NYCC 2018: Interview With Rob Paulsen

This year at New York Comic Con, I got a chance to speak with Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voice director Rob Paulsen You might not be familiar […]

This year at New York Comic Con, I got a chance to speak with Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles voice director Rob Paulsen

You might not be familiar with the name of Rob Paulsen, but you know his voice. For a lot of people, Paulsen’s voice is the voice of their childhood. He has voiced characters including Raphael from first the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Yakko from Animaniacs. Pinky from Pinky And The Brain. Donatello from the previous Turtles cartoon. 

Rob Paulsen has been doing voices for 35 years, and now he’s the voice director for the new TMNT cartoon: Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I got a chance to talk to him:

Fanboy Factor: You started off as Raphael

Rob Paulsen: OK.

FF: Then your Donatello.

Rob: Yes.

FF: Now you’re the voice director of the new Turtles cartoon.

Rob: Right.

FF: It’s like everything’s coming full circle.

Rob: It is. But in the most wonderful way. As you can imagine to be able to make a living doing essentially what got me in trouble in seventh grade. For 30 plus years. I mean. People could find on Wikipedia, so I don’t care. Nobody cares what I look like. I’m an old guy. I’m 62 years old. I’ve been making my living doing. Again, what used to get me in trouble since I was. I’ve been in L.A. for 40 years. And I started doing cartoons in the mid-80s. So, 30 To 33 years. The first shows I did were G.I. Joe and Transformers Ninja Turtles in 1987 through 1990 whatever. Donatello. From 2012 to 2016. And now to get another ride in the turtle van. You are talking to a lottery winner. I am so grateful. And yeah it is crazy. But not because of the franchise. The franchise is stronger than ever. The fact that I’m lucky enough to be involved in it is that’s what’s crazy and I don’t take it lightly at all. This is a real privilege.

FF: This just kind of a silly question. I mean.

Rob: Dude you’re talking to a 63-year-old man this funny voice. There’s no such thing as a silly question.

FF: Was the current cast feel a little intimidated around you?

Rob: Yeah well intimidate is probably a stronger word. I think that. Like I would have done had I. The first time I got to meet Mel Blanc and June Foray and Daws Butler and Don Messick and Jonathan Winters. Penny Singleton. People whom I grew up listening to. Forever. And. Make no mistake. I’m not comparing myself to Mel Blanc. What I’m saying is that. These kids and I can say that because they are as old as my son or younger. I recall when we first did the first episode my directing the first episode of this version of the show. All the actors came in and I introduced myself and. They had no idea who I was, and I didn’t tell them, it’s not my job right. But what was really sweet, was about an hour or two into it. Ben Schwartz who plays Leo, has taken a bit of a break. And I could see him on his phone. And once we stop recording he said. Holy blank! Do you know who the blank this guy is! And this guy’s Pinkie! This guy’s Raphael! This guy’s Donatello! This guy’s Yakko! This guy’s the mask! This guy’s Mighty Max! This guy’s Carl Wheezer from Jimmy Neutron! This guy’s P.J. from Goof Troop!

And so, they all said oh my god you’re the voice of my childhood. So. Firstly there’s no more profound wonderful complement. Secondly it I think did give me a credibility with them. That immediately set the tone for a mutual respect. Never did I think for one moment that they would be disrespectful. Had they not known who I was because they never treated me with anything but utter deference. They are nice people. However, in this circumstance, I think that because none of them had had the depth of experience on animation projects that I’ve had, that it did kind of look you tell me how you want me to say it and I’ll say it. And so that was really wonderful. But I don’t need to do that. They’re all really talented actors. My job is to guide them into what the producers want while still allowing them to have, that, the freedom, to exercise their talent good judgment which is what got them on the job in the first place. So, my job is really easy, and I get to bask in the glory of having a bunch of really gifted youngsters saying “dude would you please say NARF for me.” It’s really wonderful.

FF: How is it wearing the director’s hat now?

Rob: It’s Great. And remember though. I’ve gotten to work with nine-time Emmy winning voice director Andrea Romano. She’s one of my best friends I’ve known Andrea for 35 years. When she was an assistant to Gordon Hunt who gave me my shot at Hanna-Barbera. And Andrea has won Emmys for Batman, Animaniacs, for Pinky and the Brain, for Sponge Bob. She directed the last version of Turtles we did for Nickelodeon. And so, to be able to work literally at the feet of the master, and now, put the director’s hat on. If I don’t get it by now I’m never gonna get it. So, I’m a really profoundly gifted person and I am under no false assumptions that I know what I’m doing with the voice directors hat.

I’m a good actor. I’m good at my job. I frickin well ought to be what I’ve been doing it forever. But they Ant and Andy (Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creators Andy Suriano & Ant Ward) and Gene Vassilaros (casting director) and everyone here at Nickelodeon have given me an incredible opportunity. And, it’s not. It’s not faint praise. I know how lucky I am to get this shot. So far they haven’t fired me. But, I have to tell you. When we first started, it was, from my side of the equation. I said look I know how lucky I am to get this shot. There are a lot of voice directors in this town who are more qualified. Are they more qualified to with respect to knowing the mythology of Turtles? Probably not because this is my first my third shot at Turtles, so you can argue that I know what I’m talking about.

But in terms of being, a qualified voice director I realize this is a gift for me. So, let’s give this a couple of months. And be really serious. I’m utterly egoless in this pursuit. And if you guys say Rob we really dig ya, but this is just not your bailiwick. I get it. And I’ll go on and everybody will be fine. Especially the franchise. But if you feel for a moment, that I’m not giving you what you guys want in your vision Ant and Andy and you’ll talk to them this weekend. Think about how difficult their circumstances. Those guys were involved with the last version. That was. I mean got great reviews, sold a lot of product, and the fans dug it. Now they’re coming up with now they’re going. Now you’re the executive producers you’ve got to come with a new iteration with a bunch of money. It’s not your money. It’s Viacom’s money. Oh, and to be and by the way, you have a ton of fans who are waiting for you to see what you got kid. It’s a huge deal. So, if I’m in the way of that. They don’t need me to screw it up. So, I’m still here and very grateful to be such so apparently, it’s working. But I’m the one who’s been given the incredible gift of this opportunity and man what a blast.

FF: It’s been getting some good reviews.

Rob: It think it has

FF: I got to see the screener myself. I mean honestly, I’m more of a comic person.

Rob: And you’re older,

FF: I had problem with the first cartoon.

Rob: Right, because it didn’t reflect the darkness of the comic.

FF: And I was also older too.

Rob: Of course. Kevin is one of my dearest friends. I don’t know Peter. I know Kevin very well. And that is to be sure something that we had to deal with on the first one, but I’m not a comic book guy. I didn’t know anything about Turtles. Came to find out that my character Raphael was an assassin, in the original comic book. That’s what I think a lot of the people liked about the last version which I was Donatello because it had some darkness to write and people like you really dug it. Who said “Wow! This is this is fun to watch” And it’s got some darkness that is not just catering to selling action figures for a little kid. It can be scary.

FF: That’s the thing, the first cartoon was very kid friendly yes. Second cartoon is a little bit more teenager/adult. The third one I felt, I could watch it with my son when was he was 4. It was all ages. I appreciated that as it had stuff for comic fans and cartoon fans.

Rob: And you can watch it with your child and not want to blow your brains out because you know my kids 34. Yeah. If my if my kid had wanted to watch Teletubbies or Barney. No offense folks. I get why they work. I understand the rudimentary nature of why that helps children learn, but I could watch Fred Rogers all day. I could watch Muppets all day and my son could watch Big Bird and I would love it. My kid could watch Ninja Turtles or Animaniacs or Pinky and the Brain or Jimmy Neutron and I’d want to watch those with them. So, I get it. And, you can imagine now as not only a person who’s a fan but you’re a journalist. The charge, with which Ant and Andy, have been sort of given the responsibility. That’s a big deal man. So, I’m pretty proud of the way this new one turned up. What’s really cool is that, as you can imagine there were a lot of fans who when they, knew we weren’t going to do any more of the last version. Immediately you get a lot of kickback. Oh my God, we’re going to screw it up. Thanks for messing up my childhood as though anybody’s going to take a bunch your money from somebody else and screw it up.

Now that they’re seeing it if they’re going wow this is pretty interesting. And, that’s all any creator asks. Not that you love it. That you give it a chance. It’s capitalism. And it’s free enterprise. If you don’t like it turn it off if you like it want you. And that’s. That’s how it works. Nobody is trying to piss anybody off.

FF: Too many people think like fans and not like consumers.

Rob: Yes. Yes. Thank you for that. It’s not about trying to piss people off. That’s stupid. It’s about trying to put a brand new spin on a bulletproof franchise. We’re getting ready to watch the fourth version of a Star Is Born. That movie was first produced 70 something years ago. But it’s a strong story. Brad Cooper and Lady Gaga are getting great reviews. This franchise will be powerful long after you and I are dust. It’s about new artists putting a spin on a strong franchise.

Everybody who created rocking Bullwinkle and The Flintstones and the Looney Tunes are dead. That doesn’t mean we don’t look at new versions and that’s what we’re asking for. Folks give it a shot. You don’t like it. You don’t like it. It’s not the end of the world. Yeah. So, thank you for giving me a chance to vent my spleen.

FF: I’m like you power a lot of especially all the attacking on social media. I’m really into that.

ROB: You know it’s pointless. It does. It’s hurtful. It’s not necessary. It’s free speech. Of course, you can say all day long that you hope Rob Paulson burns hell because he’s the voice director on the new Ninja Turtles which is messing up your childhood. Honest to God, if that pisses you off that much. Then take that energy and put it into working at a homeless shelter. Because that’s where your energy is going to be necessary not to be pissed off about the new Ninja Turtles. And trust me it’s worth watching.

FF: One final question. Out of all the characters you voiced, who was your favorite and you relate the most?

Rob: Probably it’s a cross between Rafael and Yakko because I’m kind of a smart ass you clear you know I have you know you know I have no problem talking so Yakko makes sense. And, look, I am so grateful to be chatting with you. Anybody who pays attention to what I’ve done. The fact that I have gotten paid, to do what I love to do and it brings joy. I can stand before people like you and say NARF, And “Hello nurse” and you smile. How lucky? And we get to share this experience. I am incredibly grateful for many reasons not the least of which is that you take the time in this madness to talk to me. So, thank you very much, my friend. You’ve made my day. Thank you.

FF: Thank you Rob!

You can check out Rob’s voice directing on Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Saturdays at 9:30 AM exclusively on Nickelodeon. 

Brian Isaacs - Executive Editor / Publisher

About Brian Isaacs - Executive Editor / Publisher

An avid comic collector/reader for over 40 years and self-proclaimed professor of comicology, Brian original started up the site Pendragon's Post to share his voice. Well that voice has been shared, and evolved into The Fanboy Factor. Brian is an advocate for remembering comic roots, and that we don't forget what was created in the past, and encourage everyone to read it as well. When not swimming in geek culture, he can be seen corrupting..introducing his young son to comics, much to his wife's chagrin.