How did you get started in the (voice)acting business?
I started in the voice acting business pretty much like anyone else. An agent saw me in a play in New York, and asked if she could start sending me out. Things clicked and there goes my life. I also did a reading of a short story at Symphony Space in New York City before a live audience. The man who ran Symphony Space and Selected Shorts, Isaiah Sheffer , lived in my building, which was just a couple of blocks away from Symphony Space on New York’s Upper West Side. He invited me to do one, and I went to the theater around 6 PM to do a sound check and look the place over. It was a cold rainy, February evening in 1987. The sound check was unremarkable and I walked back home for dinner afterwards. When I returned to the theater for half hour, around 730, the audience was lined up around the block . When we started the show around 8pm, it was packed! It felt like people were hanging from the rafters. I felt like a rock star! A lot of people in the industry attended those readings, and I began getting steady work in voice acting.
Star Wars fans know you as Cikatro Vizago from Star Wars Rebels. How did you get this part?
I auditioned for it. But unknown to me, I had a little inside help. Greg Weissman, with whom I worked on the Godzilla animation series and other things, was one of the writers, and he and I always got along. So I’m sure he had something to do with my hiring.
How did you create the voice of Cikatro?
I looked at the drawing and just let it dictate what he would sound like. I wanted him to sound foreign but not Russian. Alien but still understandable. Greg and Dave Filoni liked what I came up with, so there you have it.
Besides Rebels you also did some voices for the game Star Wars: Force Commander. Were you a Star Wars fan before your first ‘Star Wars job’?
I have always been a huge Star Wars fan. I even think Jar Jar Binks has been unfairly slandered. I just wish it were all true.
Your non-voice acting resume includes some critically acclaimed movies and series; especially Argo and The Dark Knight! Can you share some memories regarding working with directors like Ben Affleck, Christopher Nolan and Clint Eastwood?
One thing in common among all three of these directors: They were uncommonly kind and polite in their dealings with me and in what I could see of their interaction with the other actors, but also still firmly in charge. None of them were pushovers, by any means. Clint liked to do one or two takes and then move on. Actually, all three were pretty much in that mode, even though each of the movies was a different genre from the rest. Ben hired me without an audition, as I did an ABC After School special with him when he was 12 or 14. He actually remembered me. Mr. Nolan really knew what he wanted from a scene and could get it. He added me into a lot of scenes. I just wish he’d added me into The Dark Knight Rises, but that didn’t happen.
Of all the projects you have done….which one are you most proud of? And why?
I come from the theater, and the six years I spent at the Organic Theater of Chicago are my fondest memories and from which I drew my closest friends. John Heard, Joe Mantegna, Dennis Franz, the late Meshach Taylor and the late Roberta Custer. Jack Wallace. Stuart and Carolyn Gordon. These are my theatrical family. I just directed a new play at Ensemble Studio Theatre Los Angeles Project, Watching O.J. by David McMillan, which ran for 7 weeks to sold out houses in Los Angeles. It is slated to come again back in February.
In TV: Daniel Holtz in Angel was the most fun; Harlan Williams in Stephen King’s The Golden Years was the role of which I’m proudest. And Profit was my favorite show that I did. Too bad it only had 8 hours of life. It was terrific and ahead of its time in 1996. I also loved doing The Equalizer and Edward Woodward.
The film I’m proudest of is Missing by Costa-Gavras in 1982.
What is your dream role? If you could play any role in a movie (acting or voice acting): what would it be?
The next job for which I get hired is my dream job.
Final question: who (or what) has been your greatest influence in your (voice)acting career?
The Organic Theater Company of Chicago made me who I am today, for good or for bad.
Thank you for the interview! I hope we’ll see Cikatro show up again in Rebels soon!