Cartoon Network's new Thundercats series debuted with an hour-long premiere this past Friday, introducing updated versions of Lion-O, Cheetara, Mumm-Ra and the rest of the cast to modern audiences.
Will Friedle — you may know him as Terry McGinnis on Batman Beyond or Eric Matthews on Boy Meets World — is the voice of lead character Lion-O, and with a new episode airing tonight, talked with Newsarama about his own past as a Thundercats fan, why the time is right for a new series, and reuniting with legendary voice director Andrea Romano.
Newsarama: Will, first question is one you've surely gotten multiple times promoting the show, but just how much of a fan were you of the original Thundercats cartoon?
Will Friedle: I was a huge fan . I was 8 years old when Thundercats came out, so exactly my age demographic. I always say that the original Thundercats was made for me.
I had my plastic Sword of Omens, and I've said this to people before and it's absolutely true, I still know where to put the cushions on my couch in the house I grew up in to make my ThunderTank. Or if I was feeling particularly bad that day, it would be a Cobra H.I.S.S., but that was few and far between.I was a massive fan of the original show— really all the '80s cartoons. Thundercats, G.I. Joe., M.A.S.K. and Transformers; what I consider still all the best cartoons.
Nrama: So from your perspective as both a fan and the lead voice actor, why do you think now is the right time to revisit these characters and concepts?
Friedle: I don't know why now is the right time, it just seems to be. I think it's been 20, 25 years, the characters are still vibrant, and still iconic, and I think enough time has passed now to where some of the original fans might have accepted a new version a little bit easier than had they done it five years after the show had ended.I think also the state-of-the-art animation that we have nowadays really lends itself to these characters and to this story. I think people are also maybe a little more able to accept a darker story nowadays than they would have been in the '80s; something that's a little more real. I think when Batman: The Animated Series came out, it kind of changed everything when it came to animation and storytelling.
Hopefully, so far, it's been working. We seem to have gotten some great reviews, and people seem to like the show, so we're all very excited.
Nrama: Yeah, and unlike a lot of the other '80s properties, there really hasn't been any updated Thundercats material until this series.
Friedle: Right. It ended, and that was it. I know that there have been several attempts over the last, say, 10 years, to make the show. Man, am I glad that this is the first one to come out, because I think the scripts are just phenomenal, and if you're a fan of Thundercats, wait until you see what happens next.
Nrama: Reviving a beloved franchise like this is always a tricky proposition, because the original fans often have very particular ideas of what made them like the shows in the first place. But with one episode aired at this point, the reaction for this has seemed to be pretty positive. Have you monitored that response at all from fans?
Friedle: We were obviously worried, because the last thing we want to do — especially as fans — is go in and ruin these iconic characters. We knew we were taking a risk with the new angle. So we were very excited that the fans seemed to accept it, and really seem to like it, and want to see what happens next.
Nrama: You're in the lead role here, and the lead role comic book fans know you best from is, of course, Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond. How does your approach to Lion-O compare to Terry?
Friedle: I think Terry had a much darker side to him, whereas Lion-O, especially in the first 35 minutes of the pilot, was really kind of the happy go-lucky kid. If memory serves, the first time we ever meet Terry, he's in a fist fight in gym class, whereas Lion-O is more of the type of guy who wants to make everything better, and is a prince, but wide-eyed, and still believing in fantasy, and still believing that there's this mythical tech out there.I think Lion-O is far more naïve at the start about what real life on Thundera is about than Terry was about Gotham. With some of the stuff that is going to happen to Lion-O, I wouldn't doubt that there may be a darker turn in his personality in the future.
Nrama: And Thundercats is also reuniting you with legendary voice director Andrea Romano, who you worked with on Batman Beyond.
Friedle: I've worked with Andrea for probably the last 15 years, and this is probably the 10th or 11th project we've worked together on. She's incredible. Knows actors, knows animation, knows what is expected, and man, she can really pull it out of us.
Nrama: So given your background on live-action shows like Boy Meets World, did you ever foresee yourself working so heavily in voice acting back then?
Friedle: No. Not at all. Totally out of left field.
I had assumed that if the business would still have me — because it's a very fickle business — that I would be a sitcom actor for my whole life. And then I hit about 30, and I just couldn't do it anymore. Just really wasn't feeling the vibe of the on-camera work.I was very lucky that I was able to continue to work in voiceover. I still feel the same way about going in to recording that I did the first day I went in to record Batman. There's still the butterflies in the stomach and the wonderful kind of nervousness that you want to grab that I used to get when I went before an audience, which started to fade. As long as the business will have me, I will stay here and happily do my voice work, because it's so much fun. Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!