TR Interview: Going on a Bender With Futurama and I Know That Voice's John DiMaggio

By Luke Y. Thompson in Cartoons, Movies
Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm

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LYT: Bender's full name of Bender Bending Rodriguez - was that based on Benicio Del Toro's character in Traffic?

JDM: No, I don't think so. To the best of my knowledge, no. His last name is Rodriguez because he was made in Mexico, so...Hecho en Mexico.

LYT: When you did episodes of Futurama like the take-offs on Scooby Doo and G.I. Joe and all that, do you hear from the original voice actors from those shows, giving you a thumbs up?

JDM: No, we never heard anything from anybody, but that would have been funny. Those episodes cracked me up! They really, really made me laugh, especially when Dave Herman played the voice of the Professor in the Voltron episode. That was really, really, really funny. [laughter] Yeah, that would have been great, to have...you know, did we have the original Freddy? Did he do it? No, he didn't do it. I'm thinking of...oh goodness, now his name slips my mind. I see his face, and I can't remember his name! Oh my god! The guy who plays Nibbler. Frank Welker! Geez. Big brain fart on one of the biggest names ever. That's funny.

LYT: I interviewed Maurice LaMarche a while back, and he was telling me about a time he was waiting at an audition, and they actually had Ben Kingsley come in and audition, and he said even Ben Kingsley had to come in and prove how he sounded, because they didn't necessarily know that he would work for the part without doing that. But it seems like a lot of the time they get these big names and they don't try them out like that. Do you find that that's happening more and more?

JDM: You know, it's funny - when you're listening to a celebrity voiceover, you can really hear the imperfections. You can hear that they're not...there are certain - I don't know, it's funny, they stand out more, and I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, especially in voice over, because it's so specific. It's microscopic. It really shines a light on one of your talents. You know what I mean?

LYT: Yeah.

JDM: So if a celebrity is lacking in their vocal department, but not their acting department, then their vocal department - it's going to show.

LYT: On the other hand, you've got guys in here like Breckin Meyer, who I think of as a celebrity, and I had no idea half of the voices that he did were his.

JDM: Yeah, yeah. He's pretty funny, too. He's a pretty funny guy. He nails stuff. That was a good interview. We had a good interview. He's a good guy.

LYT: Do you ever get to the level in this field where you're so big that you don't have to audition, because they know that you're going to do a good job, no matter what it is?

JDM: No, you always have to. I'll have to audition till the day that I die. I mean, sometimes people will call me in, and just say "John has this in his back pocket, I know what we want to do for this. Just bring John in." And other times, you've got to audition three or four times for a job. But no, that never ends. It never ends. Nor should it - you should have to prove yourself, and competition is good for the soul.

LYT: Do you think guys like Mel Blanc or Casey Kasem ever reached that level, or would they have been in the same position?

JDM: Well, I mean...Mel Blanc, he originated this job. He was the original gangster! He was the guy everyone wanted to at least be like. So he was their guy. He was THE guy. He created the job - voice over actor for cartoons, that's him. So I don't think he really had to deal with it. But, I mean, Casey Kasem? He was a DJ, and he did Scooby Doo, and he did it for a long time. I got to see him do Scooby Doo - that was a trip! I got to work on an episode of Scooby Doo. He was towards the end of his career, so it was kind of rough, but he still had it! He still had it. It was a trip. All I wanted to do was have a bowl of cereal and sit down and not record - I just wanted to listen to the cast! You know - those guys. The veterans from way back - they still have to come out and audition.

LYT: In addition to freeing you up on the characters you're able to play in voice over, it also seems like there's a storytelling freedom to show different types of characters. I can't imagine anyone short of Archie Bunker that you could do like Bender in live action. Do you find that there's more liberty to play sort of darker characters?

JDM: There's definitely more liberty. Now with all of the adult-themed cartoons that are out, you can definitely do a lot more really diverse characters and really dark characters, and then quite offensive. It all depends on what you think is offensive. Classic example is Boondocks. I mean, Uncle Ruckus on Boondocks - that character is absolutely one of the most offensive, most hilarious characters on television. There are all sorts of stuff that you can have that if you wanted to try to have it as a live action thing, it doesn't work.

LYT: That's a good one to bring up, because they tried to do a Kickstarter for a live-action Uncle Ruckus movie and it didn't make it.

JDM: Yeah. No, I know - that would have been good for Gary Anthony Williams. He would have been great, too. But that would have been rough - that would have been rough. It would have been tough to watch. But it would have been funny as hell, because he's funny. You never know.

LYT: Aside from the Simpsons episode, do you think we've seen the last of Bender, or is there a chance for anything else?

JDM: You know, you never know. Futurama has come back from the dead so many times, anything could happen. Matt Groening - he's hinted at things, here and there. And it's just like - listen, Matt's doing it, I'm on board. Whatever the case - if it comes back, great. If it doesn't, we had a fantastic run, and that's that - you move on. But I would love for it to come back, and who knows? Who knows what's in store?

LYT: What's your favorite piece of Bender merchandise you've ever seen?

JDM: It's the four foot tall Bender that I have in my office. It's a beautiful statue of Bender. It's pretty awesome!

LYT: And what's up next for you? What can we expect on the horizon?

JDM: Well, this film, I Know That Voice debuts on iTunes January 7th of 2014, all English-speaking territories - it's a big deal, I'm really excited about that! There's other stuff, here and there. I'm still boogieing along with Adventure Time. You'll hear my voice on certain advertisements, coming up soon, and I've got some Sanjay and Craig - all different kinds of gigs that I pop up in every once in a while. But yeah, I'm keeping busy - everything is good. [chuckles]

LYT: Have you ever met any of the guys who have dubbed your characters in other countries?

JDM: No, I have not, and I think you're actually the second person to ask me that. That's pretty funny. No, I have never met those guys, but I have been told by some Parisians that it's funnier in English as opposed to in French.

LYT: I've actually heard that too. I have two brothers who live in France.

JDM: There you go.

LYT: They think that most of the voice over dub actors are sub-par compared to the Americans.

JDM: Well, that's it! That's funny. [chuckles]

LYT: Thank you so much for talking to us, and good luck with this movie.

JDM: Thank you very much. I appreciate it, man. January 7, 2014 - it's going to be awesome!

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