Have you ever heard the voice of a character and thought, I wonder who’s doing that and how? Well, chances are that voice is coming from the one and only Dee Bradley Baker.
Dee Bradley Baker is one of the most versatile and sought after A-list voice actors working today. His voice is seemingly everywhere, featured in literally hundreds of television shows, movies and top video games. Over the past two decades, Baker has earned an extraordinary reputation among show creators and fans alike with his chameleon-like acting skills and his wide range of realistic creature sounds, from tiny birds and insects to gigantic monsters.
He provided creature sounds for the mega-hit Star Wars: The Force Awakens as well as Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Dee was featured as the lead box troll “Fish” in Laika’s animated feature, The Box Trolls. This earned him a nomination for an “Annie” award for “Outstanding Achievement in a Feature Animated Production.” Baker also was all over Viacom’s hit, SpongeBob 2: Sponge Out of Water, where he was credited with 14 separate voices, including Perch Perkins. You can currently hear his jungle animal sounds throughout Walt Disney Picture’s live action reboot of The Jungle Book directed by Jon Favreau.
Baker is currently recording a new season of the Sponge Bob television series at Nickelodeon and a second season of Warner Bros., Wabbit, where he voices Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny’s sidekick squirrel, “Squeaks.” He also provides many voices for Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, including Cinnamon Bun and various voices in Amazon’s streaming series The Croods.
We caught up with the legendary voice actor to talk about bringing Legends of the Hidden Temple back to life, where he stores all of the voices in his head, and the pressures of putting on the greatest Halloween of all-time. Without further ado, Dee Bradley Baker.
Just got to New York Comic Con for the first day, Thursday. Just showed up, checked in to drop my bag off and sure enough, who shows up in my room but Dee Bradley Baker!
(Makes weird animal noise)
It was serendipitous, man. It has been a little while since we have hung out. It is good to see you!
Yeah, it is good to see you too! It is really fun to dive back into this with all the enthusiasm that everyone has for whatever weird thing they are into. I really love conventions, how inclusive they are, how creative they are, and I just think it is what people should be doing. Dress whatever way you want in whatever cool mythology or fantasy that you are into and everyone gets to play. It is very accepting and creative, I love it.
What’s cool for you is you just get to dress as Dee Bradley Baker and that’s enough because there are probably a few Dee Bradley Baker’s out there walking the floor and you’re like I don’t even have to get ready for this. I am all set.
I can’t just latch on to one particular thing, so I just go more neutral. I have little picture cards that I have printed of some of the more favorite things that I do. If I run into someone with a particular costume from one of the shows I have done, then I sign it and give that to them.
That’s pretty cool. How endearing is it when you see the passion that these people have, not only in their costume, but they almost seem to know more than you do about what you’ve done? I mean, it is awesome.
Yeah. People really build their lives around the things that they love. That’s what you should do. Find the things that you love and really make that creative part of your life and there is no place like comic con for that. It is great to see also as an actor, as a voice actor you don’t really have an audience, but to see how enthusiastic people are or how much they love these shows or how it connects them to each other and their families. It is a very social creative phenomenon that’s quite gratifying to see and it energies people’s lives and connects them together.
The second I walked through, before I walked into you, I walked right past one of my childhood favorite television shows, Legends of the Hidden Temple, from Nickelodeon. When I very first met you, I thought it’s him! It’s the guy!!
The legend lives! Yeah, we are bringing it back with a really great movie that Nickelodeon has made. The game of Legends of the Hidden Temple is uniquely suited to actually be placed into a movie. It has never been done. I don’t think they have ever taken a game show and made it into a movie. Video games yes, but not a game show. It is because the game show was a story that you work your way through this climactic challenge at the end of it. It actually suits itself very well to be made into a film. Happily, the people involved with it cared about it and really loved the old game show and that informs the story and the events that happen out of it. Kirk is in it too, playing himself and it has a story arc for Kirk Fogg in the story. It is kind of Meta, but it is really great, very entertaining and fun. I think old school fans will love it and young people who have never seen it will like it as much too. It is sort of like an Indiana Jones type story, but it is terrific.
Well, whatever brings back the availability of these t-shirts. I mean I had to hand draw my own silver snakes shirt. Did you play favorites to a particular team brand because they were branded and we all chose our side when the game started?
I am a weirdo and being kind of a mimic and doing weird voices, I gravitated to the purple parrots. I actually wore purple underwear today to commemorate that. I am just sharing that with you.
I will take your word for it.
But statistically speaking, apparently they didn’t do so well, but those are the ones that I liked.
Yeah, they were the Hartford Whalers, the Cleveland Browns of the Legends of the Hidden Temple.
I was rooting for them.
People still to this day dress up as teammates from that show. Especially here in New York City, you’ll see everything. They are always included. It is cool that it is coming back and what a cool project. Do you have all of these voices stored away inside
They are at the ready.
When I say Legends you go.. When I say Star Wars you go..
(In the voice of the characters)
When I say Legends you go Olmec. When I say Star Wars you say Rex.
Phineas and Ferb boom!
Yeah, it is very much the case as you get used to doing the thing that you do. It comes more at the surface, present, so you can just dial that up. It is almost like having a good session musician play Mozart, play Jazz, and play Gershwin. Right there you can do it. It looks like how do you do that. Well, it is because it is ready and your experience and your facility with your instrument is right there. It takes longer to dial it up and maybe a little more positioning to get it right earlier in your career, but later it becomes easier.
Now it is just a part of the catalog.
That’s right! That is exactly how I think of it, as an internal data base of characters, visual ideas, movies, and pop culture and other things that grow and cultivate and to just sort of have on the shelf inside your mind and ready to go.
Do you have a count of how many characters you are at now? How many is it? Have you cracked a thousand? Can someone get that far?
I don’t. There is a site called “behind the voice actor” and they count and catalog how many characters people do. I don’t know how accurate it is because a lot of us do a lot of different voices on a lot of different shows. They have me as number three of all time.
It makes me dizzy to even think that. Again, I don’t know if that is accurate or not. Ultimately, it is not about the number of voice acting that you do, it is about your acting, the character you bring, the quality of the show in general. It is not all just about the voice actor. It is fun to count that stuff, but it ultimately, I am not sure if it is a supported indicator of a career’s success or anything like that.
Not to switch gears here, but one of my favorite holidays, and we can call it a holiday, is coming up. It is Halloween.
Yes! That’s the best holiday.
There is a comedian out there who has a great joke and he says you know why Halloween is the best holiday? Because you don’t have to spend it with your family.
You get to roam around with your friends, but you’ve been bestowed a duty, that I could only wish my Dad would be able to pull this off. I am sure this is going to go down in history as one of the greatest events to happen, in family life for you. Maybe there will be some people who jump the fence and sneak in. What have you been asked to do?
Well I have been put in charge of the haunted house experience, The Halloween Show at my daughter’s school. I am taking the lead on conceiving the idea of the story and the execution of the entire experience. I am very excited about that. I came to see over the past few years, as I was making up my lawn for Halloween, that I am one of those people who can do that all the time. I can just create creatures and gags and events for Halloween. I can be one of those people who spend a year creating something to build in my front yard that people go through. I really like doing that.
That’s so awesome.
Part of the reason is that my Dad when I was young would make a different monster every year. He would talk about, it was in the neighborhood, he has heard about it and then on Halloween it would be revealed like this (monster noise at 9:03) and he would record on a tape recorder. He would give like ten minutes of dead time to start and would record the sounds, then would put it in a closet playing. So we are eating our Halloween meal together and we start hearing this sound the house. There was scritchy scratcher one year that would scratch on doors. There was a floating skull I the back yard one year.
Wow! What a great Dad.
It was very creating, but this idea about creating a Halloween show was kind of engrained in me. This is kind of what I do as a voice actor. I make creatures and tell weird stories. So Halloween is sort of a very free space to do that kind of thing. There is no money involved, it is just for fun. I am very excited about that.
That’s so cool. What a fun project and a life full circle moment for you.
This path you are on was sort of carved for you before you even knew it.
Well, for me, the take away from it is, kind of connecting with things you are enthusiastic about and that you love and to follow them through your life. That can become your career. That can inform what your career is because the trap I think in life is to just do things you are good at, but don’t care about. There are a lot of people who follow that path understandably just for economic reasons. If you can find the thing you really love. Good enough that people will pay you for, then you can have a really happy fun career. That’s what I was very lucky to have found.
You’re in the sweet spot. If I can ask you a technical question because you have been doing this for so long, are you still learning about your voice and the capabilities of it and do you know your limits or do you like to risks and challenge yourself with what you can do with your voice because it can be dangerous. There is a fine line between of where you can take and where you can create something that never existed before and having to train yourself to perform that over and over again.
Yeah. Part of what I have learned is how to do the sounds I do without damaging my voice. I am good with that. I have come up with a solution for what this thing needs to be with a way that delivers that, but without hurting myself. Which is also easier when you are more experienced. You can also get more with less energy and less stress and strain. That comes with becoming an old person like myself.
My grandma is like 95. You’re good. You’re in the clear. You aren’t even half way there.
I think I am more than half way there.
What is worth taking a risk and how far you are able to go and challenging yourself?
I try to expand my acting abilities and my range of characters by reading out loud to myself. Right now I am reading Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked Has Come”, which is one of my favorite books. It is marvelous to read if you are an actor or not. Just to read these words out loud. He’s got this really intoxicating poetry that he uses. It is great fun. It is like this sumptuous meal that you get to eat compared to regular fast food. To really work that, for me, I find different types of control and different kinds of characters by reading out loud things like that. I am working on improving my acting and facility with words. That, I definitely want to keep getting better at.
Do you have a favorite word to say? Is there something that you just love the way it is how many syllables, the harshness or the softness, how round a word is? You know what I mean? Do you get that nerdy about it?
I am not enamored with words in particularly, but certain sounds, yes.
Like patterns? Do you hear sentences as patterns now? Do you matrix that? Do you get dialog and read a code?
Yeah, well there is definitely a music to a sound, but there is also intent behind that. As an actor, that’s what you focus in on the intent underneath it so there is communication. That’s why you would need an actor because you need that kind of intent with the sound. That’s what I try to bring with my work.
Moving forward in your career, for someone who works behind the scenes, it is nice to come out of the booth every once in a while. This will be the last question. What are we wearing these days in the booth? I am assuming you work from home most of the time now.
No no. I am usually in a studio. It is actually rarely from home. It is mostly in studio. Voice acting is such, like with animation, which is mostly what I a do, but I also do movies and such, but you’ve gotta be in the studio with the people, with the creative decision makers. Unless you’re famous and established, or established in a show, then you can do it remotely sometimes, but they like to have you there. I am usually there.
Do you dress up? Or are you a pajamas guy?
I think for me, I try to bend what I am wearing to the tone of the show that I am on. If it is something like Adventure Time, it is going to be more casual and energizing, and younger. If it is on a show like a super hero show where I am a villain, then I am wearing slacks, a button down shirt that is dark, and bring a different energy to the record. That sounds kind of flakey actor.
Not at all! You are in the zone.
But to me you’re creating something that doesn’t just begin when you open your mouth. It is really, you’re thinking about it before you get there. Once you get in that room you are beginning to bring what that solution is with you and part of that is what you wear. That is how I see it. Also, how you behave. You are jokey and more sarcastic on show that is jokey and more sarcastic than a show that is more dramatic and straight-ahead. That is not going to serve you and it will set off the tone for the people who will make this thing. They don’t want this to be a jokey sarcastic show. Sometimes a super hero show can be humorous and they don’t want you to be the jokey sarcastic jester, so you got to bring what it is that they need. In your own way, your own version, not to be too calculated of it, but it has got to be the flavor and tone of what it is they are going for because that’s what it is I am there to deliver. It is a service industry. I am creating something, but it is also a service industry as well.
You are a pro’s pro. It is always a pleasure to pick your brain. I am going to find out who is running that website because I don’t believe you are number three. I am going to get you to number one because you are the Michael Jordan of voice overs. It is always a pleasure and congrats on all the success.
I want to say, with one more thing, that we are doing more Daffy Duck cartoons. This is a series that started as Wabbit, but I think it will be called The Looney Tunes Show. We have recorded a bunch of episodes with Daffy and Porky, and Bugs and others and a lot of them are really good. They feel like the old Warner Bros.
That is fantastic. It is getting crowded back here. They found out you are here so we got to get you out of here.
They are coming for me!
Always a pleasure Dee!
Thanks very much!
Check out this old school video of Dee Bradley Baker making some incredible sounds with his voice and be sure to catch Legends of the Hidden Temple on November 26th!