Interview with James Arnold Taylor

James Arnold Taylor is known best for his voicing of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”. Besides voicing Obi-Wan on the show is also voices numerous other characters, including Plo Koon. James is a very talented voice actor who also does voices ranging for the show “Johnny Test” to Fred Flinstone commercials to Emmett Brown in the recent “Back to the Future: Video Game”. Fighting a terrible cold and with barely a voice, Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with James about his role of Obi-Wan in “The Clone Wars” and his various other projects. James was nice enough to bare with me through my lack of voice and provide one of the most fun and easiest interviews to date.

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Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you originally got started with “Star Wars: The Clone Wars”?
James Arnold Taylor: When I was first introduced into the “Star Wars” world and “Clone Wars” was for the micro series that Genndy Tartakovsky had done. I auditioned like many other people had. I thought it was just for a line here or there that they needed to replace. I had done some Ewan McGregor voice doubling in the past. When I found out I got the job and found out what it was, it was really quite a shock to me. I was so humbled by it all. We got to do that series which was great, then from that point I started doing video games. I did video game for “Revenge of the Sith”, which mirrored the film mostly. I got to see a lot of the movie as it was being made which was really cool, since I had to kind of redo what Ewan was doing in the film. Then I moved into the new series of “The Clone Wars”. I remember the first meeting with Dave (Filoni) and Henry Gilroy. I told them that I was just flattered to be involved. It has been about eight years since that I have been involved and I am just thrilled to be in it.

MG: Your character has a great storyline this season, can you tell us about it?
JAT: Season three has been so awesome. As a cast, we all have gotten to know each other better through the years. We are all very comfortable with each other. When we get into the studio to record each other it is like a reunion and a bit of a party. It was really a new direction this season. We are dealing with things that “Star Wars” has never really dealt with before especially with the “Mortis” episodes. We have the final one of the three part series airing this Friday. I can’t wait for everyone to see it and then we can talk about it more. Clearly these are new territories that we have never taken these characters into before. Not even in the films, we find out what the force is really all about and Anakin being the truly labeled as the chosen one throughout the galaxy now. So for Obi-Wan, it is kind of fun when we were doing these episodes. He had a lot of [speaking in Obi-Wan's voice] “Yes…Well…I don’t know…Let’s check over here” [laughs]. I was wondering how it was all going to come together and then you see it and it is just brilliant.

MG: How does it work for you about getting the scripts in advance?
JAT: I was keep in the dark like everyone else. When we get the scripts, if we have more than ten lines we get them in advance by 24 hours. If we have less than ten lines we usually get them just the day of the record. For me what I try to do is not to read outside of Obi-Wan’s parts. I do not want to know the ending. I want to be surprised like everyone else and I have been really blown away. It is just a blast because we always work as a cast and is it a treat to be involved with this “Star Wars” universe.

MG: What is the most challenging part for you playing Obi-Wan Kenobi?
JAT: Yeah, actually that is a great question. I am always trying to give homage to Ewan McGregor, of course…but also to Sir Alec Guinness. I take [speaking as Ewan McGregor] ” a little bit of Ewan McGregor’s voice and” [speaking as Alec Guinness] “a little bit of Alec Guinness’ voice”. I try to combine them into my Obi-Wan. I have been watching so many of the episodes lately and listening to my performance, myself being the most critical. I see that I am not necessarily doing Ewan McGregor any more, I am just doing an “Obi-Wan” voice. I get a lot of feedback from my fans on my Facebook and Twitter pages. Everyone has been saying its great because it is just Obi-Wan. I tell myself to take that as a complement. I naturally want to be matching and give the actors the respect they are due. But it is pretty amazing to think that I have voiced more of Obi-Wan than any other actor now. It is fun to think that this character is a part of me now. I really am so thankful to George Lucas and Dave Filoni for giving me the ability to do that. Funny enough, I recently had a cold as well and I was in the studio and was having trouble getting some of the lines out. I have always said that Obi-Wan has had those two different kinds of voice that Ewan McGregor gave him. [Speaking softly as Obi-Wan] “You seem a little on edge, relax be patient Anakin”, he has that kind of calm and then he has [screaming as Obi-Wan] “You are the chosen one!!”, which has a little more knife to it to his voice. There are always those two different levels of Obi-Wan that you want to do and hit them at the right time. There is some pressure in that. The most fun is coming up with different voices. I try and challenge myself, so the people watching the show don’t go “Oh that is just James Arnold Taylor doing that voice there”. I love it when there is an episode where you do not know that it was actually me as another character and Obi-Wan having a conversation. I also voice Plo Koon, so when two of my voices are talking to each other it is cool. Plo has a life of it own and a fan base of its own as well. It is fun to challenge myself in that way.

MG: You also play various other roles for “Clone Wars”, do you ever find it difficult to distinguish between roles?
JAT: What I do is that I have my scripts and I will distinguish each of the lines. Obi-Wan gets a circle around all of the lines. Plo Koon gets a line on the left and the right and a scribble on the top and bottom. If there is a third character I will do something else. I will be able to look at the script and if they are all talking to each other I can distinguish it. Since I was about four years old, I knew I wanted to do voice over in general. My brain works pretty well in switching back and forth. Every once in a while you can get confused on a character. I do a show called “Johnny Test” and I was just recently doing one which featured three characters I voice talking to each other. You had [Speaking as Johnny Test] “Johnny Test who is right here [speaking as Darth Vegan] and you have Darth Vegan who is almost like a Darth Vadar character and [speaking in British voice] and then I was doing a character more like this”. So I was switching back and forth between the three characters and I did get a little confused at one point. I think I went to Johnny when I was suppose to go to Darth Vegan or something. It happens everyone once in a while.

MG: In 2010 alone, you not only worked on “Clone Wars” but also “Batman: The Brave and the Bold”, “Johnny Test” and a few others, do you have any free time?
JAT: Yeah [voice of Obi-Wan] “I am always on the move” as Obi-Wan would say. I am very blessed to say I am always working. Between the animation work with the shows you mentioned, I am actually even working on a pilot for a Disney show that is going to be for the UK, but I do not think I can give too much info on it yet. Then you have the video games and promo work. I do a lot of regular promo work for the Fox network [in announcer voice] “Coming up next, it is a full hour of “Cops” or for SpikeTV “It’s a thousand ways to die on Spike”. I have got all those things, so I try and juggle them all throughout the day. Luckily I am able to do a lot of my work out of my home studio. It makes it easier. I like busy though, it keeps you moving. It also helps people realize that voiceover work is not just standing there talking and thinking it is easy. There is a lot of work to it, but it is very rewarding and so much fun.

MG: You voice the iconic character Emmett Brown in the recent “Back to the Future: Video Game”, how was stepping into that role?
JAT: Boy, what an honor. I got the audition from my agents and they said “James, come on this is the “Back to the Future” game, you are a shoe-in for this”. I have a stage show I am working on and you can see bits of it on my YouTube page. I do a live scene from “Back to the Future” playing and switching between both Doc and Marty. [speaking as Marty McFly] “Well wait a second Doc, you built a time machine out a a Dolorian…[speaking as Doc Brown] The way I see it Marty, if you are going to build a time machine out of a car, why not do it with some style!” I go back and forth to picture. I sent them that. Then I got in touch with Bob Gale, who is the writer of “Back to the Future” and is involved with the game and I said I really hope to be involved with this project. I had actually done some much of Michael J. Fox’s voice doubling in the past. The young man, AJ LoCascio, who had been doing Marty in the game is just brillant. He and I have been in touch and he said to me “I hope you don’t mind me stepping on your toes” but I told him he is just great and sounds so much like Michael J. Fox. For me it fun to be a character was not so known then since it was Emmett Brown, the young Doc Brown at the age of 17. So I was trying to figure out what would he sound like. It gave me the opportunity as a voice actor to take Christopher Lloyd’s voice, who is actually voicing Doc Brown in his older normal age, and take that try and figure out what would he sound like as a kid. We played around with it a lot. It is tricky, basically I had to blend some of Doc that you know and love from the films.  So he might sound a little older at times than a 17 year old might but Doc Brown is an old soul anyway. So you get [speaking in Doc Brown's voice] “Dr. Emmett Brown here and you know when [speaking in Doc Brown's voice at age 17] when he is a little younger he gets a little more crack and squeek in his voice every once in a while”. It has just been great fun getting to do that and we are still recording some of it too. The folks at Tall Tale Games have been great. It has just been such a fun project. I have been successfully managing to work my into every big film franchise that I can. From “Star Wars” to “Back to the Future” to “Jurassic Park” to “Transformers”, whatever I can get in there. It is really cool.

MG: What has been your favorite character to voice in your career to date?
JAT: Well Obi-Wan Kenobi has certainly become the one that I have grown the fondest for. I guess for so many reasons, one being seven years old and seeing “Star Wars” for the first time. I never dreamed at that time when the first film came out that I would be Obi-Wan Kenobi. Especially because Alec Guinness was playing him and he was this old guy. So I would have never guessed. I like what the character represents and that means a lot. I have been so blessed, I got to tell you Mike, to be all of these very famous characters.  I am still doing some commercials for Coco Pebbles as the voice of Fred Flinstone, and then also you got Tidus from the “Final Fantasy” game series. It is like choosing your favorite child, it is just really hard. Leonardo from “TMNT” is also a favorite. I am looking out the window in my studio and looking at all different action figures I have lined up and I am just like “Wow, I get to be all these different characters”. I do not know if I have a favorite but I certainly love voicing Obi-Wan and Johnny Test is also great. As a voice actor, every day or every hour is a different time and a different character and different person to be and that is what makes it so much fun. At times it is a thankless job to be an voice actor because if we do our job right nobody knows we exist. I can’t tell you how many times I am in a restaurant and the kids at the table next to me have Obi-Wan and “Clone Wars” shirts. I just think [speaking as Obi-Wan] “If they only knew” [laughs]. I just love whoever I am voicing at the time. I am just grateful to be getting that opportunity.

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