Greg Cipes interview: voicing TMNT's Michelangelo
Matt chats to one of the Turtles about pizza, keyrings, and personal philosophies...
For a Ninja Turtles obsessive like me, meeting my favourite Michelangelo was an exciting prospect. Greg Cipes, who voices Michelangelo in the current Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series, is one of the coolest people in the world. It seems like the universe couldn’t allow someone like Greg Cipes to exist without somehow making him Michelangelo. Throughout our interview he was relaxed, happy and friendly. He was softly spoken, charming and charismatic. He’s also really, really like his character on the show. Like, really really. It would not be an exaggeration to say that I was utterly enamored of him.
It’s the 30th anniversary of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this year (on 5th May, just over a week after I sat down to chat with Cipes and a member of the awesome Nickelodeon UK team) and there’s much to celebrate; a blockbuster movie coming soon, a 30th anniversary comic book and the various continuing Turtles comic books and toys. On top of that, I’d argue that the current one is the best Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon yet.
Here’s how our chat with Greg Cipes went.
You’re Michelangelo. Like, you ARE Michelangelo.
How did you get the role of Michelangelo?
Well, through the traditional casting process. I was the first choice for Michelangelo. They were like “Greg Cipes - he’s perfect for Mikey. He is Mikey!” I still had to audition and go through that and then I got it.
How quickly did you know it was going to be a good show? Because it’s terrific.
Oh, I knew right away. Based on Nickelodeon, their history of making hit shows and the care they take in making sure the shows are going to be amazing. Then hiring Ciro Nieli, who is one of my favourite artists and animators in the whole world, and one of my dear friends. Anything he touches is gold. So the moment I heard he was doing Turtles I was like “Yo...” and before I could even say I wanted to be a Turtle, he was like “Dude, I’m gonna make you a Turtle.” He’s like “You’re Mikey!” I’m like “Really?”
Then, it takes a long time to make a high quality show like this. So I didn’t feel like it was really gonna happen, and it did and it’s doing so good.
You’re such a good fit for Mikey. When the show launched over here I was lucky enough to interview Kevin Eastman and Rich Magallanes and they were so full of praise for you. You’ve had a great response to your performance. How nice has that been, to get such a response for a character where people had such expectations?
I’m always surprised. It’s a great blessing to have people so turned on and happy by what I’ve brought to Mikey. It’s only because Mikey is such a big part of who I am. I feel like the reason why people who love the Turtles and who love Mikey appreciate this role is ‘cause Mikey’s in my heart, you know? It came out so naturally. I didn’t reference any voice from the old shows or anything like that, it was just what came out of me when I auditioned. Mikey’s in me.
So, you didn’t feel any pressure? Because you have 30 years of character expectations.
There was a just a pressure because it’s the coolest show in the whole world, you know?
I knew that if I just had fun it would come across right. The fact that Nickelodeon and Ciro were a part of it, it was gonna be good. The pressure wasn’t really on me.
With your fellow cast members, who is your favourite to have scenes with?
Well, it’s always a pleasure working with Mae Whitman, and me and Sean (Astin) have so much fun. He’s become one of my best friends. Rob (Paulen)’s always a pleasure. I mean, really, I like working with everyone there, just the whole crew. Our voice director Andrea Romano is the best in the business. It’s just a pleasure all around. The new head writer and executive producer Brandon Auman, he’s amazing, one of my favourite writers. And our guest cast. We have like, Roseanne Barr, the list goes on and on.
I think you’re probably a similar age to me, and Ninja Turtles was my childhood. That and Ghostbusters. Did it impact on yours as well?
Oh yeah. Turtles, Ghostbusters; two of my favourites. Turtles was by far my favourite TV show when I was growing up. It would be the show that I would wanna watch more than anything. We’d record it on the big VHS tapes and I’d watch it before school, after school, on the weekend, wear the costume, have all the weapons.
I only had a few of the tapes. There were nearly two hundred of the old shows, and I think I’d seen maybe ten of them, but around a hundred times each.
Yeah, yeah. The Turtles inspired me to skateboard, got me into surfing, at which I then became third in the US. It taught me meditation; I meditate every day. And that’s because of the Turtles. It’s a very powerful show, you know? It shapes reality for us. It shapes our lives.
On the subject of your surfing achievement, you are the most chilled out person I’ve ever met. But you’ve achieved so much, as well. How do find that balance?
I live in a state of ‘let go’. I am not attached to anything, so therefore I have infinite amounts of creativity and infinite amounts of energy. I find that I have infinite amounts of inspiration, so I just allow it to come through. I basically function in a state of ‘no thought’. I don’t think anymore, I just am. I’m witnessing this almost like a movie, rather than me being here with you, I’m seeing us being here. You know, I’m speaking but I’m not thinking about what I’m speaking. It’s all just action.
If I love something I just do it, and I love so many things that I do it all. Music, TV, movies, producing, directing, writing. All of it.
You’re also a vegan. Being a cast member on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, how much promotional pizza have you had to turn down over the last two years?
Oh, so much pizza. Yeah. At Nickelodeon we’re bombarded with pizza parties and I get vegan pizza. So I’m catered to. It’s nice.
Blatantly someone at Nickelodeon who pushed for this, like ‘let’s get Ninja Turtles’, entirely so they could indulge in pizza.
Yes! Of course.
Now, I have Lego Michelangelo key ring which I’ve used to play Ninja Turtles with younger family members, and I’m sure you must hear stories about things like that regularly. Turtles is a show that’s enjoyed by different generations. You’ve also appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Teen Titans. How nice is it to be a part of these shows that help people form intergenerational bonds?
Oh, it’s a huge blessing and a great responsibility and something that I take very seriously and that I’m grateful for. It’s a lot of fun. For me it’s all about family, and that’s why I love Turtles so much; ‘cause it’s a family show. It’s a family show of a whole bunch of weird, diverse characters and I feel like we’re all kind of weird, diverse characters in real life. This show inspires us to be ourselves, which allows us to connect with others. I think the most beautiful thing about life is the diversity.
The fact that the show brings families together is awesome and I couldn’t ask for anything more than that. Bringing people together is the key to happiness, for me.
That, and it’s got to be cool to be an action figure, right? I had a little Lego you in my pocket.
Ahh. It is so cool.
It never gets tiring to see yourself stacked up in stores?
No way, I buy myself all the time! It’s always exciting, all the cool new products. There’s Ninja Turtles everything. There’s Mikey socks, Mikey toothbrush, there’s Mikey everything.
Yeah. I have all of it.
And I have all of it too.
It’s great. I love Ninja Turtles, and it used to be, when it was gone for a little while, if you saw a t-shirt or something you had to buy it because there wasn’t going to be anything else. Now it’s everywhere and I have to stop myself from buying everything as I see it.
I know. And they know that. Everybody wants Turtles stuff. You can’t get too much of it. If you go to Walmart or Target there’s more Turtles stuff than anything else.
Michelangelo is the most positive character on television. Do you look for roles where you know they’ll have a positive influence over your day-to-day life?
Absolutely. I look for them and I look forward to them. When they show up in my life I’m always so excited for them. Really, Turtles is the most positive thing in my life. It’s the most positive show and Mikey is the most positive character that one can play. And ultimately it effects my week. Mondays is when we record new episodes. So every week gets kicked off with the most positive experience I could ever have.
With the new movie coming out, I’m not gonna bombard you with questions about it because I know you’re not involved...
No, it’s okay.
There’s gonna be two Michelangelos now. Yourself and a chap called Noel Fischer. Who wins in a chuk off?
Oh, for sure me.
So you can chuk?
Yeah, with my eyes closed. You know who’s the best chuk’er though? Ciro Nieli. He’s a real master chuk’er.
I was tempted to learn, but I just know I would injure myself so seriously and so quickly.
If it’s fun, do it. Take it step by step.
Oh, I love your life philosophy, but I can’t just do things. I’m riddled with anxieties.
You can do anything you want to do. It’s all in the breath, brother.
You did a movie called Killer Pad with Robert Englund. How was it to take direction from Freddy Krueger?
It was cool! It was fun. It was a fun little movie.
So there were no worries of ‘If I don’t get this right, he’s gonna get his glove out’?
Yeah, there’s a little bit of that. It was a little scary being on the set.
And you were in Fast and Furious, the fourth one. That’s awesome.
It was awesome. I got to work with Paul Walker. He’s an angel. He was so sweet. The film was great. It was the one that brought the whole franchise back. It was sort of like what happened with the Turtles, how it went away before Nickelodeon bought it and remade it, brought in masters like Ciro to create it. The same thing happened with Fast and Furious. People were kind of ‘ehhh, Fast and Furious’, but when it came it out it blew up again.
Now they have The Rock in them. You could beat The Rock in a race if you had The Shellraiser, right?
Oh yeah! For sure.
I would love to see a buddy cop movie with you and The Rock. You’re a young gentleman, but you’ve done a ton of stuff. I know you like to live in the moment, but do you have goals?
Yeah. Well, there are things I like to do, so I just do them. And some of those things I’d like to do more of. Which would be directing. I love directing. I love creating things that I don’t necessarily even have to be in. I like creating worlds. So I’m getting into writing movies and selling movies and television shows and creating worlds that then get to live beyond me. So more of that, yes.
What do you get the most recognition from?
Well, cartoons for sure, because I do so many of them and the characters I play are very well liked. And many times people will, just by my voice.
Yeah. If I heard you speak, even if I didn’t know who you were, I would immediately know you were Michelangelo.
I get that sometimes, which is always weird n’ wild. Like, I’ll be walking by somewhere and they’ll be like ‘You’re Michelangelo’ and I’ll be like ‘Whoa, how did you know that?’
[Nickelodeon] When you said ‘how did you know that?’ you sounded exactly like Michelangelo.
[laughs] But it’s also cool because everyone wants to do voiceover now and it’s becoming such a stunt casted world of celebrities. Now we’re being put on camera more, so people are knowing who is the voice behind the character. They’re starting to recognize me more and more.
Do you have a favourite episode or a favourite thing that you’ve been able to do as Mikey?
Well, I love the fact that Ice Cream Kitty showed up because I’m such an animal lover and I get a pet. Raphael had Spike, and Spike is no longer Spike. He’s turned into Slash. So the fact that I get a pet, and I love cats and I love dogs more than anything in the whole world, I think that’s cool. There’s a lot more new episodes coming up where it’s Mikey and Ice Cream Kitty centered.
That’s great. When we spoke to the team behind the show they were so excited by Ice Cream Kitty.
That’s Kevin Eastman.
Yeah. It’s great that you guys were able to find him a role that...
That’s the only role he wanted!
Of course. If you’re looking over a list of characters and one is called Ice Cream Kitty, you’re gonna want to be Ice Cream Kitty.
Do you have a favourite Jason Statham film?
That is absolutely fine.
I don’t watch TV. Only while I’m doing it do I see it, really. So I don’t know anything. I only know old reggae artists. So that’s my thing. Old reggae artists and martial arts.
So you’re still useful in a pub quiz, then. When the reggae round comes up.
Yeah, if there’s a reggae pub quiz I’ll do good.
Your Turtles co-star Jason Biggs; is he mischievous? He seems like he’s mischievous.
Yes. Extremely. At the animation awards, the ANNIE awards, he pulled down my pants on stage.
We planned it though. But I didn’t think he was gonna do it. I wore American flag Speedos and all the Turtles were up on stage and he pantsed me in front of a couple of thousand people in tuxedos.
[Nickelodeon] At least you were being patriotic!
Yeah. God bless America.
Your business partner is Rose McGowan. And that’s Rose McGowan from Scream?
Yeah. Actually that’s one of the reasons that I’m out here in London right now, because our film is at the Sundance film festival, a short called Dawn that she directed. It’s her directorial debut. It’s really good.
Can we expect her popping up on Turtles any time soon?
I’m working on it. I bet she will.
They love having horror movie characters on, she’s from Scream. They should get her on!
And she’s amazing! And she’s got a great voice, so we’re working on it. She wants to do it, she loves the Turtles.
Thank you, Greg Cipes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on Nicktoons at 9.30am on Saturday mornings.
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