In 1996 Hey Arnold! debuted on Nickelodeon starring Lane Toran as the voice of Arnold. Sometime between the first and second season Toran’s voice change lead to a recasting and he moved on to other things.
Now over 15 years later Lane Toran is back at part of Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie although this time around he won’t be playing the titular football head. We caught up Toran to discuss Arnold’s wisdom, a hit song he co-wrote, and what he’s been up to.
In the series, Arnold is kind of a mini philosopher. How did you go about playing someone so wise when as a young actor you didn’t quite have as much life experience?
Man, back then I kind of did have a lot of life experience. I lived in Peru for a few months. I don’t know man, I think I was a very mature 12 year old. My friends were all way older than me back then. So, I think that was actually one cool thing about my take on Arnold was he was very mature for a nine year old.
What was your upbringing like when you were a kid that lead to that mature outlook?
I think it was just having older friends. My mom had a theater company and so I was involved in that. It’s not like going to school where everyone’s your age. In the theater company it was all different ages. So that was really why I had older friends on a consistent basis.
(Toran during the production of the original Hey Arnold! series.)
What happened the day you realized your voice had changed and couldn’t play Arnold anymore?
There wasn’t a specific day that it happened. It was kind of over time. Over that time, I tried pitching my voice up a little bit. They tried digitally making it go up with the computer. It just didn’t work. That’s just what happened. Life. Growing up.
Obviously, the first time when I got the call saying, “All right, it’s time. We’ve tried everything. We have to find someone else.” Obviously, it sucks. I was probably 13, I forget if I was 13 or 14 when it happened. But yeah, it’s not a call that you want to get.
I know this is a lot of years to cover, but give us a sort of a brief overview of what you’ve been up to since you were done on Hey Arnold?
Yeah, my career has honestly been all over the place but I took a break from acting a while ago. I got really into music and I co-wrote a song for Hilary Duff called Sweet Sixteen. It ended up selling, I think it was over 5 million copies. It was the theme song for My Super Sweet 16 on MTV.
So, honestly I kind of lived on that for a few years. What happened after that? More music stuff and then I finally moved away from LA. LA is great but it’s just … there’s a lot going on and it was a good time in my life just to kind of chill out for a little bit. So, I moved to North Carolina and bought a house here. It was built in the 1900’s. I spent about a year remodeling it with my dad, which has been really fun. And, the whole Instagram thing happened.
Tell me a little bit about the whole Instagram blow up.
Yeah, when I first made an Instagram, it was kind of for my music. I wanted to make something and just get that out there. And then, it just turned into a whole different beast itself. I wasn’t planning on this at all. But, when I first started my Instagram it was when beards were really popular. It was cool back then to have a beard.
It’s not so much like that anymore but back then it was like, “Oh cool, you got a beard.” So, when I did the Instagram, I kind of just hit it at the right time and my photos kept getting shared by all these different beard sites and it just kind of snowballed.
Then, I started doing some fashion stuff, some shoots and doing clothing brands. After that, then I gained a good amount of followers. I think I was at like 70-some thousand. And then, this BuzzFeed article came out which was totally unexpected and that kind of propelled this whole situation into overload.
How do you go about interacting with your fan base? You’ve obviously got a large group of Hey Arnold! fans but now you’ve got the beard fans. What’s the right amount of interaction that you try to do with the fans?
Man, I try to interact. Social media is weird you know? It’s like I would love to spend so much time talking to everyone but then there’s real life you know which is obviously way more important. So, if someone writes a comment, I always try to respond. I love getting comments. It’s so fun talking to people especially talking with fans of Hey Arnold! Cause they’re the best. They’re the best people and its just been really fun to meet fans of the show.
When Arnold gets to be your age, what do you think Arnold would be wearing?
You know it’s funny, I’ve seen a lot of memes where people have actually drawn Arnold to look like me. The beard and how I dress and stuff. So, that’s been pretty fun. I mean it looks believable to me.
What have you been doing in the last few years specifically?
Last few years I’ve been remodeling the house and that’s kind of it. I kind of liked to stay quiet. It’s kind of … I’m not really into the whole Hollywood scene. So, it’s nice to be out in North Carolina and just kind of relax basically. I almost feel like I’m retired out here which is funny.
I read in a previous interview that you had directed a film called Getaway Girls that actually stars Jamil Walker Smith (Gerald). Can you tell us about that film?
It’s a horror/thriller. It’s based in North Carolina which is where we filmed it. I don’t know what else I could really say about it without giving anything away you know?
I can tell you it is in post production right now. It is so close to being done. Of course, I will announce all of that on Instagram when it’s ready but it shouldn’t be too much longer until it’s good to go.
The soundtrack of Hey Arnold! is so well loved and so well regarded but what is your favorite music to listen to?
It’s kind of changing all the time. I love older music by Johnny Cash and the Stones and Bob Dylan. Those are always my go-to’s. But, I’m really into ambient sounds and bands like Sigur Ros. When I’m in my studio, I could be making a drone sound for hours and just get lost in it.
So you’re back for the new Hey Arnold movie. Can you give us any hints about what your role is?
Yeah, I can tell you a couple things. The role that I’m playing, his name is Che and he appears in the movie. He’s on the ship in San Lorenzo. That’s where he shows up. And, another cool thing is Jamil who used to voice Gerald, he is playing one of the crew members as well on the ship.
What has it been like to sort of be back in the spotlight for a hot minute doing this movie?
I don’t think it’s natural for me to be in the spotlight. So, its been really fun but yeah its definitely been a little stressful having to talk at Comic Con in front of 1200 people or however many people were there last time. But, the good part about that is the people are so nice and the fans of Hey Arnold! are like the coolest people. They’re so nice. So, they make it very easy. But yeah, it’s definitely not second nature to stand on stage and talk to that many people.
Looking back at the whole Hey Arnold! phenomenon, what do you think is the biggest takeaway that you have from it?
I mean I can go back to even when I was 12, 13, 14 and those stories, the episodes, they really touched my life and they definitely helped mold me into who I am, you know my values, all that good stuff.
I mean just in general how caring Arnold was. Just take the episode with the turtle. He loved animals and he was always just trying to do what’s best for everyone. Yeah, that’s a good lesson.
Do you feel like especially with how much is going on in our world today, do you feel like a new generation of kids are going to benefit from this movie or even Hey Arnold! as a show coming back?
Man, I sure hope so. That would be great. Cause yeah, a lot of new cartoons are so different. They’re so fast paced and it’s just all in your face. I don’t know if you really takeaway anything from it. It’s just kind of pure entertainment for kids and loud noises you know? So, it’s going to be nice to get back into the Hey Arnold! Storytelling for sure.
And, when you say the Hey Arnold! storytelling what do you mean by that? Is it a slower more … much like a lot of the music in the show kind of jazz like? Where it just sort of sticks with you and you take it in?
Yeah, I think so. I think it’s just like you would learn. You weren’t just watching the show just to have a laugh or … yeah, it was entertainment but even if you didn’t realize it, you were learning something from the show.
When did you first realize that Hey Arnold! wasn’t just a product of a time but that it really had true staying power?
You know, I think it’s still sinking in honestly. It’s weird. It’s like … imagine being a part of something 20 years later that is still loved by so many people. It’s like a crazy feeling. And, obviously back then we had no idea the impact. We were there just having fun doing the show but no one knew that 20 years later I’d be talking to you interviewing about the new Hey Arnold! movie. It’s crazy.
Stoop Shamus Kelley never leaves his stoop. Follow him on Twitter!