Wil Wheaton: Giving Voice to the Blue Beetle

Giving Voice to the Blue Beetle

Here’s a little known fact. Wil Wheaton’s first movie role wasn’t as Gordie Lachance in Stand By Me. Four years before he and River Phoenix went on their unforgettable trek to find the body of a dead boy, Wheaton made his film debut in an equally auspicious animated feature film.

“My first movie was as the voice of Martin in the Don Bluth film The Secret of NIMH,” Wheaton recalls. “It was my first experience in animation. I remember feeling confused. I didn’t understand why they did the voices before the animation. I remember feeling disappointed that the character didn’t look at all like me. Over the years, it became a really neat part of my resume. My animation career has had some real quality to it.”

In fact, one could say Wheaton is one of those blessed guys who managed to turn his private passions into one heck of a career. As any true fan knows, it’s a lot, lot more than just being young Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: TNG.

“I think it’s important to make time for the things that you love,” says Wheaton. “Obviously, over the course of time those things have changed. These days the most important things in my life are my wife and kids. I make sure to make time for them. I have been able to make time to share the things I truly love with my kids. My older son loves comic books as much as I do.

“I was a huge comic book nerd when I was growing up. I have thousands upon thousands long boxes in my garage. I was a DC kid. I was hardcore into the new and the Prestige format before they rolled those into Vertigo. When I was younger, I read a lot of the drug store/Donald Duck licensed stuff. I wish I could remember the precise moment I got them in my hands, but someone put Dark Knight Returns and the first issue of Sandman at the same time. I remember it was at a comic book convention, and the guy who sold them to me said ‘you’re gonna love this.’ It was Sandman, Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns that made me love every Wednesday. I realize that’s like saying puppies are cute or Radiohead hasn’t properly followed up OK Computer. It’s one of those ‘duh’ kinds of truths. That was just how it worked for me.”

The payoff apparently is as apparently a lot of satisfaction, both professional and personal.

“I used to do a video gaming column called ‘The Games of Our Lives,’ Wheaton said. “I wrote about classic arcade and video games that were a little bit beyond the mainstream. It was really fun. I remember calling my mom once saying to her, asking if she remembers when she said I would never make a living doing video games. The answer is yes.”

Most recently, one could see how Wheaton has used his love of comics in an episode of the CBS series Numbers. It revolved around a murder at a comic book convention, with Wheaton playing a character suspected of committing the murder. Even more heinous, he is accused of killing the comic book industry.

“I think the most diplomatic way is I played a character who was, uh, spawned from an actual person in the comic book industry,” says Wheaton. “Everybody on the set kept thinking the guy that I played is definitely the bad guy, definitely the d***** and committed the crime. Of course, there’s the twist and you find out he wasn’t.”

Still, one area that Wheaton has really been making inroads has been in the animation world. He may not get too many lead roles in various TV series, but he doesn’t seem to lack for work, especially over at Warner Bros.

“I owe a great part of my animation career to (voice talent caster at WB) Andrea Romano,” Wheaton openly admits. “She brought me in to work on Zeta Project. Then she brought me in for Teen Titans as Aqualad. Then in Legion I was Cosmic Boy. Now I work with James Tucker and Glen Murakami all the time. So I owe Andrea my whole animation career.

“There’s a big misconception that voice acting is the minor leagues compared to being in front of the camera. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. It requires an entirely different set of skills. It also comes with an entirely different set of dramatic and creative challenges. In order to be successful in the voice acting community you have to train real hard. It’s very, very, very competitive filled with people who work all the time because they are so good.

“It’s something that requires a lot of technical skill. Not everybody can do it. It takes more than a unique or funny voice. It’s something I’m very proud I can do. I don’t think there is any other way that I could have gotten a chance to participate in the Batman universe. I’m never going to get on camera in a Batman film. I don’t have the physique to be a superhero on TV.

“I’d jump at any opportunity to be in a Batman movie, too. I’d be glad to be that guy who just walks down the street and you never really see his face. As long as I’m in cannon, that’s all I care about. I even have a little key chain with a Lego version of Batman.”

For those fans who don’t know, Wheaton got to fulfill his Batman dreams tonight on Tucker’s Batman: The Brave and the Bold. In tonight’s episode he is the voice of Ted Kord, the first Blue Beetle.

“I became familiar with him during his run in Justice League in the late 80s,” says Wheaton. “The Blue Beetle was a wise-cracking, un-serious guy who still had a sense of honor and could be called a hero. He was a real nice counterpoint to the other guys in the Justice League at the time.

“Now a friend of mine, John Rogers, created the new Blue Beetle, who Will Friedle plays in Brave & Bold. So I really knew my way around Blue Beetle when James Tucker called and asked if I’d be interested. When I come home my dogs run around the house because they can’t contain themselves. I swear I did the exact same thing.”

As it turns out, Tucker and Wheaton weren’t the only Batman fanatics at the recording sessions for that episode.

“Diedrich (Bader, the voice of the Caped Crusader) was really, really fun,” Wheaton recalls. “I worked with him on Zeta Project. We also know a lot of the same people. He was as excited about being Batman as I was just being Blue Beetle. We were both excited that we could work on a show that we could show to our kids. We were having such a good time. I mean Jason Marsden is also in the episode I’m working in. We had both worked together on Legion. He’s such a big fan he has a Batman tattoo. Lex Lang and Will Friedel are also guys I’ve worked with in the past. So when you got that much positive energy going on in the room, the atmosphere gets real infectious.”

In fact, if one spends a little time looking at all the younger names now associated with the voice industry, one can learn two things. First, they tend to move in packs. That is if you see one or two familiar names attached to the project, you’ll soon see a number of others are also working with them on the same projects. The second is all these younger voice artists are knee deep in fan culture, both as pros and as fans themselves.

“I should know,” Wheaton admits. “I had worked with James and Andy Mauder on Legion of Super Heroes. Now Andy, Yuri Lowenthal and I are big Legion fans. Yuri, Andy and I would just jibe James constantly about what just went on, what was coming up.”

As for this upcoming episode of B&B? Wheaton feels it will satisfy both comic book and animation fans alike.

“He is exactly the way he was in the comic books,” he said.. “I mean before I came in I went over my old comics to do some research. What I found was the scripts for Brave & Bold are really tight and well written. You don’t have to work hard to figure out where they’re going. Their instructions are very clear. So when I read the script I knew I could do that.

“In this episode a lot of my stuff is done in flashback. So they animated my stuff to look like the Super Friends. It’s got the same color palette, the same angles, point of view and sensibilities. It’s just awesome! I saw all that when I went to do my ADR. In fact, James told me when I was in the booth that they did that on purpose.”

As for future projects? Wheaton admits he’s keeping himself very busy.

“I’m working to a whole bunch of writing,” Wheaton said.. “I’m also working on Ben 10: Alien Force. I play a character called Dark Star. He’s kind of like the Doctor Doom to Ben 10. It’s really awesome. I’m also working on all the fiction that I haven’t had the time to do over the last year. I’m going to be expanding my publishing company just a little bit. I’m doing a book with Subterranean Press this year. I’m also working on a comic script that I won’t say anything about specifically, but I’ll be pitching it to comic publishers to see if any bite. So this year is a lot of writing. In part that’s because I did a whole lot as an actor over the last year. If SAG and the producers don’t go on strike, I’ll also have a lot of film and television to work on.”

Wheaton's episode of Brave and the Bold airs this Friday, January 23rd on Cartoon Network

Related:

Video: Fall of the Blue Beetle

Ben Jones: Directing The Brave and the Bold

Talking to Brave and Bold's Michael Jelenic

SDCC '08: The Brave and the Bold Panel

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