Prime-time Emmy-nominated actor Bob Bergen has been part of many different forms of television. He has worked on sitcoms, soaps, and has even been a game show host. Bob is well known for his voice acting. He can be heard in thousands of commercials, animated series and specials.
Some of the films he has been in are “Wreck it Ralph,” “The Lorax,” “Tangled,” “Tinker Bell,” “Spirited Away,” and “The Emperor’s New Groove.” He voices Luke Skywalker in the “Robot Chicken: Star Wars” specials and is an Annie Award nominee for playing Cadet in the two-time Emmy-nominated series “Duck Dodgers”. He currently stars as Porky Pig in CN’s hit series “The Looney Tunes Show.”
He and I had some time to chat about his Emmy nomination, voice acting, and how he set up a meeting between him and his idol Mel Blanc when he was just 14 years old.
Art Eddy: First off I want to say congrats your Emmy nomination for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance. What is it like to be nominated?
Bob Bergen: It feels surreal. It is my second nomination. You don’t go into this business to get a nomination or an award. You go into this business because you love it. You want to pay your bills doing what you love. For your peers to honor you with a nomination like this is just icing on the cake.
AE: Do you like attending those award shows? What is it like?
BB: Again I have to say it is surreal. It is a two month high from the nomination to the ceremony. I see my name on the program and I am like that’s my name! That is my name next to those people. This is just so bizarre. It is euphoric. I know it sounds cliché, but it is such an honor to be nominated. Winning would be lovely, but this nomination thing is really cool.
AE: If I read off each and every voice you have done this would be a long interview. You are most known for your great Porky Pig voice. I see on your site that at age five you wanted to be Porky Pig. What appealed to you about getting into voice acting?
BB: This is the most common question I get and the most common answer I give is I don’t know. I was just this weird five year old kid who fell in love with the Looney Tunes cartoons. I had a tape recorder by my television at all times. I would record these cartoons.
I would practice this Porky Pig character back to my tape recorder. My mom used say should would hear the cartoon line once and then again while she was in the kitchen. She would wonder why they were playing the line twice. She finally realized I was mimicking the television set. She would say why him? She would say first of all you are Jewish. You shouldn’t be doing the Porky Pig character. There has to be something else out there. (Both laugh)
I figured out his stutter. His stutter had a formula to it. I figured it out when I was five years old. I was the obnoxious kid in school when the teacher would ask me what is two plus two, I would say ‘I uh bu bu believe that is four.’ I would say in the style and voice of Porky Pig. Of course that got old really, really fast, but I was able to make a career out of it.
AE: Your idol growing up was Mel Blanc. What was it about Mel that inspired you?
BB: When I was 14 we moved to Los Angeles. I just figured that I was going to call Mel Blanc and give him an opportunity to retire. I thought that was actually really generous of me. I didn’t think that many people wanted to be a cartoon voice actor.
I looked for his phone number in the phone book. There were a lot of phone books for Los Angeles and my dad traveled around to collect all the phone books from Pasadena to Malibu. I just called every Blanc in the book until I found his number under his wife’s name. I taped the conversation. It is on my website. That is 100 percent illegal. You are not supposed to do that, but it has been a long time so I don’t think that I am going to jail.
During the course of the conversation he mentioned the name of the studio that he was working at that week. He didn’t say the day or the date or the time. So I called the studio up pretending to be his assistant. I called to say that I was confirming Mel’s appointment at nine on Thursday. I was totally making it up.
She said that it was Wednesday at 11. I said you are right I am looking at the wrong date in my book. Then after that I told my mom that I was skipping school on Wednesday and that we are going to see Mel Blanc work. She said cool.
So when we got to the studio I told the receptionist that we were personal guests of Mel Blanc. She told us where he was working. When we walked into his recording booth I told his producer that we were friends of the receptionist. They said to have a seat and I got to watch him work.
AE: You were 14 years old when you did this? I have to say that it was a genius move on your part.
BB: I didn’t think I was doing anything unusual. I wanted to meet Mel Blanc. He was still working and I met him. I shook his hand and he gave me an autograph. After I met him I knew I wanted to get into this business. So I just started studying voice acting and improv.
AE: Besides Porky Pig what are some of your favorite voices that you have done in your career?
BB: Some of the smallest roles were the most enjoyable. I played Bucky the squirrel in “The Emperor’s New Groove.” It was a fun challenge because he didn’t speak English. Patrick Warburton played Kronk and he spoke squirrel. He would say, ‘Squeak, squeak, and squeak, squeak.’ Then I would say some jibber jabber.
It was so much fun to do because I was creating this new sort of thing. For me I think the fun part of this industry is creating new then mimicking the old, even though Porky Pig is my little buddy. My day to day is creating new characters.
AE: I have to say I am a big fan of your work as Luke Skywalker especially on “Robot Chicken.” Are you a “Star Wars” geek?
BB: No, I am not. I am not a non-fan, but I am not always watching the movies. When they came to me about this role I first said no. I said I can do the voice of Mark Hamill. They said it is not Mark’s voice we are looking for it is Luke Skywalker’s voice. Then I said well yes I can do that.
AE: How do you create on a new voice for a character? Take me through the steps of how you create a voice.
BB: Happened this morning. I wake up. My coffee maker is on a timer. I pour a cup of coffee and I go into my home studio. I print off my auditions for the day. I actually auditioned for a new series today. I looked over the script. I looked over the picture.
I walk into my booth. I push record. I start spewing. I start creating. I record for about 15 minutes. I direct my audition by listening back. I would look to see what works and what doesn’t. I would see a layers of a character forming. I would say the whole thing takes me 30 minutes. It is a quick process, but you have to be that fast. It is not cold reading. It is frozen reading. You don’t have that much time to prepare.
AE: Which character gave you the hardest time to finalize?
BB: I don’t know that answer right off the top of my head. I will tell you that I am a perfectionist. I go to a film that I am and I will cringe when I hear my voice. I would be like, ‘Oh that is the take they used.’ I recorded that voice three years ago, but I still am a perfectionist and I wish certain parts could have been done better.
Getting back to your question, we also have great directors in animation. We have superb leaders that help guide us through these sessions.