Today, I had a fun talk with The Cleveland Show’s Kevin Michael Richardson. For those that don’t know KMR is quite the industry veteran voice actor, he plays 13 different voices on the Fox Television show including Cleveland, Jr. and he’s won two Emmy’s for his voice work as The Joker in the recent animated series The Batman. He’s going to be at Comic Con this week partaking in panels for The Cleveland Show and the upcoming movie The Penguins of Madagascar. We spent the first 10 minutes of the call just shooting the shit about life and stuff before we got into the guts of the interview.
It’s times like this when I really wish there was an App that would let me record phone conversations. Because it’s always difficult to cut my long winded questions down for these transcripts, plus you don’t get the good give and take. I was honest with Kevin and told him I never watched the show, but after this interview I’m now a convert.
So, The Cleveland Show?
I’m glad we came back they picked us up for a 3rd season. It shows Fox really believes in the show and we’re really jazzed about the show in confidence the Network showed us. We went gangbusters with all of our table reads and are having a lot of fun now that we know we’re going to be here for awhile.
How Did You Come Up with the Voice for Cleveland, Jr.?
I worked with The Family Guy and Seth McFarland and I had no idea that Mike Henry (who is white) was the voice of Cleveland. I thought he was some Fox Executive who was just always hanging around the set. I originally auditioned for Lester the Redneck Neighbor and there was no thought of me doing Cleveland, Jr. Seth said think of a young version of Cleveland. I once played a mentally challenged character on ER years ago and that’s the voice I ended up using.
How difficult is it to come up with an original voice?
It took about 20 minutes to a half hour before I came up with a voice that really worked. It’s can be difficult to create an original voice, especially if you have an idea of what they really sound like and the producers disagree. If you go to a voice audition and there’s more than one person there and you do a character that is supposed to be funny and the audience is laughing that’s a good sign. Also if you are having fun doing it, it makes it really enjoyable.
One of my big peeves with American animated films is that at some point it went away from having unknown actors with distinct voices to relying heavily on big name Hollywood actors who don’t even seem to try and change their voices or bring something to their animated characters?
Oh, man do you have a couple of hours? I agree with you about the idea of using named actors in animated projects. I remember saying to a producer once that it was unfair to professional voice actors to use a big name star. I asked them why don’t they make great voice actors like like Frank Welker (original voice of Fred in Scooby Doo) who did Curious George, or Jim Cummings who did Winnie The Poo household names, instead of hiring mainstream actors? It’s unfair to the people who have been doing this for years.
Kids usually don’t care who is going to be playing the voices in major animated films. Some can bring it and some can’t. Eddie Murphy who is a great voice actor, because he uses his personality to sell his animated characters. I would also blame the directors who don’t bring out the characters in some of these films. I do my best to try and change it up.
What’s it Like Working on The Cleveland Show?
It’s a lot of fun and a lot of work. We do 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off where we do a Table Read and then a Record. We usually have the Read in front of the network executives and sometimes it’s a little nerve racking when I have to do 13 different voices but it’s fun.
How do you keep the voices straight in your head?
Insanity. I have to rehearse at home and practice a lot.
Is it materially different working as a Voice Actor vs. Live Acting?
Number one you don’t have to memorize your lines. You are reading your script. It’s 50/50 if you record alone or if you work with a cast member. When you are alone you really have to be conscious of what you are doing. You rarely have to wash (he’s kiding people). It is very casual and relaxed. Sometimes it’s easier to work with others. On camera there’s a lot more pressure and you have to be physically and mentally present.
Are there Any Rivalries between your crew and the Simpsons folks? Do you guys have knife fights?
(laughs) We get along pretty well and god bless em for getting paid, it helps us all out. Seth and Matt are friendly with each other and I’ve seen them hang out at events like Comic Con and the Upfronts.
What’s it like playing such an Iconic Character like The Joker?
The Joker has to be one of my favorite characters, because there are no limits to him. I’ve been doing him for 4 1/2 years. I loved his highs and lows.
What was your first reaction when you read him?
I was coming home from a long day on the set of a TV Show I was doing and I stopped by my agents office, out of the blue they asked me to read for The Joker. I said I thought this was Mark Hamill’s (A friend of Kevins’)part. They told me this was for a totally different Joker and Batman series. At the time I read it, I was so frustrated and annoyed that I let it all out during the reading. I didn’t think anything else about it, until a few days later when they said they loved what I did.
Did Mark give you any pointers?
(laughs) Mark didn’t verbally say it, but he said it with his eyes that his was still better…
We lost track of time and the clock ran out on us, but I’m going to try and get him back in a few weeks, maybe by then I’ll finally have the EM Radio show up and running.