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"But I made 'em laugh...I wanna do that!"
"I was kind of like a nerd. Kind of like Donatello!"
"With us, it just so happens that we 'really are' those characters."
"It's more true to life to the original comic that Laird and Eastman had in mind."
"It's also me trying to push myself and do more than anybody has before. "
"Leo is me and probably, the closest to who I am as a person."
"I tend to kind of forget who I am a lot of times, but in a good way."
James Arnold Taylor  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
March 2007

Santa Barbara native James Taylor has California on his mind. Specifically, Los Angeles, where he makes his home with his wife and manager, Allison. Not to be confused with the popular singer/songwriter, this James Taylor is emerging as one of the most prolific voice over artists in the country, amassing a resume of animated features, video games, commercials, and more. Not to mention, providing the voice for a superhero Turtle named Leonardo in the animated adventure, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

Always fond of making people laugh, James' career took off in 1992 when he began producing comedy for Premiere Radio Networks. Some 8,000 pieces were created, showcasing James' vocal versatility for the likes of Rick Dees, Howard Stern, and others. And that versatility allowed him to double for such performers as David Spade, Johnny Depp, and Michael J. Fox. Expanding beyond radio, James became the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi in "Star Wars: Clone Wars," Ratchet in "Ratchet & Clank 2 & 3," Milo in "Atlantis: Milos' Return," Tidus in "Final Fantasy X," and an assortment of characters in "The Animatrix," "The Powerpuff Girls," "What's New Scooby Doo?," and many more.

Yet, with so many voices to his repertoire, James ultimately prefers his own. "Leo is me and probably, the closest to who I am as a person. Striving to be the best person I can be and to do the right things." In "TMNT," he does just that. And in this exclusive interview, he talks about his early forays into comedy, life in the sound booth, and what it's like to be a very famous Turtle - all from his own, unique voice.

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

You started at an early age (16) as a stand up comedian and disc jockey. What motivated or inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment; in particular, a career in voice over?

It's one of those classic clich?s. Ever since I was a little kid, I watched cartoons and said, I want to do that. And repeated every line that Mel Blanc said as Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck. I was just a huge fan of cartoons and voice work in particular. And impersonators. Everybody from Rich Little to Frank Gorshin.

When I was 4 years old I actually wanted to be a doctor. And there was an accident in front of our house. Not a serious one, but a guy in a motorcycle. As I pushed my way through the crowd with my doctor's uniform and doctor's bag, I looked down at the guy and said, "I'd like to help you, but I'm an obstetrician." Everybody in the crowd laughed. And my Mom said, "If you're gonna be a doctor, you gotta help everybody." But I made 'em laugh, I said. I wanna do that!

So, I began working on my stand up act and doing impressions when people would come over. When I was about 15, I created an act of about 10 minutes. And then when I was 16, I was able to go to a club. I grew up in Santa Barbara, so there weren't a lot of comedy clubs. But there were a couple of places that did open mike nights. So, I convinced the guys to let me come in and do my act on a night when it was the club owner's birthday.

He was kind of a "hey, how ya doin'?, kind of tough guy." And he had a scar on his face. You better make me laugh!" It really was kind of funny.

So, I went up there and did my routine. And it was literally filled with bikers wearing sunglasses in a dark room. It was a scary crowd, but I made them laugh. And I did okay. Which I was thankful for because had I not, it would have been hard to get back on stage. But I got back up and did some more.

Then when I was 17, I walked into a local radio station, KTYD, a rock station, and asked how one gets into radio. Thankfully, one of the DJs gave me a tour and introduced me to the program director who gave me a shot. We'll start you out sweeping up and handing out bumper stickers at concerts, he said. And whatever else I could do. Afterwards, I would sneak into the production room and make tapes of my own fake shows.

Eventually, one night the late night DJ wasn't going to show and they called me up and said, are you ready to do a show? So, I did a show and shortly after that, they gave me the chance to be the overnight jock and then I moved into the 8-midnight show. And then I produced morning shows and became the production director of the station because I did all these voices and began writing and producing commercials. That's when it took off.

From there, I got a job writing and producing shows for Premiere Radio Networks when I was 21 or 22. And I did radio for 12 ? years for the syndicator, producing bits for everybody from Howard Stern to Rick Dees and all in between. I produced, in total, over 8,000 comedy bits for them, more than any one person had. Fake commercials, sketches, characters that came into the radio station, fake phone calls, and whatever else they needed.

It would go out to thousands of stations across the country every week. And I would produce 15 bits a week when the average person was writing 3 or 4. Because I loved the engineering aspect of it and the sound. I was kind of like a nerd. Kind of like Donatello!

So how then did you wind up on "TMNT?"

I was doing a project with Imagi called "Cat Tale," which I think comes out next year to theaters. I did a table read for them and then they recorded myself and two of my heroes in voice over, Billy West and Jess Harnell (who are just amazing!). And the three of us were all the male voices in the cartoon and as I was reading for the lead, Galen Walker at Imagi kept saying, "We gotta have him read for Leonardo. We gotta have him read for Leonardo."

And I thought, yeah, yeah, okay, whatever. It would be great to get a shot to read it, but we'll see. And sure enough, a year later, the phone rang. So, I went in and auditioned. And I had auditioned for pretty much all the parts except for Donatello because they always had Mitchell in mind for Donatello. He was the only one of us that didn't have to audition, which was great.

Speaking of Mitchell, he commented on how all four Turtles were eerily similar to their real voice over personas. Is that true?

Absolutely! And we're finding that out more and more, as we all get together and hang out. In a way, it's kind of nice because we've formed a little brotherhood. The four of us. And it's very strange. Eerie is the right word.

Which to me is what makes it so great about them not casting celebrities for the Turtles. Because with a celebrity, not to knock them at all, but you would have to get past their personas. What you see. And with us, it just so happens that we 'really are' those characters. They did a great job of choosing people who fit those molds (Pauses). Boy, that sounds kind of heady of me to say, with Leonardo being the leader (Laughs).

But it just worked out that way and I don't think that they could have done a better job casting. At least, for the other guys. For me, I find myself to be the character who is pretty much the lowest key character. And the least bit of an 'actual' character. They all have something to latch on to. But Leo is pretty straight ahead and business is business. And I'm just honored to be a part of it in that way.

So just who is Leonardo? What are his characteristics and the role he plays in the film?

Well, Leo is the one called the leader by Splinter, our sensei and our father. So, he's got all that responsibility. Plus, the film picks up where the last two action films left off. Shredder is dead and they've completed their one big mission in life. So, he takes off to the jungles to explore and to train. To refine his skills and leadership qualities.

He was supposed to be there a year, but he's been there for two years. So, April comes looking for him to ask him to come back home. And to let him know that the guys just aren't the same without him; that it's just not a team without him. All the while, he's been doing this soul searching and feeling a little more at home in the jungle, saving people and helping the natives.

It's one of those things where he has that inner struggle. And there's also, of course, his frustrations with his brother Raph and the constant back and forth with the two of them. I think he misses Mikey and Donny and of course. He misses Raph, but Raph is more of a frustration to him, which I think a lot of people can relate to. I too have an older brother and we didn't necessarily click. So, you have to find your place with them.

Besides CGI, what's different about the film?

Well, the CGI is such a huge thing, but I think what's different is that it's more true to life to the original comic that Laird and Eastman had in mind. For lack of a better word, it's not as slapstick or as cartoony. It's more of 'if these guys were really living, breathing Turtles walking around the city, this is the story that would be told.' And the frustrations and the adventures that they would have in life. I think it's just a little more of a realistic look at an unrealistic situation.

Why should people go see this movie (Leonardo's voice)?

There's always a lesson to learn in life and there's always a new quest, a new journey, and there's always a time and place for forgiveness of our family and those that we feel have held things over us. And the only way to move forward is to go back.

Where do you get your inspiration for your characters?

I think I get them from all around. And from all my heroes. From Mel Blanc to Don Messick, whom I actually had the privilege of working with. He was the voice of Scooby Doo, Papa Smurf, Boo Boo Bear, and Mr. Ranger. Just as I grew up in Santa Barbara, he lives there, and I got to do radio commercials with him. And it was amazing to talk to somebody who truly created characters out of nothing, who looked at the drawings and would go right into character. People like Jim Cummings, who is one of the nicest guys and one of my heroes. And Billy West too. These guys have been doing it so much longer than me.

They astound me. And I draw from all of these people. There's also a bit of drive to want to achieve as much as they have as well. I look and go, yes, I'd love to do that!

But I've been very blessed to be able to work in all aspects of voice over. Because some people will have one fantastic voice that is for commercial work or one for trailers or one for cartoons. And I've been able to work in promos and trailers and voice doubling and video games - the entire aspect of voice over. I guess that's from having a wide range vocally. But it's also me trying to push myself and do more than anybody has before.

Out of all your voice over characters, who is your favorite character and why?

I've always loved doing voice doubling for Michael J. Fox because I'm such a fan of his work. I hesitate to say Leo because he's so new and also, you're doing an article about the Turtles! But the thing I love about Leonardo is vocally, he's just my voice, which is great. Because when I'm doing Fred Flintstone, it's certainly not my voice. And when I'm doing Obi Wan Kenobi, I'm doing Ewan McGregor doing Alec Guinness.

Those are all fun to do, but Leo is me and probably, the closest to who I am as a person. Striving to be the best person I can be and to do the right things. To not hurt anybody's feelings and to be on target in life. It's fun because it's easy for me vocally. And it's fun because I can relate to him so well. Kind of like in Final Fantasy X, the character Tidus, who was also very similar to my own voice. But he was a little more over exaggerated because he was an anime kind of thing. But he's the one I get the most fan mail from. To this day, I get hundreds of letters every year from people loving that character. And it's pretty close to me as well.

With so many voices under your belt, do you ever forget the voice of James?

It's funny. People always ask my wife what my real voice is like and she always says 'I don't know.'

But yes, I do. And my wife's told me that at different times of the day or in different moods, I have a different voice.

So, if I'm serious, my voice tends to be down here and a little more serious and I'll just naturally talk from here. But then if I'm playing with my daughter, who's two years old, my voice is up here and I'm all of a sudden Michael J. Fox.

I tend to kind of forget who I am a lot of times, but in a good way.

James Taylor Interview (CONTINUED)

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