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"Don't worry Mom, I'll get the part!"
"This is the worst memory that I can think of!"
"It was the logistics of it more than anything. The rest became Mitchell history!"
"To this day, I still have people come up to me and say, 'Hey, you play that jerk on 'Friends!'"
"What makes these characters work is the camaraderie, their interaction. "
"My strength lies in making the plan for the group and letting the other guys execute. And I love that!"
"The voice sounds more like me, which is nice."
Mitchell Whitfield  

Interviewed by Mark Sells
March 2007

"I'm as excited about this or my association with this as I've been with anything I've ever done." So says Mitchell Whitfield about his recent role as the voice of Donatello, the superhero slash technical genius in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" - a role that this highly talented comedic actor seems all too perfect to play.

Like most, Whitfield began at an early age, through New York's High School of Performing Arts. And after a brief detour at Colgate, he landed starring roles on Broadway in productions of Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues." Then, moved to California where he quickly wound up opposite Jeremy Irons in "Reversal of Fortune," Joe Pesci and Ralph Macchio in "My Cousin Vinny," and Steve Martin in "Sergeant Bilko." He also earned a recurring role on "Friends" as Barry the orthodontist. But more importantly, Mitchell began a lucrative career behind the camera, as a voice over artist for Coca-Cola, Comcast, American Express, and many more.

His success in voice over led to animated roles on "Hellboy Animated," "Buzz Lightyear," and "W.I.T.C.H." And most significantly, a starring role in the feature film "TMNT," as the intellectual dynamo, Donatello. A role that parallels Whitfield's own persona. Says Mitchell, " I'm an incredible gadget head, I'm a video game guy, I like to research and analyze?it was a perfect match." That match, of course, was on display, as we covered a variety of topics from technology to teamwork to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Cowabunga, indeed!

Reel Questions, Reel Answers

Do you remember the exact moment when you realized you wanted to be an actor?

You know, my mom was an actress years ago. And I used to travel with her on the road and got exposed to the entertainment industry pretty early on. She'd be doing shows all over the country and I just thought it was really cool. So, I was never awestruck by the business because to me, it was pretty much the norm. But as I got a little bit older and she wasn't performing as much, I started to get more interested the further I got away from it.

When I did my first show, I must've been around 13 years old. And I did a show called "A Thousand Clowns," at the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut. It was my first equity theater job. And I thought to myself, "This is great, I can do this!" Before I auditioned for the play, my Mom said to me, "Now a lot of people audition and I don't want you to be disappointed. I want you to realize that a lot of people go in there so if you don't get it..." And I said, "Don't worry Mom, I'll get the part!" It wasn't arrogance so much as not being aware of what it really entailed.

So when I came back from the audition and my mother asked how it went, I said, "I think I probably got it. It was fun. I had a good time." And sure enough, the phone rang about an hour later and I got the part. Meantime, she was looking at me like, "Aaah, you little stinker!" It's kind of funny, but from that point on, I knew that entertainment was definitely going to be a part of my life!

You graduated from New York's High School of Performing Arts and then went on to Colgate University, studying political science? How did you go from there to starring in Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues?"

Nice natural progression, huh? (Laughs). You know what, it's one of those things where I had gone to the High School of Performing Arts for four years. And it was very intense. Specifically, training people how to make a living in acting, dance, and music. They taught the Stanislavski method, among others - it was "true" acting training.

And I remember as a freshman in high school, we were doing all these acting exercises. And at fourteen years old, they would have you think of your worst childhood memory. And I was thinking, "my worst childhood memory? I'm fourteen? This is it! This is the worst memory that I can think of!" (Laughs).

So, it was a lot to put on a fourteen year old kid. And by the time my four years were up and as much as I still liked acting and loved the business or the acting part of the business, I needed a little break. I was ready to go on to something else. Besides, I had a good academic background in math and science. And I thought, let me go to Colgate. I'll do some academics, I'll play some hockey, I'll enjoy my life, and then I'll go back into acting afterwards. Because I couldn't stand the idea of going to an acting school for another four years. I was burned out and needed a real rah-rah college experience. And believe me, Colgate was that.

What made you want to leave New York for California?

By the end of my junior year, I was auditioning a lot. Back and forth, flying between Syracuse and New York. And my grades started to suffer. To the point where Colgate said, "look, the grades aren't there, why don't you take a semester off and decide what you want to do?" So, after I got that semester off and took some classes back in New York, I auditioned some more and that's when I got on the tour of "Brighton Beach Memoirs" which led to the tour of "Biloxi Blues" and put me back on Broadway.

Once things started taking off and I started working, I had a decision to make. I was just taking a semester off to get my grades up and all of these jobs started coming up. I figured that the school would always be there if I wanted to go back to it. But I couldn't guarantee that the opportunities in this industry would still be there after school.

And that's what happened. I had the chance to go to California. And figured, if I'm going to do this, why not go to the place where there seems to be more work? That was definitely Los Angeles. Because as much action as there was in New York for theater, if you wanted to do film and television, many more projects were happening in California. By nature of the weather, you shoot all year round in California and only half the year in New York.

So I said to my best friend at the time, who was in NYU film school on the producing track, "Let's go, let's get out of here!" We didn't think too much about it. We just got in the car and took off. And within six months, he got a job and I got my first movie. But it was the logistics of it more than anything. The rest became Mitchell history!

Shortly after moving, there was "Dogfight," "Sergeant Bilko," and "My Cousin Vinny" on the big screen. And one of your most famous roles as Barry the orthodontist on "Friends." Tell me about the "Friends" experience and how close were you to landing the role of Ross Gellar?

Originally, they were interested in me as Ross or Chandler. Then my friends inside at Warner Brothers were telling me "Oh, you're going to be Ross," but I didn't pay too much attention to that. Then, they call you at home and say, "You're the guy." Which is pretty exciting. And, of course, a few days later, the word comes out, "Well, we found another guy we like better." And that was fine too. It's actually how the orthodontist role came about.

I won't say it was a consolation because getting a job, a recurring role on a TV show, is a wonderful thing. But it definitely came from the fact that I was up for the role of Ross. To this day, I still have people come up to me and say, "Hey, you play that jerk on "Friends!" And I say, "Oh, thank you very much!" (Laughs).

You're the guy who got dumped by Jennifer Aniston!

That, or I'll get: "Dude, you got to kiss Jennifer Aniston! What was that like?" And I say - imagine kissing somebody that you've known since you were 17 years old in front of about 400 people with about 120 degree temperature and lights all over you and no real romance whatsoever. Imagine that and you pretty much cover what it's like.

But that's not the answer they want. They want to hear, "Dude, it was HOT!" (Laughs).

I've known Jennifer for years. We had the same manager in New York. So I knew her before she came out here, through friends and our managers, way before "Friends" even happened. But I get a kick out of it. She's a beautiful woman, very talented.

But it was awkward, like kissing your friend in front of a lot of people. And it was your job. But now that I'm a Turtle, I can get away with a lot! From now on, I'm just going to say (Donatello voice), "Oh, it was AWESOME!" (Laughs).

Speaking of Turtles, how familiar were you with the comics, the original films, and the television series before auditioning?

I was very familiar with the show, the movies, and the comic - a big fan of the Turtles. In fact, I have two younger brothers who are even bigger fans of the Turtles than I am. And I love it.

When we were on the red carpet for our premiere last Saturday, the thing that came up a lot was: "What is it like being a part of the franchise? And do you feel a sense of responsibility?"

And that was the first time it really hit me. It's not something that I thought of but there is an enormous responsibility to a franchise that has been around for a long time and has a following, that has icons that are a part of pop culture. So, it hit me that I was a part of something that is really cool, that I'm a part of something that I grew up with. And it made me feel really good.

I mean, how many times in your career do you get to do something like this? I'm as excited about this or my association with this as I've been with anything I've ever done. Because of the history, because I knew so much about them growing up. Who wouldn't want to play a character that you grew up liking when you were a kid?

Were Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (the creators) heavily involved in the project?

They were definitely involved in the project, but they were not involved at the sessions, the actual sessions where we recorded. Because they created the world of characters and the universe and the bible that goes along with these characters, they were definitely involved. Galen Walker, one of our producers, and Kevin Monroe, our writer and director, had more direct hands on time with Kevin and Peter.

We didn't really have much involvement with them, but I know Imagi and Warner and the Weinsten Company all had involvement with them. So, they were involved, but not so much that they were involved in our daily sessions if that makes sense.

While voicing Donatello, how much did you get to interact with the rest of the cast? And did you have an opportunity to meet with the late, great Mako (Master Splinter)?

Unfortunately, we did not get to work with Mako.

It's very interesting how it works. When you're doing an animated series for a television show, they'll have the entire cast in the studio and you'll actually read through the script. It's very cool and that's a great way of doing it because of the interaction among castmates. Because sometimes, you'll get some ad libs that happen from the energy of being in the same room together. It's really a wonderful way of doing it.

But when you're doing a movie like this, you don't always have that luxury because there is so much to do, there are so many sessions that you have to do because of people's schedules and because of the studio and what their schedule is. So, basically, we had two or three main sessions where the Turtles, the four of us, all worked together and read through the script together. There were two or three main sessions that were like that and the rest of the sessions we did by ourselves.

The main sessions though - that's when you get the best stuff. Because what makes these characters work is the camaraderie, their interaction. They have different personalities and yet, complement each other. So, to work together was important to a certain extent, whether in rehearsal or the first few sessions, because you have a movie that depends on relationships and you want to have the guys together as much as you can. Because we had that groundwork, it worked out really great.

What can you tell me a little about Donatello, his characteristics, and the role he plays in the upcoming film?

Let me start out by saying how disturbingly close everyone is to their character. If you met each of us individually, you would see that we all have similarities to the characters we play.

When asked what it's like playing the nerdy Turtle, I have to respond by saying, "I prefer intellectual." Because if Donatello were in the Bond world, he would be the Q - with all the gadgets, the technology, and research. So for me, it's a dream come true because I'm an incredible gadget head, I'm a video game guy, I like to research and analyze. And for me, it was a perfect match.

I'm really comfortable with the role. The character is still funny. Donatello still loves to have fun. He just may not be as verbal about the fun as Michelangelo. He can still fight but he may not be as tough as Raphael. He is still a leader, but not as strong as Leonardo. Each has characteristics of the other, but my strength lies in making the plan for the group and letting the other guys execute. And I love that!

What do you think differentiates the Donatello you voice from that of prior Donatellos - Corey Feldman, Adam Carl, Barry Gordon, and others? More succinctly, what did you bring to the character?

First of all, we were in a very wonderful position. This applies to live action, animation, television movies, it doesn't matter. When you have the words on the page, when you have a good script, and a writer that gets it and gets you, and sort of molds things around you, it makes your job so much easier.

Because the characters that Kevin Monroe created, the newer versions of the Turtles, were so good on paper in keeping true to the comedy and to the strengths the characters have had over the years, that it made our job very easy and facilitated what we do for them.

What did I do differently? First of all, obviously, the voice is going to be a little more unique. The voice sounds more like me, which is nice. It isn't so much a new character as much as it is an alteration of my regular speaking voice. Maybe a little more youthful, but it's mostly me.

But everyone has their own point of view. I like what Corey and Barry did. I've heard all the different voices. Obviously, mine isn't better than theirs but mine definitely has a different vocal quality to it. So you might see a Donatello that has a little more sarcasm than before. A little drier sense of humor than before. But people seem to like that and come to expect that from these guys anyway!

Mitchell Whitfield Interview (CONTINUED)



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