Two-time Emmy nominee, Bob Bergen is one of the most respected voiceover talents in Hollywood. Chances are you have heard his many voices dozens or perhaps hundreds of times while watching animated films or television shows. Entertainment Scoop caught up with this busy actor to ask him about his career and famous voices including Luke Skywalker, Tweety and of course his 27 years as the voice of Porky Pig!
ES: Congratulations on such a successful career in the voiceover industry. How did you first know that you possessed the talent to be a voiceover artist?
Bob Bergen: Well, thanks! Ya know, I was the class clown who got into a lot of trouble doing what I now do for a living. I would mimic teachers, and actually responded like Porky Pig when asked a question, even though my voice hadn’t changed and I really didn’t sound that much like him. But at an early age I figured out the formula to his stutter, so I knew the character’s personality well, even though vocally I still sounded like a kid.
I knew I was vocally versatile at an early age, but I really didn’t know there was even an industry called voiceover until my Dad moved the family to LA when I was 14. This move was not for me, he just happened to take a new job in the city where cartoons are voiced.
I also realized that it’s voice acting, which meant I needed to hone my acting skills. I studied voiceover for 4 solid years with every vo coach LA had to offer. I spent 2 years at an acting conservatory, and 3 years studying improv. I got my first cartoon a week out of high school. It then took another 5 years of hit or miss auditioning before I was able to quit my last day job, a tour guide at Universal Studios, and work as a full time voice actor.
ES: We understand that you were a fan of the great Mel Blanc and you actually manipulated a phone meeting with him at a young age. Can you tell us a little bit about that encounter?
Bob Bergen: I figured if I’m going to voice Porky Pig one day, I should go to the source. I looked in the phone book and could’t find Blanc’s number. My dad informed me that LA is a much larger city than Cincinnati, which is where we moved from. Dad traveled all over LA and gathered as many white page phone books as he could get his hands on, from Pasadena to Malibu, so I could try to find Mel Blanc’s number.
For some reason I thought of recording this phone call. I was in my parent’s bedroom with the stack of phone books. Down the hall in the kitchen I had my little cassette recorder. I would take the kitchen phone and put the receiver on the built in mic of my tape recorder and push record. I would then run into my parents room and call the first Mel or M Blanc in the first phone book. I never found his number. But with each try I would call, find out it was the wrong number, hang up, run down the hall, hang up the kitchen phone, stop the recorder, put the receiver back on the recorder, push record, run fast to my parent’s bedroom, and try again. This took hours.
I got to the last phone book and the last Blanc in the book. Not him.
SO-I decided to try again under his wife’s name, Estelle. There was an E Blanc listed in the Pacific Palisades phone book that was Mel’s residence. Success! And I did indeed get the conversation on tape.
During the course of the conversation Mel mentioned the name of the studio he was working at that week. He didn’t say the day or time, but he mentioned the name. So, when I hung up from him I called the studio, pretending to be Blanc’s assistant, and got his recording day and time.
I told my Mom I’m skipping school on that day and she is driving me to watch Mel Blanc record. Mom said, “Cool!”
When we got to the studio, I told the receptionist we were guests of Mel Blanc and she directed us to his booth. When we got to his booth I told his producer we were good friends of the receptionist and she said we could watch. His producer said, “Cool!” An we watched Blanc in action, voicing Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Tweety, etc., for an arena stage show. And, it was cool!
ES: You have been working with Warner Brothers / Looney Tunes as the voice of Porky Pig for 27 years. What was the process of getting such a coveted and iconic gig?
Bob Bergen: Lots, and lots, and lots of auditions. I was fortunate to be a working voice actor when WB held auditions after Mel passed away in 1989. My last callback 27 years ago was for legendary animation director Chuck Jones, who co-created the Looney Tunes in the 30s. When I went to shake his hand I was trembling. He asked me why I was so nervous. I told him, “I’m about to do Porky Pig for Chuck Jones. This is like doing Jesus for God!” He chuckled, which relaxed me.
A few weeks later I booked my first Porky/Tweety gig, which was Tiny Tune Adventures.
But over the past 27 years I’ve had to re-audition for Porky 4 times. I do not own the character, WB does. So they have the right to see who else is out there anytime they want. The first time this happened it was distressing. But my philosophy is, if someone out there is better they deserve the gig. I’ve been blessed to play this character for 27 years. Others have indeed played him, but I can say I’ve voiced him probably 99% of the time.
ES: You are also the voice of countless characters including Tweety and Luke Skywalker, two totally different voices from totally different planets. How is it possible that one person can have so much range in the types of voices you do?
Bob Bergen: Ya know, they are very different characters, in both voice and personality. Luke is closer to my own voice. Tweety is just in my character comfort zone. But this is just what I do. I absolutely have my vocal limitations. I cannot do Yosemite Sam, or the deeper, rough Mel Blanc characters. I really don’t think about “how” I, or my animation peers are able to do what we do. A great pianist can play all genres. A good dancer can probably dance many styles. I voice characters.
ES: Japanese anime’ is a huge genre and fans will be interested to know that you are the English voice of Arsene Lupin III in the film Lupin The 3rd: The Castle of Cagliostro. The series of films just celebrated it’s 50 year anniversary. Is there any major difference for a voiceover actor while working on Japanese anime’ vs the more mainstream cartoons in which most of us are familiar?
Bob Bergen: It’s harder. You need to perform to a picture and match sync. In pre-lay animation, such was Looney Tunes, you record the voices first and they animate to you. Pay no attention to how Robin Williams voiced a cartoon in the opening of Mrs. Doubtfire. Pre-lay ain’t done that way. For anime, you need to read the line, watch the screen, stay in character, and act, all at the same time. And anime is done solo, where for pre-lay, especially for a series, they will have as many cast members as possible in the session. You act and react off your fellow cast members. If you are the first actor to record a new anime film, you have no other cast member recorded to act off of. You rely on a great director to guide your performance. If others are cast before you, you hear their performance and react accordingly. But you never know the pecking order until you get there. And there’s no real rehearsal. It’s very cold reading. For a pre-lay series, producers will send us the script to prepare before the recording session. No way to do this with anime. I feel anime voice actors are some of THE most talented actors in the industry, as the skill to perform anime is far greater than pre-lay. Yet anime actors are paid far less. They should be paid on parity with pre-lay, IMO.
ES: Your resume really includes some of the biggest animated projects of our generation. It includes Minions, Sing, Despicable Me 3, Wreck It Ralph, The Secret Life of Pets, Trolls, Tangled, Tinker Bell, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Iron Giants, WALL-E, Up, Toy Story 2&3 and the list goes on and on. Do you have a favorite project and if so, can you tell us a little bit about why it is your favorite?
Bob Bergen: I am what you call a utility player in the world of animated features. My name is not well known enough for the studio suits to cast me as a feature lead. But I, along with my fellow animation utility players, can voice dozens of characters in a single scene. We are the “additional voices” that you see in the end credits.
One of my favorite feature characters was Bucky the squirrel in The Emperor’s New Groove. I did not audition for this. In fact, I rarely audition for an animated feature. Those who cast the additional voices know us and what we are able to do well enough to not have to audition us.
I knew they wanted me to play a squirrel in the film, but I knew nothing more. When I got to Disney the director, Mark Dindal, told me a bit about the character. Patrick Warburton played this character Kronk who spoke squirrel, and translated Bucky’s squirrel speak. I was tasked to create Bucky’s voice and language. I asked Mark if I could take a lil break to think about it. I sat on a park bench outside the Disney recording studio, and a little squirrel came running down a tree up to me, and on his hind legs began to chatter. I told him, “Thank you!” and ran inside to mimic my squirrel buddy. Mark liked it, and there ya have it. I ended up doing the film, a straight to video sequel, and 3 years on a series based on the film.
Bless that lil studio squirrel! To this day I think he was animatronic a la something you’d see at Disneyland!
ES: You have been nominated for 2 Emmys. Can you tell us about the projects in which you were nominated?
Bob Bergen: Both for the series The Looney Tunes Show, and both for Porky. For my first nomination I was online the morning nominations were announced. They don’t announce the vo category live on TV with the best actor/actresses for comedy/drama, so I had to check on The Television Academy’s site to see who got the character voice nominations. As I read the names, my first thought was, “Hey, someone has my name!” Then I realized I was that someone. Pretty surreal. It’s a month long party. And even though I didn’t win either time, it really is an honor just to be nominated. Last time I was nominated I lost to my friend Lily Tomlin. Just to be in the same category with Lily, and other brilliant animation actors like Seth MacFarlane is awesome, and I do not take it for granted!
ES: Speaking of Lily Tomlin, you recently got back from New York where you presented an award to to her at Lincoln Center. Can you tell us about what must have been a fabulous experience?
Bob Bergen: Lily was adorable. Her acceptance speech was written by Shelly Goldstein, who is an amazing speech writer and has written for Lily several times. I’m paraphrasing, but after I presented Lily with her award, she said something like, “What a pleasure to get this award from the only decent pig left in Hollywood!” Lily was my Co-Governor at The Television Academy, as we represented television performers. It was a pleasure serving with her, and I am so blessed to be able to call her my friend. She’s a treasure!
ES: What advice would you give to young talent who are interested in pursuing and exploring a career in voiceover?
Bob Bergen: It’s voice ACTING. You need to be a killer good actor. Unfortunately the internet has brought with it the idea that anyone can do this. A Mac comes with a built in recording program, and a broadcast quality mic costs well under $500. But it’s about craft. You don’t have to do a million voices to work in animation vo. You need to be a great actor. All characters have a voice, but not all voices have character. As I mentioned, I studied for years before I was ready to compete. And you cannot go into acting for the money. Acting has to feed your soul. If it doesn’t, find seething that does. If you do this for the money, you will never feel fulfilled because it will never feel like enough. Being able to make a living at this is a fortunate circumstance. Find that thing you would do for free and do it! Your odds for success will be better. There are no guarantees. But follow your dreams. Even if you never make it, regret is far worse than failure.
ES: Do you have any new projects on the horizon where fans can check out your amazing work?
Bob Bergen: Well, there’s much I cannot talk about as we sign non disclosure agreements for almost every job. I’m in the middle of recording season 3 of New Looney Tunes, which is quite possible the best written Looney Tunes project I’ve ever been involved in. Matt Craig, who is our producer and writer, has brought back what feels like the classic Looney Tunes of the 30s and 40s. For any actor, it’s all about the writing. These shorts are a pleasure to work on!