There's been a lot of talk about the number of celebrity voices that are entering animation voiceover work. Disney's Hercules is the record holder for the largest single-season voice cast in the history of TV animation weighing in at a hefty 166 entertainers. Why do these big time actors of television and major motion picture fame consider animation a new and unique challenge? Why do they jump at the chance to get in the animation act? Let's hear from Kathie Lee Gifford, Jon Favreau, Diedrich Bader, French Stewart, Linda Hamilton and James Woods, who reveal that animation really is a whole new world that stretches their abilities and proves to be a work out. Moreover, as James Woods discloses, it is hard to say no to an 8 year-old nephew...even if you do play Hades.
Kathie Lee Gifford (Regis & Kathie Lee), who plays Echidna, the "mother of all monsters." "You know, becoming a talk show hostess was the last thing on my agenda. I started out as an actress and a singer and a comedienne. To me, the talk show was like a side line. I mean, talking, shoot, I can wake up and do that. That's like breathing. Performing is hard. Singing is a tremendous discipline. And acting is a craft."
Jon Favreau (Swingers, Friends), who plays Jealousy, one of the "miseries," a green monster that grows to huge proportions by feeding off the jealous emotions around him. "There's nothing like doing an animated voice because it's one of the few things where the actor sort of comes first, and then everything is built around you and your voice. There's a lot of freedom in the performance -- even more so than in a film, because you're only using your voice to get the message across. On film, you're sometimes confined by the camera. In voiceovers, it's about imagination and expression. Quite often, that freedom provides even greater inspiration for the artist. And it's really fun to see their impression of what you've done."/p>
Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show), who plays Adonis, the Big Man on Campus. "Doing voiceovers is extremely fun because you're actually inside the actor's brain. I mean, you're in this dark little room, you're only speaking into a microphone, there's no cameras or anything, and you can play anyone you want. Voiceovers allow you to play a lot of characters that you otherwise wouldn't get the chance to play in Hollywood. You can be anybody -- young, old, whatever. You can be Adonis, for God's sake!"
French Stewart (3rd Rock from the Sun), who plays Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun (and the burn went deeper than simply scorching his hair. It fried his brains in this Disney version). "I'm not the most subtle actor on the planet. And these voiceover sessions are like offering me license to kill. Once I get started, I try and hone things down a little bit, but I always end up blowing the top of my head off. I feel sorry for the sound engineers -- I can see them pulling their headphones off when I go off the charts."
Linda Hamilton (Terminator I & II), who plays Nemesis, Goddess of Vengeance. "This is a very attractive medium for a number of reasons. First, it's a total discipline to work with your voice as a separate instrument, and to try to direct all of your acting through there. I just love the sense of play and imagination that comes with voiceovers. Plus, I have kids, and you want to play roles that will not only reach your kids, but that you can sit down and watch with them. "This form of creating a character is backwards from what I'm used to, in that they start with the script and your voice, and then create around that. So it's very different for me, and yet it's a very powerful way to start something, to feel as though you are the total origin of it. I don't mean that as an ego thing, but that it's wonderful the way they match a character to your voice. It's a very different way of acting. "This role appealed to me because it was a new way of working, and I'm always looking for something that challenges me. It's a great arena in which to get just broad, get really loud and crazy, and be much braver than you usually get to be on screen."
James Woods (The General's Daughter, True Believer), who plays Hades. On Jamie Thomason: "Jamie is fabulous -- he really keeps the creative juices flowing. He lets you be a little silly and improvise out there, but he's also able to keep you focused on the idea. He's one of the best directors I've worked with in terms of making an adjustment to a scene. He doesn't just stick to the script -- he'll give you the idea behind the line. I mean, he does his homework. I've worked with some great feature directors, but he's as good as any of them. He's a terrific director." On being Hades: "I get my motivation for doing the part of Hades in the Hercules television series primarily because I have two nieces and a nephew who said if I didn't do it, I would never be welcome at Thanksgiving dinner again. They said, `Uncle Jimmy, you are so cool in Hercules. You're going to do the series, right?' I said, `Well, you know, the series is 65 episodes and it takes all this time and I did put two years into the film, and there are other things I've got to do...' And they said, `Uncle Jimmy, we told all of our friends at school -- you are doing the series!' You know, my nephew is eight years old. There's no negotiating with him. "To be a Disney villain is to join a pantheon of characters, some of which have the most impact in American cinema. I mean, when you think about it -- Cruella DeVille, Captain Hook, et. al. -- these are great characters and I thought Hades was destined to be a really memorable one. "Kids are very sophisticated these days, far more than at any time in the past. The global village has gotten much smaller between all the cable channels and the internet; kids have access to the same media influences, whether they live in the city or out in a rural part of the country. So you can't play down to them -- they know everything, and children's television has to be intelligent or you lose them. It's that simple. That in itself has raised the bar for children's television, and I think you see that in these (Hercules) scripts.