Splinter Speaks! Our Interview with TMNT’s Hoon Lee

We chat with Splinter of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles about recording action scenes, comics, and the dramatic aspects of the show.

Hoon Lee knows his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He’s been a fan since the comics first appeared in the mid-80’s and it showed while talking with him. Every question we asked him received an insightful response revealing how much he cared about the series and his performance. He’s thought extensively about different aspects of the series and shared with us views on subjects ranging from how fans approach the characters to why the show’s humor can be so strong to aspects of his performance that he is constantly evolving. 

Den of Geek: As a comics fan, did you read the Eastman & Laird comics growing up?

Hoon Lee: I did. I remember those old Mirage black and whites. A friend of mine at the time showed them to me and I remember thinking, as a traditional superhero guy, “What is this? This is ridiculous!” I was skeptical. And then I think that reading session ended with me trying to steal them from him! Like, when I went to leave I put them in my bag and tried to walk off with them, which would have been great because they would have netted me a fortune now. It was such a phenomenon for anyone that grew up with it and certainly for anyone who was interested in comic books. It ended up being a large part of your perspective in your childhood so having this circle back now in this form I kind of couldn’t believe the opportunity; it was really amazing.

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Is this your first time doing voice work with fight scenes?

I’ve done some voice work for other video games, but it’s very similar. The whole perspective was new and very exciting on that level because I like trying new things. But in some ways what it really brought me back to was, I kept flashing back to my childhood when you’d pick up a play sword or something and try to hit your brother; sound effects were such an important part of that. We’ve all made those lightsaber sounds for example, so I felt like in some ways I was able to relive that part of my childhood; it was pretty delightful.

Greg Cipes has said that when recording he moves around a lot. How do you approach the character when performing in the booth?

I think that it depends on what you’re doing. Those guys’ characters are in constant motion; they’re either hopping from rooftop to rooftop or fighting or getting thrown around or slammed in to walls. There’s a certain physicality that’s really helpful to getting the right kind of energy out of the performance. Splinter does have a lot of more stately standing around, so I fortunately don’t have to sprain anything, but in the more recent action sequences it’s extremely helpful to sort of physicalize some of his energy. You have to create more than an integrated approach.

What I found more challenging though, and more rewarding, is trying to focus and instill your emotional intention in really only your voice. You’re only able to show one aspect of how you would present yourself as a person or as an actor and try to gather all of your resources and put them in one vocal point is a real skill. It’s the sort of thing I think I’m still learning and am working very hard at and being very conscientious about. It’s infuriating when someone like Rob Paulson can do it so easily [laughs]. He’s so skilled and it doesn’t even look like he’s doing anything, but when you hear the end results it’s so clear how much his experience and talent has paid off.

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The reveal at the end of season one about Splinter and Karai was devastating. The show is very comedic, between that and some other scenes, the show has been very dramatic. How was the transition from going between Splinter’s dad humor and switching to finding out your daughter has been raised by your arch-nemesis?

It’s funny because I think anyone that does drama or anyone that does comedy regularly understands that without that other dimension, there’s only so far you can go. You need moments of lightness and levity in order to push in to greater darkness and you need moments with gravity and darkness in order to make things funnier. A lot of comedy is based on suffering and everything’s a cruel joke. If you see someone slipping on a banana, and you think about what’s actually happening to them, it’s some form of suffering. 

So for me, it’s great, because I feel that the writers and producers are smart enough and courageous enough to not view the show as just a kid’s show and try to make the best show possible. They’re willing to go in to darker places, more serious places, have questions about family, questions about loyalty, and by doing so they make the spectrum of possibility broader. And that goes both ways. The show can be funnier because it can be darker. The show can be darker because it can be funnier. I welcome this opportunity; for me, this is where I feel most at home, where I can play across the whole spectrum. 

Did you have a favorite turtle, or were you a Splinter fan in the 80’s?

What I love about the turtles is that they’re all kind of expressions of a certain type of personality trait. I feel like when people gravitate towards a turtle they tend to pick the one they identify with or wish they were more like. At the time of the original comics, it was Raphael because like many young kids, you felt like you wanted to be that sort of aggressive, more alpha type character, who’s kind of cool and dangerous. And you also identify with the idea that you would have anger issues or whatever. [Laughs]

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I think it’s largely a function of when people encounter the characters. Now as an older person with a son, I find myself identifying more strongly with Splinter. Splinter’s fears are my own fears. But when I have to act as Splinter, it really does press upon things that I feel very personally. I’m not saying he’s my favorite character as a fan, just that he’s the person that resonates most closely. 

How has being a father influenced your performance as Splinter?

I think it certainly helped. I have to say that acting is one of those professions, and this is something that my wife really put a finger on, where anything that makes you richer as a person enriches your work.  And having a child, it’s such a seismic change as a person that it really does open things up for you as an actor as a side effect. I find that being a father now makes the stakes for Splinter feel very real for me. It makes the role much more personal in that way. It draws me closer to that character, so that’s a gift.

Does your son have a Splinter action figure?

No, no, I’m waiting. I think my son is a little too young right now. Plus, I’m a little nervous. [Laughs] Part of me is scared he won’t be interested at all. That’s the gnawing fear. But I’ve been stockpiling a little bit because I want to sit down and watch the shows together and enjoy them together. I watch them as a fan now, but we’re trying to make sure that we expose him to a lot of different things, and before I personally open up that can of worms which is animated cartoons (which I could watch all day) I want to get a little bit of buffer time. But it’ll happen soon and I hope he likes them.


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