April 8, 1999

Interview With Darrin Baker

by Lizzard

On April 8, 1999, The Root submitted a selection of fan-contributed questions to Darrin Baker for a written interview. And guess what. He answered them. That is, after all, what one does with questions. Enjoy the fascinating read!

1) How did you get the job of voice acting for Wheeled Warriors?

My agent called me and told me they were still looking for the voice of a cartoon character named Jayce. So I thought, cool. I had never auditioned for anything like it before. I guess since I was not feeling pressured to get it "right" I went in with a very off-the-cuff attitude. I was pretty fearless back then. I did a couple of "takes" in the studio and they sent my voice off to Los Angeles with many others. I had no idea that I was up for a series that would record 65 episodes. I was truly thrilled when I got the job.

2) What did you enjoy most about the role of Jayce?

Well, I have to say the very first thing that comes to mind is that it was really amazing to be the voice of a major cartoon character! I grew up watching cartoons, so to actually be one was the best part. I also loved learning the art of voice acting. I worked with some of Canada's top voice-over actors. I watched them and listened to the way they would squeeze the sound, or put a smile into the voice, or run on the spot to manipulate their voice. It was great for me to have these "seasoned" actors to learn from. I also loved being in a recording studio. I had done a lot of "singing" in the studio so I felt comfortable in that environment, but getting to do these "mini dramas" each week was incredible. I imagined at times it was like doing a live radio program like on the old days of broadcasting. I also have to admit I loved making such a great living as a very young actor.

3) Did you have any contact with the writers or the animators, or did you just come in and dub the finished product? When the dubbing was done, did the voice actors record their dialog separately, or were they in the studio together?

In the beginning we met all of the producers, and all the bigwigs from DIC and Mattel. They were very hands-on at the first couple of recording sessions. They were spending a lot of money and wanted to make sure that us "Canadians" could cut it. Something I learned early on is that they animate to our voices. They would send us scripts. Actually, two scripts. One with the full story and dialogue, with detailed descriptions of the action sequences. They would also send the dialogue scripts, which included only the spoken lines. We would record from those but usually we would get re-writes at the session. We pretty much recorded as a full cast. There were usually guest stars (many great Canadian stars) who were at each session along with the regular cast. Sometimes we had to record the odd dialogue from a previous session if they needed to fix a problem. I would also have to go and do something called looping once in a while. That is pretty common in any form of film making, whether it is TV or movie. It is when you go in and dub the voice to the picture. This occurs usually when there is a sound problem when they are putting the film together.

4) Do you remember who performed the voices of the other major characters? People are particularly curious about Saw Boss, Gillian, and Jal Gorda, the jackal-like humanoid who made guest appearances in a few different episodes.

This is a tough question as it has been so many years since I did those sessions. I am 33 now and I was around "20 something" when we did the show. I remember a few people though. Oon was voiced by Dan Hennessey (who also did the voice of Audric and some of Saw Boss' bad guys). Dan would sometimes do five voices a session. Len Carlson (one of the busiest voice artists still) did the voice of Herc and many many other voices. Just a note of interest, he has voiced hundreds of cartoon characters including "Vanity Smurf". He became a true mentor for me in the voice-over world. Saw Boss was played by an actor who's name I know I am going to misspell (with apologies) named Guilio Kukarugya. (Lizzard's Note: Darn close, Darrin. According to the credits at the end of the show, it's Kukurugya.) I think if you called A.C.T.R.A the Canadian Actor's Union you could probably get a list of actors who worked on the show. Of course, Valerie Politis was Flora, she was so young and very sweet. The voice of Gillian was performed by a very special man named Charles Jolliffe who I am told passed away. He was a retired school teacher who decided in his retirement to become an actor. He worked all the time on television and in movies. He was such a nice man. I miss them all.

5) Did you ever have contact with the French production team or the French voice actors?

I remember a man named Jean Chalopin. He told me at the first recording session that I looked like Jayce. That always made me feel closer to the Character. I don't remember anyone else. I never met any of the foreign voice artists. I would love to hear the voices from other countries. I have not seen the show in any language other than our English version.

6) Were you signed up to do voice acting in the never-produced Jayce movie?

I did all the voice work for the 1-800 numbers and all the commercials. I imagine I would have voiced the character if it had gone to the big screen. I actually heard a rumor back then that they were thinking of doing a live-action feature film. I am sorry that the show never took off the way they had hoped. I would have loved to do it, but no, I was never signed up to do it.

7) Do you remember at which studio the recording was actually performed?

Mostly at a studio in Toronto called Sounds Interchange. One of the best and biggest studios in Toronto at the time. If they couldn't book that studio for whatever reason, once and awhile we would record at other studios. I really liked working there. Top notch studio and personnel.

8) Jayce was supposed to be around 18-19 years old in the show. How old were you when you played Jayce?

As I said, I am 33 now and so I must have been 20ish. I am so bad with dates. You can do the math!!!

9) About how many hours a week do voice actors spend on a production?

If I remember correctly we would do two shows a day. We worked two days a week on and off till all 65 episodes were done. It took about 4 hours an episode just to do the voice work. That included rehearsal and recording, all under the direction of a brilliant director (and now good friend) named Stuart Rosen. Stuart has directed many series over the years. Many of the later episodes were directed by Terry Burke.

10) Every voice actor seems to have a "funniest thing that ever happened during a recording" story. Do you have a tale like that from Wheeled Warriors?

Oh boy, tough question, because it was so long ago. I have so many great memories but nothing overly funny comes to mind. Sorry to disappoint. I do remember not knowing how to sound like I was hanging from a branch in desperation once, and the director got so impatient that he made Dan and Len hold a broom and made me swing from it while recording that scene. I seem to remember not being able to stop laughing and it taking longer because of it. The only other thing I remember was Len Carlson would tell me to say a line a certain way (knowing full well that it was terrible), and because I was so young I would do it earnestly and then get laughed at by the other actors. However, I soon caught on and did not take any of Len's line readings. It was always in good fun though, and we always laughed and had the best time. We were truly a cast. We become very good at working together to tell the stories.

11) Would you ever consider doing Jayce's voice again if an animated feature or even a new series was going to be produced?

In a minute!!! I would love to do it again. I feel I have become a much better actor. I would love to give Jayce some of the wisdom I have picked up over the years.

12) Which episode of Wheeled Warriors did you like the most?

If there is anyone out there that can send me copies of the episodes, I will watch them and let you know. I haven't any copies and would love to catch up. (Lizzard's Note: No need to volunteer, we're sending him some videos right now!) I do however, remember an episode where I fell in love with a princess. I think it was one of my only romance episodes. I think there was even a kiss. Does this sound familiar to any of you? (Lizzard's Note: Sorry to interrupt again, but I think this is Blockade Runners, the episode with Princess Ina and the blue-haired Flora.) I also remember the very first episode as being pretty special because it was of course the first time I heard my voice coming out of Jayce's mouth. It really helped me to do the later episodes.

13) The series never really had a proper ending. Are you aware of any plans for it to have a real ending, and if so, what were they?

I have not heard anything. I think all of you know so much more about the show and its current status than me. I am so happy that you all care about Jayce so much and have given the show a life beyond its short stay on the airwaves. Keep putting out your good energy and interest. Write to the networks and to DIC and to Mattel! Who knows, maybe the show will come back and have a proper ending, I would certainly love it!

14) What other cartoon voices have you done?

I did another 65 episodes of a series (also for DIC) called C.O.P.S. I played Hardtop the rookie cop. It was a good show that had real life cops sending messages to kids at the end of every episode. That series was directed by Dan Hennessey (the voice of Oon). I have done many voices on several other series including Robocop, Prince Valiant, Little Shop of Horrors, Maxie's World, and US Starcom.

15) What have you been up to since your work on Wheeled Warriors?

I have had a very busy career since J&TWW.; In addition to doing voice-overs for cartoons, radio, and television commercials, I have spent most of my time pursuing acting work in the areas of stage, television, and film. It seems that I have spent a lot of the past few years working on stage in New York City and throughout some of the United States. My Broadway and national theater credits include: Les Miserables, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sunset Blvd. (with Glenn Close), and Footloose. I have also had the privilege of seeing a lot of the country while playing in some of the best regional theaters. I have appeared on television in several shows including: Law and Order, Melrose Place, Crime and Punishment, War of the Worlds, Almost Grown and My Secret Identity. I am now pursuing my directing career and will be directing Personals this summer, with sketches written by the team that created the TV show Friends and music by the composer of Little Shop of Horrors and Beauty and the Beast. The show will rehearse in New York City and run in August in upstate New York.

I would like to tell you all about another exciting upcoming event. I have a CD coming out on May 11th called "Little by Little." It is the original cast recording of a show that I starred in opposite Liz Larsen (a Tony nominated actress) and Christiane Noll (who just starred in Jekyl and Hyde on Broadway and is currently the singing voice of Anna in the animated movie The King and I). The CD is on the Varese Sarabande label and if you cannot find it in a store near you, you can order it from the Varese Sarabande website in the Spotlight category. I do hope that you will all go out and buy one. Hey, just think, you'll get to hear what Jayce would sound like singing!

Well, that's it for now. Thank you all for your interest. I will keep you all updated. Until then, "RING OF LIGHT, MAGIC MIGHT!"

And there you have it, folks. Darrin is a swell guy and I'm sure he'll keep in touch regarding his projects and activities. So this is only the last of the interview -- not the last of Darrin Baker!