A couple of Saturdays ago at Comic-Con International: San Diego - a special tribute was held for one of the grand dames of animation voice work, June Foray. The great lady is turning 92 this September, and June and friends read a script from one of her best remembered shows, Rocky & Bullwinkle. As expected, June proved she still had it when she sat there and read the parts for both Rocky the Flying Squirrel and Natasha Fatale.
So who was the guy sitting next to Foray at this reading? A man who has become another voice legend in his own right, Gregg Berger.
“I’m reading Boris against her Natasha. So I’m very stoked,” Berger admits. An unapologetic animation fanboy, you have to wonder what Berger was most "stoked" about, sitting next to Foray or filling in for the late, equally great, Paul Frees.
Berger turned pro at the very beginning of the 1980s, not exactly a high water mark in the animation world. In 1983, his dedication started to pay off. That’s when he scored the role of Odie for a number of Garfield projects. From there he moved on to multiple roles on GI Joe: Real American Hero (among them Spirit, Cutter, and Firefly). Then his real breakout came with his next project. He was recruited by Marvel Productions for Transformers, and landed the roles of Long Haul, Skyfire, and, most notably, Grimlock.
You want instant kid credibility? Berger not only played a robot, but one who transformed into a dinosaur! His career was set.
Then again, the ever-humble Berger gives a lot of credit to his fellow actors on the show. As he puts it, he really was the kid of the cast, even if he was in his mid-30s.
“Not only was I the young guy, I was literally the new kid on the team,” he recalls. “In other words, I was really fortunate to be in the position I was in. I’m not undervaluing my contribution, but when I found myself in the presence of Frank Welker, Michael Bell, Jack Angel, and Corey Burton; they were golden days. Actually, Corey, Jeff Bennett and I were all pretty much at the same stage in our careers. At the same time, being [switches voices] 'Me Grimlock! Me Dinobot Leader!' had certain advantages.”
One of them was giving Berger fast recognition among younger Transformers fans.
“I’ve been doing Grimlock every day at the last dozen Comic-Cons,” he says. “I remember when my kids were growing up, I was a big hit at birthday parties. What really mattered was I was put in a situation where I was truly able to augment what was already on the table. I brought something that wasn’t already at the picnic and it helped me break through as an actor. It is also so humbling and so glorious that GI Joe and Transformers had such staying power. Here I am at Comic-Con, and there are 125,000 people who serve as testimony as to what they mean to them.”
Then again, Berger isn’t so humble that he won’t acknowledge his own talents.
“The simple truth is you don’t get to sit down if you don’t bring something to the table,” says Berger. “I’ve written a book called Think Globally…Act Vocally, and that book goes into this. The initial idea was to write down all the answers, including things I learned, from questioners from panels.”
Some other things Berger worked on were the recent Shout! Factory GI Joe and Transformers collections, including the Magnum 17 and 16-disk (respectively) complete editions. He’s taking extreme pride in those.
“I think the Shout! Factory collection will exceed all expectations,” says Berger. “They put so much care and devotion into the presentation. I’m sure the fans are aware of the main content, but they aren’t aware of all the ‘treats’ they’ve put in here. The packaging is coffee-table presentation level on its own.
His particular pride and joys for both sets are the extra content where he sits down and just chews the fat with many of the surviving voice artists.
“The idea was to have people from both shows, including me, just sit around and remember working on them,” Berger says. “There was some apprehension at the taping session about what we would talk about. Then Brian Ward from Shout! Factory just decided to roll tape and see what happened. The next thing we knew, it was an hour later and we had a full tape.”
“Actually, that’s pretty much the way we always behaved. Just about everyone there have had friendships with each other from long, long ago. In fact, I’m still great friends with all of those people. All we did was pass time, the way that we used to and the way we still do. I think the voice community tends to have the best jokes out in the lobby. It’s also a very well read community because when you get right down to it, we’re readers. It’s what we do, being readers and interpreters.”
Since then, Berger has become one of the busiest voice men in the field. One key character he brought to life was Cornfed, Duckman’s unreasonably loyal sidekick. His work has not only stuck with animation. He also does his share of commercial and trailer work (for more, see his website www.greggberger.com).
“I’m very much still working,” he says. “I’m working on all the new, original episodes of Garfield. I’m the voice of Odie ever since Odie has had a voice. Mark Evanier and I are back to doing Garfield on a regular basis. There are new episodes coming. Frank Welker is the heir to the [Lorenzo Music’s] throne. He is the voice of Garfield now.
“I also [did] the voice of Captain Cutter in [Xbox 360 game] HALO Wars. I [was] Kingpin in Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. I’m Fred Dukes, the Blob, in the X-Men Origins: Wolverine game. I [was] also in Metal Gear Solid 3 and have tons of new games coming up in the very near future.”
As for the future, there’s talk of a certain robotic dinosaur making its live action debut in the next Transformers live-action film.
“I haven’t been in the movies yet,” says Berger. “I hope I might have some involvement down the line. You never know. I’ve heard buzz that the Dinobots are part of the future live-action story line. I understand there are even web pages where people have started campaigning on my behalf. That’s very flattering. They are separate ventures.”
In the meantime, Berger had to get up and run. After all, he had to do a session with another animation legend in the very near future.
NEXT COLUMN: What’s the wonderful thing about Tiggers? Jim Cumming will tell you, about that…as well as being the voice of a certain willy, nilly old bear, too. .