Interview with Tom Kane

Tom Kane is well known for his voice over work for Yoda in Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”.  Tom also provides the voice of the narrator for the show, as well as numerous others.  Besides “Clone Wars”, Tom also has worked on shows like “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” and voicing Commissioner Gordon in upcoming video game “Batman: Arkham City” .  Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Tom about his voice work and working on “Clone Wars”.

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Mike Gencarelli: You are the go-to guy when it comes to voicing Yoda in pretty much anything “Star Wars”, how did that start?
Tom Kane: Well, I started doing voice over work for LucasArts in there game division from the very beginning. I think I was on the very first game LucasArts made and it was not a “Star Wars” game and it was called “The Dig”. That was back… well… in the dawn of time. Like most voice over people, we are always trying to do other voices and show off. They knew I could do a lot of voices and that I could mimic/match a lot of voices. So they started using me on some “Star Wars” games in the early 90’s. They were just like miscellaneous roles, like Tie Fighter Pilot #3 or something like that. One day there was a script that had some Yoda in it and I was just goofing around and didn’t even know the mic was on. What I didn’t know that Frank Oz was off directing, I believe it was “Three Men and a Baby” and he wasn’t available for the voice. The director had me record a few lines as Yoda and they played for George (Lucas). George said “Yeah, he is good use him” and that is all it took. As the years went by and Frank was less and less available since he became a successful director. They just started using me and more. It was until “Episode III” and George finally said “just use him”…so here I am.

MG: Did you ever collaborate with Frank Oz on doing the voice?
TK: No, I would love to meet him though. I have only seen him in person from a few feet away. I just didn’t have the guts to go up and talk to him. From what I understand, he is a very private guy and he is someone you just don’t see. He doesn’t come to the studios. He really doesn’t do voice over work at all as far as I know. So I have never really had the opportunity to come across him.

MG: What is your favorite part of voicing Yoda and narrating the show “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”?
TK: I am a fan first and a voice actor second, when it comes to “Star Wars”. The best lines that Yoda are the ones that refer back to the original movies. They usually work in those kind of lines as much as possible. That is the kind of stuff that is fun to do, since there certain phrases and inflections that are so iconic. When something like that comes around we make sure we do not miss that opportunity.

MG: What is your process when creating a voice for a character?
TK: It is different depending what the character is. If it is a new character that has never been voiced before you get to talk with director. They will hopefully have a sketch, so you can get an idea about the character. You would get measure its size and its demeanor. If it is grumpy looking thing, you can make him grumpy. If it is this cute teddy bear like an Ewok, you give it a different sound. So depends on if it is a new character, you are depending on input from other people. The director will have might have a different idea, the writer might have a different idea and you might have a different idea. You kind of all get together and throw some voices out there and at some point the director will go “Yeah yeah, it is more like that” and then you narrow it in. When you have something that is already established like Yoda or Darth Vadar, it is a completely different process. You job is to NOT put your own spin on it, it is to try and sound as true to the original as possible. You can do that to some degree though. Especially with Yoda, he says more in a season of “Clone Wars” then every said in all of the movies combined. So every episode that Yoda shows up in is new territory to some degree. You have to try and think, “how would have Frank had said this?” Sometimes we have some debate about this and we try and figure out how Yoda would say some particular lines. Dave (Filoni) and I almost always completely agree. We are such big fans and Yoda kind of lives in our brains. If there is a line the writers wrote for Yoda that doesn’t like sound it fits, Dave and I will spot it immediately. We usually come to agreement within four seconds as to what it should be like.

MG: Do you find it difficult or fun to play multiple character in a project?
TK: One you have done this for years, like we all have. It is very easy to shift. I will do the Yoda lines, then I will do the narrator lines and then a droid or something else. The only times when it gets really difficult is when you have a guy like Dee (Bradley Baker) and he voices the Clones. I mean I am always amazed at him. It is a whole different level of complication when you have conversations with yourself. He just doesn’t have conversations, sometimes he will have conversations among four of five Clones. He has to have them sound all somewhat the same because they are all Clones, but you have to give them all personality. That is very difficult to do, I haven’t had to do that fortunately.

MG: Do you get a lot of time to prepare for different roles?
TK: No, we really don’t get very much advance stuff. Partly because of security reasons. Lucasfilm has scripts waiting for the actors when they come in, but for my case they have to email them to me because I am in a different state. Even then they come with a password and quite often I won’t even get the full script…just my lines. They are very conscious of something in digital form getting out there in the wrong hands. Usually the actors in cartoon or game work do not get to see the scripts until we walk into the door. So the first thing we do it run through it and get a feeling for it. After a couple of takes of every line, it becomes something that we are familiar with.

MG: Is there character that stands out as the most difficult for you to voice?
TK: There have been a couple, not so much difficult but possible a little bit of trouble with the show, “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”. I did a character named Mr. Herriman, he is a big bunny rabbit. The director like a very specific sound and an element to his voice… [speaks jibberish as Mr. Herriman]. The problem was it issimilar in the way I produce to Admiral Yularen (from “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”). I would find myself drifting into Yularen basically. So the director would say “No, you are oozing somewhere else”, so I would just back up a line or two. So I guess a drift does occur from time to time.

MG: What else do you have planned upcoming?
TK: I can’t give away any plot points for “Clone Wars” of course. Everyone has been really excited though about the last few episodes and what’s upcoming. The show is getting a little more intense and packed with more action and that will be continuing. We are currently working on more episodes and I believe we are already on season four, I think. So they are not letting up the pace at all. Tomorrow in fact, I am actually recording the “LEGO Star Wars: The Clone Wars” movie. They are actually making a movie for based on the “LEGO Clone Wars”, so that is cool. Then later this month, I will be recording Commissioner Gordon for the new game, “Batman: Arkham City”. I am doing the voice over for the Academy Awards this year as well, so the day before that I am recording the “Batman” stuff.

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