And you think your ma’s vocal chords must be on the verge of tearing, meet Corey Burton – the man the lozenge was made for. Each and every day, sometimes for hours on end, Burton talks, then talks… and talks some more; providing the voices for some of today’s most popular cartoon characters (and numerous others; he provided the voice of ‘the narrator’ in the recent bigscreen reboot of “The A-Team”). Beginning his career at age 17 with an imitation performance of voice actor Hans Conreid for Disney, Burton went on to become one of the studio’s key go-to guys for animated projects; amongst his many credits for the mouse, “Return to Neverland”, “Cinderella II : Dreams Come True” and “Hercules”. In recent years, you’ll have heard Burton’s vocal stylings in “Justice League : The New Frontier” (Abin Sur), “Batman : Gotham Knight” (The Scarecrow, The Russian, Marshall), “Superman/Batman : Public Enemies” (Captain Marvel) and in the video-game “Batman : Arkham City”, in which he lent his lungs to the character of Hugo Strange. Though everything he’s done has had somewhat of a following, Burton inherited a very, very large fan base when he begun work on the “Star Wars : The Clone Wars” TV Series. Based on the hit science-fiction film series by George Lucas and airing on The Cartoon Network, the “Clone Wars” takes place between “Star Wars Episode II : Attack of the Clones” and “Star Wars Episode III : Revenge of the Sith” which events surrounding the various missions and adventures of young Jedi’s Anakin Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano. Burton provides the voice of – among others – Count Dooku, the villianous sith lord played by Christopher Lee in the “Star Wars” films. I had the opportunity to talk to Burton about his work on the series and unsucccesfully tried to squeeze some spoilers out of him for you guys.
Everyone probably wants to know first and foremost, were you a “Star Wars” fan before getting the “Clone Wars” gig?
Sure – not to the extent of Comic Con fandom, but the very first film thrilled me no end; and I was doubly thrilled to have done a tiny bit of ADR work on the second – Empire Strikes Back – when I first met Mark Hamill; whose voice I’d coincidentally performed as a sound-alike for his “Luke” on the Disney “Storyteller LLP” Record of the original Star Wars story.
Oh, I have that record here somewhere! Nice!
He graciously asked me to autograph a copy for his son, as “Luke II”.
So how did you get the job on “Clone Wars”?
I’m not sure what came first, but I auditioned and was cast to play Christopher Lee’s “Count Dooku” in Clone Wars videogames and the first short-segment animated “MiniMovie” TV Serial on Cartoon Network.
And is that the role Lucasfilm wanted you for primarily, Dooku?
I auditioned for Dave Filoni and crew for many roles, Dooku being one of them. They were looking for a handful of versatile character voice actors as series regulars, and individual unique actors for lead and guest roles, either created for the series or meant to emulate the Screen Actors appearing in the movies. I was primarily up for the new series’ “newsreel” Announcer/Narrator – in addition to “in the bag” as Dooku – a role which obviously went to Tom Kane.
Oh that’s Tom Kane doing the narration? Now are the scripts for the TV series kept under lock-and-key, just like the features?
Of course! Even though everyone is curious as to what’s going on behind the scenes, nobody really likes a Spoiler ruining all the exciting surprises coming up. So I’m proud to have never leaked a syllable of privileged information – on this, or any other “guarded” project I’ve been a part of.
So can we get some spoilers please?
Next question then; have you met George Lucas yet?
Not so far; he rarely makes it down to Los Angeles, and I haven’t found the proper time for a special visit to “The Ranch” yet. As I completely understand and respect his social shyness – being equally “reclusive” outside of professional Studio environments, while I’d be greatly honored, would never really expect to be called up to his office for an introduction. I’m flattered to think he even knows who I am, and especially to have been told he has responded quite favorably to my TV series characterizations – which he has been instrumental in formulating, based on some surprising suggestions of iconic voices he’s come up with, to employ as uniquely captivating tonal models. So that’s certainly good enough for me!
You do a fantastic Christopher Lee…. is he someone you’ve done before? practised in your bedroom as a youngster?
No – just one of those built-in familiar voices that I’ve been able to access since reaching full vocal maturity over the past couple of decades. Never consciously studied him, and have had very limited exposure to his movie roles growing up – so that’s just one of those lucky coincidences. Sharp-eared fans will notice that my rendition of Dooku has evolved from a studied “imitation”- directly derived from existing Movie Soundtrack dialogue, to a more personal “realization” following Dave’s expanded vision of the Animated character’s vocal palette, since our Clone Wars series went into full production. Mr. Lucas pointedly requested that we “make the characters Our Own”, rather than restricting performances to “soundalike” mimicry of existing scenes in the Motion Pictures. He apparently had said that since he was done making Star Wars feature films, the Clone Wars cast of Voice Actors would henceforth be considered the “official” character players for our assigned roles. Only a contractual clause enabled the original Screen Players’ agents to put their celebrity clients’ voices back into the soundtrack of the Animated Clone Wars feature film – derived from three episodes of the TV series, because it was released as a “Big Screen” Theatrical title – which I had no argument with. After all, when an original Screen Star opts to perform their own characterization in any new production, it’s only fair to give them full “rights of first refusal” – providing that new production clearly replicates their established screen image in that role. Of course, when the character’s appearance is fundamentally re-designed – becoming a different animator’s “model” no longer employing the Screen player’s recognizable physical features- those rights would no longer apply.
Of course. Which of the ”Star Wars” films is your favourite and why?
Nothing could beat that knockout punch of the original exuberant expression of “seat of your pants” filmmaking. Flaws and compromises of small budget and limited resources be damned – while “Empire” is widely regarded as the masterpiece of the series, the crackle of fresh-faced showmanship that defined the Star Wars saga is undeniably pure magic. Nothing tops an original Classic, as far as I’m concerned.
What else have you been working on?
There are too many individual projects that come up on a daily basis to detail here; but other animated series include the Disney Channel “Junior” shows – for preschoolers – “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” (as Cap’n Hook) and “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” (Professor Ludwig Von Drake), many bit parts in “Phineas & Ferb”; along with a bunch of other Disney Theme Park, Cruise Line, iPad/SmartPhone Apps and Video Games (like “Kingdom Hearts” and an upcoming “Magic Mirror” App); Warner Bros.’ “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” and the new “Thundercats”, plus the “Batman: Arkham Asylum” (Hugo Strange) and online “DC Universe” Video Games… Just check out IMDB for detailed listings of TV, Movie and VG projects; and jmtalent.com for some samples of my movie trailer/promo Voice Over work; with an average of 10-15 home ISDN and studio recording sessions every week, I sure can’t keep track of it all.
Don’t know how you do it!
After 35 plus years in this business, I consider myself very fortunate indeed to still be actively performing, let alone in professional demand on a daily basis. Much to my amazement, the craft and traditions of classic Radio Theatre Voice Acting has continued to flourish into the 21st Century, after all!
“Star Wars : The Clone Wars” airs on The Cartoon Network in both the United States and Australia. ABC 3 in Australia is also airing the series
Thanks to Lucasfilm
Star Wars : The Clone Wars
Star Wars : The Clone Wars
Batman : Arkham City