1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. What brought you out to Los Angeles and how did you end up doing voices for animation?
The whole thing, even though it was something I’d always wanted, was sort of a fluke. I’d become a radio DJ when I was still in high school, and after graduation, continued that as a main career path for a while. I used to dream of being a comedian when I was a kid; growing up in a small town in Mississippi, being on the local AM radio station was as close as I could get to being in ‘show biz’. Bouncing around from city to city-as one does in radio-for a few years, I eventually made my way to Miami, where I was doing mornings as a comedic partner (using my vocal skills and penchant for writing short-form sketch comedy), while I explored lots of other interests.
I did a lot of on-camera pitch-man stuff, lots and lots of radio and TV voice-over, as well as being a (part-time) working stand-up comic (in all my years of dabbling in stand-up, I’ve never been a serious ‘road comic’, as I always had that full-time day job, not to mention a family to feed).
But it all collectively served me very well, when, in 1997, I got a call from someone at Disney in Orlando. Someone at exactly the right place at the right time had heard me on the radio in Miami doing my impression of Eddie Murphy, and they were looking for someone to be a sound-alike for Eddie in “Mulan”. So many things had to come together for this to happen: Disney had to have been making “Mulan” at their Florida studio-not in California where most feature films are made, someone had to hear me on the radio, and Eddie Murphy had to be on vacation at the time the Disney studio heads had demanded to see a ‘rough cut’ of “Mulan”. It was fate for me. That opened all the doors since. From doing sound-alike for all the TV commercials and products for Mushu, I started doing Eddie Murphy’s TV looping (over-dubbing clean words for dirty words) for his movies such as “The Nutty Professor” and “Life”…and every one since. It also led me to work for DreamWorks, as Eddie signed on for “Shrek”. By now, he was sending studios to me for stuff he was too busy for. I began flying back and forth from Miami to L.A. once a month to fill in for Eddie on the animated TV series “The PJ’s”. By 2002, when DreamWorks told me I’d have acting work in “Shrek 2”, and “Father of the Pride”, I was able to justify moving the family to Los Angeles.
2) Are you a natural at picking up/creating voices and dialects or is that a skill you have to work at?
I once overdubbed a German movie into English, and after four straight days of listening to actors speak German in a dubbing studio—I had myself as awesome authentic German accent. I go for mastery too. I’m quite proud of a lot of my voices, and know that I do certain ones better than anyone else. Schwarzenegger, for example. My Arnold is very realistic-sounding, which led to me getting cast in the “Terminator 3-Redemption” game. They auditioned every guy out there that did Arnold, and they put me in that game-and, here’s the part I’m proud of-in some parts of the game, my impression is blended into dialogue recordings they had from Arnold himself. It’s a really good match. When Fox made the “Simpsons” movie, they brought me in to read the lines for “President Schwarzenegger” (spoiler alert!), because they were toying with the idea of not using Harry Shearer’s caricature of Arnold, but maybe making people think it really WAS Arnold.
3) You also do voices for video games. Talk a little about the differences between working in that world and doing voices on a cartoon.
You always go in when you get cast knowing that you’re going to be doing at least 3 characters, usually more; I did nine for “Star Wars-the Old Republic”. You do still get to say “Urgh!” a lot—it’s funny, because you do all these sounds of pain, and death screams, and the voice director is coaching you: “Now sound like you’ve been thrown off a cliff. Now you’re being crushed by a boulder. Now give me one where a dragon is eating you.” The only major difference between video games and cartoons is—and it IS major—in video games, you pretty much stick to the script. In animation, they want as much improvisation as possible. That’s what makes cartoon animation so much fun.
4) What’s a typical workday like for you?
What’s exciting is that there is no typical. I never know from one day to the next if I’m EVER going to work again—isn’t that exciting!? It’s called being a ‘journeyman actor’, kids. What you want to go for is being an “A-List” actor, you see. Seriously though, I never know. Like everyone else, I audition for a ton of stuff every week, and then sit back and don’t hold my breath. The work varies; I perform a sketch comedy bit or two for radio stations first thing in the morning. Just about every day I do some radio voice-overs. Some days I’m reading a corporate narrative voice-over; other days I’m driving to an audition where I’ve got to perform in an ensemble radio commercial. Then some days I get to do something really exciting like perform in a video game or an animated TV series. It’s never boring.
5) You have a very impressive home recording studio and it seems like a lot of voice actors have them these days (as opposed to driving in for an audition at a casting director or agent’s office). Any thoughts on being your own “sound engineer” and on what seems to be a trend toward home studios?
I’ve been in this business so long, I remember recording on reel-to-reel tape. Technology now allows us, for a few hundred bucks, to do at home what you used to need a $100,000 studio full of equipment to do. All a young person really needs in a computer, and a decent cardioid microphone-which they can, believe or not, get for $199 dollars-and they’re equipped. Get to Wal-Mart and get some of those ‘egg-carton’ foam mattress pads, put them on the wall, and you’ve got yourself a studio. Almost every voice actor I know has got a set-up at home. Sure, we all still drive to Disney or Nickelodeon for TV pilot auditions, but for the radio and TV commercials, for video games—for some animation work, I’m auditioning at home. I’ve done all my voice-over jobs for “Jimmy Kimmel Live” from my house, directing myself, and sent them an mp3 attached to an email. It’s amazing how convenient it all has become.
6) Any advice for youngsters thinking about pursuing a career in doing voices for animation or video gaming?
|Mark and Friends|
So, while you’re dreaming, as we all did, of moving to Hollywood and being in cartoons, always be working towards it. No matter how big or small your town is—I guarantee they’ve got local theater. Get it there and do as much of it as you can. Then start an improv troupe within your local theater; hone your comedic improv skills. Get books on how to learn dialects and work on making them AUTHENTIC through hours of practice. “Sort-of” being able to do a Scottish accent won’t cut it, because in L.A., you’re in the audition waiting room for a video game, and half the actors around you are FROM Scotland. Do it all. Take some vocal lessons—for breath control, and because eventually someone is going to require you to sing in a role. And doing all this will minimize the frustration that comes along with that ache you have inside to do this-because you’ll be feeding you passion for performing, and being the center of attention (which is why we all get into this business-don’t ever let anybody kid you).
7) What are you working on these days? Any cool gigs coming up?
I dabble in so many areas; it’s hard to say. I’ve been loving narrating audio-books over the last couple of years; just finished my 4th one this year. And I also just finished a series of parody videos for Yahoo, called “Hackerazzi”, where I got to imitate lots of different people. I’ve got some interesting prospects in the works. I may get to be the ‘promo voice’ person for a new cable channel. I’m also about to start working as part of a morning radio show that airs in Los Angeles and Miami. And I’m working right now on a screenplay that would be a dancing/singing/acting vehicle for my daughter-she’s a dancer/singer/actress. But I never know when the phone is going to ring and it’s a completely new situation, doing something I’ve never done before.
I once got a call from Disney director/producer Don Hahn (Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) asking me to drop what I was doing, and come to a ‘table read’-a first read-through of a finished movie script, because one of their actors couldn’t be there, and he knew I could ‘sound like the guy’. That was a pretty cool day.
Thanks, Mark! If you'd like to learn more about what Mark's been up to, check out his IMDb page.