Animated Shorts: Richard Epcar, the Mortal Kombat Joker

Animated Shorts: The Mortal Kombat Joker

Getting his bomb on

I first met Richard Epcar when he just happened to be in Florida. He was directing a video game, Smackdown v. RAW 2007. At the moment, I was more interested in talking to him about his work on Ghost In The Shell, where he more than distinguished himself voicing Batou, the Major’s erstwhile #2 and pretty amazing character in his own right.

Not that Batou is Epcar’s only unforgettable role. He and wife Ellyn Stern are two of the true vets of the anime industry. He’s been doing anime for over 30 years, where he was the voice of Jigan in Lupin III. Other well-known roles are Lunk and Ben Dixon in Robotech, Jubei in Ninja Scroll and Bo-Bo-Bo in Bo^7. A big man with a naturally booming basso, he can flex them vocal chords like very few others hitting upper ranges that are hard to believe.

Even more interesting is just the range of projects the man has his fingers in. He and Stern have moved heavily into gaming, both as actors and directors. As Stern would explain in an upcoming interview, they are finding the work their both challenging and rewarding, both creatively and financially.

This leads to today’s column. Richard and Ellyn were back in Florida, co-starring at the latest Anime Supercon with Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt. As it turns out, Richard had just finished working on the upcoming DC v. Mortal Kombat game. He knew we had to talk about that, particularly for the role he wound up with, the Joker.

Here’s what he had to say:

Newsarama: Richard, ow did you get involved in the DC v. MK project?

Richard Epcar: I’ve been directing and voicing a lot of big games over the last few years. The way I got this part is the way most actors do. You have to audition. I was called in by the casting director of the project. As it turned out, it is a very good director and friend of mine, Chris Borders, was the main director. I was very pleasantly surprised to see him.

We had done a lot of games together in the past. It was very common that he would be in one studio and I would be in another at the same time. So we would constantly be talking to each other in the hall, especially when we both worked for Microsoft. For instance, I was directing Blue Dragon and he was working on another project, and we spent months and months and months hanging out together because of that.

After the audition, they told me I got the part of Raiden. I was happy and all that because with Raiden I kind of use my straightforward voice and I’d never done Raiden before. I worked on Mortal Kombat , on the first anime film.

What also happened at the audition though is they had me do everybody. So I did Superman. I did Batman. I did all these great DC characters. What I didn’t know was the decision to do the DC voices was very last minute. They had MP3’d the stuff and sent it to the executives at Warner Bros. The problem was the feedback they got back at Midway is they loved me for everything. Chris had to explain they couldn’t have me do everything. So they asked me what character I would love to do. So I said if I could do one character, it would have to be The Joker. I don’t know why except I had so much fun doing him.

A fully rendered Joker

Anyway, I got the part. What was interesting though is when Chris asked me to do The Joker. No one has ever asked me to do a part like that before, and it turned out it was really fun! I have no idea where my voice for The Joker came from. He just came out of me. He’s kind of up and down and totally crazy. It’s more my head voice than my basso voice. He was a very different character. It was the most fun I ever had with my clothes on.

NRAMA: Some people have told me the Joker is one of the most fun characters to play, too. Did you draw from any past inspiration for him, anywhere from Cesar Romero to Mark Hammill on to Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger?

RE: That’s so good to hear. I had a blast doing it. They told me they absolutely did not want Nicholson or anything resembling Heath Ledger. In fact, they really didn’t want an imitation of anybody else. So that’s what I did. I did a voice of what I thought the Joker would sound like. I wasn’t trying to be Cesar Romero, Mark Hammill or anybody else.

NRAMA: So say back in the 60s when we were all young snots, were you a fan of the Adam West series?

RE: Oh yeah. I have to say I loved Batman, but I really loved what Frank Miller did with him in Dark Knight. I agreed with him that for Batman to be effective, he had to scare the crap out of the bad guys.

Now mind you, I knew Bob Kane. He was a very nice guy and did some other wonderful animation. He once told me that the only way to really be successful is to come up with something that is uniquely my own. So that’s what I did with the Joker.

The proof of it was when I was in the booth, the people from Warner Bros. and DC Comics were patched in and could listen to what I did. They told Chris that as soon as I started, they knew I was their guy to do the Joker.

NRAMA: I noticed that Warner Bros. has been hiring a lot of anime voice artists. They’ve hired you, Yuri Lowenthal, Crispin Freeman and a lot of others.

RE: Because we’re good. We’re all good, quality people.

NRAMA: Does it feel like after all these years you’re finally getting some respect?

RE: Geez. I guess. I don’t think about it so much. I just go from job to job and do the work. To be honest with you, anime has always been great. I love it. There’s always been great work there. I am very protective of Ghost In The Shell and Robotech. The thing is the games pay better. They are also generally written better. As an actor they’re more fun to play. It raises the bar in many ways. I’m really happy I’m involved in games now. It feels like a step up.

Put 'em up, put 'em uuuup

It’s the more you do it, the more you become known and your work grows exponentially as well. One story I like to recall is when I went over to Disney and took over the role played by Billy Zane (Ansem—ED). After I was done the directors came out saying how great I was and how come they hadn’t heard of me before. I had to explain to them there was this whole group of us that have been doing anime for years and years, and were kept out of the A projects.

NRAMA: Well, you could say Disney had their small list of voice actors…

RE: And I’m not denying the talent of some of those guys. Then again, I also have to say that some of them aren't that great. I know guys in the anime world that can blow them out of the water.

NRAMA: But I’m not going to deny a Joe Alaskey, Corey Burton or Jeff Bennett.

RE: I wouldn’t knock those guys in particular either.

NRAMA: But I am seeing guys like yourself now starting to get the serious union jobs.

RE: The A list jobs. Me too.

NRAMA: I’m also starting to see animation directors starting to move into live action. For instance, Rob Minkoff doing Forbidden Kingdom and a few others.

RE: That would be great for me. I do directing as well.

NRAMA: I heard you’re doing some Star Wars projects as well.

RE: I’m voicing Old Republic 3 and I’m also doing a game loosely titled The Republic Returns or something like that. I play a myriad of characters in those games.

NRAMA: Do you like voice or directing more?

RE: I like them both. I think if I could only do one, I’d go nuts. Directing is great because you have all this control. Basically it ends up being your vision. When you’re an actor and you have a heavy-handed director, he tends to supercede you. Then again, I am an actor. I started as an actor and it’s work that I still like very much. Voice over is great because when you work in front of a camera, you are restricted by how you appear. You are cast into roles based on what you look like. With voice over you are only limited by your voice. You are otherwise as versatile as you can be.

NRAMA: Getting back to DC v. MK, what do you think of the background story?

The Clown Prince can take a punch

RE: Any format that gives me the opportunity to play the Joker is wonderful. I think the story is interesting. I like how they put these two different worlds together, although I have to admit I’m pretty hardpressed to figure out who can really take on Superman. He can just kick ass. It’s gotten to the point where I think it’s almost a fault. He’s almost too perfect.

Another character I like is Batman. He is just so brilliant. In the game it’s better to use his mind than any of the gadgets he has on him. He almost plays chess with his opponents whereas Superman just can knock the stuffing out of them.

NRAMA: Now I was just told about over 400,000 people attending a Robotech convention in China. How does that feel?

RE: Well, having been to China I can say that they somehow can put 400,000 people in an elevator. (Laughs).

NRAMA: But how does it feel to realize nearly a half million people came to celebrate a project you worked on?

RE: It’s pretty daunting. The fun of these conventions and you go to them. There are people who always ask who are you? Then I tell them and they get real excited. In a way, it’s a lot of fun because you can still enjoy your anonymity and do your groceries. It’s the best of both worlds.

NRAMA: Have you ever thought of going to Japan?

RE: Yes. We are planning to go to Japan soon. Ellyn and I have a company. We do a lot of games, animation and are the North American partners for Tananaka, a translation house. We just completed two projects for them. The first is Star Ocean, which just came out. I directed that. We also have another game coming out and Ellyn directed that.

ANIBOOM’S SNOWY VIEWED 2 MILLION TIMES IN THREE WEEKS

aniBoom (aniBoom.com), is celebrating the hit status of its newest animated series, Snowy the Frostman, which achieved more than two million views in only three weeks online. With seven episodes available currently, Snowy is being uploaded to YouTube more than 65,000 times a day, and continues to place in the top most viewed videos on YouTube worldwide.

Written, directed and animated by Sam T. Nelson, Snowy the Frostman stars a rotund, jolly snowman that comes to life on Christmas Eve with murderous results. Snowy finds macabre joy in killing by parodying classic horror movies, including The Shining and Nightmare on Elm Street.

DRINKY CROW PREMIERS NOVEMBER 23

The real question is whether you call Drinky Crow a foul drunk, a fowl drunk or even a drunken fowl. All creator Tony Millionaire will say is the star of the upcoming new series on Adult Swim is Drinky Crow is a drunken fool.

A black jackdaw doing the best to kill any remaining brain cells he has through alcohol and bullets, Drinky first made his appearance in a series of newsletters Millionaire did for a nightclub (for, of course, free drinks). Since then he’s become a star, first of the comic book Maakies and now in his own 15 minute series on [AS].

The Drinky Crow Show makes its official television debut on Sunday, November 23 at 12:15 a.m.. Eastern.

NEXT COLUMN: Matt Senreich cooks up some new Robot Chicken. Yum..

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