Interview with Bret Iwan

MovieMikes has prided itself in speaking with some of the great voice talent behind many of Walt Disney’s beloved characters. From Winnie the Pooh to many of the classic Disney Princesses, our readers have asked and we’ve delivered. And if you’re talking about beloved Disney characters, there is none bigger or more known around the world then the one that started it all, Mickey Mouse.

Mickey Mouse has been voiced by four different men. Walt Disney himself provided the voice from the character’s introduction in 1928’s “Steamboat Willie” through 1947. He also provided Mickey’s voice during the 1955-59 series run of the original “Mickey Mouse Club.” Jimmy McDonald succeeded Disney and voiced the character until 1977 when he was replaced by Wayne Allwine. When Mr. Allwine passed away in 2009 he was replaced by Bret Iwan who, like Disney and McDonald before him, dreamed of being an animator long before he discovered his vocal talent. Born in September 1982, Iwan received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Ringling College or Art and Drawing in 2004. Shortly after graduation he sent off his portfolio, hoping for a job with the Walt Disney Company. While he was offered an internship at Walt Disney Imagineering he also received an offer of a full time position at Hallmark Cards. He took the Hallmark offer and soon found himself moving to Kansas City, coincidentally the city that stood home to Walt Disney’s first animation studio. As he approached his fifth year with Hallmark he learned from a friend that phone auditions were being accepted to voice Mickey Mouse. After several days of practice, Iwan called in, recorded his audition and waited for a phone call. Several weeks later, that call came and, after a few more auditions, Iwan was named the fourth official voice of Mickey Mouse.

While back in Kansas City to attend a fund raiser for the “Thank You, Walt Disney,” an organization created to help save the building that housed Disney’s original “Laugh O’ Gram” studios,” Iwan took some time out to talk with MovieMikes about his career and his unique opportunity.

Mike Smith: Since you used to live here I guess I can say “welcome back” to Kansas City.
Bret Iwan: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

MS: You studied to become an artist. What made you choose that path as a career?
BI: Early on what inspired me was watching the old classic Disney cartoons. My parents were always putting them on for me, everything from Mickey Mouse to Pinocchio. And while watching them they really caught my attention…how the drawings were coming to life. And so as early as I can remember I wanted to be an artist…more specifically I wanted to be an animator. So from grade school through high school through college that was my goal. That’s what I focused on. I didn’t quite make it there in the capacity I dreamed of but I did make it to Disney, which was a major part of that dream.

MS: How did it work at Hallmark? Would they give you the written copy for a card and ask you to design it?
BI: It worked a couple of different ways. That was one way. Other times the creator would have a specific card and a specific image in mind that they would come to us and ask us to create. And other times we would have an open brainstorm free for all! The illustrators would come up with concepts on their own or with concepts for whatever upcoming holiday they were working on at the time and then submit them to the designers for them to pick and choose from. So there never really was oneconsistent way of working. They always kept us on our toes. It was a lot of fun.

MS: What was the oddest or most memorable card you designed?
BI: It wasn’t one that I designed. I got to pose. I modeled for a card one time. I was holding two glasses of wine so it was just my hands. It was for Hallmarks’ “RED” card line (NOTE: the company’s RED card line was created to raise money. The proceeds from the cards were spent to combat AIDS in Africa.Mr. Iwan’s card caused some notoriety when a Delaware woman tried to have it pulled from shelves, claiming it promoted promiscuity). They went around the room and they chose me. I guess I had the nicest hands at the time. That was my one and only modeling job ever.

MS: What did your audition consist of to become the voice of Mickey Mouse? Did you have scenes to read, or did they just say “do Mickey happy…do Mickey sad?” Not that Mickey Mouse is ever sad.
BI: He could be. (laughs) The audition was basically a voice match. They provided an MP3 of clips from a couple of Walt’s cartoons and a couple of Wayne’s cartoons. And the audition was to do the best you could to match those voices. Walt’s clips included lines from “The Brave Little Tailor” and Wayne’s had clips from “The Three Musketeers” and also some stuff from the intro to the “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” that was currently on the air. So there was a great variety from where Walt had started and where Wayne had taken Mickey.

MS: Did you ever meet Wayne Allwine?
BI: No, sadly, I did not. When I auditioned they were looking for somebody to serve as an understudy for Wayne. So I auditioned thinking I was going to get to meet him and to learn from him. Get some good tips and techniques from him. Unfortunately that didn’t happen because in the midst of the process of finding an understudy he passed away. It was somewhat unexpected. I took over about twoweeks after he passed away.

MS: I know you’ve voiced Mickey on several video games. Is there any talk of bringing Mickey back in a full length feature film?
BI: I would love for that to happen. And I know a lot of the other voice cast members would as well. I haven’t heard anything official. I have heard from my fans on Twitter that there was an interview with one of the story men at the Walt Disney Studios where he mentioned that he had pitched a feature length 2-D animated movie featuring Mickey, Donald and Goofy. I don’t know what the future is for that but I would love for it to come to fruition so I’m keeping my fingers crossed because I think that would be great.

MS: In your short time doing this, what is the most unusual or strangest thing you’ve ever had to voice as Mickey Mouse?
BI: Hmmmmmm….well I don’t know if it’s the strangest but voicing for the “Epic Mickey” video game was interesting because there’s NO dialogue in the entire game. It’s all noises and reactions. So it was strange trying to communicate a plethora of emotions and actions just by little noises. That’s probably the oddest and most challenging that I can think of.

MS: Let’s say the proposed upcoming Mickey Mouse feature comes along and they’re going to do the animation the old fashioned way. If they offered you a job as an animator would you do it?
BI: I would love to. I would love that. That would be a complete dream come true. I’d have a lot to learn…I’m by no means an expert at animation. But with that being the driving force behind my initial dream I would love to be a part of that process.

For information on how you can get involved with the “Thank You Walt Disney” organization please click here.

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