Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem – Nicolas Cantu on Taking Charge as Leonardo

Nicolas Cantu is the voice of Leonardo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem. He tells us why the Turtles' dialogue is so much more natural in this movie.

Leonardo in TMNT: Mutant Mayhem
Photo: Paramount

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The original 1980s Ninja Turtles cartoon intro song described Leonardo quite simply as “Leonardo leads” and Mutant Mayhem is ready to expand on that. In the new film, the Turtles’ father Splinter tells Leonardo that he has “honor.” He does his best to keep the others out of trouble but is still a teenager after all, which means his role as leader comes with a lot of anxiety. Out of all the Turtles, Leonardo is the most okay with living in the sewer until he meets reporter April and discovers his desire to be a part of the human world… And his crush on April.

Nicolas Cantu is no stranger to being the leader, bringing his voice to the titular lead character of The Amazing World of Gumball. He’s also voiced Dak in several How to Train Your Dragon animated series, been heard as Charlie in the Skull Island Netflix show, and been seen in live-action as Elton Ortiz in The Walking Dead: World Beyond. He even brought his talents to another beloved ‘80s property when he voiced the robotic B.O.Y.D. in the reboot of DuckTales.

Den of Geek: What was your history with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise before you were cast in this film?

Nicolas Cantu: My history with the franchise was seeing everybody in the schoolyard with Ninja Turtle backpacks or lunch boxes and kids bringing action figures to school. They became part of my world through merchandising. I just thought they were the coolest dudes ever since I was four years old.

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Even just seeing them on backpacks made you go, “These guys are cool….”

It’s wild because they really are very well designed and they bring out your imagination from your first sight of them. I have made up more about the Ninja Turtles in my head than any other fictional character.

How would you describe Leonardo?

I would say the way that he’s different from his brothers is that even through all the turmoil of being a teenager, he still sees the end goal of having him and his brothers become this famous crimefighting team. He still has that dream, that’s the goal he’s working towards, and he’s the most serious. He’s still a teenager, so you’re always gonna be goofy. But he’s the one always trying to keep the brothers on track and he’s got a lot of anxiety because of that, I think.

Do you see any of yourself in the character of Leonardo?

His position regarding his brothers is very similar to how I grew up. I was the middle child; Leonardo’s the oldest, so not that part, but the part where his brothers are getting up to something and he’s the one trying to reel them in to behave. That was very much me growing up with my brothers. We’re very similar in that sense.

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How did the four of you create the brother-like connection in your performances?

I think [co-writer and producer] Seth [Rogen] really helped because he set the precedent for the banter, like, “We have the script. We love it, and it’s great. But if you guys want to step over each other? That’s how people talk. Not every line is delivered and then people wait to speak.” It’s this mishmash of a conversation that is so real. You get that a lot with brothers. People don’t let each other finish sentences. They try to get their ideas out before the other one. It’s a really brotherly thing to just disregard what somebody else is saying and say something completely different in the middle of it.

What was the audition process like for Leonardo?

Although this was a voiceover project, and usually those auditions are just recorded through a microphone, they wanted to record me on video. They wanted to see my full body as I did the lines. I think they did that because they just wanted to see more of my personality. When you’re recording your voice, you can kind of get a “character” coming through. I think casting wanted to see who the kid behind the voice would be. But it was also really silly because they asked us to do 30 seconds of dancing. I just remember thinking, when are they ever going to use this? Why do they need to see me dance for a cartoon? But I busted a move, and now here I am as Leonardo. It was the dancing that did it!

Are we going to see Leonardo bust a move in this movie?

Yeah. They’re Turtle boys—they love to dance, they love to celebrate, they’re teenagers…. They’re going to be moving. 

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What do you think of the way the movie is animated?

The first time I saw anything complete it was like a camera test that they did, and I think it was Donatello, just on a skateboard skating through the city, and it looked incredible. Mutant Mayhem has got this hand-drawn feel to it. It’s like if you took a note or a page out of some kid’s textbook that he doodled on in the corner. There’s stuff like that in the visual style and I thought it was sick. I was already excited to be a part of a Ninja Turtles thing and play Leonardo, but then I saw the first little glimpse of what it’s actually gonna look like and my excitement just skyrocketed because I’m a sucker for cool animation and it looks sick.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem hits theaters on Aug. 2.

*Parts of this interview are courtesy of EPK.