Dee Bradley Baker needs no disguises.
By voice alone, the actor leaves Fletch and his list of aliases in the dust, and his credits are stacked with geek power: From roles in the Halo and Gears of War franchises to regular parts in animated standouts like Batman: The Brave and the Bold to GeekDad favorite Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb.
Baker’s also the voice of Captain Rex and every other clone trooper on Cartoon Network’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is how he wound up at Star Wars Celebration V this month in Orlando – though you get the sense that as someone who meticulously re-marked his Star Wars soundtrack as a kid to match the movie sequences, Baker probably would have been here anyway.
In an enthusiastic interview at the convention, the father of two talked about his career, raising his kids and being a geek (and >ahem!< a GeekDad fan!) as well as teasing some neat insights into the next season of Clone Wars and Nickelodeon’s upcoming cartoon spinoff of its animated Avatar: The Last Airbender series.
Before we even sat down, we started chatting about geekdom and fatherhood, and the conversation was off and running before I had my recorder switched on, which is why the interview starts right in the middle of things:
Dee Bradley Baker: I’m a middle-aged dad, which means I have no social time or life to speak of, and so I connect with my buddies with my Xbox. We play, actually, two of my favorite games which I’m on, which are Gears of War 2 and Left 4 Dead 2. I’m three new creatures on Left 4 Dead 2, so we kill me while catching up a little bit.
GeekDad: So, how many kids do you have?
DBB: Two. I have five-year-old and 10-year-old daughters. And actually, we watch a lot of my cartoons. My 10-year-old loves Clone Wars and Phineas and Ferb, and my five-year-old loves Phineas and Ferb as well.
DBB: I am a geek dad, believe me. I’ve got my iPad with me; I’ve got my iPhone 4; I’ve got my Xbox. I love technology and I want to feel like I’m living in the future, and these devices help me feel that way.
GD: When you talk about being a geek dad and having those kinds of interests, does it just happen that you get this work and a lot of it has that geek appeal … or do you naturally gravitate to those projects?
DBB: The way that I’ve followed my life is actually more of the latter. When I was a child, I thought I was going to be a paleontologist because I loved dinosaurs. I loved monster movies and sci-fi, and then Star Wars came out, and I was completely out of my mind with that, with Close Encounters, and then I thought maybe I was going to go into special effects makeup, which I thought was awesome. But really, instead of drawing monsters or studying dinosaurs, I just continued doing things I liked to do. I didn’t really target how it was going to pay off. And so, because I just followed these things that I liked, it led me to producing sounds for these things, and being involved with them in that way. It’s from a pattern of me continually doing things that I really loved to do, and then trying to get money while doing that. And it’s led to this.
I mean, I cannot tell you how ecstatic I am to be involved with Star Wars. I twittered yesterday about how sad it is that a kid now can’t see Episode V and not know up until that moment when Darth Vader says, “I am your father” how it rewrites those two movies with one sentence. They can’t know that surprise now, and I think that’s a little sad. You go to a movie, and you’ve seen it already. The trailer shows you the whole thing, you’ve read all the reviews, you can pretty much know every single twist. But back then, when I saw that, I remember sitting in that theater in Denver, where I saw it, and just the electric feeling of right up to that moment.
GD: So, as far as showing your daughters Star Wars, how have they been exposed to it?
DBB: I started showing my now 10-year-old the Star Wars stuff … and started with Episode IV when she was probably about seven or eight. I thought she’d be OK for it then. When she was nine, I had shown her IV, V and VI, and then I and II, but I was holding off on III, because that one, that’s pretty rough. That’s pushing the border. You want to protect your kids, you want to be a good dad, and even though I make this stuff, I don’t just throw everything at them. And we’re watching that episode – and she’s a sharp kid: She’s watching it, and halfway through it, she said, “Daddy, I don’t think I want to see the end of this movie. I think I’ll wait ’til I’m 10.” And I said OK, that’s good. I’m very proud that my kids can tell me things like that, and that she can see that coming. But also, I mean, she had been watching the television series … and it’s established that the clones are heroes, and that Anakin is a hero, and in Episode III, everything falls apart, and it goes south, and the good guys become bad, and frankly, that’s a lot for a little kid to handle. You’re establishing what’s good and what’s bad and just the foundation for them to have a bigger perspective on the world, but I don’t need to shoehorn that into her childhood. I want her to have a childhood, which I think is harder and harder for kids to have these days. I was very proud of her for that (decision), and I felt very good about it.
GD: (As a parent), you’ve got to know your kids.
DBB: The main thing is that you’re present. That’s what it gets down to, to me. People, they kind of conjure a lot of fear about the media or about video games, and fo rme it’s about, “You know what? Just parent your kids. Don’t let the device babysit your child. You’ve got to be present. If you’re present, you can talk them through stuff, and they can tell you if they’re uncomfortable, and you can check their reactions.
Right now (my) kids are working through Nickelodeon’s Avatar series, which I’m very proud of and which – it’s something that’s really important to me: Clone Wars means a lot to me, and Avatar means a lot to me too – I did all the creatures in that. Well, the new Avatar, they put out an audition and they wanted a flashback for the younger Avatar – who is now a girl – from when she was this little fireball five-year-old. I had my 10-year-old audition for it, and it was just two sentences, and, well, my five-year-old said, “Daddy, I want to audition. I want to try this, too,” and so I let her give it a shot. And she booked it. And the name of the series is The Last Airbender: The Journey of Korra – and my daughter’s name is Cora. It was just kind of an odd serendipity. To have her involved, with her playing a namesake, the heroic character of the show, that’s pretty cool. Pretty wonderful.
DBB: But here I am (at Celebration V), in the middle of this thing that was just my dream as a kid, to be involved with Star Wars. I drew a lot of monsters and creatures, and I wanted to send them to George Lucas and say, “I’d like to design your next Cantina bar creatures,” but I never did. I’ve still got the drawings, though. My folks made me a Jawa costume for the Halloween after Star Wars opened in ’77. In ’78, when it was re-released, I was hired by the local cinema to be the Jawa: to dress up all summer long, and I could frighten people with my Jawa sounds and my Jawa outfit and watch Star Wars Episode IV all summer long and get paid with movie passes.
I really feel like I am living the dream of the thing that I loved so much as a kid. It’s ridiculously exciting. We saw the first two episodes of the new season of Clone Wars – just mind-blowingly good. It’s a prequel of the “Rookies” episode, which is all clones. One of my favorites. And it’s showing them getting their training and getting certified as clones, and in the second half, they’re attacked by Ventress, and Kamino gets this major attack, and there’s this big battle, and it’s incredible, just to be such an integral part of this thing.