In honor of this week’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season one finale, I was given the geektastic opportunity to interview the voice of Shredder himself, Daytime Emmy Award Winner Kevin Michael Richardson.
Richardson is known for many characters, including some of my favorites like the Joker in The Batman (2004 series), Bulkhead in Transformers Prime, Kilowog on Green Lantern, Maurice in Penguins of Madagascar, and Cleveland Jr. on The Cleveland Show. We talked about everything from the Turtles to The Batman to his three-part guest spot as the mentally challenged patient, Patrick, on ER back in 1994.
Kevin gave me some insight into what it’s like recording with such a great group and it’s hard to imagine the Shredder and the Turtles hanging out in a green room goofing off in between recordings. As a hardcore Batman fan, I also loved hearing how he was initially disappointed about replacing Mark Hamill as the Joker and how he used that frustration to come up with the Joker’s unique voice.
GeekMom [Dakster]: How did you come up with the voice for Shredder?
Kevin Michael Richardson: Once they said Shredder, I automatically had an idea of what they really wanted for this guy. I just went in there and figured they wanted a powerful voice and I realized he’s more of a no-nonsense character.
He has an edgy, and a serious edge and a vendetta, especially for Splinter. I kept that seething energy throughout his dialogue, because he doesn’t really yell too much, unless he really wants his point across. So, he’s a character that maintains power and power in his mind without really yelling. I felt that this guy was just a no-nonsense, straightforward, powerful, “he will slice you and dice you,” kind of character—if you cross him at all.
It came forth in the dialogue and Sara Newman, the rep at the time, helped direct me into that direction too as we were recording, so that’s how it worked out.
GM: Cool. Well, what do you think Shredder’s biggest downfall was this season?
KMR: Well, anytime the Turtles get away was big, or anytime he gets jacked by the Turtles or sideswiped or something, the only downfall is that and maybe…maybe his soft-spot for his daughter Karai.
GM: Do you think Shredder actually cares for his daughter or is she just another one of his thugs that he’s trained?
KMR: Both actually. Shredder would probably want more of a son than a daughter, but he realizes this kid is his offspring, and this kid has to learn to be kind of a bad-ass like him.
GM: What’s been the most challenging thing about playing Shredder?
KMR: Well, personally, I’m not like that. I’m not like Shredder, so getting into that dark place whenever we record and basically just getting focused and staying there, because the cast members are just great and we have so much fun between records. When we’re on break we’re always goofing off and playing around. Between Rob Paulson (Donatello), Clancy Brown (Dogpound), it’s really like a laugh off, so it’s kind of hard for me to get focused and serious and like “Look! It’s time for me to cut you!” [laughs]
You know, it’s definitely a challenge when we record, which is fun.
GM: Since you’ve had the opportunity to play the hero (Transformers, Bulkhead) and the bad guy, which do you prefer? Is there something about one that you like more than the other?
KMR: It’s fun to play both. It keeps you on your toes really. I’ve found that there are fans out there that like bad guys and that’s cool. Personally, I love playing the heroes, but I’m not going to lie to you, there’s also fun in playing the bad guys too, because I don’t look at them as bad guys. I look at them as misunderstood people if you will.
GM: I read somewhere that the Joker is one of your favorite voice acting roles. Is that true?
KMR: Yes, he is one of my favorite characters to play along with Cleveland Jr. and Shredder is up there now too. The Joker is probably one of my favorite characters to play, because I really liked playing him, actually, I loved playing him.
At first I must say it was difficult, because Mark Hamill had played the character for a while before and Mark is just fantastic. I was rather of upset when they came to me and said they were going in a new direction, with completely different producers, a different version of the Batman, different version of the Joker. I was like, “Well, why? Why would you want me? Why not have Mark do it?” And they said, “No. This is how it’s going down. They want to go a different direction.”
So, I was rather upset actually, because myself being a die-hard fan of the previous one (Batman: The Animated Series) that I told other people I was so upset that when I recorded the audition, I put all my anger and frustration into the voice and literally a day or two later, I got the call that I was playing the Joker and I was like, “Oh boy.”
The reason I loved playing him was, because there was such freedom. There was very little direction from voice casting director Andrea Romano. I was allowed this complete freedom to deliver my lines the way I felt the character would fit and that freedom, when you get to play any role, and have the producers and directors like it, is very rewarding.[Joker] was all over the place, talking manic, bipolar, just craziness. He was like a crazy sick sandwich. He had his highs and lows and the laugh, I almost passed out every time doing that laugh, but I would love to do it again. I really loved playing that character.
GM: What do you think the Joker would say about the Shredder?
KMR: What the Joker would say about the Shredder? [laughs] He would probably say something like:
I have no idea. He would give him a run for his money, I know that.
GM: Yeah, I thought it would be interesting in a fight to see a crossover between the two and see who would win, the crazy or the skill.
KMR: Oh yea, it would be an epic battle. They’re both clever, but the Joker’s tricky. I think it could be a really good fight.
GM: Do you have a favorite line from the Joker or another character you’ve done in the past?
KMR: One of my favorite lines would be by Cleveland Jr. of The Cleveland Show. Basically he would say something like, “Daddy would you wipe me?” or something similar, because a fourteen year old boy asking his dad to wipe him, and it’s something kind of strange that’s stuck with me. All of my characters have something though that has stuck with me.
GM: Do you feel like any of the characters you’ve ever done got too much hype or not enough hype when it came to their popularity?
KMR: That’s interesting. There are a couple characters out there. One of them I liked playing and I felt bad for him was Maurice in Madagascar; he’s the lemur who’s the assistant to King Julian. This poor guy, he was basically a gopher really and I don’t think he got any credit. I liked playing him and it makes me a little sad that nobody really cares, but they knew who he was and they laughed even though Julian basically treated him like animal fodder, so I guess that’s cool.
GM: Have you ever auditioned for a role on a project, but then were handed a different role on the same project?
KMR: Oh, that’s interesting. Originally for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I auditioned for Baxter Stockman, now played by Phil LaMarr, a very talented actor. So of course I found out about that and I was like, “Oh. Okay.” It was about a month or two later I was approached for Shredder, so that was a wild surprise and I was very happy with that decision.
GM: A couple of the shows you were on such as Thundercats (Panthro) and Young Justice (Martian Manhunter) are no longer with us. How many other projects do you have going on? Is there one coming up that you’re looking forward to?
KMR: Well, I will be doing another TV show that’s coming out, I can’t say the name, but I’m really excited about. I’m also going to be doing a new show for Disney Junior called 7D, which is a new version of the Seven Dwarfs and I’ll be playing the character of Happy, and that’s a lot of fun. I’m also going to be appearing on Black Dynamite as Don Cornelius from Soul Train. I’ll be doing a few other characters, and honestly my plate is really full, so they are definitely keeping me busy. Things are good.
GM: Do you feel you ever get typecast because of your voice?
KMR: Sometimes, from what I’ve done, people want similar sounds relative to those characters. What I admire are people who cast me for range. Knowing that I can do highs and lows and stuff like that, like when I was Cleveland Jr. and Barney Rubble, that’s pretty cool. To not be set in one specific area is nice. It’s nice to know that people are aware of what I can do.
GM: Have you ever done a voice that caused you discomfort? For instance, you mentioned that the Joker laugh wears you out.
KMR: At the moment I can’t think of one. The Joker, I would be so into it and I would laugh so hard that I nearly fell off the stool recording. I almost passed out because nobody said “cut the laugh” or “stop the laugh” and they wanted me to keep laughing and I realized I needed to stop because I’d start blacking out. I’m telling you that was fun to actually do and then I realized I had to stop from laughing too hard.
GM: Have you ever lost a role to a named actor? I know in Flashpoint, in which you play President Barack Obama, they have some screen actors coming in to do the Flash as well as other characters.
KMR: Well, you know, let me see. Sometimes producers don’t go straight for the name first. I don’t want to name names, but I’ve be fortunate enough to be in a position to replace named actors, like well-known actors. It’s kind of a reverse for me. I’m sure that in other cases, a lot of other cases that they wanted to go to a named actor first before they would choose me.
God rest his soul, Michael Clark Duncan, a good friend, who was a great guy, every time we would run into each other and talk whether it was on a job or between auditions, he would always yell out, “That’s the one who’s taking my jobs. That’s the one who’s taking my jobs.” And I’d be like, “I’m sorry, man.” He was a really great guy and I’m sad that he’s gone. That’s what he would say and we would joke with each other.
GM: Now that Transformers Prime is wrapping up, which makes me really sad, would you like to continue to voice the Transformers? Is that something you are open to?
KMR: Oh, no. I would love to play Bulkhead again. A special character like that, he’s never really done. I run into fans who would ask me to “do that voice” and or “do this guy” do that character. They [characters] kind of stick with you wherever you go. I hear some kind of rumors about the future, so who knows, I wouldn’t give up hope yet. Absolutely, I would love to play again if things change.
Oh, I forgot to mention I’m going to play Mr. Gus on Uncle Grandpa on Cartoon Network, so that will be coming out. He’s a dinosaur that wears a t-shirt and nothing else.
GM: Just a t-shirt. No pants?
KMR: [Laughs] No pants. If you could use that visual, there you go.
GM: Do you have a dream role that you would love to be asked to do one day?
KMR: Believe it or not, I run into Seth Green every once and a while and I keep telling him I would love to do a Robot Chicken. I’ve always wanted to do Robot Chicken, but as far as other dream roles, I feel honored to have played characters on The Simpsons, which is something I never ever thought I would do. I can talk about living the American Dream, because I’m very happy in that regard.
GM: I read that you portrayed someone on ER once, I believe the character’s name was Patrick, but I could never find anywhere. What was it about this role that meant so much to you?
KMR: Oh my gosh. Well, that character meant a lot to me, because I had a friend at a very young age, around ten years old, who was mentally challenged. I remembered him when I played that role and I tried to incorporate what he would be like at that age when I was playing the role, which would have been in his twenties. It was touching and very emotional for me because I could see the struggles that someone like him went through socially and it was very hard and very sad. I took it on emotionally, physically and it was actually like it became a part of me.
I was also very emotionally attached to that character because when I was younger, certain teachers thought I was autistic. It brought back a lot of memories for me as a child and playing that character just meant a lot. To see the families and fans of the show that approached me afterwards that just said, “Thank you so much,” because it meant a lot to them and their children who were mentally challenged or had some disability, to watch the show and to see a character played like that and it wasn’t made fun of. The character wasn’t made to be a fool. I played it with complete heart as much as I possibly could.
To see how it’s reached out to so many has meant a lot to me. It was a personal journey to me at the time that I can’t really find the words. It was something I just really enjoyed playing.
GM: Thank you for answering that. It sounds like it brought up some memories for you.
KMR: Yea. It was interesting too, because on break when I would sit there between shots, the stage manager would come back to me and say, “Okay….we…break…for…lunch…at…2….” and I would look at them and they’d realize, “Oh my gosh! I’m sorry!” I guess a lot of the people on set thought I was really mentally challenged. It was good to know I was doing my job. I remember driving around in Hollywood at the time and people would look at me and say, “Oh my gosh, he’s driving,” so it was kind of fun.
I wish you all could have heard the interview, because Kevin Michael Richardson kept cracking me up going from his normal speaking voice to various characters he’s done. I especially enjoyed when he spoke as The Joker and Shredder. The range of the characters he can do is really impressive and I look forward to hearing where his voice will pop up next.
To see Shredder take action in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Season One finale, tune into Nickelodeon this Thursday night at 8pm ET.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles season one finale airs this Friday on Nickelodeon. Check your local listings for showtime and availability.