I’m starting to feel like the “Go-To” person for Will Friedle news. Maybe I should be privatizing these posts so I don’t sound insane? I’m not insane, I just love him very much. Thanks for the article, Val!
Interview: Will Friedle On Being Lion-O
Posted 54 minutes ago by Charles Webb in Animation, Cartoon Network, Interviews
Being the lead voice actor for an iconic role for one of the most anticipated animated shows on TV can’t be easy. But Will Friedle, who voices Lion-O in the new ThunderCats series on Cartoon Network seems to take it all in stride. It’s probably no sweat for the man who’s lent his voice to cartoon heroes as diverse as future Batman to Blue Beetle. I spoke to Friedle recently about what it was like taking on his latest role, and about capturing the magic of the ThunderCats in the VO booth.
Will Friedle: You guys have done some great coverage of the show from way back and it was all very complimentary. Really cool of you guys.
MTV Geek: Thank you, too. We’ve been really excited about the show—what we’ve seen so far from the first hour has been excellent, and I’m personally really excited about the new season.
WF: Hey, we are too. It’s one of those shows where we’re psyched anytime we get to go in to record.
Geek: Getting into that, what were your feelings when you were offered the role?
WF: Uh, I’m sure that I can say my thoughts out loud. [laughs] I was so unbelievably excited. It was one of those things where I’d been a huge fan of everything ThunderCats from the time I was eight years old, when the show came out. So, an enormous ThunderCats fan, and the chance to be anything in the show—I originally read for Tygra. So to then actually find out that I was playing Lion-O was pretty amazing.
Geek: What was the take that you had in mind for the character? Or was there much guidance from the show runners?
WF: You know what it was? I’m always kind of guided by the material. So the script really—the one you saw for the first hour-long episode—was really the kind of coming-of-age story [and] I knew that’s where we were coming from in this incarnation. So, it was more the young hero, the young unproven hero at this point, which is kind of where I was coming at it from.
And frankly, it was the only thing going through my head other than “Please don’t be the guy to screw this up. Please don’t be the guy to screw this up.” I just don’t think I would have handled it well if I was the guy who ruined Lion-O. It was daunting and I was certainly nervous, but was so excited as a fan that I just wanted to sit down and let it go.
And here all the other voices in the room, I thought they all just worked so well together. Especially that first episode where we’re all coming together and learning each other and learning the energy—we just had such a blast. Very excited at this point. Still excited—I feel like that little kid getting the amazing opportunity.
Geek: Did you have any concerns about somehow matching your portrayal of Lion-O with the work done by Larry Kenney?
WF: You know, there is and there isn’t. It’s definitely a different take on Lion-O, but of course at the same time you don’t want to be the guy who, “Oh my God, after the amazing work Larry Kenney did, I’m now going to come in and screw this up.” So that was certainly a concern of mine.
Again, it’s amazing to say, but this is one of the first shows that I did where my concern wasn’t as an actor, but as a fan. Because I was such a fan of the original that I didn’t want my name associated with ruining ThunderCats. It was nerve-wracking. But hopefully we pulled it off.
Geek: You’re kind of the go-to guy for young characters and these guys going through the coming-of-age experiences. How do you tackle that expectation as an actor? Do you enjoy that perception?
WF: You know, I do. It’s one of those things where I still can’t believe it myself. Because again—and I know it sounds kind of trite but it’s true—but I’m a fan first. So it’s one of those things where I get to go in and I get to play some of these characters—whether it’s Batman or Blue Beetle or Ron Possible, I mean any of these kind of young, fun characters—and I’m just excited to be involved, frankly. It’s so much fun, we have a blast in the room, we have a blast working together, and the final products have been great. I’m feeling very excited and very lucky at this point.
Geek: Was there a particular moment in the booth with the other actors where you realized, “Hey, this is working—this is what we want it to be?”
WF: You know, you hope, you’re never sure. Especially with something like ThunderCats, which is a reboot of such a popular show. We thought we had something, [and] I thought we had something from before we even recorded when I got my hands on that first script for the hour-long episode.
Being such a fantasy fan, which I am, I felt it really was along the lines of high fantasy, which I love. So to see these characters put in that kind of world, I was all for it. So, yeah, I thought there was the possibility of having something before we even started. And then you’ve got the voices in the room, and then hearing these people say these wonderfully-written lines, it really did work. So, it was just amazing.
It was a little scary when I got to the ThunderCats call for the first time, but other than that I think we handled it well!
Geek: Looking at the tone of your show when compared against the original, what do you think the major difference is?
WF: I look at it this way: ThunderCats in the 80’s—and I shouldn’t even say just ThunderCats in the 80’s—most of the cartoons in the 80’s were incredible cartoons. Very bright, very vibrant, very big acting, very big stories, that kind of thing. Then, in 1989, 1990, Batman: The Animated Series came around and kind of changed the whole ballgame for animation, and for script, and for acting.
So, I can compare the two in that we don’t want to ruin what was done on the show in the 80’s, but at the same time, it’s like that’s the ThunderCats cartoon, and that will forever be the ThunderCats cartoon and stand alone. And this is like, ThunderCats: The Animated Series, which is like a newer, darker kind of take on these original characters. So you can compare them, but even to me as a fan, the original ThunderCats will always be the original ThunderCats. It will always stand alone. And it should, because of what it did in the 80’s.
I don’t think we’ve ruined any of the characters. I feel like we’ve added some dimensions to the characters and added some great backstory, but I don’t think there’s any that we look at and go, “Wow, I don’t recognize that character at all anymore.” So, I think in that sense, we’ve stayed true to the original 80’s cartoon and updated it with a little 2011 feel.
Geek: Who’s the standout character you love interacting with the most?
WF: Mumm-Ra used to scare the hell out of me as a kid. So to actually be in the booth and in the room—I’m usually sitting next to Robin [Atkin Downes] as he’s doing the role. So to sit together, right next to each other is pretty cool. And every time I hear his take on Mumm-Ra, I love it. And it’s still very creepy, but at the same time, I’m looking at him going, “Hopefully, it won’t scare me as much this time because I know the guy and he’s sitting right next to me.” ‘Cos when you’re eight years old, that Mumm-Ra, he can rob some sleep from ya.
So I said to Robin, I think by the third recording, “You’re gonna be the soundtrack of the new generation of kids’ nightmares. So I hope you’re okay with that.” And he just started laughing.
Geek: And obviously, without spoiling anything, did you have any favorite moments from the coming season?
WF: There’ve been so many—it’s one of those things where I think the writing is so good that they try to get some of those moments into every single episode. So there’s at least one moment if not more than one in every episode where there’s that feeling of “Man, this is cool!”
And for me, the last moment of the first season—and I’m not going to give anything away—there were a couple of moments and we finished recording and the room just silent because it was so cool, and so amazing, and well kind of sat back and let it sink in. So, yeah, there’s some pretty neat stuff coming up.
Geek: What do you think it is that keeps fans drawn back to ThunderCats after all these years? What is it for you?
WF: You know, that’s a good question. I don’t know, to be totally honest with you. I think it was very bright, it was a whole new take on a cartoon character—I mean, they’re cats. But it so easily could have been ridiculous and horrible and yet it wasn’t. It was this brilliant, new world that we were learning about with this new, young king. Again, I don’t know what it was, but it just worked, and I think that’s why it’s lasted for 20, 25 years—because there was something about it that appealed to everybody.
And I loved it, I absolutely did. I’d run home and see as much as I could, I’d pick up my plastic Sword of Omens—which, when I go back home, I’m going to look for again. So, yeah, there’s just something that grabs people and we’re hoping to recapture that same sense of wonder and hopefully be able to grab the older fans and the new generation.