Larry Kenney is known best for his role voicing Lion-O in the original “Thundercats” series. Larry is also the voice of Count Chocula and Sonny, the Coco Puffs bird. Larry is returing to “Thundercats” on July 29th for its reboot playing the character King Claudus, Lion-O’s father. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Larry about his voice work and what we can expect from the new “Thundercats” series.
Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with “Thundercats?”
Larry Kenney: Well, I’m a voice over actor and, like every other job you get in this business, you get a call from your agent. I got a call from mine back in 1983. He told me that, “tomorrow, at such and such a time you’ll go to such and such address and ask for this person.” It was for a new cartoon series called “Thundercats” and I went in to audition. When I got there all of the walls in the studio were covered with pictures of the characters. They handed me a synopsis of what the series was about and also a brief synopsis of each character. They said to pick a few characters you’d like to read for. So I picked Lion-O and I also picked Jackalman and a couple others. In voice acting it’s first come, first served so I waited until they called me in. When they did they asked me what I thought Lion-O might sound like. They gave me a little information…what his characteristics were. And then you do what you do. Whether it’s for a cartoon series or for Dawn detergent. You do the audition and you leave. When you’ve been doing this as long as I have you don’t sit around the house thinking, “gee, I hope I get it…I hope I get it.” But you DO hope you get it. (laughs) And then you either get a call from your agent in the next couple of days saying “you booked it” or you never get a call. Fortunately I got the call. And a couple of months later we started recording.
MG: How was it working for the legendary Rankin/Bass team?
LK: That was the first thing that struck me. I didn’t know it was for Rankin/Bass until I got to the audition and saw the Rankin/Bass logo on the script. I’m 63 years old and I grew up watching “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” with Burl Ives and Fred Astaire in “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Frosty the Snowman.” They were classics. At the time there were no animated shows being done in New York City. Everything was being done out in California because of Disney and Warner Brothers. In fact another one of my first thoughts was “wow, why are they doing it in New York?” Then when I got the job I was glad they were doing it in New York. (laughs)
MG: What is your inspiration in creating the different characters?
LK: Well, they wanted Lion-O to not be so “charactery.” But they always wanted them to have a hint of animal (he speaks in Lion-O’s raspy voice)…of course he doesn’t sound like a lion. My first thought…he was young when he started. He was naive’ and kind of cocky. So I went with a lot of vulnerability with him, but still authoritative. I didn’t want him to come off like he knew everything, though he thought he did. I mean the voice is really the same voice I’m using to talk with you. Of course it’s a little more dramatic because it’s a television show. But if I was just sitting here talking to you I’d say, “the sword of Omens come into my hand…I, Lion-O, command it.” But on tv it’s (much more dramatic) “Sword of Omens…come into my hand! I, Lion-O, command it!” Interestingly enough I’m playing Lion-O’s father in the new series.
MG: Was it a thrill returning to the series?
LK: Being on an animated series is a great thrill for an actor. You’re playing fantasy figures. And every actor wants to play a villain. Every screen actor wants to be in “Batman” and play the Joker. It gives you the chance to really stretch…to be wild and crazy with the character. First of all just doing an animated series is a lot of fun. But what made it even greater is that it’s”Thundercats”…it’s SilverHawks and TigerSharks and Karate Kat. And it’s the same cast…all the people I worked with. We became a real close family over the years we worked together on the different series and they were a blast to work with.
MG: “Thundercats” ran for 130 episodes. How did you manage to keep the characters fresh?
LK: It was easy for the actors because we only worked two days a month, two shows each time we worked. We’d work a Thursday and a Friday in the middle of each month. We’d only do four shows a month. Now when the show was first sold we worked five days a week. But once the show was on the air…after the first thirteen or twenty episodes, we actually had to take a break to allow the writers to come up with the scripts. Because they sure hadn’t written 130 episodes at the beginning, only the initial thirteen or twenty six. Once they sold those shows and we knew they wanted more..they needed the time to write the scripts.
MG: You’re also the voice of Count Chocula and Sonny, the Coco Puffs bird. How did those roles come about?
LK: The exact same way. I’ve been doing both of them for over 40 years. Both of them have been long standing characters. I grew up myself watching CoCo Puffs commercials. It was exciting getting those jobs because they were something I watched when I was growing up. In those two cases, though, they had established voices and they told each actor that they wanted us to come as close to the original voice as possible, because the kids were used to them.
MG: What are your feelings on the possible new live action “Thundercats?”
LK: Warner Brothers had announced a few years ago that they were going to do a movie. Live with CGI. They hired a director and screenwriter, but they later decided to do another series. Who knows, if the series if a hit, and I think it will be, they’ll do a movie too!