Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arrived on Nickelodeon on Sept. 17. It’s tough following up the long-running and beloved previous TMNT series, which aired on Nickelodeon between 2012-2017, but Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is quite a departure, introducing an all-new voice cast, a dynamic return to 2D animation, and some new mythology for the characters.
But it also reunites the iconic voices of Pinky and the Brain, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche as the villainous Foot Lieutenant and Foot Brute, respectively. Like the rest of the series, this is a new take on the Foot Clan, and Paulsen and LaMarche have flipped the dynamic of their old Pinky and the Brain roles. Paulsen, of course, also voiced Raphael in the original TMNT animated series, and Donatello in Nickelodeon’s other recent iteration of the series. On Rise, he also serves as voice director.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!
I was fortunate enough to talk to Paulsen and LaMarche before the Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles panel at NYCC, where they told me what it was like creating the new voices of these characters, the importance of working together in the booth, and much more.
Check out this clip from the upcoming episode “The Longest Fight,” which sees Paulsen and LaMarche as the voices of the Foot Lieutenant and the Foot Brute. This is a new take on the Foot Clan, and then read the interview below!
Den of Geek: The Foot Brute and Foot Lieutenant seem like edgier characters than we’ve seen on the rest of this show so far. How did you create these voices for them? They’re different from what fans are accustomed to hearing from you.
Maurice LaMarche: I think the perfect thing was that Rob is the voice director and what a treat to be directed by my good buddy over here because he has so many brilliant ideas. When we walked in, he just kind of laid out who these guys were. For once, I’m playing the less smart one, the less witty one. And he’s playing the genius, which is apropo of our real life.
Rob Paulsen: That’s really high praise coming from Moe and certainly I will accept that compliment in the spirit in which it’s delivered by my dear friend. But, obviously, when you’re working with a guy like Moe, it is pretty much an endless well of ideas. Remember, the VPs of the show all had great ideas and the way typically things go is that … sometimes they bring in a picture, they give you ideas of what they think they want. And then it’s our job to throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and sort of see what mutually excites everyone.
And with Moe, it doesn’t take very long. And they just go, “Okay, let’s do that.” The thing that is a bit different for me, specifically, as Moe suggests, is that most of the things that people know me for are comedic, sometimes snarky, smart-assy kind of characters. And I love that. Or stupid, in the case of Pinky. But kind of happy characters. But Moe has a really broad range and he can play a lot of bad guys, or guys of questionable intent. It is different for me to be that guy for sure.
Maurice: Yeah, I remember seeing model sheets. And I knew my guy was big, so I just kind of brought a big sound for him, you know? That’s kind of my way of working. I look at characters … if I’m lucky enough to be supplied with a model sheet, I just look at the character and channel it. So we threw around a couple of sounds and we arrived at the gravely sound.
I originally played him maybe a little, as I recall, too dumb. And we kind of made him a little more understandable because he was very marble mouthed and we put power into his voice. So there was a little bit of fine-tuning there and it was … we came up with the characters we’ve got. The lieutenant was amazing because as Rob said, I’m not used to hearing him be villainous. These two guys will mess with you.
Rob: Right. And they wrote it that way so we do kind of lead folks in and manipulate them and stuff and I’m pretty gnarly. But what’s really great is we also have these opportunities to go off and … particularly my character gets to kind of roll his eyes and…those are really fun ways to incorporate a natural humorous quality to something that’s not always so dark.
Because the whole vibe of the show is a little funnier. And the characters they draw and put together for the big celebrity talent, John Cena and John Lydon and Lena Headey, they all have comedic aspects of them that really makes the story go all over the place and it’s a blast to work on.
But one more thing with respect to working with Moe. We worked together a lot over the last 25 years and not just on Pinky and the Brain and it is effortless to work with a guy like Moe who is also a dear friend. There really is a thing about chemistry that, at the risk of sounding too fancy-schmancy, when you talk about really great comedy teams throughout at least my lifetime, there is, to be sure, a chemistry that happens. And I gotta say Pinky and the Brain really cemented that for the two of us. So when we get the chance to do this together, it is a natural thing to be able to feel each other’s instincts and I don’t think it’s surprising that these two characters seem to be working. It’s just a blast.
Den of Geek: You know it’s interesting that you say chemistry because I know with a lot of shows, everybody kind of does their vocal parts individually. But because you guys have such a history together, did you work in the booth together for any of this?
Maurice: Always. And tell them in your Rob Paulsen voice, would you?
Rob: I never work without my “Brain.” That was by design, too. The producers and the folks at Nickelodeon have been very kind to me in my role as director, because when they said, “Hey, Moe’s coming in.” I said, “Okay, if we’re gonna do this, please and obviously we have to work around Maurice’s very busy schedule, but if I had the choice, I should say, please bring us in together.” Not only is it a lot of fun, but the show will be better with respect to our particular parts if we work together. And I don’t think they would change that. It’s much better when we’re together.
Den of Geek: Rob, this is also your third go around with the TMNT. How early were you brought on as voice director for this? How early in development of this particular show?
Rob: Very. In fact it was January of 2017. It is certainly not my daily work and I made it very clear from the beginning that I didn’t want other voice directors who are close to Maurice and me, Andrea Romano, Chris Zimmerman, Kelly Ward, people like that who are really excellent in town. I would never want anyone to feel like I was trying to snake a gig from them. But they said, “No, we really think this might work and it was a mutual idea to say lets get half a dozen episodes.” And I told them right from the beginning, I was utterly eager less in this pursuit because I’m good at my job, but this is a new thing for me and if we get half way into it and somebody says, “Hey Rob, we really dig you as an actor, but you don’t know anything about this side of the business,” no harm, no foul.
So far, everything seems to be going well. I love doing it.
Maurice: I’ll just jump in on that and add that we’re saying this … I speak for myself, saying this because you are a very good director. Everybody loves Rob Paulsen. One of the sweetest guys in the world and an amazing talent as a voice actor, but you also kick ass as a director. You talk to an actor as a fellow actor, so you discuss things an actor wants to know, like what the character wants and what the setting is. Where we are in this scene. Because in animation you don’t always get that from a script. He really speaks with a compassion to the actor, while making it fun.
Rob: Thank you. And it is a remarkable experience to have three cracks at, pun intended, an evergreen franchise, I mean are you kidding me? The thing about this franchise in particular is that you think about it, when we work in the studio and we have a ball and we go home, and again, people don’t recognize you walking down the street. But man, I’m telling you something, I can go pretty much anywhere and people would know Ninja Turtles. It’s unbelievable and so much so that every time I have time to chat with Kevin Eastman, one of the creators of the show, inevitably, if we have more than five minutes of conversation, it comes up. Even the creator looks around and says, “Oh my God. I forget sometimes because I’m just standing in line at a CVS and it’s Halloween and there’s a whole bunch of Ninja Turtle Halloween balloons.” And he goes, “Oh my God. That’s right. I created that.” It’s really mind blowing to be part of it and it is as popular now as it’s ever been.
Den of Geek: And as a vote of confidence, Nickelodeon renewed you for a second season before the first season even aired.
Rob: They did give us quite a vote of confidence and I think it is because it’s a different take on the show. It’s certainly different than the last one and that was by design. When you have a franchise that is pretty bullet proof and so strong, it’s exciting to see what new artists put into it.
Den of Geek: This was so much fun. Thank you both for taking the time.