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Nancy Cartwright Chats with Candi Milo

In this edition of her bimonthly column, Nancy Cartwright interviews super-hot VO actor Candi Milo.

Nancy Cartwright.

Dear Fans,

For the past several months, I have been branching out and asking my industry friends to give me their insider takes. I have been focusing on subjects that professionals need to have some knowledge of, and have been getting opinions from a wide range of specialties and hats in the business.

Twice Annie Award-nominated Candi Milo is just about the hottest female voice talent in Hollywood, with 20 shows either on air or in development. Some of her well-known roles include Madame Foster, Cheese and Coco in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends; Maya and Tito in Maya & Miguel; Gabby and Melba on Pet Alien; and the title character in the American series version of Astro Boy. Feature roles include twelve characters' voices in Ralph Bakshi's 1992 Cool World.

Nancy Cartwright: You began your career as a singer. Tell me about your early years as a "young professional."

Candy Milo: I began as a singer when I was three. There's a story: My mom says that my dad was performing in San Francisco at Turk Murphy's in 1964 and went to introduce his family from the stage. When he got to me, I was gone. I was behind him. I had walked up through the audience and into the wings, and a stagehand let me walk onto the stage. I assumed he was introducing me for my big number and told him so. Apparently, that brought down the house, as did our duet Me and My Shadow. From there, starting as young as 11, I did lead roles in children's musical theater, always trying to find an outlet for a burning desire to be on stage in San Jose, CA. When they opened Great America, a theme park, I was right there in line, ready to sing my heart out. I was their youngest performer ever hired and performed six live shows a day, six days a week. Unbelievable training. Same thing with Disney Florida, where I began as an All-American College Player. My roommate was actress Vicky Lewis. Again, unbelievable training. Zero income! Hah!

From there I moved rapidly forward in singing: Princess Cruises (again youngest performer ever hired); first national tour of Tony Award-winning musical Dreamgirls with Jennifer Holiday and directed by Michael Bennett; a recording deal with Jimmie J.J. Walker; several musicals in LA -- including the backers' performance of To Sir With Love starring Stephanie Mills and directed by the legendary Ken Page.

The whole business changed with the onset of MTV and Madonna. The only gigs open to "big-voiced singers" were as backups on tour, and I just wasn't the nomadic type -- okay, and I can't sing harmony. So I moved into TV and film and then stand-up and the commercials.

Candi Milo.

NC: I checked your listing in and was so amazed that you have created more than 200 cartoon characters! What is your technique for creating so many vastly different characters? Do you base them on friends? Family? The quirky neighbors who live down the street?

CM: When I see the artist's rendering of any character, it speaks to me and tells me what it should sound like. And because no two drawings are ever alike, no two of my characters are ever alike. I pride myself on creating a full life for each person I voice. And yes... as a matter of fact, many of the zanies I do are based on people I have had the honor of knowing. You know that my parents ran one of California's first board and care homes for the mentally and emotionally challenged -- and many of those people are still with me today! I think this is why I grin when a director says, "Uh, Candi? Can you make him/her a little less cartoon-y? A little more real?" Everyone I do is real. My reality is just a tad different than theirs! Ha ha!

NC: Who gave you your "big break" in the voice-over industry?

CM: Steven Spielberg gave me my first big break. The story is -- yes, another one -- I didn't want to audition for Tiny Toon Adventures. I didn't want to do voices. I wanted to sing. So when William Morris spotted me at a nightclub doing my act in 1985 (singing and stand-up) and said they wanted to represent me -- I thought, "Woo Hoo! I have arrived! When do we record the album?!" When I looked at the business card and it said "Voiceover Department" I tossed it out and laid on the floor of my apartment in the crucifix position crying for three days. Needless to say, I got over it. In 1988 I went to the Tiny Toons audition. Read a children's fable, The Three Little Pigs, but made the wolf kosher and the three pigs suicidal, and booked the job.

When I left the booth, I spotted Steven Spielberg in the back of the control room. He came out and kissed my hand and told me I was born for cartoons. I decided to take it as a compliment!

I originally booked three lead characters on the show -- a bird, a duck and a skunk -- but ended up just voicing the bird, Sweetie. I had a ball. And the recording sessions proved Mr. Spielberg correct, I was born to be in that room. Loved it. It was like singing, mixing voice work and comedy and acting.

Milo's voice-over heroes, Frank Welker and June Foray.

NC: Who are your VO "heroes"?

CM: My voice-over heroes are Frank Welker and June Foray. These two giants in our field made it possible for the craft to become an art and for the talent to be recognized as [artists].

NC: What is the greatest challenge regarding your work?

CM: I think the greatest challenge in my work is staying in the moment and creating on the spot, for any particular character and show. By that I mean, remembering that the voice belongs to a fully fleshed-out person I created and making acting and vocal choices based on the parameters I created.

NC: The animation industry has a reputation for being a very tight-knit group, from writers to animators to voices. What does it take to be successful in this part of the business?

CM: Our section of the industry is very small and the key to being able to function in this wading pool is to maintain a healthy respect for each other and have boundaries. To become successful in this microcosm takes not only incredible restraint and dedication to craft, but remembering that you are in the room at the pleasure and discretion of the producer and you must play well in the proverbial sandbox. My mother used to say, "Candi, go out and have fun, but be home early. Nothing good happens after midnight." I twist that, "Go out and have fun, but when you're done, go home. Nothing good is said after the job is done."

NC: We have had the pleasure of working on The Replacements, Kim Possible, Rugrats, All Grown Up, Chalk Zone, and Problem Child back in 1993. What was the most challenging job you ever had?

Milo's most challenging job was voicing Astro Boy in the revival of the iconic series. But it hurt when she was not allowed to audition for the title role in the upcoming feature film.

CM: When I looked at all the jobs you and I have had the pleasure of doing together I grinned -- who and what can't we be, girl? What a pleasure it has been! I think the most challenging job I have done was voicing Astro Boy on the revival of the iconic series. Astro Boy is the Mickey Mouse of Japan and it was an unbelievable honor to be chosen to voice this. The tough part was, because Sony did it in cooperation with Japan, the Japanese actress and I laid voices to picture simultaneously -- 65 episodes of ADR. Yikes! It was very hard to create character, place emotion and character arc within the confines of anime expressions; arched eyebrows, thin line mouth, oval line mouth. Another tough aspect of this particular job was not being allowed to audition for the role I created for the Sony feature film. It actually hurt. The wave of star-stunt casting is really prevalent in animated movies and, I have to say, not really successful. If you look at the success of movies like The Simpsons and Jimmy Neutron that used voice actors and original talent compared to mega-stars doing animation? Well I hope the pendulum swings back.

NC: What advice would you give some "young pup" who is interested in doing voice-over work today?

CM: My advice to any young actor interested in this area of insanity is to resist "doing voices." Be an actor first and foremost. Find the rhythm of a character. Understand his/her/its position in the script. Know the reasons for each line. Beware of the deadly ad lib -- enhance, [don't] add -- save the jokes for your folks. Study. Be disciplined. Enough schoolmarm-isms! Follow your dreams, because no one, in the twilight of their life, has ever regretted doing that.

NC: What is your proudest artistic achievement?

CM: My proudest artistic achievement, besides my daughter Gabriela, is the completion of my first novel Surviving The Odd: The Fine Line Between Barbie Dolls and Lithium. I did this while working full time, and as a single parent, and backwards and in high heels! Ha ha! It is an homage to my life thus far and to those who have enriched it.

NC: Is there anything about the voice-over industry that you would like to share?

CM: I love to work in voice-over because it is where I am truly free as an artist to use my voice to be seen. I can become anyone or anything convincingly, despite any outer packaging. I feel limitless when I am voice acting. I am delighted to be a part of the "party" because I truly believe that the only thing that can stop a voice actor from doing whatever they want is their belief in their own creativity -- so step aside and get out of your way.

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.