Interview with Michael-Leon Wooley

Michael-Leon Wooley is know best for his role as Louis the Alligator from Disney’s “The Princess and The Frog”.  Michael-Leon is also known for his various commercial voice-overs ranging from Radio Shack to Subway and Broadway roles and other stage productions.  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Michael-Leon on what it was like playing Louis and found out what else he is up to.

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Mike Gencarelli: Your character Louis steals the show in “The Princess and the Frog”, tell us about playing him?
Michael-Leon Wooley: It took a long time to find out who Louis was going to be. At first he was like a germaphobe, but he lived in the swamp. He was also really Cajun like the firefly, Ray. But they axed that idea, probably because my Cajun accent isn’t as good as Jim Cummings. Essentially, he is crazy, fun and just a big kid. He is the most fun I have ever had in a recording studio ever! I loved playing Louis the Alligator.

MG: Do you actually play the trumpet?
MLW: I am not playing it in the movie. It is a guy named Terence Blanchard. He is a great trumpet player from New Orleans. I am doing all the singing though.

MG: How did you get involved with the movie?
MLW: Well it started really crazy. I got a phone call like a few years ago from Jen Rudin, who was casting for Disney. She used to cast for theatre on Broadway. She called me and asked me to record myself saying a few lines and singing a song. I got a couple of friends and we setup a camera, one of them played the piano and I sang a song. I’ll never forget the song, it was “Frim Fram Sauce” a very funny Nat King Cole song. I also had about four or five pages of dialogue they sent me to read. So I recorded it and sent it off.  I didn’t hear anything for months. Shortly after rumors were spreading online that John Goodman was voicing Louis the Alligator. So I said “I guess that’s over” but obviously the rumors were wrong. John Goodman was playing ‘Big Daddy’ La Bouff. In September that year, I got the call from Disney saying they wanted to fly me out for some tests. After a couple of tests, I got the call saying that I am Louis the Alligator. That was a pretty good day…I must say. As a voice over guy, I do voice overs for a living. But to be a Disney character, that is like the brass ring. It doesn’t get better.

MG: How was it working with Disney?
MLW: I have been at recording studios a lot. But I feel that after doing Louis at Disney’s original sound stage and working with Doc (Kane), Ron and John and the rest of the creative team, it was kind of like graduate school for voice over. I walked away from there with a lot of tools I did not have before. Not a bad thing to say. It was great, such a great experience.

MG: Did you get to work with the other cast in the recording studio?
MLW: It was all done separately. Usually we have people standing in though reading the lines. Expect for the songs, Anika (Noni Rose), Bruno (Campos) and myself were all together in the studio for that. It was a lot of fun.

MG: Any cool stories from the recording studio?
MLW: There was a scene that was cut where Louis gets caught in the wheel of a riverboat. I had to make the sounds of him going up and down and through the water, the whole time while screaming. I had like two huge bottles of water and I was like pouring them all over myself, while screaming. There was water all over the studio and the microphone but it was the best working day of my life.

MG: Did you have any footage to refer to during your sessions?
MLW: There was some footage. But a few months before the film came out I had to do some ADR in which I had to match some changes to the already finished product. It was me in a big studio watching Louis and matching the lines. The first time they put me up for testing it was so exciting! I get there and they have like a wall of like twenty images of alligators and showing me the process through to the final design for Louis. By far the best moment was my second session in the studio though. Before we started, Ron and Jon asked me if I wanted to see some footage of me doing Louis to some pencil sketches. I was like [screaming] “YES!!”. It was only about seven seconds. Eric Golberg, Louis’ animator, he had drawn this using pencils during my session. For me it was life changing. At that moment there, I realized I was the voice of a Disney character.

MG: You also lend your voice to the popular TV series “Ugly Americans”, do you enjoy working on that show?
MLW: Yeah, that is a lot of fun. Right now we are in the middle of recording our second season. I just recorded a draft of a script over the weekend. When I get sent scripts for this show, I never know what to expect. It is usually completing out there. If you have ever seen the ‘man-birds’ episode, even though I recorded it, when I watched it I was slack-jawed and laughing hysterically. It is cutting edge and exciting.

MG: How did you become involved with “Ugly Americans”?
MLW: I was working on a project with Matt (Stone) and Trey (Parker) from “South Park”. I did a reading for their Broadway show, “The Book of Mormon”. During that somebody from Comedy Central saw me at the reading and that was that. So I actually have to thank Matt and Trey for that.

MG: Do you prefer working on the stage or on film?
MLW: Like everyone else I am trying to work less and make more money [laughs]. I think that is the goal in life. I think I would like to focus on film right now. I love Broadway and I have done like five or six shows. But Broadway is really hard. It is six shows a week and the roles are usually very demanding. It takes a toll on the body to be screaming and dancing eight times a week for up to a year or how ever long it goes for. But it is great and exciting much more than TV or film. As it looks now, I will probably be back on Broadway come this Fall. So you never know.

MG: What is next for you? Any upcoming features or stage productions?
MLW: I just finished on a movie called “Premium Rush”, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and it comes out January 2012. It is an adventure movie. Besides that I got “Ugly Americans”. I am also being called in to do some writing for the show “Jump for Joy” which will be opening in the City Center this November. I am constantly on call for various advertising agencies, ranging from Radio Shack to Subway. So it is all good.

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