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The Man of 1000 Voices: Tom Kenny Discusses His Unique Career!

The Man of 1000 Voices: Tom Kenny Discusses His Unique Career!

While the name Tom Kenny may not ring a bell for many of you, chances are this “Man of 1,000 Voices” has impacted your life through the years. Whether it is lending his voice to a popular television commercial, conjuring up the sound of a new character in a host of classic animated series or bringing smiles to the faces of millions of kids and adults worldwide as the voice of Spongebob Squarepants, he built one of the most unique careers in the entertainment industry. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tom Kenny to discuss his amazing career and his exciting projects, and to get an exclusive look behind the curtain at the life of a voice-over artist!

Let’s start with a little background on you. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Syracuse, New York. Central New York State, ya know, very far from any resemblance of a career in show business, which I think was good! [laughs]

They say the entertainment is not for the faint of heart. How did you get your start initially?

It’s funny because I always thought of myself as being slightly faint of heart! [laughs] But when it came to this one thing, I had some weird  eye of the tiger determination that I didn’t realize that I had until later. At the behest of a very good friend of mine, a very close childhood friend pushed me into doing stand-up comedy at this amateur comedy night that they were having in Syracuse. It was the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and I was still a high school kid. This was well before the big ‘80s comedy boom, so stand-up wasn’t really cool yet. I wound up really loving it! Then before I knew it, I found myself in Boston, San Francisco, making a living for seven or eight years as a stand-up comedian. That is kinda the short version but I have been day job free since 1984! [laughs]

There’s nothing wrong with that!

Yeah!

Who would you cite as some of your biggest influences?

Even when I was doing stand-up, my influences weren’t really stand-ups. I mean, I love George Carlin and people like that but my stand-up probably had more in common with Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Stan Freberg, who also had an animated component to their careers. In terms of voice-over, Mel Blanc, who is obviously the Babe Ruth of voice-over guys, June Foray, Daws Butler, Don Messick, Paul Frees, people like that were my voice-over idols.

How did you make the transition from stand-up to voice over work? Was it a gradual change or a rapid switch?

Yeah, it was kind of a switch but a little bit gradual. When I was doing stand-up, done here in LA and in San Francisco where I was dividing my time, I auditioned for a show called “Rocko’s Modern Life,” which just came out on DVD from Shout! Factory! Plug, plug! [laughs] I had always wanted to do voice-over, that was my dream career, even more than stand-up comedy. My stand-up career I was glad to have and it sure beat the hell out of working in a cubicle with a tie on, but I didn’t totally, totally love it. Once I started doing voice-overs here and there, I realized that I totally loved it! It was like, “Wow! I am totally falling in love with this career! I want to do this and not the other thing!” I pushed and, although it was kinda gradual, I tried to phase out stand-up and on-camera stuff as much as I could, just because A) I liked the voice-over work better and B) I just thought that it was a better use of my skill set. On camera, I did a lot off sketch comedy shows and made sitcom appearances and stuff like that but you would walk into a room for an audition and there would be 100 guys that looked like you and were just about as funny as you, probably funnier! I just felt like when I was doing voice-over that I had more to bring to the party. There weren’t a million other guys that could do it as well as I could.

You mentioned auditioning for “Rocco’s Modern Life.” What is the typical audition process for one of these animated projects like? Has it changed for you now that you are more established in the industry?

Really it hasn’t changed at all, despite Spongebob Squarepants and all that stuff on IMDB! It really hasn’t changed. You still go in and audition. You sign in, they say, “Go sit over there. Here are the papers. Here is a picture of the character and a description of its personality with a few suggestions of things that they are looking at for the character. Think Mr. Haney from ‘Green Acres’ meets some other obscure character actor!” [laughs] From that you try and twist and turn it and be the one that they like! Which I always think consists of giving them exactly what they want and making them say, “Yes! That is exactly the voice that I have been hearing in my head!” or “Wow! That is really not at all what I had been picturing but it’s kinda cool. Let’s try more of that!” or “Let’s read him for this other character because what he is doing is perfect for this other character that isn’t the one we called him in on.” I find that really fun. I found that when I was auditioning for on-camera work that auditioning process just gave me indigestion, ya know? My stomach would just be flip-flopping. I hated it and just wanted to get out of there! [laughs] With voice-over work, each audition is a sudoku or Rubik’s Cube to be figured out. I really love that! It is basically like going to a batting cage and you just step up and take your swings, ya know? You hit it just often enough that it is fun and the whiffs you just try to forget as soon as possible! [laughs]

I am sure you see a lot of the same faces when you are out for auditions. Is the voice-over industry a fairly competitive business?

Tom Kenny Means Business!

In contrast to the on-camera world, I would say that it is friendly competitive. There is a pretty finite amount of guys and ladies that do the majority of voice-over work. When I was first starting out, it was my goal to become one of those guys. It was like, “OK, those guys are the Navy Seals. How long do I have to hold my breath underwater before I can get a chance to join these guys?!” It kinda is like that! It is kinda the four eyed wussy version of the Navy Seals! [laughs] You know, you’ve got Billy West, Rob Paulsen, Dee Bradley Baker, Carlos Alazraqui, Maurice LaMarche, Jim Cummings, Kevin Michael Richardson, Wally Wingert, all of these guys that I know and love and I think that they like me! It is a pleasure going up against them. When you are told that, “It came down to you and Billy West and they wound up going with Billy,” it is impossible to get mad at that because it’s Billy West! He is like the Orson Welles of voice-over! He’s the greatest! So I really enjoy that and probably to the detriment of my show biz career, I was never a highly competitive person. I never had that jock mentality but I guess in this one area, I kinda enjoy grabbin’ a glove and gettin’ in the game! Is that enough baseball metaphors for one interview?! [laughs]

Oh, it’s great! And now we know that we aren’t going to see you in a street fight with Billy West anytime in the near future!

Well, ya know, if it came down to it … I would cut him to get the gig! I would! It would be like “Rebel Without A Cause” at the Griffith Observatory, just me and Buzz swingin’ knives at each other! [laughs] So probably no street fights in our future. Billy works out so he could probably kick my ass anyway!

How did you get involved with the “Spongebob Squarepants” project initially and did you have any inkling that it was going to have the impact that it has on audiences over the years?

“Spongebob Squarepants” was a direct result of “Rocco’s Modern Life.” So many of the guys that began working and crafting Spongebob from the beginning were there because “Rocco’s Modern Life” was their first show and first employment in the animation world, including mine and Carlos Alazraqui, who did the voice of Rocco and would go on to be on “Reno 911” and a whole bunch of other stuff. Steve Hillenburg was there as well as the creative director of “Rocco’s Modern Life.” When “Rocco” ended a few years later, he pitched his new project to Nickelodeon about a sponge that lived in a pineapple under the sea. He remembered me and said, “This is the guy that I want to do Spongebob. I don’t want to have an audition, this is exactly the guy!” So from that first cartoon it kinda lead to the next project. To answer the second part of your question, no way did anyone see this job, we were just happy to be working, turn into a global phenomenon! I was traveling around Italy and Spain, even after all of these years, I still get excited when I see some Italian waitress at a restaurant wearing a Spongebob T-shirt! [laughs] It’s kinda cool!

How much do you get to improvise when working on a project? Does it vary and what can you bring to the table on these types of projects?

Yeah, it does vary from project to project. Every show is different and when you do it for a little while you kinda discover which shows are cool to do heavy ad-libbing on and which shows are cool to do some light judicious ad-libbing on and which shows you need to stick to the script because it is the 25th draft and they don’t want to change anything! [laughs] It really depends on how many colors of pages are in the script. It’s like, “Wow! Goldenrod! I better not ad-lib on this!” [laughs] It does differ but I feel that one of the things that has really helped me out in the career that I have now is having done all that stand-up and sketch comedy beforehand. It helped me become comfortable riffing and ad-libbing. A lot of these cartoons have a lot of singing and music stuff in them and I always played in bands and stuff like that, so that comes in very handy. I guess that gets back to what I was saying about this weird, disparate skill set that I have which tends to be best utilized in this animation/voice-over arena. That coupled with the fact that I just enjoy the hell out of it is a nice, harmonic convergence.

Shout! Factory has been really great about bringing all of the classic Nickelodeon shows back for all of us to enjoy again. We mentioned “Rocco’s Modern Life” and “CatDog” just came out …

Yeah! “CatDog” has always been one of my favorites. That was a crazy show!

As they put these sets out, do you ever get a chance to look back at your career so far and think about how you have evolved in your craft along the way?

Ya know, I am not a big look back at my work kinda person, just because I am always running around doing whatever my current thing is and I have to keep those plates spinning. But now, because I have kids, I will walk in and they will be watching an old “Dexter’s Laboratory” or “Powerpuff Girls” or “CatDog” episode. The TV will be on and you will walk in and be like, “Wow! I remember that! That was that session where we all were cracking up because such and such happened …” or “That guy was a guest star on this! I had totally forgotten about that!” To be honest, it is kinda fun! It is like flipping through a photo album. In terms of how I have evolved, I guess if you have been doing one thing for a long time and you haven’t gotten any better, your stupid and it is probably time to get out! [laughs] So, just by doing it for so long, I am probably a lot better than when I was on “Rocco’s Modern Life.” A lot of that just has to do with confidence and just realizing that you can do it and you figure out the ins and outs of it technically and acting-wise. You figure out the lay of the land. One thing that I have noticed is that my approach and my feel for it hasn’t really abated or changed at all. I am just so glad to have a job that I like! I get to go to work everyday and work with these fun, energetic and visionary creators like Craig McCracken, Pendleton Ward, Peter Hannan who did “CatDog,” Steve Hillenburg and Joel Murray who did “Rocco’s Modern Life” and these voice-actors who are funny, weird, smart and insane in a very benign, functional way! They have figured out how to turn multi-personality disorder into a functioning career! It is a fun thing to do everyday and even after all the years that I have been doing it, it’s great! I may well be one of the last people in America that enjoys going into his job everyday! [laughs] I may be one of the last Americans that has a job!

You have a lot of flexibility when it comes to doing voices. I ask this question of a lot of the actors we interview but I was curious to ask it of an established voice actor. Is there a type of role or genre that you haven’t had a chance to tackle yet that you are on the lookout for?

Tom Kenny Hard At Work!

I have to say that one of the things that attracted me to voice-over as opposed to stand-up or on-camera work is the fact that I could play a wide variety of roles and it doesn’t matter what I look like. I mean, I don’t know what type of roles I would be playing today but back when I was auditioning 20 years ago, it was like, “OK, you are a guy with a kooky haircut and Buddy Holly glasses … let’s put you in the nerd file! If we need a guy on an ‘A-Team’ type show where it calls for a guy who looks like he is really good at fixing computers, we’ll have you audition for that guy!” That would end up being the role you would play! You are kind of a prisoner of your own body. It’s kinda funny because with voice-over, I have gotten the chance to play Iron Man or Captain America or Dr. Octopus! I have played good guys, bad guys, heroes, villains, monsters, comedic characters, nice characters and evil characters. I have gotten to play the straight-laced announcer, like, “Ask your doctor if such and such is right for you!” or on a promo like “Tonight … on an all new ‘Fraiser!’” It is so varied! I feel like I get to access a whole bunch of different vibes and feels. Every work week I get to do six or seven heterogeneous things so I don’t get to feel that frustration that maybe someone feels from playing James Bond or Spock for a million years would feel! [laughs] Luckily I have managed to bypass contracting Gilligan’s disease. [laughs] “I should have never worn this stupid hat and shirt!” [in Bob Denver voice] It’s the tragic side of Bob Denver! “There’s more to me than Gilligan, dammit!”

One of the stranger things I discovered about you was that you were rumored to be dead on Twitter early this year? What was it like to wake up dead?

It’s funny, that happened in October of last year. I remember because I was at a little spooky Halloween train ride here in Griffith Park in LA with my kids. Out of nowhere people just started calling me like, “Are you OK?” or “Don’t go on Twitter!” or “Hey man, did you know that you are dead and the number one trending topic on Twitter?!” At that time, I didn’t even know what a trending topic was and I had to have them define it! Then I found out that I had actually died once before that but nobody told me! So that was my second time dying. It’s kinda weird and kinda fun and definitely interesting because you only have a couple of hours before it is disproven, so it is nice to be able to go on and see what people are saying about you now that you are dead! [laughs] Very bizarre but I guess I joined Jeff Goldblum, Justin Bieber and others in the illustrious ranks of Internet passings!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out on a career in the entertainment industry in any capacity?

Well, I have a couple of capacities! Like I said, I have done stand-up, acting, the voice-over work and I have been a writer on a couple of shows. Ya know, it sounds so trite and cornball but it’s true. Ya gotta come to Detroit if you wanna make automobiles, ya know what I mean? I would say get as many chops in as you can in around your hometown and once you feel that you have hit the glass ceiling where you are from, get to LA and just get in. Whether that is, depending on what you want to do, taking a class on writing, acting, voice-over or whatever you want to do to meet other like-minded people. That was huge for me when I was starting out, realizing that there were all these other like-minded people who were into all the same crazy stuff that I was and kinda knew the secret handshake. Those are the same people that I still collaborate and work with today. They found their way into the industry and found a way to make a viable living at it as well. It can kick your butt! It can be intense. I should say that after “Rocco’s Modern Life” ended, I had a year and a half where I couldn’t book a voice-over. I kept auditioning with no luck and was like, “OK, I guess it’s over!” [laughs] “That was a fun voice-over career that I had for a year! Back to the crappy comedy club that I hate!” But then some other things started to happen. Like the kitten on the poster says, “Hang in there, baby!”

What other projects do you have coming up that we should be on the lookout for?

Well, let’s see! Spongebob is still going strong! It is still rising in the ratings, so it will be around for some time to come! “Adventure Time” is doing really well on Cartoon Network. There is some more “Winnie The Pooh” stuff in the works, where I play Rabbit, so “Pooh” is up and running. There are new episodes of Disney’s “Handy Manny” coming out. I write some of the songs for that show along with some of the songs for “Spongebob Squarepants.” There is also a “Green Lantern” series coming out where I play the bad guy, Zilius Zox. That is going to be coming out in the Fall. “Ultimate Spider-Man,” where I play Dr. Octopus is also going to be coming out in the Fall as well. I am kinda like “Where’s Waldo,” ya know?! Always hiding in the background somewhere!

Anything that you would like to say to the fans before I let you go?

Yeah, thanks for watching stuff and giving a crap about me and the stuff I do! [laughs] All of us voice-over actors appreciate the people who notice that we are here. On the show biz ladder, voice-over people are right down there with the guy who sets up the Tilt-A-Whirl at the carnival! [laughs]

Thanks for taking time out to talk to us, Tom. We will be spreading the word on all your projects and I hope that we talk again very soon!

I hope that we will! Thanks so much for having me!

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A New ‘ThunderCats’ Trailer Roars It’s Way Online!

A New ‘ThunderCats’ Trailer Roars It’s Way Online!

The ThunderCats have been unleashed! Cartoon Network showed off a full trailer for the new cartoon series at WonderCon last weekend. Now, it is available online for all to see! Check it out below and weigh in with you thoughts!

Roaring to life through WBA and Studio4°C’s use of the Japanese animated artistry of anime, “ThunderCats” characters Lion-O, Mumm-Ra, Panthro, Cheetara and others will spring off the screen with realistic cat-like characteristics inconceivable in previous incarnations.

The new “ThunderCats” will appeal to viewers who have loved the characters all their lives as well as young newcomers to the franchise. A sweeping tale combining swords and science and boasting ferocious battles with the highest of stakes, the grand origin story of Prince Lion-O’s ascension to the throne – and of those who would thwart his destiny at any cost – takes on epic dimensions in this sharp new telling. As the forces of good and evil battle each other in the quest for the fabled Stones of Power, Lion-O and his champions learn valuable lessons of loyalty, honor and mortality in every episode.

“ThunderCats” is executive produced by Sam Register (“Teen Titans,” “Ben 10,” “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”). Michael Jelenic (“Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” “Wonder Woman”) and Ethan Spaulding (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) are the producers.

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Alex Winter Discusses His Epic Career And Upcoming Projects!

Alex Winter Discusses His Epic Career And Upcoming Projects!

You may know him best as Bill S. Preston, Esquire, one half of the dynamic duo known as Wyld Stallyns from the classic flick ‘Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure’. As you might expect, Alex Winter is much more than the dimwitted character that he portrayed in the beloved franchise. However, what you might not expect is the fact that he has been hard at work behind the camera, both writing and directing, for well over two decades! His impressive body of work includes MTV’s groundbreaking series ‘The Idiot Box’, the comedic cult classic ‘Freaked’ and a series of live action films for Cartoon Network’s ‘Ben 10’. Serving as a true inspiration to many young filmmakers, Winter has managed to remain grounded despite his success and critical acclaim as he continues to fuel his creative fire! Steve Johnson of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Alex Winter to discuss his roots in the entertainment industry, life in front and behind the camera, his highly anticipated 3D remake of ‘The Gate’, the possibility of another outing for our heroes Bill & Ted and much, much more!

Where did you grow up and how did you get your start in your career in the entertainment industry?

I was born in England. I moved to the midwest when I was fairly young. My parents were both dancers and so I moved from England to St. Louis and then to New York and I grew up basically in those three cities. New York is kind of my hometown. I’ve done a lot of there over the years there. I started working professionally as an actor when I was about 10. I started doing theater. I did a production of “Oliver” with Vincent Price and then I ended up on Broadway and I was on Broadway with Yul Brynner doing “The King and I” and then Sandy Duncan doing “Peter Pan.” I sort of did Broadway throughout my teens. So I did a lot of acting as a kid but filmmaking has always been my passion.

So I went to NYU film school for college and then got out of college and started shooting commercial and music videos and still did the acting, that’s when the movies happened, “Bill and Ted,” “Lost Boys,” all that stuff. But my focus has always been shooting. So I kind of aimed my career towards doing that full-time than acting full-time. So once I was able to make a living shooting I put the acting to bed and starting shooting and been doing that ever since.

You are a pretty recognizable figure from pop culture. How often do fans recognize you and do you view that as a blessing or a curse?

I get recognized everyday, but you know, it’s not really a curse because you go into acting you assume that you’re gonna get recognized. But I get recognized every single day for “Bill and Ted,” “Lost Boys,” “Freaked,” any of that stuff. I mean I’m used to it because I’ve been frankly … you get used to it. If you’re a child actor … I mean I started doing interviews even locally for Broadway and stuff, dealing with fans and all that jazz when I was a kid so I was pretty acclimated by the time it happened in the movie business just because it happens to you in more places. You go to the middle of the Black Forest in Germany and you’re getting recognized as well as in the grocery store. So that was a big change but that’s been like that since the ‘80s so I’m pretty used to it at this point.

Did you ever imagine that those films would become so popular and affect people the way they have?

I mean nobody does when they’re working on something that hasn’t become iconic yet, you know what I mean? So when I was doing “Lost Boys” … with “Lost Boys” Warner Brothers was really behind that movie and we kind of, we had a suspicion it was going to leave some kind of impact while we were making it. So I would say with “Lost Boys” more than “Bill and Ted” we kind of knew that it was going to have some popularity and Joel’s a really great director and there were just a lot of variables that were swinging for it. It was a big studio movie or, you know, it was a medium budget studio movie but they had a lot of support.

“Bill and Ted” was the opposite. It was an independent movie basically, there wasn’t a studio behind it, it was pretty low budget. No one involved had really done anything before. So we didn’t really expect it to have any cultural impact at all. We just hoped people liked it and thought it was funny. You know that was kind of the extent of it. You know, it was kind of a pleasant surprise that it took off the way that it did.

What made you focus more on the directorial aspect of your career as opposed to being in front of the camera?

That was always kind of my end game. I mean since I was a kid. I started shooting movies when I was really young. That was always my end game. There was no real transition. Before I did any of the movies I had already gone to film school and I was already writing and directing. I started directing and writing commercials before I was acting in the movies. So I was doing all that shooting clean through all of the acting so I always kind of worn those hats. If I had time I would still do some acting. It’s just really hard to … it’s just acting in movies isn’t really like a job you can do as like a side line job that easily. It takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment and it’s very difficult for me to manage movies and writing my scripts and getting my movies going and be on the projects that I’m working on and try to manage an acting career. So it’s never something I wanted to juggle all at once. It just felt like too much. I’m at a point now where my work is off and running on its own steam on the writing and directing side so I might do some more acting down the road if it’s easy! [laughs]

I’m curious, who has been the most influential to you as a director? Is it another director or a colleague or a teacher?

Well it’s really general. I would say that I have … for the filmmaker I have the movies that have influenced me the most which are a really wide gambit. I was always really into Kurasawa and a lot of Japanese directors, Eisenstein, Ozu, Buster Keaton and I can’t forget Kubrick, I mean it’s a big giant pot of great stuff! And I’ve been really into watching movies since I was really young. So there was a lot of stuff I take influences from. And you know comedy stuff, specifically physical comedy stuff, I’ve always really been into Monty Python and a lot of the Brits. So it’s … I’ve always tended towards pretty rich cinematic filmmakers, people that really do a lot with atmospherics and light and space. So even people like Fritz Lang have been really influential for me. And then as I got older I did a lot of effects work so it’s, you know … so the people who are doing stuff in that world that I also really like. That’s a whole different kind of gambit or sort of string to my bow in terms of stuff that I do.

One of your early outings behind the camera was “Freaked.” You also had an acting part in that too. Was that difficult to juggle those responsibilities and how do you think you’ve evolved as a director and filmmaker since then?

I’ve evolved a lot! [laughs] In that we were 25 – we’ve never shot 35 mm before in our lives! I had come out of film school, we had our TV series on MTV, “The Idiot Box,” this was me and Tom Stern, who I was directing with at the time, and that was a lot of fun. We were writing and directing and staring in that and it was sort of a creative free for all. We were shooting on 16 mil and we were shooting commercials and music videos, music videos mostly at the time. So “Freaked” was a huge opportunity!

We were really young. We had pretty much total creative freedom. We were working really closely with the studio. So it was an enormous learning experience. We had a huge effects team on that on the physical effects, special effects, the whole bit and a great cast to work with. It was great because I had gone to NYU and I had gotten a lot of theory and I had learned a lot from my teachers from NYU whom I loved and then I got to then practice in the field with “Freaked.”

Once “Freaked” was done I felt like I had cut my teeth and was sort of ready to go out on my own. And I started up a production company in London and started shooting a ton of commercials and really developing my voice and my style personally. So I’d say it’s evolved a lot. I’ve discovered a lot more sort of what stories I like to tell, how I like to tell them since I made that movie.

What is your most fond memory of that project?

I have so many anecdotes from that movie! It was insane. And every day was insane. Putting Mr. T in a dress was just the beginning! [laughs] It kind of went on from there … it kind of spiraled on from there! Oh God, there was so much crazy stuff that happened.

One of the toughest things was that, at a certain point, Mr. T just got tired of being in a dress! [laughs] I think even though he was a really good sport about it for the first 99 percent of the shoot. By the end of the shoot he just got baked. And eventually he just disappeared! He just plain disappeared and we had like two more days of shooting to do with him and he was gone. So anyway, I had to call him and we found him in Chicago and he was just fried. Baked like an apple! And he just couldn’t do it anymore. So we had to get one of the other actors to kind of luke his lines pretending to … he did a really good Mr. T impression. We still had all this dialogue to do so we got a fake Mr. T that actually did a couple of shots in the background! And we got him afterwards to loop some of his dialogue as Mr. T.

“Bill and Ted” was obviously more mainstream, but “Freaked” has more of an underground following. Given the circumstances around its release, are you surprised that that following continues to grow after all these years?

Not so much. I’m really happy to be honest with you. We made a movie for a specific audience and I’m really happy with the response that it’s gotten over the years and the fact that it’s lived on cable and acclimated is absolutely slamming DVD release for us a couple of years ago with two DVDs and timed with extras and a couple of short films that Tom and I made at NYU. So I’m really happy that it’s had longevity. We put our heart and soul in that movie. It was over three years of solid labor for me and Tom Stern. And I’m really, really happy with it.

It was an incredible opportunity to fly into the studio realm via a back door and just do what we wanted to do. But I think in terms of its longevity, I think you know it was … it’s a kind of an irreverent movie that ended up having … a lot more stuff got done like that later like “South Park” and things like that. So I think it sort of fits into that slot in terms of why people still dig it.
There’s a lot of pop culture references, it moves really fast, there’s a ton of stuff coming at you and I think that now with “Family Guy” and “South Park” and a lot of that type of stuff, I think it fits pretty squarely in that zone.

What can you tell us about Trooper Productions and what you guys have going on over there?

Trooper is just my production entity. And a lot of times I’ll produce what I’m directing like the two “Ben 10” movies I did for Cartoon Network, I’ve produced those as well. So those were Trooper Productions. And it will be whatever other projects I’m working on whether it’s some of the commercial work that I’m doing, music video work. It’s umbrella for the production stuff that I’m generating and right now I’m working on a remake of a movie called “The Gate” from the mid-’80s which I’m really excited about. It’s a 3D movie. We’ve been working with great, great 3D people to make it look fantastic. We have a really great effects team assembled. So I’m working on that right now, which I’m really excited about!

I’m also working on a project about Shawn Fanning and Napster which I’ve been working on a long time but that’s starting to ignite. So those are the two movie projects that I’m working on right now.

Speaking of “The Gate,” how did you originally get involved with the project and what attracted you to it?

What attracted me to it was that I love movies … I love movies that are atmospheric, I love movies that are cinematic, I love movies that are kind of “hyper real” without getting silly about it. So sort of whatever genre I’m working in, whether it’s “Freaked” which is like extreme comedy or the small kind of movie I made called “Fever” which is really a psychological thriller, those are the tones I like to play with sort of edging towards realism without going all the way over. And I love the idea of doing that for a kids’ movie. Having a kids’ movie that has some very hyper real aspects to it and “The Gate” I feel is a really ripe remake because we don’t get that many movies that are for kids but have genuine edge on them.

I really want to make a movie that it’s fun and it’s an adventure and it’s not “Jaws” or “Saw” but it is a PG-13 movie for kids that while it’s fun and has humor definitely has some darkness and some edge. And I’ve got kids, I’ve got three, and I know what scares them and I know what makes them laugh and I’m looking forward to doing both of those things! [laughs]

Did you have any reservations initially about tackling a remake of a film considering the flack Hollywood is receiving from some circles about a lack of imagination?

Well no, because I don’t run Hollywood! [laughs] It’s not like I’m in a position to say what they do or don’t do. I think that we’re filmmakers! I mean geez, the Cohen Brothers just made “True Grit.” It’s like it’s not really down to us what gets made. It’s down to the market and the reason the market is making these movies is because our economy is in the toilet. And it makes big business very risk adverse because they don’t have money and they’re afraid they’re not gonna be able to sustain themselves and the technological climates are changing and the distribution exhibition models are changing at 100 miles an hour and nobody knows where things are going to land so everyone is terrified. So in a culture here you stick to what you know.

I’m not defending it. Don’t get me wrong. I think a lot of these remakes are just God awful and unnecessary. On the same token some of my favorite movies have been remakes. So do I have an absolute, staunch adversity to remake? Of course I don’t. I mean John Carpenter’s “The Thing” is one my favorite movies I’ve ever seen. And that’s a remake.

For me “The Gate” is a good story to tell the kids today. And that’s the way I’m addressing it. It’s a template. Let’s be honest. The notion, the general schematic of that story of kids unleashing something and then having to conquer it is pretty broad. It’s been done in different stories over and over and over … it’s basically a fairytale. So I think this kind of story, we’re not going to ruin the original. The themes to me that make the original “The Gate” special are never going to go away. I mean the work that those guys did with stop motion, the foreground miniature work they did, the strange, weird theater camp uniqueness to that movie is going to live on in there, you can watch it whenever you want. I certainly feel like we’re gonna make a movie that we have heart and believe in and that’s really what counts!

Did you have any hesitation about going the 3D route for that project?

No. It was actually my idea! To be fair to my producer they didn’t even think of it. I actually love 3D when it’s done well. And the reason it’s been done crappy is mostly because a lot of people, especially the studios, are trying to play catch up with the technology which is going to take a second. But when it’s done well it looks fantastic. I mean to me it would be like “Avatar” or a movie like “How to Train Your Dragon” I think used 3D really, really well. And it’s beautiful and it does serve the story. And they know when to push the dimensionality and they know when to pull back on the dimensionality.

I think that a story – to me “The Gate” really for me cinematically is a film whooper. You’re doing one set of people in one house from beginning to end. It’s the whole movie in one house. So the things that you can do with space and architecture and foreground and detail over the course of a hellish journey in one house in 3D is really exciting to me from a film standpoint.

Sounds awesome. Can’t wait to check it out. What’s the current status on that project?

We’re in pre-production. It’s a pretty complicated effects job so I’m not gonna be shooting for a while. I’m not gonna be shooting ‘til the middle or late part of this year. Dealing with 3D test and creature design and all that kind of stuff right now which takes awhile.

Okay. Cool.

We’re looking at a 2012 release.

Sounds good. Looking forward to it. It seems like directing is your favorite aspect of filmmaking. You’ve been involved in every aspect of filmmaking. You’ve been a director, writer, editor, and producer. Is there one aspect that you prefer over the others?

I mean I see myself as a filmmaker. The way I studied at NYU … the way they run that department, you do everything. You edit, you write, you light, you do everything. So to me directing … the reason I like filmmaking so much is that it is the … it’s a hyphenated job by nature. You have to know what each department is doing. It is still your job to let those departments do their job. You don’t want to run every department but you certainly want to manage every department.

I’m a director by nature. That’s what I do. It’s what it all boils down to. I certainly have spent a lot of time acting too and I like the work I’ve done as an actor. But in terms of my filmmaking fundamentally my favorite thing to do is get on a set and make a movie.

You have two decades in the industry at this point. To what do you owe your longevity in this industry?

Insanity! [laughs] There are two things that I think keep people going in to this business without being silly about it. I think one is that for whatever it’s what you do. I know that sounds kind of vague but it’s just what I’ve always done. I don’t really know how to do anything else. I’ve been in show business since I was really young and it’s really what I know. I wouldn’t know what the hell else to do with myself. For a lot of us it’s literally we do it through the ups and downs because you love it but because it’s what you do. It’s kind of how you identify yourself.

And then secondly for anyone who’s stuck it out for any length of time has just a psychotic amount of tenacity. Yeah, it’s tenacity bordering on unhealthy mindset. So I certainly possess that.

That’s a great answer. Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to your work?

I really look from everywhere. I like high culture. I like low culture. I like going to the symphony. I like going to see punk rock bands. I’ll go to museums. I’ve got a lot of friends who make really whacked out comic book art that I love. For me it’s really personally … I mean I have very specific tastes so there’s certain things I like and there’s certain things I don’t in each of those areas. But I’m very broad in terms of what interests me which can be confusing to people because I will go from a movie like “Freaked” to a movie like “Fever” quite happily. I’m actually putting a documentary together now.

I always see the link. There’s always something thematic that compels me. There’s always some human story there. Whatever the genre that I think is worth telling. And “The Gate” is like the idea this kid in jeopardy and the sort of duality between what we have going on with his family and what he unleashes into his family. That, to me, is a really compelling story and is a reason to make the movie. And the genre kind of becomes irrelevant.

You’re getting to the point in your career where you can look back and see some pretty big milestones, large and small. What has been the most exciting thing for you thus far?

Man that’s really hard. It’s really hard. I think that rather than isolate it in an event, I think that I would look back with a lot of gratitude that I’ve been able to work in every field that I’ve wanted to consistently. After “Freaked” I really wanted to explore commercials, I wanted to explore short form content and that would allow me to work with really high end crew and start to play with much more complicated technology and I did. I was able to form a company and work successfully in commercials for a long time.

I’m sort of moving into another area now. I’ve kind of transitioned into a new phase and so I’d say more than … to be able to look at some of the key relation of some of those milestones, the work I’ve been working in advertising and some of the screen writing projects I’ve been working on over the last two years, being able to do “Freaked,” being able to do “Bill and Ted,” being able to do “The King and I” with Yul Brynner and what an incredible experience that was. There isn’t really any one that sticks out as much as kind of the gratitude that I’ve been able to have those experiences.

Do you feel that there are any misconceptions about yourself out there?

Not really. People ask me that. A lot of times people ask me are you bummed out that given how much time you spent as a filmmaker people will always know you as Bill. I’m not because the reality of it is, sure, everyone in show business is narcissistic so I don’t want to, like, sit here and do some kind of BS, false modesty thing about, “I don’t really care what anyone thinks of me.” That would be BS. But the fact of the matter is that I can’t expect everyone to know what I do. I mean they’ve got more important things to do with their time! [laughs] It’s like, the fact is a lot of the acting stuff that I’ve done before, like playing a dimwit in “Bill and Ted,” is what the majority of the population has seen me do! So of course that’s what they’re gonna think of me. So for me to take that personally, like as some kind of personal affront, would be kind of insane. It’s like when little kids run up to me and play air guitar I think it’s awesome. It’s really cute. And it’s really sweet! And given how difficult and intense this business can be there’s a lot of levity for being known for comedic roles. I’ve always found it very refreshing. Sometimes you’re killing yourself on a project and you’re dealing with financiers and you’re flying around trying to get a movie off the ground and then some 9-year-old comes up and plays air guitar. It’s like … you basically feel really good. So I don’t really have a negative impression of that perspective. What matters to me, what generally matters to me, is I get my work done, that I can get it done, that I can get it off the ground and have people get to see it. Whatever medium that is.

Well you’ve mentioned it quite a bit and I’ve kind of ignored it at this point. But with “Bill and Ted,” obviously fans are out there clamoring for a third film. Is there any status update about that? Is there a possibility that we could see another sequel?

You know that’s a possibility. Reeves has been pretty vocal about it so there’s no point in me lying to people at this point! [laughs] We are working on a script with Chris and Ed, the two writers. And it’s really … it’s pretty low-fi. We’re gonna have a look and see what we all think and see if it’s worth pursuing and we’re really happy with what they’ve been coming up with so far. I think it’s pretty great and could have a reason for being. And if it does have a reason for being we’ll go about trying to make it happen!

Awesome! That’s really good news.

It could be!

Cool. I noticed that you and Keanu have been seen out together and you guys looked pretty close. Did you guys originally meet on that set and do you guys still hang out?

Yeah we met … we met on the first one during the audition process really early on. And then they auditioned a lot of people and then we kind of drifted apart and then were paired with other people and then we were paired with each other again and we became really friendly, really tight on the first one and we just … it’s the kind of franchise where you’re really glued at the hip. So either you’re really gonna be friendly with that person or you’re gonna hate them. And in our case we’ve always just gotten along … there’s just a simpatico there that’s been nice.

I think part of that shows on screen. I think with any successful kind of partnership franchise I think 99 percent of it is the chemistry and I think that’s the chemistry between Keanu and I think that’s the chemistry between Chris and Ed, the writers that made that script pop.

What was your most fond memory of that original film and did you actually get to keep anything from the film set at all? Do you have any memorabilia?

You know what’s cool? I had, for years I had my head, the head that blows off the evil robot me at the end … not evil robot because that … it was my identical head I guess from the makeup part. I had that as a doorstop for years until eventually it rotted.

What bums me out because after so many years I don’t have any copies of the screenplays anymore which really sucks because when you’re a young actor you mark up everything with all kinds of notes and I would have laughed my butt off to see what my hyper-serious thespian notes would have been scrawled in the notes of “Bill and Ted.” But there are so many great memories from that.

We were … the fun thing about making a movie like “Bill and Ted I,” even though I love the second one, I may even like that one more than the first, but the fun thing is you’re just young and there’s no … the kind of fun of the pressure and no one knew what it was gonna be and we were all kind of innocently bashing … hacking our way through some kind of weird jungle. So it was a really fun experience.

Cool. I love the movie. Both of them actually. We also mentioned “The Lost Boys” earlier, you played “Marco” in that film. What can you tell us about the experience on that set? That had to be something else.

That was a trip. The thing is when I made that movie I was a really poor NYU film student. I was living on the lower eastside, NYU is really expensive and every penny I had and beyond was going into getting to school and you had to pay for a lot of your filmmaking gear in those days. There was no video, there was no HD camera. It was like big, expensive cameras, film transfer and edit days and just a very different universe than those students have today.

So I was just broke as hell. Suddenly I was co-staring in this big Hollywood movie and we were shooting and, let’s face it, I don’t do a whole hell of a lot in that movie other than stand around and pout with some really funky hair-do. So I had a lot of time on my hands. So it was actually one of the most fun experiences I had on a job because I didn’t … it was like when I was working I was getting on a motorcycle, driving around and trying my best to look cool and not the nerd that I actually am. And when I wasn’t working I was watching Joel Schumacher and Mike Chapman and some of the greatest people in Hollywood do their work. And I was a film student so I was just soaking it up. It was an amazing, amazing experience!

Gotcha. You got wrapped up in that two Corey’s phenomenon too – that had to be a treat.

I loved those guys. They were really sweet. I felt kind of parental because I had been in the business since I was a kid and you know they were in a tough spot. They got too much exposure, too fast in a very, very decadent and wild and wooly era in Hollywood. The ‘80s were pretty hardcore. So I spent a lot of my time on that set chasing those guys around and trying to get them to go to bed. [laughs]

I wonder what Corey Feldman would have to say about that?

I think he would admit it!

Did you see the sequels and do you have any thoughts on them?

You know I haven’t. I kind of feel bad. I feel like I would like to see them. I just haven’t. I’m not like a huge, huge straight horror guy. It’s fun to act in those things, it’s fun to get blood spewing out of you, but I’m more of a comedy guy or like a comedy or thriller guy. I’m not so much a horror guy, like straight horror. So I just haven’t really had the impetus to watch. I think “Twilight” has kind of burnt me out of ever wanting to see a vampire do anything ever again.

That’s a good point.

Yeah.

I’m not too in to the “sparkly” go outside in the day type movie.

Yeah, the vampire movie as basically the romance novel book cover, yuck.

If you see one of them I suggest just going right to ‘The Thirst,’ which just came out. It feels like more of a true sequel than the one that came before it.

That’s what someone told me recently. They said just go right to that one. And I mean I like a good movie. However it’s made. So I will check it out. I think it’s cool that Corey stayed involved and actually I know some of the guys that made those movies. I need to get off my butt and watch them but I haven’t yet.

There’s a rumor going around that you’ve also been involved in writing “Rock n Roll High School” for Howard Stern’s production company. Is there any truth in that?

Yeah. I wrote it. It was an assignment. I went in and Howard bought two titles out of the library. He bought “Porky’s” and he bought “Rock n Roll High School.” I both love the original “Rock n Roll High School” and I’m a big Roger Corman fan so I pitched those guys a tape that I thought was really fantastic because it wouldn’t try to replicate the original at all. It would leave the original alone. I just wanted to create a modern Corman high school movie. So that was my take. It was like don’t try and replace the Ramones because it’s impossible because they’re one of the greatest bands of all time. Don’t try to, like, take that same story with all of its elements, it’s like what I did with “The Gate” … I wanted to do a remake try not to crap all over the original. Like, leave the original alone. And if you can’t come up ideas that are as fresh and modern as the original, then the remake is gonna stink. That’s your barometer.

So I thought I had a pretty great, fresh take. They liked it. They paid me to write it. I had a great time writing it but it is an assignment. I have absolutely no control over what they do with it. So far he hasn’t … as far as I know he hasn’t gone out and made “Porky’s” or that movie so I don’t know if it will ever get made but it’s completely out of my hands. But it was an enormous amount of fun to write.

Knowing that Howard just signed a new five year deal with Sirius, I think he’s got his hands full. So who knows.

Yeah I mean he certainly got other things going on in his life other than making movies and frankly in this climate making movies is … if it’s not your first love it’s like you’re gonna get burnt pretty fast because it’s a very, very hard market right now.

Okay, one more hard hitting one. What advice would you give to a young filmmaker or young actor just starting out?

You know I would say frankly that it’s … this may sound kind of wacky but I actually think that this is one of the greatest times to dive into this business in its history because there’s never been a time when the tools of distribution and manufacturer have been in the hands of the people so easily. I mean up until now film was a really elusive, expensive medium. And you know we used to do crazy stuff in order to try and make our movies when I was a kid. I started making movies in high school, like most filmmakers, if not in grade school. And then in college we were killing ourselves to make our movies. Making “Squeal of Death,” which was our first big short film, we couldn’t even get a grade in class. It took us two years just to assemble the money to finish it. By the time we were done we had a great show piece. It helped us to get into Hollywood but we didn’t have anything for our class.

My point is nowadays there’s no excuse to not make a movie and I think it really forces the young filmmaker to do what’s always been important, which is learn how to tell a story. Because once you’ve got a great story, you know, pick up a frickin’ HD camera, get final cut or hell, iMovie on your laptop, cut it and distribute it. And if it’s good enough it will cut through the clutter!

I think it’s a really, really exciting time. I think that unfortunately the power base, meaning the establishment, is really scared of the technologies and of their accessibility so it’s not … the business model hasn’t caught up yet. But from the artist standpoint they have no excuse not to be making movies all the time.

Thanks for your time, Alex! We look forward to talking to you again very soon!

Absolutely. It has been my pleasure!

– –

Check out the official website for Trouper Productions at
www.trouperproductions.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/alxwinter!

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First Look At Cartoon Network’s ‘Thundercats’ Reboot

First Look At Cartoon Network’s ‘Thundercats’ Reboot

Roaring to life through WBA and Studio4°C’s use of the Japanese animated artistry of anime, “ThunderCats” characters Lion-O, Mumm-Ra, Panthro, Cheetara and others will spring off the screen with realistic cat-like characteristics inconceivable in previous incarnations.

The new “ThunderCats” will appeal to viewers who have loved the characters all their lives as well as young newcomers to the franchise. A sweeping tale combining swords and science and boasting ferocious battles with the highest of stakes, the grand origin story of Prince Lion-O’s ascension to the throne – and of those who would thwart his destiny at any cost – takes on epic dimensions in this sharp new telling. As the forces of good and evil battle each other in the quest for the fabled Stones of Power, Lion-O and his champions learn valuable lessons of loyalty, honor and mortality in every episode.

“ThunderCats” is executive produced by Sam Register (“Teen Titans,” “Ben 10,” “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”). Michael Jelenic (“Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” “Wonder Woman”) and Ethan Spaulding (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) are the producers.

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The Many Sides of Efren Ramirez: Rising Star Discusses His Upcoming Projects!

The Many Sides of Efren Ramirez: Rising Star Discusses His Upcoming Projects!

Growing up in a violent neighborhood in East Los Angeles armed a young Efren Ramirez with the drive to become involved in something other than the world that surrounded him. Guided by his parents into community theater, Ramirez found his true calling as an actor. The self-proclaimed artist portrayed a variety of roles to perfection, including Pedro Sanchez in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and Kaylo/Venus in the ‘Crank’ films. Ramirez quickly evolved into one of the greatest character actors in the business and his amazing talents are in high demand. Steve Johnson of Icon vs Icon recently caught up with Efren Ramirez to discuss his influences, his iconic role of Pedro in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, his involvement in HBO’s hit series ‘Eastbound & Down’, what it was like working with Will Ferrell on the upcoming film ‘House of My Father’, what fans can expect from the upcoming ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ animated series, and much more!

First off, tell us a little about your background.  Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Los Angeles.  I live in L.A. actually.  I was born and raised in East L.A.  Every two or three years my parents would always move, so I decided to move with them. [laughs]

What led to your decision to pursue a career in the entertainment industry?

I’m still wondering why I am doing it! [laughs]

Efren Ramirez

We actually get that from a lot of people when we ask them. Who or what influenced you getting into the entertainment industry?

My influences to getting in …  I guess my neighborhood.  As funny as it sounds …  I grew up in a not so safe of a neighborhood.  You’ve gotta go, “Well I don’t want to end up being like that guy!”  They wanted me to do something that I really like.  My mom and my dad actually put my brothers and me into theater, community theater.  I think that’s where it got started.  It was never about getting into the entertainment industry.  It was always about just doing something that we loved and it was a chance for us to get away from the realities of things that were happening.

Do you have any actors or anyone who influenced you or continues to do so at this moment?

There are a lot of directors.  It’s everywhere from TV shows to feature films.  I just recently saw ‘The Social Network’, and you see David Fincher, and you see his work.  Even Danny Boyle who did ‘Trainspotting’ to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.  These guys are artists and they are creative.  As an artist myself, you just want to do great work.  I think Martin Landau said it … even though there’s so much work out there that’s happening, nothing defeats talent.  Talent is talent.  The question is, are we reinventing new art forms?  The trip is, no.  Everything has been done.  The question is, is it quality that you want and talent?  I keep looking at the most talented people and what they do, and do what they do.  I see if I can follow that as well.

How do you think you have evolved as an actor since starting out?

Oh wow!  I really got into acting professionally when I was 20 years old.  The acting remains the same.  You’re always on stage or you’re in front of the cameras.  You’re working with not only your imagination, but with what the writers made it.  You hope that that whole creative effort between you, the writer, and the director falls in sync so that you can deliver a great piece and a great performance.  As far as business is concerned …  business is, as we already know, a business.  There’s a totally different aspect to it, where you really understand what people do and how you can work together.

You currently have a role in ‘Eastbound & Down’.  How did you become involved with that project and were you a fan of season one?

I had auditioned for the project.  I actually own the DVD for the first season.  I was a big fan of Danny and his work.  Watching Ben, and Jody Hill, and David … seeing what they do and how they create it.  So when it came to being a part of HBO … HBO, as we all know, is not TV.  I was auditioning for two things, ‘Eastbound & Down’ and I was going to go to New York and do theater over there.  I was fortunate to make the choice to do ‘Eastbound & Down’.  Working with these guys reminded me of working in theater because these actors are risk takers and that’s who you always want to be.  Everything remains fresh and it’s original.

Efren Ramirez

You mentioned Danny McBride and some of the other cast members. What has it been like working alongside of them?

It’s a team connection with Gary Sanchez Productions.  When you work on a project, even if it’s like an immediate family, it’s hard sometimes because you become a quick family.  When you’re a newcomer into the field, it’s always wonderful when they accept you.  I really felt that working with Danny, Steve, Stephanie, Jody and David.  They took me in and I thought that was really cool.  That led me to doing ‘House of My Father’.  I just finished doing a film with Will Ferrell.  It’s from the same production company, so I feel like I am part of the family and I’m welcomed.  They give the actor the ability to become more creative with their work and trust them not to think about anything else but the work.

I was actually going to ask you about ‘House of My Father’.  Will Ferrell is in that and from what we hear he is pretty intense when it comes to staying in character at all times.  Is there any truth to that?  If so, what is the vibe on the set like?

‘House of My Father’ is all in Spanish.  It’s a Will Ferrell movie and Will Ferrell is funny.  We all know he’s very funny and very smart, but there’s something about him … he’s got a really big heart and that’s the reason why people love his films.  He’s open to everything.  He’s very vulnerable and I like that.  When you work with actors, sometimes you lock yourself into a specific way and sometimes you don’t feel it’s enough, depending on the circumstance and the type of character you’re playing.  The type of character Will Ferrell tends to play is someone everyone wants to work with because he’s learning.  When that happens and the audience watches his film, you go through an experience with him.  For me, it’s very enjoyable to work with him.

What is the film about?

I don’t know if I can tell you that … [laughs]

Vote For Pedro

That’s alright.  I just figured I’d ask. We also understand you have recently jumped on board a ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ animated television series for Fox.  Does the storyline follow the live action movie and does it pick up where the movie left off?

It’s the same thing when everybody asks me about ‘Napoleon Dynamite’, like “What year did it take place?”  I went, “Well … It takes place in Preston, Idaho.”  I will say that the animated series of ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ has all of the original cast members.  There are a lot of big fans out there.  A lot of fans!  It’s great!  Even this Halloween, walking through the store and you’d see a Pedro costume or a Napoleon costume.  I think it’s funny.  I can tell you that not only does it have the original cast, it goes back into the world of Napoleon.  It goes back and forth between the movie and what happened prior and afterwards.  I know these guys are really excited about it and it’s going to be a pretty big deal.

Have you guys been in contact with each other since the project was announced?

Yeah!  We have via text and Skype, which is the coolest thing!

What has been like getting back together and talking to those guys again?

It goes back to the old ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ wave.  We did the film and didn’t think anything of it.  As an artist and actor you do the work.  When it blew up at the theater we were all surprised.  You’ve got to go like, “OK.  We’ve got to keep going and we’ve got to keep doing this.”  So when we met up with everybody, we looked at each other and went, “Wow!  This is pretty cool!”  To be able to know that they are making us immortal by doing cartoons of us … There’s a cartoon of me man … I am excited!  You always want to please the audience and stay true to the work.

Getting back to the original movie.  I understand that you actually had to choose between ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ and the major studio film ‘The Alamo’ back when both films were made.  What led to your decision to take a role in the small indie film over a huge Hollywood production?

Up to that point I had been working on several TV shows and I was doing a lot of theater.  I’ve been studying acting for about 16 years.  It’s always wonderful for an actor to be able to play not only a lead role, but also a character role.  You get to change and you get to play a lot more.  You take a lot more risks.  So I started to embrace that.  I thought that even though this was a unique film, the focus was never about the money.  It was always about the work and it should always be about that.  When I was offered to do Pedro, I thought wow, this is my chance.  I can either make it or I destroy the film. [laughs]  I think I passed! [laughs]

Efren Ramirez

Yeah!  You did a great job! Speaking of the character of Pedro, did you have any input into that character or was it laid out for you in the script?

Jared Hess directed ‘Napoleon’.  He’s got a short film called ‘Peluca’ and in it there are two characters by the name of Giel and Pedro.  I remember him telling me that you’ve got to mix those two guys together and make them into one.  So it’s probably not cheating, I guess. [laughs] In order to shape Pedro I put Buster Keaton and my ex-girlfriend’s dog together.  That’s how you got Pedro. [laughs]

Looking back on it, what is your most fond memory of making the film?

I think everything from day one.  When you work on a feature film, normally you work for about two months.  We shot this film for about 23 days I think.  It was really quick.  When we went to Preston, Idaho it was totally different from Los Angeles.  It was out of my element and I thought, “OK! Where the heck am I?” [laughs]  I tend to be able to watch what everybody does and I saw how far everybody was willing to go.  I know that everyone struggled.  There were some times where we would get ready to do a scene and the director goes, “We don’t have enough film, so we only get one take.” [laughs]

Nice!

Uh … Yikes! [laughs]

Do you think we will ever see Napoleon and crew back on the big screen in the future?

I don’t know.  I mean I can see them making the cartoon into a big cartoon feature film.  That would be funny. [laughs]

That would be great!

We are all so busy.  John and even the guy who played Kip, Aaron Ruell, is a director.  He’s been directing tons of commercials.  Jonathan Gries, who played Uncle Rico, has got tons of feature films as well.  John Heder is working as well.  We’re going everywhere and that’s what you want to do.  You want to keep expanding and keep entertaining actually.

When can we expect to see the animated series on our television screens?

I think in March.  I’m not sure.  I have a twitter account under @efrenramirez. Any new information I get from the studios I push right away out to twitter.  Everyone gets excited about it.

I’ll make sure I add you!

Cool!

Efren Ramirez

You have played a variety of characters throughout your career.  Is there one that sticks out in your mind as your favorite?  I personally dug your performances in the ‘Crank’ movies.

[laughs]  Yeah!  Kaylo and Venus! [laughs]

Those movies were over the top!

[laughs]  They’ve all been great.  I was lucky after ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ to be able to select where I wanted to go.  Not many people have that.  Not only that, but once I started doing that I began getting a fan base.  People are watching my work and going, “Wow!”  There are artists out there who always play themselves and that’s great.  That’s fantastic as long as you are getting into the theater.  I like following Johnny Deep or Marlon Brandon.  Every time they did a film they would constantly change.  Of any character I’ve played so far, I’d have to say Jorge from ‘Employee of the Month’.  I liked playing that character.  He’s funny. [laughs]

That’s a good one too. You’ve had roles in motion pictures and on television series.  Which format do you prefer?

I love motion pictures.  You are given more of the responsibility to create and to commit to a different world.  When audiences are watching a movie, within two hours you have to show them somebody’s life, somebody’s world, and all of the chaos that happens in it.  There’s a meaning to that and there’s a lesson.  In that lesson is the passion of the story.  TV is a bit longer.  I’d like to say that even with ‘Eastbound & Down’ … With ‘Eastbound & Down’ the extremities are allowed because it is HBO.  So, there you go.

You have been involved in so many different types of projects. Is there a particular type of film/television series or genre that you are anxious to tackle in the future?

I don’t know.  I don’t know yet.  Even after ‘Napoleon’, I started working on these other films and I think a lot of studios began to recognize me as a character actor and being able to play all of these different types of roles and styles, from comedy to action to drama.  So now I’m beginning to notice that the scripts that do get sent to me are everywhere and different styles.  That’s great and that’s what every actors wants to be.  So I want to keep creating and be able to have people see that they can trust me and trust my work.

You are definitely a busy man.  What other projects are in your immediate future?

Yeah!  There’s two of them.  One’s a drama and the other is a … A drama with comedic elements. [laughs]

Efren Ramirez: A Man of Many Talents

You mentioned you are a DJ and are performing at an event tonight. Has music played an important role in your life?

Always!  Before ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ I would DJ at raves in Los Angeles.  In every picture I work in, I would get a whole bunch of cd’s of the music that actually fit the world of the film I’m doing of the character that I am doing.  I remember when I was doing the ‘Crank’ films I was listening to a lot of Freddie Mercury and Queen, David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, and Martin Gore and Depeche Mode because that is what the character Venus was like.  I can’t remember that name of the song, but Homosapien 2 and some of the dark wave of the late ‘80s.  You start to pick music of that type that fits you.  As a DJ, even though you go to the club and play the top 40, pop, and well known hip-hop, there’s also an underground style of music, which is the electro.  What new electro stuff that comes out, you want to play that and really shock the audience.  That’s always wonderful because you get involved with the people themselves and really get into the music.  They get into it for what it is.

Do you have any inspirations to start a band or put out a record?

Ah … No! [laughs]  I know Jared Leto.  He’s been working as an actor and he’s got 30 Seconds To Mars.  He’s got another song called ‘Closer to the Edge’.  I just recently saw the video and it was great!  You see him on stage and that guy is a rock star! [laughs]  He’s in front of thousands of people and his music is good!  I know some bands, The Killers and My Chemical Romance.  They’re great guys and this is what they do.  I enjoy DJing and playing new music.  Even when I create music either on soundboards, or Acid, or Pro Tools, you want to create new sounds so the audience goes, “What is it?  I’ve never heard it!”  That’s always impressive.  I enjoy DJing as a hobby, but it’s not going to take over my acting.

You said you have a performance tonight, do you have any other upcoming performances that we should know about?

It always varies because a lot of the clubs or the event know that the rule is that if I am working on a film, they know that I don’t make any public appearances at all because you want to commit to the work.  When I was working down in Puerto Rico, they were asking me if I could DJ at some places.  I pull away from that because I wanted to focus on and be committed to working on the show.  Once I’m done I do enjoy going to different clubs all over the world and DJing and hearing people go, “Oh my god!  He acts and he knows how to mix!”  That’s a good thing.  All DJs know that when you hear somebody mixing and you go, “Hey!  That was a terrible mix!”  You never want a train wreck!  [laughs]

Efren Ramirez Spins For The Crowd

What do you consider the defining moment of your career so far?

I think when I was on ‘The Office’ in 2006.  I thought, “Hummm … Maybe this is going to be big!” [laughs]  If you go to my twitter page, I talk about how I am an artist and not a celebrity.  There’s a difference.  You could go, “Hey!  Look at me!  I’m what’s hot!”  That’s not me.  It’s not about me, it’s about the work.  I’m not into the glitz and glam.

What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you along the way in your career?

I’d say Brad Pitt.  He said, “Picture what you want to be and go there.”  I went, “That’s it?” [laughs] He’s a great guy!  I wrote a book called ‘Direct Your Own Life’.  There’s a lot of people who I have met along the way who have given me great advice into the picture of your dreams.  I thought, “Why shouldn’t I write a book based on that and not only let people know that you can pursue your dreams, but you can create a step-by-step program yourself.  This is what I did and you can use it yourself, for what ever you want in your life.  It was published by Kaplan, the people who do all of those test books for colleges.

Cool!  I had no idea!

Yeah!  It was a good deal!

That’s awesome!  I will have to check it out! That being said, do you have an advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?

Yeah!  Keep doing it, but be clear on what you’re doing.  A lot of people think that all you have to do is just come to L.A.  Eventually you will, but before you do that, study your craft.  Hone your skills.  Even now I am still learning.  It doesn’t end.  You would think that once you reach your goal, that’s it and you know everything.  Work hard because it does pay off.  Make sure you follow your passion, no matter what it is.

That’s sound advice man. Do you have any last words?

Work hard and then when you’re done, go out with your friends and have a good time. [laughs]  Life is too short.  Enjoy it.

Thanks for your time Efren and best of luck!

No worries brother.  Thank you and take care.

– –

For all the latest news on Efren Ramirez check out his official website at www.efrenramirez.net and follow him on Twitter at @efrenramirez.

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Andrew W.K. Invades Homes This Fall With New Episodes of Cartoon Network’s ‘Destroy Build Destroy’

Andrew W.K. Invades Homes This Fall With New Episodes of Cartoon Network’s ‘Destroy Build Destroy’

As Cartoon Network recently announced, new episodes of their hit show Destroy Build Destroy, hosted by Andrew W.K., will premiere October 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT. Andrew W.K. serves as the master of the mayhem as two teams, with the guidance and assistance of professionals, compete by destroying large structures using wrecking balls, human destroyers and real explosions. Each week brings new challenges to build from the debris, with strategy, wits and teamwork determining which team’s creation out-performs the other. Destroy Build Destroy was created by Dan Taberski and produced by Idiot Box & Mess Media. Dan Taberski and Scott Messick are executive producers for the series.

Andrew W.K. states, “I’m so psyched about this new season of DBD! We really went bigger and better than ever. I love these new episodes. The team members and I always have so much fun, but this time we really went over the top. It’s super-destructivity! And super-buildtacular! The new season has even higher levels of insanity, originality, teamwork, and of course, massive explosions! Get ready!”

For more information on Andrew W.K., please visit www.AndrewWK.com.

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‘Thundercats’ Return With New Animated Series On Cartoon Network

‘Thundercats’ Return With New Animated Series On Cartoon Network

Warner Bros. Animation (WBA) has begun production on “ThunderCats,” an all-new animated series for Cartoon Network, based upon the iconic 1980s action classic. “ThunderCats” is the newest series from WBA, joining “Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” which was recently renewed for a third season, and the following forthcoming programs: “The Looney Tunes Show,” “MAD,” “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” and “Young Justice.” The announcement was made today by Sam Register, Executive Vice President, Creative Affairs, Warner Bros. Animation.

“In addition to being Warner Bros. Animation’s first anime series, ‘ThunderCats’ marks our most ambitious foray yet into fantasy,” said Register. “The realism and dynamic visual style we’ve achieved are sure to thrill viewers, and the cool weapons, vehicles and technology should help the show appeal to a diverse audience.”

The 21st century reimagining of the series marks a creative collaboration between WBA and Studio4°C, one of the most vibrant animation studios in Japan, with credits including “The Animatrix,” “Gotham Knights” and “Halo Legends.” WBA is working closely with Studio4°C, utilizing the latter’s expertise to give the “ThunderCats” characters a new cutting-edge look while remaining true to the compelling storylines and mythology of the original series.

“We at Studio4°C are excited to be in this creative partnership with Warner Bros. Animation to bring ‘ThunderCats’ to life,” said Eiko Tanaka, President and CEO, Studio4°C. “This collaboration combines the strengths of our two companies – high production values and great storytelling – toward reintroducing this classic fan-favorite to a new audience.”

Roaring to life through WBA and Studio4°C’s use of the Japanese animated artistry of anime, “ThunderCats” characters Lion-O, Mumm-Ra, Panthro, Cheetara and others will spring off the screen with realistic cat-like characteristics inconceivable in previous incarnations.

The new “ThunderCats” will appeal to viewers who have loved the characters all their lives as well as young newcomers to the franchise. A sweeping tale combining swords and science and boasting ferocious battles with the highest of stakes, the grand origin story of Prince Lion-O’s ascension to the throne – and of those who would thwart his destiny at any cost – takes on epic dimensions in this sharp new telling. As the forces of good and evil battle each other in the quest for the fabled Stones of Power, Lion-O and his champions learn valuable lessons of loyalty, honor and mortality in every episode.

“ThunderCats” is executive produced by Sam Register (“Teen Titans,” “Ben 10,” “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”). Michael Jelenic (“Batman: The Brave and the Bold,” “Wonder Woman”) and Ethan Spaulding (“Avatar: The Last Airbender”) are the producers.

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Lucasfilm Plans Animated “Star Wars” Series? With Comedic Edge

Lucasfilm Plans Animated “Star Wars” Series? With Comedic Edge

Variety reports that Lucasfilm Animation is developing a new animated “Star Wars” TV comedy series. Daytime Emmy and Gemini Award-winner Jennifer Hill (“The Backyardians”) will produce with Todd Grimes (“Back at the Barnyard”) directing. Brendan Hay (“The Daily Show”) will be among the writers and Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, creators and executive producers of “Robot Chicken,” will have creative involvement.

“The ‘Star Wars’ universe is so dense and rich; it’s crazy to think that there aren’t normal, mundane everyday problems in a world so well-defined,” Green said. “What do these characters do when they’re not overthrowing empires?”

Added Senreich, “We’re going to pull back the curtain of some of those behind-the-scenes shenanigans.”

Project marks the second “Star Wars” skein created by Lucasfilm Animation. The first was “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which premiered in 2008 on the Cartoon Network and is currently in its second season. No start date or network for the comedy skein have been announced.

Source: Variety / THR

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Director Scott Sanders Talks ‘Black Dynamite’ Film and Animated Series

Director Scott Sanders Talks ‘Black Dynamite’ Film and Animated Series

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Writer/director Scott Sanders is preparing to unleash one of the greatest blaxploitation characters of all time in his highly anticipated new film, ‘Black Dynamite’. The film has been generating a huge buzz at film festivals around the world and stars the multifaceted Michael Jai White as the title character. The story is a classic vengeance tale that follows Black Dynamite as he aims to take back the streets from the clutches of “The Man” who has killed his brother and is pumping heroin into local orphanages. Along the way he is forced to hand out heaping helpings of bloody retribution as he follows the trail that leads him all the way to the White House and President Nixon. Taking the audience on a thrill-a-minute fun ride, while giving nods to blaxploitation cinema past, ‘Black Dynamite’ is sure to be the biggest sleeper hit of 2009! Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Scott Sanders to discuss the origins the film, the animated series that it will soon spawn and the challenges involved in bringing such a unique film to the masses. Can you dig it?

scott-sanders-3I wanted to give our readers a little background on you, in your own words. What got you started on journey in the entertainment industry?

Film was my major in college. I went to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. After that, I just came out to Hollywood. I actually ended up working at the United Talent Agency right when it started. I got fired from that job and I started writing a spec script with the money that I got from that job. The script was for a television show. Then they signed me as a client and I was a TV writer for a while, then I did a short film and that lead to me doing a movie called ‘Thick As Thieves’ with Michael Jai White and Alec Baldwin. That was my first movie, ten years ago.

Who were some of your influences directorially?

I think it started off for me with Spike Lee. It has been a real honor to show him ‘Black Dynamite’. He has been extremely supportive, so that has been great! I’d also say the Coen Brothers, who I just love. I can’t wait to see ‘A Serious Man’. Stanley Kubrick is another one.

That is definitely a mixed bag.

Yeah.

For those how don’t know, how did the original concept for ‘Black Dynamite’ come about?

BlackDynamite1

Well, as I mentioned Michael Jai White and I worked together ten years ago on ‘Thick As Thieves’. I was doing some other projects and working on some other things and I had approached him about another movie that I was interested in having him star in. He was really into it and I asked him what he was up to. He showed me a photo shot that he had done of himself with the afro wig, the gun, the nunchucks and the suit that he is wearing in the last scene of the movie. That is when it dawned on me that this would be the best thing to do! [laughs] It just became so obvious! Let’s make a blaxploitation movie, set in the seventies, now. It felt like it would be a blast to do. So we got together and shot a trailer for five hundred dollars, like a fake trailer, where we cut in stock footage with him on the other end. He would shot a bullet and kill somebody from thirty years ago! I showed it to our producer friend, who produced our first film ‘Thick As Thieves’, and he was like “Why are you showing me this old blaxploitation trailer?” I said to him “That’s Mike!” He did not even recognize that it was Mike in the trailer. [laughs] He said “Ok, I can raise the money for this based on the trailer alone.” That is how we raised the money. We didn’t even have a script yet and we had already raised the money for ‘Black Dynamite’. Actually, it was called ‘Superbad’ at the time but another movie took that title away from us. [laughs] So that is how it became ‘Black Dynamite’. It was really funny too, because we had the original trailer posted on a little website just for us to show other people and a Japanese website picked it up and it just spread all over the internet! It was the old trailer that we had just done for promotional purposes and there are still people out there that think that ‘Black Dynamite’ is a remake of that movie!

Oh really?! Wow!

Yeah! I mean, there are people who have written whole articles saying “Why would you remake ‘Black Dynamite’!?!!” [laughs] It’s like… “Ok?!!!”

As a director, what key elements did Michael Jai White bring to the to the role that made it jump of the page and screen?

mjw-3It’s a rare situation where Mike is a born blaxploitation star. If he was old enough to be an actual blaxploitation star, he would be the biggest one! He is built like a football player and has eight black belts in karate. Not even the guys then were like that! He is just as big as those guys. I mean, in ‘Black Dynamite’, we don’t move the camera or anything and he literally jumps ten feet in the air and kicks out a light! All of the blaxploitation stars were football players, except for Jim Kelly who a karate star. The fact that Mike is a combination of both and that he has amazing comic timing really brings it all together.

Was it difficult to balance the elements of those original films while you added you own flavor to it and was there ever a point where you pulled back because you thought something might be going too far?

I think we knew where the lines kinda were. I mean, if we took the worst of blaxploitation movies, it would go way over the top. The worst ones had crazy stuff in it.

If you look back on those films, it is hard to believe that they got made in the 70s!

Yeah! It is amazing! You have a movie, made by a major studio called ‘Boss Nigger’. It is hard to imagine a time where that would ever happen again, ya know! Fred Williamson was “Boss Nigger.” I can’t imagine going into a major studio and saying “Yeah, I’d like to make ‘The Legend of Nigger Charley’.” Ya know!? I think it would be impossible! So, there were lines that we knew that we didn’t want to cross, but the thing is that it does give us license because we are just kinda examining the genre. So with that, we had a license to go farther than most go.

You have been traveling around quite a bit to promote the film. How have audiences been reacting and what has the whole experience been like for you?

It’s been great. It has been something that has been totally unexpected. The fact that it has been so embraced by the film festival circuit has been a joy. I’ve never traveled, so it was great to travel as well. Traveling has been great. My favorite trip has been to the Czech Republic. We had the movie at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. That was the biggest audience that we have ever had. They had 1200 people and they let 100 more people just sit in the aisles. They were all just laughing and having a great time! It was translated in Czech and I guess it was a great translation! It was great! To me, that experience made me very encouraged that the film might be a lot more universal that we had expected.

scott-sanders-1For you personally, what was the biggest challenge in making “Black Dynamite”?

The challenge, but I think made the movie better, was having such a limited amount of time and a short schedule. Everyday we had to put ten pounds into a three pound bag! What is good about that is that’s how those original movies were made. I feel like you can see that energy on the screen.

Did you originally envision ‘Black Dynamite’ as a series of films, and the word is that ‘Black Dynamite’ may soon find his way onto the small screen by way of an animated series. What can you tell us about that?

It is pretty much all systems go on the animated series, which is great. That is kinda the first byproduct of the film. It’s going to be on Adult Swim on The Cartoon Network. Carl Jones, who worked on ‘The Boondocks’ is going to run the show. He is hilarious and really gets it, so that is a really fun thing that we are going to do. So yeah, I definitely want to do more! It would be hard to come up with a directing job that is more fun than ‘Black Dynamite’. Just going through the stock footage from the stock footage houses and saying “What scene are we going to work around?” It just feels so loose. My editor goes “Here is some footage I have of a chopper picking up a 1972 Chevette Caprice with a giant magnet!” Then we just work that into the story! It is just so much fun!

Is there any date that we can expect to see the animated series? And I would assume that Michael Jai White will be back to do the voice of Black Dynamite?

We are just working on the pilot right now and I am really bad with cartoon lead time. I just don’t know where they do it or how they do it but it is all moving forward fairly quickly, so that is exciting.

mjw-2I know the movie is just being released theatrically but do you have anything special that you are preparing for a DVD release?

Absolutely! The great thing is that we have never stopped making viral videos, there is a lot of stuff on the internet and it will be great to have it all in one place. There are a lot of great outtakes and a lot of funny stuff with Richard Nixon in it, because he was a method actor and never stopped acting. There is some really crazy stuff with him!

What is the best piece of advice that you can give to aspiring filmmakers?

There is some good and bad going on right now. Right now, it is very, very difficult to go through the studio system and get things done. It is just difficult. The upside is that if you have a good idea and you are entrepreneurial, the world really can be your oyster. You have to do things, you have to make things. You have to make things that you feel are going to bring attention to yourself. You have to just do it. With us, it started off with five hundred dollars and a trailer and led to all of these things. It started very, very small. You just have to get out there and do it. I don’t think the rewards are as far off as people think that they are.

Obviously you have a lot on your plate with the release of ‘Black Dynamite’ and the animated series on the way, but what other projects are on the horizon for you?

I’d like to stay in this kind of world. I like doing things that are genre based but have an independent spirit minded thing to it. There is some stuff that is pretty much in the early stages but I can say something like ‘Black Dynamite’ or ‘District 9’, I am kinda into that sort of thing.

Cool. It sounds like we will see you behind the camera again sooner rather than later, right?

Yeah. I was thinking about staying on the “ten year plan”, doing two more films and then dying but now I think I need to do them a little bit quicker! [laughs]

scott-sanders-2Looking back on making the film, what is you fondest memory of the project?

I have one that really stands out, because all of these things are such little wars. It was when we were getting all of the production design together, which is difficult for a movie like this where you are trying to get all of this period stuff. When I got to the neighborhood of Ladera Heights, we were literally walking through the neighborhood and knocked on a door. There was an old reverend there and he let us in his house. It looked like perfect 1970s house for a brothel! [laughs] That was a moment of relief! We barely dressed that house and it looked perfect.

Anything that you would like to say to the fans before I let you go?

Just that I hope that they come out to see the film on October 16th. I hope that they really enjoy it in the spirit that it was meant to be enjoyed in!

Thanks for your time and we will be spreading the word about the film!

Ok, thank you very much!

– –

For all the latest information on ‘Black Dynamite’, visit the official site for the film at www.blackdynamitemovie.com. Be sure to check out the official trailer for the film below.

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Michael Jai White Talks About His Explosive Role In ‘Black Dynamite’ And More!

Michael Jai White Talks About His Explosive Role In ‘Black Dynamite’ And More!

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Michael Jai White is one of the most dynamic actors in show business. His breakthrough role came when he portrayed boxing legend Mike Tyson in a 1995 HBO biopic. In the years to follow, White has tackled roles ranging from superhero to super soldier with everything in between. Now in 2009, donning a leisure suit, an afro wig, a mustache that would make both Rudy Ray Moore and Richard Roundtree proud, White is thrilling fans worldwide with his latest creation, ‘Black Dynamite’. The title character is a former CIA operative, war veteran and all around badass. Set in 1970s Los Angeles, Black Dynamite is the lone hero brave enough to take back the blood-soaked city streets after “The Man” murders his brother, pumps heroin into local orphanages, and floods the ghetto with malt liquor. The film serves as a loving homage to blaxploitation cinema and serves up a heaping helping of thrilling, first rate action!

Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Michael Jai White as he was doing press for the film’s highly anticipated premiere in New York City. In the interview, the two discuss White’s career, the birth and challenges of making ‘Black Dynamite’, his latest on-screen outings and what the future holds for the rising star.


mjw-7Let’s get started with some basic questions: Where did you grow up and what got you started on journey in the entertainment industry?

I was born in Brooklyn and I left there when I was a teenager. I grew up, the rest of my time, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Originally, I didn’t know that I wanted to be an entertainer. There were some warning signs, but I didn’t pay attention to them. I was always shooting my own little Super 8 movies and as a kid I did puppet shows when I was in grammar school. When I got out of high school and went to college, I would dabble in acting classes but I never took it seriously. I became a school teacher and I would try to go out for auditions for television and commercials in my off time. Eventually, I decided that I needed to see if this could work, so I took a leave of absence from teaching and that has lasted up until now.

Well it seems like it is working out for you so far!

[laughs] Yeah! Yeah, I think I might stay away from teaching.

I want to touch on your latest exciting project, ‘Black Dynamite’. How did you first get involved with director Scott Sanders and what can you tell us about the film?

Scott and I met ten years ago on ‘Thick As Thieves’. The idea for the film is something I came up with one day while listening to a James Brown song. I was a fan of Blaxploitation movies when I was a kid. I thought that they were funny, cool, campy and all of that. I would periodically have a Blaxploitation Night at my house. Everyone really appreciated the films from my kids to people that had never even seen one before. They have such a style and brashness, that you just never saw anywhere else. I eventually decided to shoot my own film that would have all of those qualities. I wanted to give the viewer the experience that they saw a genuine blaxploitation film.

mjw-1What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

The biggest challenge was getting it all done in twenty days. That was definitely a challenge.

How hard was it to achieve that authentic look and genuine feel that you were going for?

It had it’s own set of difficulties. We shot on a film stock which is rarely used. With the stock, we just, you don’t have any movement with the film, meaning that you can’t really alter it after you shoot it. Whatever you shoot, you are stuck with. It’s not like most films where you can change things in post production. That made it a bit interesting. Your lighting had to be just right.

You have been traveling around quite a bit to promote the film. How have audiences been reacting and what has the whole experience been like for you?

It has been overwhelming. It has been such an education! We learned so much because this film is being very well received overseas. We are selling it to territories, so for example, there were packed houses in Germany and France. We had a standing ovation in the Czech Republic. There were 1,200 people in the theater and they let 100 more in, just to pack the aisles afterwards.

Wow!

They erupted! It was a standing ovation. It has been really heralded in Brazil and Australia. It has been an unprecedented thing, where a small movie with black folks is being this well received around the world. We never thought that it would be this big around the world. It just goes to show that you don’t have to grow up knowing about Blaxploitation movies to enjoy the film. It is just a fun action movie that people are really enjoying.

mjw-3Bringing the idea full circle from that first spark to the completed picture. What is your fondest memory of the experience on ‘Black Dynamite’?

I think one of my fondest memories was the day that we shot this pimp scene. I had these great actors that came out to lend their talents to the movie, to myself and just to have fun. I was really proud of that day. Aresnio Hall, John Salley, Bokeem Woodbine, Brian McKnight and all of these really great actors came out to have fun and it meant a lot to me.

With the tremendous buzz and fan reaction to the film, is there any chance we will see you revisit the Black Dynamite character anytime in the near future?

Absolutely. There is a very strong chance for that. Hopefully people will come out for the movie and that would really dictate it.

Another interesting project you have recently appeared in is ‘Blood and Bone’. What can you tell us about that?

‘Blood and Bone’ is kind of a straight forward action film. It is gritty in the tradition of the old Charles Bronson type of films, but it has a bit of a twist with that MMA type technique and martial arts in it, along with a pretty gripping story.

You mentioned MMA. In ‘Blood and Bone’ you have two of the sports biggest names, Kimbo Slice and Gina Carano in the film with you. What was it like working alongside them in the film?

It was great. They are really good fighters. You know, Kimbo is still having his ups and downs. Bob Sapp is still fighting. We had some cameos too, like Maurice Smith, who is the only United States K-1 Champion in Japan. He also graced the film. It was great working with all of them. Gina Carano is a sweetheart. People fall in love with her because they can see how sweet of a person she is. Kimbo is a really good guy as well. He is another kind of American success story, kinda in the way that Mike Tyson was. He just got people to really root for him and he is a great personality.

mjw-6You are very involved with martial arts and that plays a big part in many of your roles. I imagine that you play a large role in the fight choreography.

Completely. It is hard for someone to choreograph for me. I pretty much have to do the things that are natural for my character. That is one thing, I would not fight the same in two movies. I would fight as the character. So, it is really about that. Unless someone understands choreographing for the character, I tend to shun that away. I pretty much know that it is my responsibility to know the character, so I would be the logical person to dictate how the character fights.

That is interesting, as you have played so many varied characters from Black Dynamite to Spawn and so on. I am curious, is there a certain type of role that you haven’t yet taken on that you would like to take a stab at in the future?

Oh yeah, I think that some of my greatest roles, I haven’t even done yet. I would love to play an athletic, football type of role and even a “real” soldier. I haven’t played any “real” soldiers in a drama or even a cop. I was literally studying to become a police officer for years. Over the past few years, I have been getting myself ready to become a reserve cop. Police work is in my blood. It is something that my family is very close to and that I am very close to, so I know when I get a chance to play an officer on film, there is a lot of “me” that I can put into the role. I have also never played a teacher, which I am. I think that there are a number of dramatic roles that I would love to play. I would love to do my take on a ‘Lean On Me’ type of movie, where someone like me goes into the school systems and works with the youth, because that is what I do.

With that being said, what is the best advice that you have for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?

I would say that this thing is called “show business” for a reason. You need to learn the business part of it. To often people just think from the artist standpoint and they have such a myopic view, their hearts are on their sleeves. They tend to take things personally. You hear people say often that they were rejected, which really to me is untrue because you aren’t rejected. It may be the character that you are playing was rejected but they don’t know you to reject you. I would tell people to look at it as if you were a private contractor and you are bringing your bid and if they don’t take your bid, it’s fine. It’s nothing personal. So again, I say learn the business end of it.

mjw-2What do you have in the works and what can we look for you, in next?

The next thing that you will probably see me in is Tyler Perry’s ‘Why Did I Get Married Too?’ I also have some really interesting action projects that are on the horizon.

Sounds very cool. I know you have been rumored to joining the cast of ‘Predators’, is there any confirmation on that?

Nothing to really report on that right now but I tend to only claim things once they have begun.

Is there anything that you want to say to your fans before I let you go?

I want to encourage people to come out, forget your troubles and see ‘Black Dynamite’ and come in for a ride!

It looks like quite a ride! Thanks for talking with us and we really appreciate your time.

I appreciate you!

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For all the latest information on ‘Black Dynamite’, visit the official site for the film at www.blackdynamitemovie.com. Be sure to check out the official trailer for the film below.

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