again?”]
Yes!! Yes!! Yes, in a minute!! In a minute! It was lots of fun and those characters really captured everyone’s heart. So, I’d love to play Kneesaa again!
Voice of Ewok Chief Chirpa in Ewoks (1985) and Bounty Hunter Boba Fett in Droids
Turner Edison in Maniac Mansion
Prior to becoming Turner Edison, the accidentally mutated 6’3″ five-year-old of Lucasfilm’s popular hit TV series Maniac Mansion, actor George Buza provided character voices for the animated Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour. As an actor, George has played a variety of different roles for stage, film, television, radio and animation. He has guest starred in television episodes of the new Twilight Zone, the new Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Friday the 13th: The Series, Faerie Tale Theatre, Bizarre, SCTV, Learning the Ropes, Starting from Scratch, Adderly, T and T, Night Heat, Philip Marlowe: Private Eye, Diamonds, Street Legal, Booker, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues , the animated Ewoks and Droids, Care Bears, Beverly Hills Teens, U.S.Starcom, Babar and Hammerman. George has also appeared in the HBO TV movies Descending Angel and Lindsay Anderson’s two-part satire Glory! Glory!, the CBC TV movie Murder Sees the Light, the mini-series Jack London’s Tales of the Klondike and the six-part mini-series Frontier. In 1990, George starred in the heroic title role of the acclaimed eight-part mini-series Raider of the South Seas. His film credits include Quest for Fire, Stella, Meatballs III, Destiny to Order, Fast Company (1978) and the action-comedy Highpoint. His performances in theater range from Waiting for Godot and Wild Oats to Three Penny Opera and the Ken Hill productions of Curse of the Werewolf and The Count of Monte Christo. His credits in radio drama include MacBeth and Blues for Mr. Charlie. As Henry “Hank” McCoy, George is the voice of the blue-furred mutant super-hero coded-named the Beast on FOX’s animated X-Men, which is adapted from the legendary comic book series from Marvel Comics. For the animated Ewoks, George was the voice of the Ewok tribal leader Chief Chirpa. George starred as Turner Edison in Maniac Mansion, which originally aired on The Family Channel in the U.S. and YTV in Canada, where the series was produced.
George, when did you first become interested in acting?
Now we go way back to 1968, deep into high school, where I was conned into appearing in Oliver! as Mr. Bumble. And I liked it! So I pursued it! I studied it in college, did apprenticeships and everything that I could possibly to do to get involved with acting. What kind of got me into the professional scene was Trumpet in the Land. It’s an outdoor historical drama in Southern Ohio and it was directed by Mark Schoenberg, who also runs theater productions in Alberta [in Canada]. I was in graduate school at Kent State and when I got this offer to go and do a season of professional theater. That’s where I got my Equity card and from there, I came to Canada, because there were Canadians in the company. When I came here [to Canada] (this was 1974), I would spend a couple of weeks at Stratford, every year, just to watch the shows. When they found out that they could catch a ride with me, they said, “Let’s show you Toronto.” So what started out to be a vacation, ended up being my entrance into Canada as a landed immigrant. As soon as I got here, I met stage director Martin Kinch and got a job! (Laughter) So I had to go back and undo what I was already doing down in the States. When I came back to Canada, I got involved in the theater scene here. I did a lot of small theaters, then moved on to the regionals and traveled coast-to-coast, doing all the plays and everything. Then the movie scene happened here, in Toronto, in the late ’70s, so I kind of made the switch from stage to movies and TV. I then tried to keep a balance going – do a season of Stratford and so on…
So I’ve really never done anything else other than acting! (Laughter) From that first time that I got conned into doing Oliver!, acting has been my single track, all the way. Of course, I did odd jobs along the way, when things got tight, but mostly it was just theater, theater, theater and then movies and TV.
But you’re glad that you did, though…?
Absolutely! Absolutely – I consider myself to be one of the lucky few people who are actually doing what they want to do. I mean, as unpleasant as some jobs may have been, I’m still doing my chosen field. So I can’t say that I hate my job! (Laughter) I look forward to it every day!
George, you did voices for both halves of the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour, but your main character in Ewoks was Chief Chirpa.
Yes! One of my favorites!
Did the entire cast of Ewoks record their dialogue together, like a radio production?
No, Ewoks was done separately, completely separately. We had somebody like the assistant director reading with us but it wouldn’t be the actual performer. So we would do our performance solo and they’d cut it all together sometime afterwards. What you did was, you created one voice that could then be electronically “condensed” to make it sound more “chipmunky”. You would mess around with it ’til you found the voice that they wanted! (Laughter) Since Ewoks, I’ve done several other cartoons and they all done like radio drama – where the entire cast was recording together.
Shortly before the first season of Maniac Mansion began, you starred in the title role of an adventure called Raider of the South Seas.
That’s an eight-part mini-series about this guy called the Raider, who sails around the South Seas on this big square-rigger ship as a treasure hunter, salvaging wrecks and whatnot. He happens to sail into the New Zealand harbor at the same time as World War II breaks out. The Raider’s Italian, so everybody figures that he must be the enemy! They capture him and they try to put him in prison, but he escapes! These kids find out that the Raider’s not a spy and they help him. In coordination with the kids, the Raider breaks up a smuggling ring that has been operating out of New Zealand.
So the Raider is kind of a good guy?
Yeah! Except in the end, he makes off with all the stolen whisky! (Laughter) Well, a good portion of it at least. He leaves a fair amount behind.
Was the Raider of the South Seas filmed on location in New Zealand?
Yeah, but a lot of it was shot on the sea. We filmed it during January, February and March 1990. And that was a paradise!
You look like you’re having lots of fun playing Turner Edison in Maniac Mansion.
The best Turner is the best character that I have ever had!
What kinds of characters do you like to play the most?
Well, the role I have now! (Laughter) Turner is now my favorite role. Now, I’ve played a lot of bad guys in the past. I used to enjoy playing the bad guy, because they were even more interesting. By being the bad guy, I got to do more interesting stuff, like playing with toys, driving vehicles and riding bikes. But now, I’d really like to play characters that have more depth. Because most of those bad guys were so one-dimensional, it was hard to give them any kind of perspective. So now, I’d really like to play guys that have some social redeeming value! (Laughter) Turner is my biggest challenge. Part of playing him comes from my physical attributes, but he’s the most challenging acting role that I’ve had so far. He definitely the most far-fetched character that I ever thought I’d ever be playing! (Laughter)
Is it hard to play a four-year-old?
Well, not now… because one you get it down, it’s the same as any other role. I mean, once you find your character, it’s no longer as big of a poser as when you’re trying to look for him. When I did the research part of it, I went into day care and talked to a lot of little kids. And by just kind of hanging out with these kids, I got to see how they looked at the world. Now the challenge is to take Turner in all the different directions that any kid would go through in their natural course of growing up. And of course, the older the kid is that you’re playing, the more, in your own memory you can draw on (because human memory starts, I guess, at age three – from where vivid memories are able to be recalled). So, the closer you get to your true age, the easier it is to pull things out. I can remember a lot from being five than I can, say from being three. So you can draw upon all that stuff.
Are some of Turner’s scenes improvised, or is it all pretty much scripted?
It’s all pretty much scripted, but there’s a lot of leeway for our own input. If you get a brilliant idea, there’s nothing stopping you from using it – ever!
Is it difficult to maintain Turner’s voice for long periods of time?
It was in the beginning, but then it got easy. If you know how to use your voice (and I’ve done a lot of different voice work), then you’ll know how to do different vocal things without hurting it. So I don’t find it difficult to do anymore. I noticed that in the very first few episodes, I was speaking a bit lower than I was in the later ones. I mean, it was just a note or two lower, but as I eased into doing it, I could hit higher and higher pitches with it. So it’s actually gotten easier! What’s hard, is not lapsing into it from time to time… in real life. I always have to be careful of that, because now everybody tries to catch me… to see if I do it! (Laughter)
Have you worked with Joe Flaherty, or any of your other Maniac Mansion co-stars before?
Yeah, I did some guest spots on SCTV and that’s where I met some of them. I’ve also worked with Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Martin Short and John Hemphill.
What was one of the characters that you played on SCTV?
Let me see…. One was a biker who was stopped at a shopping mall and was interviewed by John Hemphill. John was reading questions being fed to him by Joe Flaherty, who was on a television screen. John begins to ask me these questions and Joe Flaherty then proceeds to insult me from the television screen! (Laughter) So I take out vengeance on John Hemphill – who’s just holding the mike! (Laughter)
What kinds of things can we expect to see Turner do as he grows up on the series?
Well, first of all, we want to see him get to be five. We possibly might send him to school and have to deal with his being over-sized in public. He’ll have to face a few more of those kinds of problems. So we want to see him just basically try to be a nice, little kid amidst all this mayhem that’s going on around him. We have a lot of actor input in this series, which is great! It’s very much like Second City was – everybody contributing to the final product.
Is it sometime difficult to perform around the unseen people and objects that are later added through special effects in the series?
Not really, because as an actor, you’re always doing that sort of thing in film and television. When you’re talking to someone who is off-camera, you’re acting towards a point on the camera lens or a point on a screen. So even if the real actor is there, reading their lines, there will always be so many people in the crew, flags, lights and equipment in the way, that you might not even catch a glimpse of the person that you’re supposed to be talking to. So the effects scenes aren’t really a big problem, because they’re no different than acting to a particular point in a normal scene.
Does John Hemphill record all of his scenes as Harry the Fly entirely apart from the rest of the cast, or does he read his lines off camera?
I don’t want to give away any secrets, but John doesn’t do his lines off camera with us. The Continuity Supervisor Dug Rotstein [who directed the second season episode “Idella’s Breakdown”, which featured SCTV alumnus Andrea Martin and horror film director David Cronenberg (who directed the 1978 non-horror biographically-based racing film, Fast Company, which co-starred George Buza as bad guy henchman “Meatball”)] usually reads those.
The sets for the Edison home are really quite impressive. Is all of it shot in-studio?
The exterior is a real house. It’s in a place in Toronto called Hogs’ Hollow, where there are a lot of mansion-type homes. The outside of the mansion was only shot once, so it’s a stock shot. But everything else is shot in the studio. The main part of the house is permanent. The kitchen, dinning room, living room an the library are all one big unit. The lab, the chamber area the sandbox area with the barbecue (from “Hawaii Blues”) are also permanent. The bedrooms are all shot in a corner of the studio and they’re set up and taken down as the scenes require. The bedrooms are set up in the same area where the blue screen effects are done. The blue screen comes down on Friday, so that’s John Hemphill’s day to work as Harry, or whoever else has special effects shots to do.
George, what kind of advice would you give to someone aspiring to be an actor?
The first thing that I would tell them to do is develop a very realistic approach to their own ability and try to be as critical of themselves as they can. And then stick with it, because it does take staying power.
And it can take awhile too…
Yeah, that’s right, it can take awhile. Another thing that I would say would be that, if it hasn’t happened for them at all, that they have the wisdom (before it was too late) to find another avenue to appease their artistic appetites. I’ve seen cases where people are so preoccupied and obsessed with the idea of becoming an actor, that they ignore the real talent that they have (which may be in another area of the media). So what I mean by a realistic attitude is: if it isn’t happening for you, chances are that it won’t. And you should find something else to do instead. Otherwise, the only other advise that I could give is: if you;re not doing film or television, find something else to do – like theater. But always keep your finger in it. If you have to do amateur theater, then do amateur theater, but don’t give up!
George, if the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour were to return to television, would you like to play Chief Chirpa again?
Yeah, I would love to do Ewoks again! Ewoks had that old kind of quality that cartoons had when I used to watch them as a kid – they were sweet and moral and…
And they had heart!
Yeah, and they had heart! So, yeah, if Ewoks ever came back I’d jump at the chance to play Chirpa again!
The Dulok King Gorneesh in Ewoks (1985)
Speeder mechanic/adventurer Jord Dusat in the four-episode “Trigon-One” arc in Droids
The voices of Braveheart Lion, the evil Tyrano Leader Genghis Rex, the burly rock and roll drummer called Dizzy and the super-criminal of the future, Turbo Two-Tone are just a few of the many animated characters that have been granted the power of speech by actor/voice director Dan Hennessey. In addition to creating voices for animation, Dan has performed in both live-action film and television. His feature film credits include the drama The Blue Boy in Blue and the action-adventure Sudden Fury. Dan has also appeared in television episodes of Sidestreet, Coming Up Rosie, The Edison Twins, The Littlest Hobo, King of Kensington and the TV mini-series Echoes in the Darkness. The animated productions for which Dan has created numerous character voices for include Inspector Gadget, The Get Along Gang, The Care Bears, Popples, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, My Pet Monster, My Pet Monster, Dinosaucers, C.O.P.S. (Centralized Organization of Police Specialists), Police Academy, Babar, Beetlejuice, The Adventures of Super Mario Brothers 3, Hammerman, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures, The Adventures of Herges’ Tintin, The The New Super Mario World, Jim Henson’s Dog City and the X-Men, the Nelvana feature films Rock & Rule (once known under the working titles Drats and The Ring of Power), Care Bears the Movie, The Care Bears Movie II: A New Generation, Babar: The Movie and the Rosey and Buddy TV special. Dan has also directed the voice cast of the animated Care Bears and U.S. StarCom for DIC and Beetlejuice for Nelvana and the the animated series adaptation of the legendary Marvel Comics series, X-Men for FOX. Dan was the voice of the villainous Dulok King Gorneesh in the Ewoks and the heroic speeder mechanic Jord Dusat in Droids.
Dan, how did you originally become involved with acting?
Well, that started when I was going to the university in New Jersey. When I was an undergraduate, I did some acting, although I was not studying drama. When I got out of the university, I became a school teacher. After about a year of that, I called up an old friend of mine (who was a director at the university when I did some acting about a year after that, I called up an old friend of mine (who was a director at the university when I did some acting there) and he kind of got me a job in Summer stock. That kind of scratched my acting itch a little bit and I then continued to teach for another two years. When I moved to Canada, I changed my whole life around and became an actor. So I didn’t have much experience or any formal training, but I went out on auditions and I started to get jobs. Now, it’s some twenty-teo years [as of the early 1990s]…! My first kind of in-camera work was on an old TV series called Purple Playhouse that was on the CBC about twenty years ago [in the 1970s].
Weren’t you in a Canadian TV series called Coming Up Rosie?
Yeah, we did that show about fifteen years ago [circa the mid or late ’70s]. It was a live-action sit-com for kids and most of it was improvised. Let me tell you who was in the cast – it starred myself, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Dave Thomas and about six or seven other actors. We did that show for two or three years, then it just burned itself up and went its way. Danny went to New York [for Saturday Night Live], John went to California [for movies] and I later moved into voice work.
How did you begin doing voices for animation?
I did stage and film work in Toronto for about six or seven years before I decided that I was going to give the commercial world a shot. So I started to get into voices as sort of a side-line thing at first. I made a couple of demo tapes and then about twelve years later – that’s all I do! (Laughter) I don’t do anything but voice-overs for radio, TV and lots of cartoons. Cartoons are my absolute fave – always have been! I knew some actors (like John Candy) who were auditioning for Nelvana (which is the major animation company here in Canada [and the producers of Ewoks and Droids]). John was a friend of mine and I went with him on an audition one day. When we got there, I asked if I could audition too. I did and they called me back! It was all sort of began from there.
I started doing small projects for Nelvana and now, I’ve done about ten years [as of the early 1990s] of work for them. I was the voice of Braveheart Lion in The Care Bears cartoons. Where I really cut my teeth with them was the [first] 65 episodes of Inspector Gadget that we did! That was just a gas! I was Gadget’s boss, Chief Quimby. He would always say [Dan speaking in Quimby’s voice], “Here’s your assignment Gadget!” Then I was always getting blown up afterwards! (Laughter) I did Quimby in every episode, but I would also do about four or five other characters as well. I was doing all sorts of things, you know? It really tested my my flexibility. In one episode, I would be a Swiss mountaineer, a karate guy and a bull! I really enjoyed doing those! It’s always a test, when you don’t know what you’re going to be doing when you walk into a recording session and someone plunks a picture down and you then have to come up with a voice for that character. It’s just my favorite area of work, what can I say? And besides, cartoons are just such a gas! I’ve loved them all my life!
What were some of the most difficult or strange character voices that you’re done for animation?
Genghis Rex in Dinosaucers was probably intense voice that I’ve ever done. I would always do about a half-hour of warm-ups before attempting to do that voice, because it was all deep, powerful projection. This was the voice of a tyranosaurus rex! After a day of doing that, I would end up at home with a glass of whiskey in my hand for my poor vocal cords! (Laughter) I thought that I had blown them real good! (Laughter) So I treated them really well for that run of shows. Another one was the voice that I did for the Popples – that was the weirdest voice that I’ve ever done! Because [recreating the voice of the Popples character] – “It was one of those really little, compressed voices” – that you do right at the top of your throat. I rarely get to do that style of thing, because they always want me to do the monsters and the big, scary characters. I still have that stage projection in my voice, so they want me to do the big, screamy guys all the time. And I like it! I usually like being the villains better than being the good guys. Villains are more interesting.
Dan, you were the voice of several characters for the Ewoks and Droids. In Ewoks, you were played the Dulok King Gorneesh – the arch nemesis of the Ewok Chief Chirpa (which was the voice of George Buza).
Yes, I also did other incidental voices whenever necessary, but I was principally Gorneesh. George Buza is actually an old friend of mine. And on Ewoks, we played enemies! Yeah, perfect! (Laughter) I was also the voice of… what was the name of my running character in Droids? He was that speeder mechanic – the big, tall one with the round head! (Laughter)
Jord Dusat in the “Trigon-One” episodes (Droids episodes #1-4, the first story-arc in the series).
Yeah, that’s him! I get a lot of those round-headed guys! (Laughter) Dizzy, my character in Rock & Rule, was a very round-headed, jovial sort. He spoke with a lighter voice – what I fancy to call my “youthful range.”. I worked with Anthony Daniels [C-3PO] on a number of episodes of Droids. He recorded with us here, in Toronto, at an extremely funky, old studio called Mars. It was at the top of an old warehouse – a leaky place with banging radiators in it! (Laughter) Nelvana now primarily records at Sounds Interchange, which is one of the finest recording studios in Canada. Sounds is growing by leaps and bounds. They’re always updating and expanding with all the best recording equipment.
Of all the animated characters that you’ve done so far ([as of the early 1990s], which ones stand out as your favorites?
Probably Braveheart Lion (from the Care Bears), because so many children know who Braveheart is. There is a young man in the town where I live – he doesn’t even know my real name, he just calls me Braveheart! That’s great, isn’t it? That’s kind of magical, you know? Turning a child on to laughter and having a great time is just a real kick! I did a lot of children’s theater when I first came to Toronto. I then went on to stage, television, film and commercials. By doing cartoons, I’ve sort of come back to doing exactly what I started out doing – entertaining kids. I just dig it! I also loved doing the Droids episodes where I was the speeder mechanic [Jord Dusat]. That was pretty much just my own voice. It’s not too often that you get to be yourself instead of being a big monster or something like that. I was Beaster in My Pet Monster. Beaster was a big, google-eyed creature! I enjoyed that one a lot too. I really liked being a wacked out monster! It’s a very liberating experience (laughter) to go into a recording studio and scream, hoop and holler for a couple of hours! (Laughter)
What special qualities are needed to do voice work for animation?
It’s a very specialized area of performing that requires a great imagination and a willingness to make a fool out of yourself. You have to be willing to go for laughs and you have to have a really broad range. That’s what makes this stuff work, you’re basically bringing these little pictures to life. You’re giving people a sound to remember!
In addition to being the voice of several animated characters, you’ve also directed the voice cast of a few animated series.
I directed thirteen episodes of the Care Bears when DIC was handling it. I’ve also directed thirteen episodes of another series for DIC called U.S.Starcom. I directed the new season of Beetlejuice for Nelvana. Because Nelvana is expanding so rapidly and being involved in an enormous amount of productions, I’m the first voice director that they’ve hired outside of their corporation. So for the new season of Beetljuice, they went outside the company and solicited recommendations from sound engineers, actors and various other people. I was sort of at the top of the list there and I got the gig! It was wonderful! The phone rang one day and they offered it to me. And I said, “Yes!” (laughter), rather too quickly perhaps, but I said “yes” and I’m having fun doing it! I also do two or three characters as well as directing the cast. I just couldn’t ask for a better job at this point! I’m loving every moment of it!
The actor who plays Beetlejuice is a guy named Stephen Ouimette [who Dan would later direct in X-Men, where Ouimette was the voice of Warren Worthington III AKA the X-Man Angel and later, after surviving arch-villain Apocalypse’s machinations, became known as Archangel]. He’s a Toronto stage actor and he just does a bang-on, perfect Michael Keaton [who played Beetlejuice in the live-action film]! If you put the two of them in a recording room together, it would be hard to differentiate between the two of them. He’s really fantastic! What a great job! He really brings old Beetlejuice to life! You rarely have to direct him at all, he just adds all the color and flavor of the character himself. It’s just a marvelous! We have a really great cast!
Now [in the early 1990s] I’m involved with the X-Men series on FOX. I’m directing the voice cast as well as doing a few of the character voices.
Dan, would you like to reprise the character voices that you did for the Ewoks and Droids Adventure Hour, should the series return with new episodes?
Oh sure! Absolutely! Absolutely and I really wish that they would produce more of them!