Matt Lanter Takes ANAKIN Closer to Dark Side in STAR WARS

At Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, Star Wars: The Clone Wars was front and center, and rightfully so. As the current main torch bearer for the Star Wars franchise, the animated series, now entering its fifth season, has shown the steady descent into the Dark Side of Anakin Skywalker, introduced (now) fan favorite characters like Ahsoka Tano and clone captain Rex, expanded the overall mythos of the universe with things like the Mortis Trilogy, and even brought back the baddest Sith Warrior set to film, Darth Maul.

At the center of it all, though, is Anakin Skywalker, the chosen one, the man who would be Darth Vader. We sat down with Matt Lanter, the voice behind Anakin, to talk about what it's been like voicing the character these last several years, how voice acting helps his live action work, and even about some voices he's doing for another major genre franchise featuring some very amazing, spectacular, situations and the ultimate versions of some well-known characters. 

Lanter & Castmates

Goofing Off

Newsarama: Matt, as the convention is winding down and moving us back to regular life, what is a "regular day" for you? You have Clone Wars, you have 90210, regular roles on multiple animated shows now. What is a day in the life of Matt Lanter?

Matt Lanter: Well, it's different every day, that's what I love about it. Monday through Friday, it depends! Tomorrow I wake up at 5am, gotta be on set at 6 on Manhattan Beach, and I work every scene, so I'll be there till 6 or 7 pm. Tuesday, I think I have an audition for a film…

Nrama: Good luck!

Lanter: Thanks! Then um… I don't know my schedule past then. (laughs) I take like two days at a time, that's all I know.

Yeah, a regular day, I'm doing 90210, there's usually one day a week I'm doing voice over stuff, that's Star Wars usually from like 2 till 6, something like that,  and anything else I need to get done I try to get done before that. I've got Ultimate Spider-Man a lot of times on Tuesdays… yeah, busy!

Nrama: So are you usually recording chunks of scenes, full episodes? I know you guys usually record together.

Lanter: Yeah, we usually do one episode at a time, maybe do some ADR pickups for other episodes. Sometimes if someone can't make it, we'll be in the booth for a short amount of time with no one else. But yeah, I love it when we're all together, and get to read it like a radio play. I love hanging with all those guys, and we don't get to see each other too often.

Nrama: Anakin was your first voice acting role. What brought you over to that and how has that expanded your mind and expanded your repertoire a bit?

Lanter: Voice acting is very creative, especially Star Wars voice acting, because there's so much you have to imagine. Dave [Filoni] will say, "okay, you have what looks like a dragon fifty feet over you. You fall, you go left, you roll right. You hit a rock, then you fall…" so you have to really imagine all this stuff!

Nrama: Right, and you don't get to actually see any of that until a year later, right?

Lanter: You don't actually see anything until a year in. But it's great! Because it kind of allows you to be a kid again, you know? It's that endless imagination of a kid; if you tell all that to a kid they're like, "Yeah, I got it!"

It's funny, I was talking to someone the other day who works on a live-action kid's show. He was saying it's all green screen stuff. They're placed in this imaginary world. He said they had kid actors and you told them the scenario, and they were able to maneuver the green screen perfectly, and the adults couldn't process it.

I guess I'm saying that to say that it's fun to get in the booth and just be a kid.

it's definitely allowed me to expand and be more creative with vocal range and express emotion with voice only, and that's definitely been an asset to me in live action, especially film acting. You find yourself on camera, close up shot, you want to keep things minimum or else it looks crazy on screen but you want to be able to emote! So it's helped me both ways. 

Lanter in Her Universe

Leia Hoodie

Nrama: Do you ever find yourself on 90210 wishing you could light up a lightsaber or just force choke somebody?

Lanter: Yeah! Or just force push them across the high school! (laughs) Yeah, yeah, I do, actually.

Nrama: So let's talk a little bit about Anakin Skywalker. Obviously he's gone through tremendous levels of growth as the series has progressed - do you feel like he's the main source of that growth on the show, or is it organically amongst the whole cast?

Lanter: I think we've seen the most growth with Ahsoka, and then maybe Anakin right behind her. There has been a lot of growth for Anakin, but in 2 or 3 years we've seen Ahsoka go from naive "Snips" who doesn't really know much of anything to really quickly soaking up Anakin's ways. I think mostly in a good way! I was talking earlier about how Ahsoka seems to be shaping up as the anti-Vader. She seems to be picking up most of Anakin's good qualities and not much of the bad. The attachment and obsession - she doesn't seem to be picking those up.

But she's picking up - I think being brash is a good thing in a Jedi. I think the quick decisions, and the ability to "make it happen" as opposed to negotiating your way out of things. Maybe it's not the Jedi way, but it's the cool way, let's be honest! (laughs) I think she's picking that up though.

It's interesting to see her develop and change because of him. But Anakin's going through a lot too. We're seeing that more, especially in this upcoming season and on. He's so quick to get angry, so quick to lose patience. He's so quick to resist any Jedi influence; influence from the council or influence from Obi-Wan that he doesn't agree with, he lets Obi-Wan know. It's interesting to see him going to that place so much quicker, easier, and more severe. The mistrust, you know? It's all coming, he's developing into that.

Nrama: You have a galaxy full of characters, all these story lines being juggled with the multiple Sith, the fall of Anakin, the Mandalorians, all these things are running at the same time. It seems like it would be difficult to develop real relationships between the characters. However, that seems to be the thing that fans cling to the most, is the relationships between these characters! So how do you guys pull that off in 22 minute snippets when sometimes you go four episodes without seeing a pair?

Lanter: Yeah, I guess that's more of a question for Dave, really. Dave and his team of writers and storytellers really make that happen.

I think that it's easier because most of the characters are already familiar to people, aside from Ahsoka. You can watch the Clone Wars for the first time, if you know Star Wars already, and go, "oh yeah, okay, I know what's going on there. I know what's going on with them." But yeah, they do a great job with that, they do a great job with developing relationships and have for the past four seasons now. So it's easy to jump back into a storyline with Ahsoka and Anakin or whomever.

Also, fans of Star Wars, they remember everything. The whole canon thing, people remember the details!

Nrama: And when you look at Wookieepedia being 96,000 pages, and people just know all of that off the top of their heads!

Lanter: Yeah! I know man! It just seems to be… the capacity for memory and knowledge of Star Wars facts is vast in this community. So when it comes time for Anakin in Season 5 or 6 to say "I don't trust you anymore!" fans will go, yeah, back to because of Rako Hardeen and Anakin doesn't trust the council anymore because of that… That's a benefit to us, that everyone remembers.

Nrama: Definitely! What are some of the things you're excited to see happen with Anakin in Season 5?

Lanter: I got to see an arc that had to do with Anakin, and Padme was in it. I think anytime that Padme is near Anakin, you're just waiting for something big to happen. Clovis is back, as we saw in the trailer - all three of them are together. There's actually a clip in the trailer where Anakin is igniting the saber, Clovis is on the ground, and Padme is pleading with him. So… yeah. There's some of that coming up which is really cool for me to play, then to see as a fan. I'm not giving too much away when talking about that to say that Anakin is angry with what is going on. And that helps map out his future a bit - when it comes to Padme his emotions are so extreme anyway. So when someone jeopardizes that in any way; with Clovis, they had a past, and so…

Nrama: When the ex is around and you're teetering on the Dark Side already… 

Lanter & Castmates

Lanter: (laughs) Not a good thing. Not a good thing, and when you have the power of the force at your fingertips; not a good thing for the opposite party at all. So it's really cool, that arc, I think people who love the Dark Side Anakin are going to love that arc.

Nrama: Oh, every time. Every time you get like 6 notes of the Imperial March in the background…

Lanter: Yeah, yeah. It kinda gets your blood going. You're going, "OH YES!"

Nrama: Is there a different approach for you as an actor going into a scene with full on anger mode versus a tender scene?

Lanter: It's just kind of getting into Anakin's head. I don't have any pre-record rituals or anything for when he's angry. I know the character well. I've been with the character 7 years, and I have the wealth of knowledge from the films too. It's a well developed character and I know what makes him tick at this point, I know what's going to set him off and not set him off.

So you just have to get in the headspace, that's what you do as an actor, get in the headspace of the character. Typically when we record, if we haven't gotten the script ahead of time, which lately we don't, we just have a bit of time before shooting where we're sitting in the hall going over the scripts, plotting out the scene. Then Dave talks to us to make sure we're all on the same page and there we go!

Nrama: That's interesting, so you guys just jump in pretty dry?

Lanter: We do, we do. Yeah, we're very used to that. I think we even used to get scripts more in advance than we do now, which is interesting. I think a lot of the stuff we do now is more important to the saga in a way. But I guess they trust us enough and seem to think we're getting the right stuff out of it. But no, we don't get much time with it at all! I think we'd all like a little more. But things are fast paced and Dave's always got 7 episodes at a time in his head, so it's difficult for them to get it out there. 

TV Recap: STAR WARS: CLONE WARS S3E18
TV Recap: STAR WARS: CLONE WARS S3E18
 

Nrama: Do you think casual Star Wars fans who haven't come into the Clone Wars yet can start with Season 5?

Lanter: That's an interesting question. For the Clone Wars or the Saga as a whole?

For the Clone Wars, I don't know. I mean, maybe. It's simple enough that you can watch an episode or two, you see who's good, who's bad, what's going on, but as far as the complex relationship stuff, you won't know the details.

Nrama: Do you have a personal favorite arc so far?

Lanter: I always go back to Mortis, just because it was so cool!

Nrama: Yeah!

Lanter: It was so not typical of what we'd been seeing, kind of magical, very mythical. It explained a lot about the Force, which is one of the three coolest things about the Star Wars universe. How it's used…

Also, Anakin got a lot of really great, cool acting stuff in that one. Anakin was in a lot of different places emotionally in that. Being told he was the chosen one and not really wanting to hear that and understand that.

Sam Witwer was also a lot of fun to play off of in that one, it was just a really interesting and fun story.

Nrama: Definitely! So, James Arnold Taylor all weekend on the main stage did the "shameless plug" segment, so go ahead and tell our readers what else you're working on at the moment.

Lanter: Well, of course 90210, we're filming our fifth season on that. I have a film coming out sometime soon, called "A Chance of Rain," it's a very indie, gritty film. Probably not coming out in theaters, very aimed at the festival circuit, which is fun for me, very different for me. It's a really complex role, so that was a lot of fun.

I'm in Ultimate Spider-Man, I'm playing Harry Osborn! Which is very cool, I'm playing Venom, too, which is Harry in that show. I feel like I get to play a lot of really cool, iconic villains!

I was on the mic the other day next to Stan Lee and I was just going, "how did I get into this? This is so cool!"

Nrama: Are you trying to alter your voice more as you add more voice acting gigs to expand your repertoire?

Lanter: Oh yeah. I don't want to be the same for everything I do. Anakin's a little deeper and more authoritative than my speaking voice. Harry's a little higher and lighter. Venom is completely different (makes guttural noises).

I'm doing Flash Thompson on Ultimate Spider-Man, too, he's a little cockier.

So yeah, doing that. I also have three episodes of Scooby-Doo that aired. I was the villain for those episodes, and Mark Hammil was my alter ego on the show! That was really cool.

But yeah, keeping busy! Between 90210, Spider-Man, and Star Wars, I don't have a whole lot of extra time, but I love being a part of it and the fan experience of it all.

Nrama: Any final teases?

Lanter: Yeah, it's getting serious now. Consequences: a lot of the things happening now there are consequences for. We're seeing the Chancellor's manipulation, we're seeing shades of Vader more and more. It's getting interesting!

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