I got a chance to interview legendary voice actor Rob Paulsen who is known for his character voices in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Animaniacs, and his current series Talkin’ Toons.
We now get an in-depth look at Rob’s career and what shaped his success in a new memoir entitled Voice Lessons: How a couple of Ninja Turtles, Pinky and an Animaniac Saved My Life.
The book is available for purchase on Amazon here:
That’s My Entertainment (TME): You had a very expansive, legendary career. You’ve voiced so many iconic characters over the years but you’re doing something new now. You’ve decided to write a book. Tell me how that came about and what went into that.
Rob Paulson (RP): Well the book is a culmination about a number of things. The most important of which I think, was three years ago…at this time, I had just finished radiation and chemo therapy for stage three throat cancer which was a curve ball for a guy, who makes his living with his voice; it definitely got my attention.
I had been asked by friends and fans for years before that particular surprise as to whether or not I would write a book… Look, I’m good at my job and it’s not false modesty but the last thing the world needs is another celebrity Hollywood bio; especially by a guy who’s not a celebrity. The characters are famous. Not me. And I’m fine with that.
TME: But that makes your story much different… doesn’t it?
RP: Yes it does and it makes the story different and more interesting in the context of the throat cancer. If I had got skin cancer, stomach cancer, or pancreatic cancer, that would have been a drag but Jesus…everybody has their stuff. And everybody unfortunately knows and loves someone who has been touched by cancer and often has died from it. But if its something that affects you not only where you live but in the way in which you communicate with the world, it makes for a more interesting story. Spoiler alert: I lived.
The book called Voice Lessons,which i think was a particularly terrific title thought up by my co-writer Mike Fleeman…the context of my cancer experience is in there but the due to the fact that I have had contact and continued to keep in contact with a great number of people who I’ve spoken to over the years, usually whose children have gone through horrible circumstances and want to speak to Raphael or Pinky or Leonardo, or Donatello or Yakko or Carl… whomever as a result of their particular horrible cancer circumstances and also often the children don’t make it.
After these really heroic struggles, the parents keep in touch with me, over the years even though their children are gone; they continue to remind me how brave they were. and that really crossed me up and gave me immeasurable strength to deal with my own circumstances…and I’m a pretty tough guy but this was really brutal for me. It screws up your mouth, your throat, your stomach. It was brutal; really difficult.
It is not impossible to survive; Michael Douglass survived it. Unfortunately Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times did not survive it…and others. Its a pretty brutal cancer treatment and if you don’t take care of it, it can leave you worse for wear. I was more than happy to give it a shot and I’m fine now. That is what the book is about…how these children and their parents and the characters; most importantly, brought strength and joy to not only them but to me.
It was a pretty wonderful experience. Ill tell ya…it was incredible.
TME: Talking about your characters and you’ve done so much work, was there any character in the middle of a gig that gave you a sense of ” this is it, this is what you wanted to be doing as an actor”?
RP: I came out to L.A. 41 years ago to do live action and music. I was a singer first and became an actor and that was what I was doing. A lot of episodic television,commercials. and about mid 80s the opportunity presented itself to do animation and of course I jumped at it because I wanted to work. I never say no. I just like to be creative and work.And so the first shows I did were G.I. Joe and Transformers and I thought “Man this is great.
Nobody cares what I look like because as I’m not celebrity talent, and your work and opportunities for work are dictated often by your looks. In animation work, no one cares what the actors look like. In fact often, you will do characters that are of the opposite sex. A lot of young boy characters are all done by women. Finally at about 30, I decided “I wanna stay here. This is great”… And I’m glad I did because now… all these years later, after Pinky, Yakko and Carl, Arthur on the Tick and the Mask, Mighty Max and Fairly Oddparents…
TME: You just described my childhood.
RP: Yeah…how about that? Mine too! My post childhood…and my son’s childhood who is now 35 and I’m glad I made that choice.
TME: Was there any character that you personally identified with?
RP: Yeah I gotta say because of the smart ass attitude I gotta say Rafael and Yakko are closest to me in my own personality because I’m a bit snarky and I have a saracastic attitude that I think is a sense of humor that certainly was helpful during my cancer experience; not take myself and my treatment too seriously and when things got pretty gnarly I would just say to myself “Well you know what? I reckon you better find a way to get on it because if you don’t find a way to do this it’s gonna kill you so you might as well find a way to enjoy the ride. You’re not living under a bridge; you got every type of medicine to get through it so why don’t you just take a handful and hook yourself to some fluids because you can’t eat and drink and listen to Pink Floyd. Start getting the cure done so you can get on with your life.All these children before you who didn’t make it and the brave men and women who tried this treatment; not knowing what the outcome would be…they’re a lot tougher than you. I reckon you better shut your mouth.”
That attitude helped me keep my head down and take a punch. I’m glad I have it. And those characters that I identify with and helped me be successful because they are utterly natural and organic and I didn’t have to stretch. Yakko and Rafael are the easiest to slide into and the two that come to mind.
Check out this story of Rob’s incredible journey and how his fans helped him through one of the toughest challenges of his life. See link above for purchase details.
*The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.