Ask Corey Burton about working on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and the superlatives never stop coming.
“I couldn’t be more pleased,” says the veteran voice actor. “In 28 years in this job, I couldn’t have a more original characterization. I certainly had quite a few that I’ve done well and been pleased with.
As fans know, he pretty much came on the series from the get go, starting with voicing Ziro The Hutt in the pilot movie, then replacing Christopher Lee as Count Dooku when “Clone Wars” went to series. With the new season, he was then handed the plum role of the super bounty hunter Cad Bane.
“He just relishes his dark, evil, sinister, all business attitude. I really enjoy toying with him,” Burton said. “I was knocked out. It was like I won the lottery. I love the serious image on this outlandish alien face that doesn’t look cartoony. He’s a believable being outfitted with additional apparatus. He’s striking.
“Of course, the animation and layout is impeccable, which is a big plus, too. I mean I’ve worked on many projects where the characters are well written and designed. Then the animation is stiff and flat. It takes you right out of it. In this case, it all works synergistically. You don’t have to guess which character is who.”
As had been previously reported, Bane was initially conceived by no less than George Lucas himself. He modeled the bounty hunter after Lee Van Cleef’s character, Angel Eyes, from the film “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
“Oh yeah!” Burton agrees. “Bane was squarely based on the spaghetti Western contract bounty hunter cold-blooded killer model.
“I was brought in when the voice was still being developed. Various ideas were being tried out. George himself got it in his head of a Peter Lorre-type voice superimposed on that old Western characterization. So Dave [Filoni] came to me, asking me if I could do something like that.”
And the craft was Burton managed to take these disparate elements and make them work.
“Well, you know Peter Lorre has played steely-eyed, soft spoken killers, in both movies and radio,” he noted. “So I said that was in the range for that kind of voice. Now I was worried it might be too funny. Of course, the way it’s played and the way it’s written, it’s not slapstick or broad. It’s not like Lorre in his late films, the cartoony Lorre we got used to.
“Then again, I don’t like playing standard characters anyway.”
The other interesting element about playing Bane, is Burton also has to put his voice through a voice processor. Then again, this is the man who played Braniac in a number of different DC Animated Universe projects as well as Shockwave on the original Transformers. It’s a bit of technology he’s quite familiar with. In fact, he says these days vocoders and similar devices don’t affect his performances at all.
“Not really. Initially, I wasn’t even sure we were going to use one,” says Burton. “It doesn’t affect me, unless the process is so heavy that it requires me to over-articulate in order to be understood. That happened a lot of times in the old days. The process has since become a lot more sophisticated. It’s best not to be aware of that fact at all, just play the character as it is written on the page, instinctively. We do try to keep it understated and natural. A lot of times I have to check with Dave. He feels a lot of times people will understand it thanks to context. It’s sort of like acting in shadows or in front of back lighting.
“Anyway, with ‘Clone Wars,’ we are very encouraged to make the characters our own,” says Burton, “to play it as something original even if we are borrowing certain hues or personalities from existing performers. We just don’t want to be imitating. Even when we are imitating Ewan McGregor or Christopher Lee, one of the original screen actors, we’re still urged with our own instincts and not be double checking, to play the character not the previous interpretation.”
Then there’s the matter of him also playing Count Dooku, Ziro and a number of other small rolls he takes on during the job. There are times when Burton spends at least part of his recording sessions talking to himself. Again, the three-decade veteran takes it all in stride.
“I often wonder why. Is that a consideration of studio time or what?” he jokes. “There are instances where I’m not in too many scenes but I look at the script and I find three of my characters all together.
“Then again, I’m used to that. In the old days, when they mainly hired radio actors, they called it doubling, which is talking back and forth to yourself. When I started in the business, most animated series only had three or four voice actors, and we recorded everything in real time, especially before digital editing. The soundtracks used to be played in real time.”
As for the future of Cad Bane, Burton gets cryptic (even though inside sources at Lucasfilm have intimated we haven’t seen the last of the bounty hunter).
“It’s no secret amongst followers that this universe will eventually expire, one way or another,” he hints. “They are in a galaxy a long time ago and far away. I’m sure one day Cad Bane will come to an end. Still, as we explore this time and space there are unlimited possibilities. There are lots of plots and subplots, relationships. Cad will do whatever he’s assigned to do. He doesn’t have any loyalties. He has no problems giving anybody a hard time or putting them in peril.”
Otherwise, Burton is keeping himself busy. We will soon see him in a smaller roll in Disney’s upcoming “The Princess and the Frog,” although it sounds like his actual contribution was a lot larger.
“I worked with Ron (Clements) and John (Musker) back in the days of ‘Hercules’ and ‘Aladdin,’” says Burton. “So when they were brought back to do the newly established 2-D division, they called me in to play with voices in the beginning. If I’m lucky, I’ll wind up with a view bit parts. I believe I’m one of the Fenner brothers.
“I have a number of other series. On Cartoon Network, I’m on ‘Secret Saturdays.’ We don’t know if there will be another season, but hopefully that will work out. I’m also doing several other series and video games. I’m also doing a lot of movie trailer work, like Roberto Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse series, including the trailer for ‘Machete.’
“I’m one of those showbiz old timers. I’ve worked with everyone!” Burton jokes. “I’ve worked with Billy Wilder, Paul Verhoven, all the great Western directors, Roberto Rodriguez and George Lucas. Still, ‘Clone Wars’ is the most rewarding and satisfying series I’ve ever worked on. I’m just so proud of every aspect of it.”
From the sounds of things, fans of the series certainly agree with him.
As fans know, “Clone Wars” is taking Black Friday off, probably to do some serious shopping. Then again, they have left everyone this little teaser as a gift. Enjoy.