Nancy Cartwright continues her revealing conversation with legendary casting director, voice director and voice actress Andrea Romano.
Andrea Romano has been a staple of TV animation since the '80s, working at Hanna-Barbera and then on the Smurfs, among others, before segueing into the '90s with Batman, Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Superman and more; and then, most recently, on Justice League, Teen Titans, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Superman/Doomsday, Batman: Gotham Knight, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight and Ben 10: Alien Force.
AR: I was at Hanna-Barbara for 5 ½ years approximately and that's where I met you, which is one of the joys of my life and I remember you telling me years and years ago, "Andrea, I don't know…You want me to do this boy voice and I don't know if I can do little boy voices. I always think of myself as the cute little-girl voice." And I said, "Nancy, I know you can do it." I remember it being like Popeye or something.
NC: Oh yeah! It was Woody in Popeye and Son!
AR: Oh good, you remember the character name and I remember going "Oh, Nancy! You can do this!" and you, of course, fell into it like nothing and then you career just went crazy after that! So wonderful to watch you grow.
NC: Well, you called me in for everything. You were very, very loyal.
AR: I always did, I could see it. I knew where you were going.
NC: It was a different time though wasn't it?
AR: It was a different time. There were only a handful of people doing this work. It was a simpler time in many ways and yet, it was more complex when we think about our technology now and how easy it is…we go to an ADR cue that's at time code 10 minutes thirteen seconds 15 frames-- we go right to it. Back then we would have to roll through the reel all the way to get to that so there are certain things that are easier now because of technology, but there is a simpler mentality about cartoons.
There were really no mean-spirited cartoons then and with the exception of the cartoons like the classic Warner Bros., Looney Tunes and Jay Ward cartoons they were mostly made for kids. There was not really much concern about broadcast standards because of trying to push the envelope. We were making children's shows -- Smurfs, you know.
So I was at Hanna-Barbara for 5 ½ years when Disney approached me and said we're going to create a division of Disney called Disney TV Animation and we are going to do a series called Duck Tales. We are going to audition five different directors (at this time I was just a casting director) and they asked if I would come in and audition by directing an episode. They were doing 65 episodes and that was a huge number -- usually things were ordered in 13 episodes.
It was also the time of merchandising when some of the cartoons were simply 22-minute commercials to sell the toys. So they were going to take the first five episodes and had five different directors before making a decision as to who was going to make the rest of the 60 episodes. I was apparently the 2nd director that came in to audition and after I finished they said they weren't even going to see the other three people. They wanted me.
NC: Wow! Very well done!
AR: I know! So, I managed this by staying on staff at Hanna-Barbara and one day a week I would go over to Disney and direct Duck Tales. That would never be allowed now because I was on staff at HB, not just doing freelance. I did 65 episodes of Duck Tales with the wonderful Russi Taylor and Allen Young, who is an angel, and Terry McGovern and all these wonderful actors that I got to work with -- it was just a joy. I continued doing a lot of work at HB and a lot of my friends who were execs at HB decided to split off and form Warner Bros. TV Animation. It was the thing of the day. Everyone was forming the major classic studios TV animation because it really didn't exist.
There was no way that I would move into directing there. So in order for me to direct full-time I was going to have to move on. I left HB and became a freelance director in 1989 and ever since then I haven't had a staff position anywhere but knock on wood (knocks) I have been working steady ever since.
The first series that we did for WB was a little thing called Steven Spielberg Presents Tiny Toon Adventures, which was a huge success and then we made Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain and then we started getting into the more action shows, like Batman.
I still do very cartoony shows: SpongeBob SquarePants, Ben Ten for Cartoon Network; Batman, The Brave and the Bold for WB. I do all the DC comics direct-to- home video, which includes Green Lantern, Justice League, Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman, and then several video games. On video games I only do special ones because video games tend to become recording 150 different "Oofs," 20 different strangulation sounds… they aren't challenging to me and they are tasking on an actor's voice, but every once in a while you get something like Blizzard. I do their Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, huge titles, very successful games with very theatrical scenes within the game so it's almost like directing a feature film cartoon.
NC: It's become that technical-- artistically technical.
AR: Absolutely, they are wonderful to look at, the music scores are scored by a full orchestra, they are stunning. So I do a couple of those, but not many of them as I said because I just don't have time. I literally am booked everyday of the week. But I love what I do so it's fine I just don't do much sleeping. I am in the recording studio from 9:00-6:00 almost every day and by 7:00 at night I am toast. My brain is gone. I have to get up at 4:00 a.m. to do my prep so I can be in the studio at 9:00 and start recording all day long. Fortunately, I have an assistant who helps me get the calls out during the day when I am in the recording studio because I can't be casting and calling agents when I am in the studio. I have to be focused on directing.
For the most part, I love working with voice over actors because they are not being judged by how they look, it doesn't matter if they are tall enough, blonde enough, young enough, pretty enough or thin enough. Either they can do the voice or they can't do the voice. So their ego's different than the on-camera actor ego. They're not as neurotic, they're not as possessive. They are more generous that way. I love actors, period. I love the creative input that they have and that's the thing about directing too. You prep a script, like what I talked about and you hear it in your head and how the script is going to run. But I have to be open-minded when I get into the recording studio because actors have ideas and you want to hear what they have. That's why you hire an actor instead of a technician to work for you. I don't want to just stand there and force an actor to do what I want them to do. I want them to have thoughts of their own. I want them to creatively come up with their ideas. Then I will check with my producer who is sitting behind me or my animation director and go "You know we didn't talk about doing it that way. Do you think that is an interesting way to do it? It's organic and it happened spontaneously on the spot with the actor. Can we adjust what we were planning to make that work?" And more often than not we will go with what the actor created. So that's my job: to make the actor feel comfortable, to let them feel creative. I bring you in so that collectively we make a project and that's the way you want it.
NC: I would like to know, just out of curiosity, what's your most challenging job as a director and what's one the funniest job you have had as a director?
AR: SpongeBob is very challenging because all the actors can't always be there at the same time. I'm one of those directors who really enjoy an ensemble record. I like to give the actor a chance to react to the guy before them. That's not to say that I am not very successful at getting the correct performance when I have to record actors individually. I like the energy of all the actors in the room. It's like when you do the table read, doing the rehearsal and the actors can cut up, play, ad-lib and do all that stuff. I like to bring that into the recording studio as well. However, you don't always get the chance to do that. SpongeBob, we have the wonderful Clancy Brown who plays Mr. Crabs, he works a lot theatrically. He's even right now in Texas for three months, so I have to record him separately from the cast and that creates a challenge.
NC: You know, I consider you a comrade, a comrade in this industry and we have known each other 27-28 years. If we weren't connected in the industry, I would have loved to have grown up and been your friend. Thanks so much for this.
Nancy Cartwright is best known as the voice of spiky-headed Bart Simpson on The Simpsons. She has voiced dozens of cartoon characters in a career that has spanned more than 20 years. Currently, she can be heard as the voice of Rufus the Naked Mole Rat on Disney's Kim Possible and Todd Daring in Disney's The Replacements. To learn more about Nancy's career, listen to her audio book My Life as a 10-Year-Old Boy