"I don't get the best tables at the restaurant": 'Disenchantment' star Maurice LaMarche on the travails and triumphs of a voice actor
LaMarche has worked with Groening in the past and believes that Disenchantment was a wonderful transition, and also an expansion of anything that's been done before with Groening.
Fans of Matt Groening - after years, your time is here because the master of intelligent comedies with subtle humor has a new show on the way. Titled "Disenchhantent" - it tells the story of a very dysfunctional Princess Bean, who runs away from her own wedding to escape the norms of a patriarchal kingdom where she knows she can never become the ruler. Fair enough, right? But wait - this is no ordinary princess. Groening makes her a lot more relatable with his co-writer Josh Weinstein by making her a beer-chugging, gambling princess whose two escorts on her journey towards a free life are Luci and Elfo - a tiny demon and an elf, respectively.
Another very interesting character on the show is Prime Minister Odval, who more than a governing figure happens to be a babysitter for the said princess. And in his very signature Groening style, Matt brought in his own group of voice actors to play the roles on this show, which allowed Maurice LaMarche to lend his voice on yet another Matt Groening show. He is the voice behind the face of this Odval character.
LaMarche - who is known for his works in Futurama and Disney's classic, Frozen - shared with Meaww the perks and challenges of being a professional in the world of voice-overs and how his experience in stand up comedy proved to be a boon for the iconic levels he has reached in his career. Here are some excerpts of his conversation with us.
Was Disenchantment an easy transition from your previous shows like Futurama and Looney Tunes?
The work on Disenchantment was a wonderful transition, and also an expansion of anything that's been done before with Matt. This show is like an extra layer of Futurama and there's a fullness to it. Don't get me wrong, Futurama was one of the best working experiences of my entire career. It was brilliant, it won me two Emmys so I think it's fantastic. But disenchantment is different; it starts with so much heart and so much depth. It's humor-driven but the humor and jokes coexist - just operating on a deeper level. Obviously, there were fewer physics jokes, but it comes from humor in relationships and the love and hatred and fear that people have. That's what's operating in this show. I'm just so thrilled to be a part of it.
What was your experience working with Matt Groening on this project, like?
Matt and I've worked together on Futurama, and Matt was very involved in it. Especially in the genesis - in the first season. But in this show, he' directing. He's co-directing every episode with Josh Weinstein, or whoever wrote the episode. Matt is in the room at all time,he's got so many brilliant ideas and it's so funny because if I can make him laugh - and he's got a quiet laugh but his shoulders shake - so I always look over to see if Matt's shoulders are shaking, and that's how I know I did it.
Tell us about your work on Disenchantment.
I play several characters but I don't run a list because so many of them get killed off. My main character is Prime Minister Odval who is the right-hand man of the king. And even though he's the PM, he doesn't do a lot of governing. His primary job seems to be taking care of Princess Bean by retrieving her from various taverns and bars in the village that she likes to sneak off to. So he's more of a babysitter than a politician, at least in the beginning. But then we show a few sides of him - like he has a few secrets that we show eventually. But apart from that, I also play a necromancer and an exorcist. And it's just a lot of fun! I think I got to play about 20 characters throughout the run of the show so that's brilliant.
What was the best part about your experience working with Netflix?
First of all, the fact that they gave Matt and Josh such creative freedom. There was never any sense of the network breathing down our necks like a lot of shows I've (previously) worked on. They just went like, you're Matt Groening. You know what you're doing. Make us the show. So it was pretty phenomenal, the way they work.
But another part of the beauty of working with Netflix is that we can tell the story over 10 or 20 episodes and hopefully more, and to have things that could affect the next upcoming episode requires you to follow the whole series along. But since it's Netflix, it just drops everything over the weekend. So hopefully we'll get a lot of enthusiastic fans through the entire series, blogging about it and posting about it.
You've been in the industry for over so long, and worked into classics like Disney's Frozen; what according to you has been the most rewarding aspect of this profession?
I believe Disenchantment goes through the entire spectrum of storytelling and there's drama, there's comedy and then there are some really terrifying things that happen. It really rewards an actor who's not just there reading jokes - like reading funny lines. You actually have to reach into your whole brain and use skills that you wouldn't feel the need to use in a cartoon show. And with Frozen, even though I was on for like some 10 minutes as King Agnarr, I still had to play so many roles through my voice. Be a loving father, and be terrified of losing my daughter. But it's very similar to feature film acting.
How difficult is it to come up with a voice for an animated character?
We only get the scripts the night before, so there's a rehearsal table read and we'll figure the characters out before we go to read. And then we'll go up to Matt - like, oh this horse-shoe salesman - what are you guys feeling there? And then he and Josh will come up with suggestions, like oh, maybe he has a Humphrey Bogart tone to him or something like that, and then we'll just mess around. It's a collaborative effort and I understand that I'm part of an ensemble here.
Have you ever used your actual voice for any of the characters?
I think I've used something very close to my own voice, for one particular character. And I'll let you (viewers) figure that out without revealing too much about it.
What do you consider some of the biggest challenges as a voice actor?
The biggest challenge - actually both a blessing and a challenge - is the anonymity. I can't really get burned out as long as I keep my chop up. Like nobody's going to get tired of my voice if I keep changing it so much. But on camera, I sort of have a certain shelf life. Like most of them do - which is until you're tired of seeing them, which is a shame as they're talented in their own way. But after a while, you also get type-cast - if you're the neighbor, that's all you're gonna be. The neighbor from that sitcom. But in our world - the beauty of it is that I can be the lead character or the co-lead - and then I can come back as a small guest part on another cartoon, and then play 20 characters on Disenchantment, or 72 characters on Futurama, as I just get to keep working.
Where the anonymity becomes a challenge, is that I don't get the best tables at the restaurant. I don't walk in and have a huge spot waiting for me because just I got a hit picture that just came out. Again with the anonymity - there's a slight devaluing of the voice actors. They're looked at as almost the second class; and yet, the dichotomy of that is every big star wants to lend their voice to an animated project.
So, on one hand, we're the country cousins, on another hand, everybody wants our jobs and I don't understand that. The Screen Actors Guild awards are coming up and they still don't have a category for outstanding voice actors. They have it for the stunt people and they have it for feature films but they don't tip their hat to voice actors and yet everybody in SAG wants to be in a cartoon. It bothers my mind at times.
What had drawn you into choosing this as a profession?
It just kinda called to me, you know? As an actor which is a precarious profession as it is, you go where the work is. And I started as a comedian, doing a lot of impressions and imitations of people's voices. And someone from the audience came up to me and said, "With all those voices you do, you could do cartoons!" And I said okay, I wish that wasn't as hard to get into, and she said: "I'll send you out on auditions." And I auditioned for a year before I got my first job. This was in 1985. And then I got two shows in a row - Inspector Gadget and The Real Ghostbusters. And the beauty of it was, I showed up on time, did my job and was fun to work with, and kind and respectful. And the voice over world rewards you - more consistently anyway, than the camera world. I'm very lucky, that doesn't happen to everybody, I know. But I also just went where they wanted me, through the open doors and just gave up on the whole on camera, live action, sitcom, comedian gig.
Has your background in stand-up comedy proven to be beneficial in your career as a voice actor?
Yeah, definitely. It made it. That was the thing that got me noticed. I wasn't saying to myself that "I wanna be a voice actor," I had total other ambition; I wanted to be on camera, I wanted Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Mike Meyers' careers. I had all of that in mind, but it (voice actor) just kinda presented itself. It was never an ambition of mine, but it did certainly become the greatest thing in my life. Apart from the birth of my sons, of course.
What are some of the upcoming projects that you are excited about?
I have a couple of short films, and a few commercials - and some upcoming projects - but sadly, as is the norm here, I signed non-disclosure and I can't talk about them. So right now Disenchantment is the project that I'm the most excited about and can talk about of course. But what's coming up includes two things where I'm reprising my role again. And I'm very excited about playing those roles again.