Interview With Voice Actor David Kaye

By Ruth on January 8, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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In this world of realistic animation, high tech video games, and so much more, voice actors are becoming a lucrative commodity. That is, if you are able to get your foot in the door. More than likely, you will never be a household name, but if you’re doing it for the right reasons like David Kaye is, that’s not going to make any difference. A few months ago, I was able to chat with David about being a successful voice actor (just look at his credits if you don’t believe the “successful” part), and he was forthcoming about a variety of things, including how he became a voice actor, what some of his memorable experiences have been, and a bit about what he sees for his future. 

RH: Why did you decide to become an actor?

DK: {laughs} I didn’t. I was in radio way, way back when I was in high school. I was a big fan of Rick Dees at the time. I was born in Canada, and I was living about an hour and fifteen minutes outside Ontario. I had my first gig overnight on the weekends when I was seventeen years old. I was working at a YMCA pro shop selling sports equipment, and on the weekends, I was doing overnights on the air. I don’t know what possessed the program director to hire me. I got friendly with the morning man. He used to come into the pro shop fairly often, and I used to listen to him on the radio. We got to talking, and he had me come in and meet the program director. They had me read a few pieces of copy and news, and I was horrible. Even so, they gave me a shot, and I ended up doing overnight weekends the last couple of years in twelfth grade. At that time, we had thirteenth grade too. And that’s how I got into radio.

It wasn’t until I had moved a few times, as you do when you’re young, and I came to Vancouver. I was doing a morning show. I was part of the “Morning Zoo” at a station called LG73. It was a pretty big station in Vancouver at the time. That’s when the Zoo was a popular format. Scott Shannon was at Z100 in New York, and that’s where they started the big “zoo” thing. So I was part of the team. I started doing all sorts of crazy voices and characters on the air.

Then I took a silly commercial modeling course. One part of it–the modeling–for me, was goofy. But the other part was learning lines for commercials. It was kinda cool, and I had fun doing that. The guy teaching it was a young agent at the time, and he said, “You should do this.” And I went, “Okay.”  So he became my first agent.

Fast forward again. My first audition came through for a cartoon for GI Joe. I lied and said, “Sure, I do voices.” I had no idea what he meant at the time. But I went in, and six weeks later, they gave me the part of General Hawk.

I could see you starting out in radio. I can definitely tell from your voice. You have a radio-sounding voice.

I hope not. I kinda want to bury that. I had to bury that.

I didn’t mean that negatively.

Oh, no, I understand. That was a big deal. {And he proceeded to demonstrate his best radio voice interpretation.} I had to get rid of that in a hurry or there would be no voice career.

I looked over your credits, and I have a teenage daughter, and she was looking over the credits with me and she recognized one of the video games you had done. Ratchet & Clank, I think. She’s up on the video games much more than I. She could look at the list and recognize a lot of what you had done. It’s quite a career you’ve had. I have interviewed a few people who have done voiceover work, and I’m always amazed at the work you guys do.

I’m quite surprised myself actually. {laughs} Every day it surprises me. Seriously. “What am I doing here? They hired me for this? Okay!” Little do they know I know nothing. {laughs}

Well, I’ve actually heard that from other actors too. That’s not uncommon. 

Oh good. {laughs}

You’re in good company. {pause} In addition to your voice work, you have done some on-screen work, isn’t that right?

Yeah, I started showing up in Vancouver TV series in the early ’90’s. I was able to audition for different series up there. Stargate and X-Files. That was quite exciting to be a part of that whole thing. I got to work with Gillian Anderson amongst others. And I got to know a couple of the directors quite well and did a voiceover for their X-Files Christmas party one year as a favor, and they threw me a little role as a doctor, and I was horrendous! {laughs} It was really sweet of them, and I was always thankful for any role I was given on camera.

But the cartoon stuff and the voiceover really started taking off, and I sort of lost interest in the on-screen roles. It was becoming more of an annoyance to go to an audition because I had stuff piling up at home. And at that time, the home studio was certainly in operation, but today, I have road gear. I have a small leather satchel that houses my equipment. I have a laptop and everything else I need to record. If needed, I can, on the fly, pull over, record something and upload it to the server on my cell phone. And it’s so easy. The cabin of the car works just great as a little sound booth. Those days of being very nervous for an audition and all I could think about was getting back home are gone. If I was to step back in front of the camera, it might be easier because I’d be used to doing it every day. But I just don’t want the hassle.  I know what I’m doing behind the microphone. In front of the camera, I was technically pretty damn good with hitting my mark and knowing where the light was, but I just didn’t like me as an actor on camera. I really love what I’m doing now.

I do understand. I’ve talked with actors who do both, and they love the on-screen stuff and that’s often their focus. But they love being able to go to the voiceover stuff. It’s not always as time-consuming. You don’t have to worry about getting all dressed up. But I am curious. You have done all this voiceover for video games as well as animation. Is there a real difference between doing voiceover for animation as opposed to video games?

I would say there’s a difference, even more so with video games. It has to be all as real as possible. It’s easy in video games to get too much angst and over-acty. But the more real you are, the better. I think that’s why they do a lot of mo-cap. You’re acting is seen, and you want it as real as you possibly can get. And it’s better because that’s where this whole thing is headed is virtual reality. Cartoons–you can still have a lot of fun being cartoony. There are cartoons that are not cartoony, but video games, the more real they are, the better, and the fan appreciates that. At one time, it was just a series of “Ooh! Ee! Ah! Ooh! Ah! Ee!” And that was it.

I have a friend who’s been doing the motion capture stuff, and he’s not too turned onto it, but his focus is not voiceover. But I can see that being where things are headed. Being more realistic. I know my daughter loves the video games that are more realistic. 

My agents want me to seriously put together a package thing and I’m like, “Ahhh, nah, do I have to??” But again it’s availability. You’re acting scenes. I don’t know yet if I’m gonna jump in with both feet with the mo-cap thing. A lot of my friends do it, and they seem to have a good time. But a lot of my friends also do the other stuff like I do. They’re just not that interested in mo-cap. It doesn’t work for them. So I’m not quite sure where I am yet on that whole jumpin’ in with both feet thing. We’ll see.

I noticed you also got to do a voice in Disney’s Up film. Is that what I read?

That’s true. Yeah. {laughs} That was pretty cool.

Since this was your only feature film with Disney, how did that come about?

You usually don’t get to get too close to Disney and Pixar like that unless you’re a celebrity or you’re somebody on the inside or you know somebody. A lot of the journeyman work is done with a loop group, and they pick up different characters. Friends of mine do that, and they do great.

The role came to me through my agent. It was “Project X” of course. And it was a paragraph. It was an old-time radio announcer, and I do all those from different decades. I’m a big fan of those old radio shows. So I just sent it in and forgot all about it. And a few weeks later, the agent calls, “Haaay!” That’s her voice when she’s happy. So they flew me up to PIXAR, and I recorded up there and did a session here at Warner Bros. with Pete Docter and the crew on the line as well. And even then, it wasn’t guaranteed that I was gonna make the cut ’cause it’s PIXAR. Then we found out not too long before the opening that in fact I was a big part of the beginning of the film, and I was invited to the Hollywood premiere. {laughs} “Welcome to Hollywood!” That was really cool. Jon Voight sat right behind me at the premiere of the movie, and I could hear him crying, and I was like, “This movie is making Jon Voight cry.” Very, very touching moment there. You could hear a pin drop in the theater. That was pretty cool. Hanging out with those guys. John Lasseter and all the guys from PIXAR. It was pretty cool.

I probably shouldn’t ask this question because I know it is very hard for actors to answer, but is there a favorite role or a role that has been very memorable for you over the years?

Of course, they’re all great. With Beast Machines: Trasnformers, they rebooted the franchise in ’94. That really sort of put things on the map for me. It started this big run that still continues to this day. That was my first major lead in a cartoon series. It was something quite groundbreaking at the time. And animation was quite different. Now you look at it and it seems so ancient, but at the time, it was a big deal. So when Transformers rebooted and they gave me the role of Megatron…they still invite me out to conventions today. I feel like one of those Star Trek guys, you know? {laughs} I’ll be eighty years old and they’ll go, “I remember you as Megatron.” Like the guy who played Gumby. They can just wheel me out if they have to. {laughs} And they’ll ask, “Can you say ‘yes’?” “Yes.”

It’s amazing how animation has evolved even in my lifetime. 

Yeah, it’s like that for everybody. I grew up with all of that stuff. I had heroes, but the cool thing is, I get to work with my heroes. I get to work with Rob Paulsen and Mark Hamill. And they were all heroes for me. Scooby-Doo.  I’ve been on the new version of that show half a dozen times, and I got to play the villain a few times. And I got to say the line, “If it weren’t for you meddling kids.” Oh my gosh, I get to say the line! Frank Welker and Scooby- Doo. It’s amazing. It happens all the time, and I have to pinch myself to make sure that this is real.

Do you have any plans to eventually do your own writing, directing, or producing?

I just don’t think I’m qualified at all to direct anything. Writing–I’ve dabbled, but not really. But producing? Yes. Executive producing on something? Yes. Creating something from nothing? Absolutely. I’ve formed a team, a partnership, with a few people, and that’s sort of what the next thing is. I’ll always do the VO stuff, but that’s where I’d like to head. I want to create something. I want to have ideas, a series of ideas, and be able to pitch them to our guy. “Here’s some new stuff. Go try and sell that.”

Do you have anything upcoming that you can mention?

I’m very careful about sharing stuff, and I have gotten in trouble for sharing things too soon. You have to be so careful these days. I’ve been in Avengers Assemble for awhile as J.A.R.V.I.S., and there’s a whole story arc with that character. I’ve been Citizen V and Baron Zemo. I also got to debut as the voice of Vision this past fall on the show.  Vision is a symbiote, and that storyline takes off. So that’s kind of cool.

The Transformers run continues. More to come on that. You might be hearing me at some point on that as a new series might be in the works. I’ve had a great long run with the Transformers franchise. It’s coming up on twenty years, I think.

A video game recently out is Headlander. I play a really cool character in that, and it’s a bizarre, weird, little game. I just love working with the folks that made that.

Plenty of movie trailers and commercials. The Geico parrot. Might still be airing ad nauseum. {laughs}

A couple of big things I can’t mention will be coming up this year. I’ll let you know when I can.

The last question I have is what advice would you give to someone considering becoming a voiceover artist?

It’s more difficult than you think. It’s very crowded these days ’cause of the internet. But those are things that would be discouraging, wouldn’t they? I think if it’s something you’re passionate about…and I always encourage my kids to find their passion and that’s what makes you happy. So if that is a journey that you wish to embark on, then there are no right or wrong ways to go about it.

What I can say, and I want to make this very clear, is that you never want to settle for okay or fine. It’s got to be great. And you need to learn to make it great and not settle for fine or okay or “that’s good.” Well, what does it take to be great? If you’re gonna paint, you look at Rembrandt or Van Gogh or any of the masters and you go, “How in the world did they do that?” I hold this career in high regard, and some of the people that have passed on have passed their information on to me, and they were giants in this business–both male and female. You’ve got to really listen and really distinguish between what’s good and what’s okay.

Keep the craft and hold it in high regard and be as good as you can in everything. Do a lot of community theater. You need acting skills. Improv is a big one. Fool around with different voices. But again, if you want to make that journey, then you know, go all the way. No part-time. Go all the way ’cause there’s too many people in it now. Your audition has to be ready to go on the air now. That happens a lot actually. More so than it ever did. “We’ll just use your audition.” “Okay, great.” That’s where you sort of need to be these days. But you know, you can make a cartoon with stick figures and have them fart for eight seconds and it’s an internet hit. {laughs} So I don’t know any more. Maybe I’ll do that.

That’s excellent advice. It’s more specific advice. I’m usually talking to actors, and sometimes I don’t even ask them ’cause it’s the same advice over and over again. But your advice was more voiceover specific. 

Good question. Thank you. Although I like being in the background pretty much, I thank you for reaching out. It’s nice to share with others what I do.

The only thing that I couldn’t do in this interview is broadcast the delightful voices David did to illustrate certain points, and this is one time my words cannot do his talent justice. However, you can probably imagine how he might sound at different points of the interview as we chatted. He’s a genuinely down-to-earth guy who absolutely adores what he does for a living. I would venture to say he couldn’t conceive of doing anything else, and for him, is has become a true calling. While it might seem fairly easy to jump in and do silly voices, there is no doubt that it requires a kind of versatility that is often not seen in commonplace actors in the entertainment business today.  While it is true that equipment and YouTube have somewhat denigrated this profession and made it potentially accessible for so many more aspirants, people like David are conspicuous for the correct reasons. He has stood the test of time, and he has long-standing relationships with several franchises. That is not the kind of repertoire that emerges overnight. On the contrary, it takes a great deal of stamina, adaptability, and also a bit of being in the right place at the right time. While he only has one PIXAR credit to his name, it has not kept him from being a successful voiceover artist and one who has proven himself through the years. In addition to his unquestioned skills, he is also a kind, humble, pragmatic man who appreciates his fans and is willing to give solid advice to those who seriously seek it in this business. So do yourself a favor and check out all his links below as you will more than likely recognize some of the things he has done throughout his distinguished career. I would also invite you to follow him via social media so that you can be kept in the loop concerning his upcoming works.

FOLLOW DAVID

Website

Twitter

Facebook

YouTube

IMDB

 

 

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

2 Comments

  1. Linda Szymoniak January 9, 2017 Reply

    Gee, he’s one of the few main voice cast from Inuyasha I didn’t get to meet. He did the voice of Sesshoumaru in the original series and four movies, but not in the Final Act series. I’m actually a bit surprised that role wasn’t noted.

    • Author
      Ruth January 9, 2017 Reply

      I’m afraid Linda when an actor has such a huge amount of credits, we can’t cover everything. I tried to keep things as general as I could and I let him mention the roles. It is impossible to cover everything. I’m more about the person rather than their roles.

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