Coming to The Hub June 2, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters is an animated action-fantasy series that follows the adventures of a young hero, Ray, who possesses the rare ability to befriend and duel alongside fantastical creatures from a parallel dimension. Evil forces would have these creatures tamed and enslaved, so Ray and his two best friends must join the ranks of the mysterious Duel Masters to ensure the survival of both races before it’s too late.
Phil LaMarr, who plays Ray’s best friend, Gabe, is one of the most prolific voice actors around today, also appearing in Futurama, Young Justice, and Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but somehow he found time to talk to us about Kaijudo, comics, and playing the hero.
HeGeekSheGeek: Your new series on The Hub is Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters. Can you give us a rundown on the story and a little about your character, Gabe.
Phil LaMarr: Kaijudo is the story of a kid named Ray and his two friends, Gabe and Ally, and they discover this world, basically another dimension, and you can use these gauntlets to call creatures over from the other dimension and control them, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you discover as the series goes on. You figure out there’s so much of this world to discover.
Gabe is a high school buddy of Ray’s who is not cut out for adventures at all and is sort of drawn into this reluctantly just by virtue of being Ray’s friend and caring about him. Although Gabe, as it goes on, I think, will find that there’s a place for him in this world of madness and adventure that he’s very uncomfortable with. There’s things that play to his strengths as well.
He sounds a little bit different than the characters that you normally play in that he’s not the initial hero, but it sounds like he can develop into one.
Gabe is the geek. He’s frequently afraid of whatever it is he and Ray and Ally are dealing with and makes no bones about it. He’s socially awkward, you know. He’s got a good family…but that doesn’t help. He just doesn’t feel like he fits a lot of the time and I think that’s sort of what he and Ray have in common, initially.
Your animated characters tend to lean toward the heroic good guys, like Aquaman, Kit Fisto from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Green Lantern, Samurai Jack. Is that by choice or when people cast you, do they think you are a better hero than you are a bad guy?
I think it’s sort of happenstance, and I think a lot of it has to do with I’ve just been fortunate enough where many of the things where I’ve played a hero have been things that were really good and that people responded to. There have been plenty of shows where I’ve played minor characters and villains: Dracula on one show, a villain, Vamp, in the Metal Gear video game series. I play a variety of things but the hero shows have been ones where I guess I’ve done more of them. People remember them more.
You’ve done a lot of video game work, too, speaking of Vamp. How is that different from traditional cartoon voice acting?
It’s a lot longer! I mean, an episode of Kaijudo is probably 25 minutes, and we spend four hours doing the dialogue. And there’s the three of us who play the kids and, you know, usually five other actors in there at the same time. You do a video game for four hours, it’s just you doing all the lines and death screams. It’s hard, you know, if you’ve ever had to talk for four hours. Even without death screams, it can be pretty taxing!
You work with some of the greatest voice-over artists alive on Futurama: Billy West, John DiMaggio, Tress MacNeille. Are you guys usually in one room recording that or do you do your lines individually with that?
We record together. It’s actually great. I find that the shows that are writing-driven like Futurama and like Kaijudo, they tend to want to have the group together so you can hear how the dialogue sounds. And it’s great because sometimes I’ll see John DiMaggio one day for Futurama and then the next day he’ll be over doing his Kaijudo characters. It’s like “Oh, hey! Good to see you again!”
But it definitely helps us as actors because you have stuff that’s real story driven and has emotion to it. It’s so much easier when you can hear the lines you’re responding to. If I had to do the scenes with Ray and Ally by myself, it just wouldn’t have the same feel. They’re buddies. They’re friends. For me it helps to have Scott [Wolf] and Kari [Wahlgren] sitting there right next to me to make that feel good.
Has Scott Wolf done much voice-over work? Is he taking his cues from you? You’re helping him along and mentoring him?
Well, it’s funny because really, voice acting, people focus a lot on the voices, but it’s really about the acting. And Scott’s got acting experience like nobody’s business. No, I don’t think he’s taking any cues from me, certainly. We’re all just in there playing, you know, making our character choices and, like, relating to each other. Because that’s really what it is. I think, voice-wise, it’s just all of us reminding ourselves “Oh right! I’m 13! Take it up a notch!” But, yeah, Scott’s very comfortable in the studio. You know, there’s really no learning curve at all. I don’t want to short change it; not everybody can do on-camera and voice acting.
On a side track, you’ve been reading comic books for a while now, right?
Are you a DC or Marvel guy?
I’m traditionally a DC guy. I was a big Batman reader as a kid, and that’s where my habits tend.
What are you reading right now, when you have time?
Right now I’m reading Batgirl…Scott Snyder’s Batman. I’m reading Invincible Iron Man. I tend to go away from the “event” stuff. I, Vampire…American Vampire…Chew…Mark Waid’s Daredevil…. Yeah, so I’m not solely DC anymore. I bounce back and forth. I tend to follow the writers and artists to wherever they go. Oh, Walking Dead, of course! And Fables. Those are my two favorites.
Any comics that you’re like to see come to the small screen and do the voice-work for?
Sure! Any of those that I mentioned. The thing is, I love to work on stuff that is good, and all of those are great stories, you know, and I’d love to see them even if I couldn’t work on them. But you always have to be careful. Just because something is good in one medium, doesn’t mean automatically it’s going to be good in another.
And you’ve worked in just about every medium there is. You started off doing improv, then TV, moved on to film where you got shot in the face in Pulp Fiction, done voices for animation and video games, and have been on Broadway. If you could do one for the rest of your life, which would it be?
If I had to pick one? God, that’s tough because, the thing is, the movie stuff tends to pay best, but it’s also just you spend so much time sitting around doing nothing! Guess that’s what they’re paying you for. And the theater’s fantastic because you get automatic feedback from the audience. You know what, I probably would have to pick animation, because it’s got the best of all of those. You get to work with great people, for a short amount of time; you can do some stuff that’s as great as any movie or a stage show, and if it’s not as good as that, it’s only a half-hour so you haven’t wasted too much of your time, as opposed to spending six months doing a movie that sucked!
Check out a behind-the-scenes look at Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters below and then be sure to tune in to The Hub, Saturday, June 2 at 8 PM ET for the premiere episode!