Interview: Josh Keaton: Web-Swinging Hero Takes Up Bully Role for "Firebreather"
by R.J. Carter
Published: November 24, 2010
When you actually have to pay attention to the credits of animated shows, as I've had to do, you begin to learn a lot about the people behind the characters -- and you begin to recognize the names from series to series. Names like Frank Welker, Grey DeLisle, Rob Paulsen.
And Josh Keaton.
Fresh off his stint as Peter Parker in the animated Spectacular Spider-Man series, Keaton spent some time talking with The-Trades about his new character in Cartoon Network's upcoming animated movie, "Firebreather," his role in Hub TV's Transformers Prime, and unintentionally adds to speculation about another superhero he may or may not be voicing in the future.
I've had the opportunity to review a lot of animated shows lately, and your name keeps showing up in some of the most high-profile projects.
Yes. I've been very fortunate.
One of your latest ventures is the new animated movie from Cartoon Network, "Firebreather". Can you tell us a little about your character, Troy, who plays an important role in the film?
Troy is... well, he's an unapologetic douche. Which is a change from what I usually play, which is the teenage, coming-of-age hero. But this time I'm playing the guy who's always trying to shut that guy down, so that was a lot of fun to do.
As an aside, you had another chance recently to try out your "bad guy" vibe when you voiced a street punk in the DC Comics release "Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam".
Yeah, that was a lot of fun as well.
Do you know yet if "Firebreather" is just going to be the one movie, or is it approved for a series?
To be honest, I really am not sure. I know that they've talked about possibly developing it further. I know that everybody that's seen it has loved it! So I've got my fingers crossed that that's going to translate into turning this into something bigger than it already is. I know I was blown away by it. I didn't expect the animation to be that amazing. And Red Hot Chili Peppers is doing the song at the end -- that's pretty cool!
So without having recorded any further episodes, I guess it's hard to speculate as to whether Troy's character remains a rival of Duncan's, or grows into some sort of reluctant ally, which we sort of see in parts of the movie.
He does sort of step up and do the right thing at the end -- which is obviously major spoilage for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I think there's a lot of things in the writing of the character that make him a little more than just a two-dimensional bully. You get a little bit of a preview as to why he is the way he is -- and at the end of the day, he still does right. So he might turn into that reluctant ally, but only time will tell.
Is the process of voice-over recording any different between computer graphics animation versus traditional hand-drawn animation?
It really depends on whether it's CGI or motion capture. With motion capture, you've got the suit on and you're actually doing the actions as well as the words. But normally, even with CGI animation, it's still done pretty traditionally: you still record the voices first, and there's still the storyboard. It's pretty much the same process, just with CG.
Have you done any motion capture yet?
I haven't, but that's something I'm getting more and more intrigued by, especially seeing these movies like "Avatar." There's a lot of new technology where they're putting animated skins on real human wireframes. I think that's super-exciting, and I'd love to be a part of one.
In addition to "Firebreather," you've also got another new project in the works, Transformers Prime.
I play Jack Darby, who is one of the humans involved with the Transformers. I grew up with the Transformers, and I know a lot of fans like the shows to be more 'bot-centric, and I have to say that Transformers Prime is definitely a lot more in that direction. There are humans in the show, and the humans have an important relationship with the Transformers, but it really is more about the 'bots as opposed to being a human-based story where the 'bots are just kind of in the background.
You've got a long history of live action acting before you made the move to voice acting. How did that transition come about? Was there a lot of vocal training involved, or did you just have a natural bent for doing different kinds of voices?
It really was something I fell into. A lot of the earlier parts I got in my voice-acting career I got from my on-camera agent. That's where I got my experience, back with the Back to the Future animated series and some of my earlier jobs. And then I did the teenaged Hercules in the Disney film. That's when I was approached by a voice corporation, and really helped.
Overall, it wasn't a hard transition to make. Some people have difficulty with it, but at the core it's still acting. It's not just about doing voices. It's one thing to be able to do a voice, but it's another thing entirely to be able to sustain that character. So acting is still definitely a part of it, and whenever I prepare for a voice-over role, I pretty much follow the same as I would for an on-camera role.
Is it more difficult to do two or more voices in the same project? You voiced Flash and Aquaman both for "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths".
Yes, that does get difficult. There are a lot of people who are naturals at it. My friend John DiMaggio, he was sandman and Hammerhead in Spectacular Spider-Man -- most people know him as Bender on Futurama. And he had some scenes where he was actually having a conversation with himself -- an argument with himself -- and he'd do that there. He didn't just do all Sandman's lines and then all of Hammerhead's lines, he actually played the scene with both characters going back and forth, and that was fascinating. Some people just have a knack for that, to just turn on the schizophrenia and go at it. That's something I play with from time to time; it's fun to challenge yourself.
Spectacular Spider-Man is officially cancelled now, correct?
Yeah, that's official.
Are you going to have any participation in the new Spider-Man series, since you've done the character for Spectacular as well as in video games?
I still have hopes up. I auditioned for it several months ago, but I really don't know where they're at in the casting process -- if it's been cast, if it's still in writing development... it's still a long ways off, so I really don't have any idea what's going on with it. All I was able to do was give it my best audition, and let the cards fall where they may.
There's a rumor that you'll be playing Hal Jordan in the upcoming Green Lantern animated series.
I don't know where that rumor came from! (laughs) That's a tough question for me to answer, because there's really no way to confirm or deny it -- and if I say that, then the speculation will run rampant that it's sort of a de facto confirmation.
Did you audition for it?
I did audition for it -- I definitely auditioned for it. And... yeah, that's really all I can say.
What was the most fun character you got to throw yourself into?
I've got to say Spider-Man. It has to be Spider-Man, because he was my favorite growing up. That's what I read. I actually had a surreal moment -- my mom was cleaning out my room at her house, and she found a bunch of my old comic books. And I was looking through it, and it brought back all these old memories. And just like I remembered, the vast majority of them were Spider-Man. I was going through them, reading and checking out some of my old stuff. It's a character that I've had such a long history with growing up, and it's such a part of my childhood that to be able to play him on such a great show and to be able to work with so many people who were also fans -- everyone who was on the show was a fan of the character and the franchise in general, so you really couldn't have asked to be working with a better group of people.