Interview with Bob Bergen

Bob Bergen has been the voice of Porky Pig from “Looney Tunes”  for over 20 years.  He also has voiced numerous other character like Marvin the Martian and Tweety Bird.  He also done voice work for films like “Gremlins”, “Army of Darkness” and has worked with Disney and Pixar quite a bit.  In the world of anime he voices “Lupin” from “Lupin the Third” and characters from “Akira”.  Bob is currently voicing Porky Pig in the 2011 reboot of “The Looney Tunes Show”.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Bob about his his voice work and his long career with Porky Pig.

Mike Gencarelli: What was it like to follow Mel Blanc and step into the role of Porky Pig?
Bob Bergen: It was my goal since I was five years old to voice that one particular character. It’s funny, the day I got my first job….it was March 8, 1990…I remember the date because it was my birthday…I had just purchased a condo and my mom was house sitting waiting for a couch to be delivered because I was at an audition. And she happened to take the call from my agent…after a dozen or so auditions I had booked the job. And to be able to share that with my mom….I mean she’d put up with me since I was five doing Porky Pig everywhere I could…it was very surreal. I don’t think anybody gets into this business to play one character. I mean that’s stupid…the odds are against you. But this is what I wanted and I didn’t know NOT to want it. That night we went out to dinner and I had a huge wave of depression because I felt, “my God, I’m in my early 20s and I just booked my life-long goal…now what do I do?” It’s a roller coaster of emotions. And it’s also a huge responsibility. There will never be another Mel Blanc. I don’t think that anyone who does these characters today sounds like Mel. I do my best to keep the integrity of the original character. It’s a combination of a layer of emotions. But it’s also probably the most fun that anybody should be able to have.

MG: Which leads to my next question: why Porky Pig? What about that character stood out to you?
BB: That’s probably the most common question I’m asked. Why not Mickey Mouse? Why not Daffy Duck? The simple answer is because I could do him (Porky Pig). I found the formula in the writing. There’s a formula to Porky’s stutter in the writing that I discovered when I was about five. Even though my voice hadn’t changed and I didn’t sound like the character as a kid I’d figured out the heart and the personality of the character when I was a kid. And it was funny. While he’s stammering on one word he’s also fumbling for the next word. So it was the pure humor of the character that I was attracted to.

MG: You not only voiced Porky in the film “Space Jam,” but Marvin the Martian and Tweety Bird as well. Was it difficult for you voicing different characters?
BB: Not really…not really. A feature film takes several years to do while a half hour cartoon is a four hour session. So you’re in the studio one day doing four or five pages, then you’re back two months later doing four or five more pages. Then six months later you do twenty pages. It’s actually not that difficult of a job to do. The voice sessions for “Space Jam” were directed by Ivan Reitman, who produced the film. Jerry Rees and Steven Laiva, who were the animation producers and directors, were very good about saying, “here’s our script…what can you guys bring to it?” Fortunately, in the twenty one years doing these characters, I’ve never had a situation where they weren’t open to our creativity and ideas. I always follow the written word first but then it’s “what can you bring different to the scene?” For instance, there might be some lines where I’ll say, “I don’t think Porky would stutter like that…can I try it a different way,” and they’re always very open to it.

MG: You’ve been voicing Porky for the past two decades. Now that there is a new “Looney Tunes” show how do you feel the character has changed in those twenty years?
BB: It’s interesting…people will always ask me what the hardest thing is to do Porky Pig. Originally it was…everybody can say the classic phrases…”what’s up doc?,” “that’s all folks,” “I saw a puddycat”…give somebody a script with a brand new story with words that Mel Blanc never said in that situation…that’s when it becomes difficult. I can remember doing things early on and thinking, “wow…Porky has never discussed rap music before…Porky had never been in the 1990s discussing whatever was happening…the pop culture of the day. You have to be able to take the heart of the classic character and put it in contemporary situations. The “Looney Tunes” show does just that. I’ll be honest…when I got the job I was really concerned if they were going to uphold the integrity of these characters. And I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at how wonderful the writing is…how these producers get these characters…get the integrity of these characters…and are able to put them in situations that blend so well the classic and contemporary.

MG: How did you get involved in doing some of the darker comedies like “Gremlins” and “Army of Darkness?”
BB: Honest to God, I just auditioned. “Gremlins” was one of my first auditions. I remember being told “I can’t show you anything from this movie but what do you think it would sound like if a gremlin exploded in a microwave?” And I asked, “what’s a gremlin.” He said “remember the little laughing creature that hung out with Jabba the Hutt…something like that, but meaner.” So I did the sound of what I thought a gremlin would sound like if it exploded in a microwave. Then I did what I thought was the sound of gremlins having a drop of water dropped on them and creating more gremlins. I didn’t know what he was talking about, I just did funny sounds. And it was easily nine months later that I got the phone call telling me I got the job. For “Army of Darkness,” and I understand they’re doing a remake of “Evil Dead”…if anybody reading this is connected to that film I want to do it…I happened to work for the casting director of the film so I didn’t have to audition. He asked me if I could do the voice of a man-eating book and I said, “OK.” It’s really a collaborative thing. They throw their ideas at you and you give them your interpretation of their ideas.

MG: You’ve also done a lot of work for Disney and Pixar. How did those jobs come about?
BB: I think my first Disney feature was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Disney and Pixar are probably some of the most loyal producers I’ve ever worked with. Once you prove yourself and they know that you’re reliable they’ll call you back over and over again. A lot of the jobs are ones I didn’t audition for. They would just call and ask, “can you work on this new Disney film next week” and I say, “okey-dokey!” They’re very particular on who they hire. I’m what they call a “utility player” on animated features. I’m not a celebrity so I’m not going to play Buzz Lightyear. I’m not going to play the lead in any major Disney feature. But I do play multiple characters in the films. They know that if they get me up there I can play five or six different characters in one scene. And once you’ve proved yourself that way, that you’re reliable, they call you over and over again. I didn’t do the first “The Santa Clause” movie. Comet the reindeer was in it. But for the second film they wanted to give him personality. So I actually had to audition for that. And fortunately they brought him back for the third film. A lot of it is just getting that audition and letting them know who you are. You have to be in the business. You have to have a solid agent who gets the calls from the powers that be. But then you still have to audition. I had to audition for the “Looney Tunes” show. Just because I’ve played a character for twenty years I don’t own it. So when a new producer comes in they may say, “hey, I know YOU’RE right for the part but let’s see who else is out there.” But an actors’ job is to audition. I mean for the “Looney Tunes” show I did the pilot. And then they held auditions. But I knew the reason. It was a brand new series and they wanted to see who else was out there. An actor has to check his ego at the door. You go in there and just have fun. I went in with the philosophy of “hey, if someone else is better they deserve this job.” I just go in and have fun with it. In the twenty one years I’ve done Porky I’ve had to re-audition four times. I had to audition for “Space Jam.” I had to audition for “Looney Tunes: Back in Action.” And I had to audition for the “Looney Tunes” show. That’s showbiz. That’s what we do. Actors audition and actors work.

MG: You’re also the man behind the voice of Luke Skywalker in everything from video games to “Robot Chicken.” How did you come to do that voice?
BB: Well it’s interesting because when I got the first audition I turned it down because I told my agent that I couldn’t “do” Mark Hamill. Mark Hamill is so freaking brilliant. He is one of the best voice actors in the business. Mark Hamill IS Luke Skywalker. But my agent said that the producers still wanted to see me. And I told them that I don’t DO Mark Hamill. And they said, “don’t DO Mark Hamill. Do Luke Skywalker.” They showed me clips from the various film and said, “here’s pre-Jedi Luke and post-Jedi Luke…his personality has completely changed.” My vocal tone was very close to Mark Hamill but they wanted me to get the character down. And once I went from trying to do an impression to an actor doing the role I was much more comfortable. I had several auditions before I booked my first job. But once I was able to…not mimic Mark but to get the character down…I became very comfortable with it. And the producers have been very good to me. But even though I did the games for many years I still had to audition for the first “Star Wars: Robot Chicken.” We’ve now done three of those specials. They are fantastic! The writing these guys do over at Seth Green’s office…they’re so good. It’s a pleasure to work on those specials.

MG: Let’s switch gears to anime. “Lupin III” (Lupin the Third) is one of my favorite shows. What can you tell us about voicing him?
BB: He’s one of my favorite characters. Such a layered, rich character. He’s a pompous, slob nerd and he just thinks he’s God’s gift to everything. What a great, rich character to play…in any genre of animation that I’ve done. He’s a blast. I would love to do more. It’s one of the characters that, like Porky, is one of my all time favorites.

MG: You did two voices in “Akira.” What can you tell us about that?
BB: It was my first anime job ever. I didn’t ever know what anime’ was. As a kid I loved “Speed Racer” but I didn’t know that was anime. I just thought it was a cool cartoon. I got the film and I realized that anime’ is very different from American animation because when they do “Looney Tunes” they record the voices first. They animate to your timing. For anime’ you have to match the screen. You have to watch the film, read the script and perform, staying in character, all at the same time. It’s a huge challenge. And the anime’ actors that work consistently are some of the most brilliant voice actors in the world. Normally you do a movie and move on. But Roger Ebert listed “Akira” as one of the best movies ever made. Not animated film…one of the best FILMS ever made. I probably get more fan mail from “Akira”…from “Spirited Away”…from “Lupin” then I get from anything I’ve done with Looney Tunes. It’s overwhelming and very much appreciated.

MG: What other projects do you have coming up?
BB: Fingers are crossed that we get a season two for the “Looney Tunes” show. I’m a gypsy. I’m an actor. I did a game yesterday. I did a pick up session for “Looney Tunes” last week. I just did a commercial. That’s my life. I never know what my next job is going to be. Some days the phone doesn’t ring and some days I wonder how I can fit it all in. That’s what we do. I’m writing a book on voice over agents right now. I’m up for an Emmy so I’m hoping to collect a trophy in a couple months. I’m amazed to be nominated. I’m having a fun ride!

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