There have been countless beloved comedy duos over the decades like Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, but children of the bygone 90’s will undoubtedly agree that Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche deserve to be among those legendary ranks. Possibly best known for voicing Pinky and the Brain respectively, those genetically altered lab mice with their nightly crusades to try (and unsurprisingly failing) to take over the world and whose iconic catchphrases from “”Narf” to “Are you pondering what I’m pondering” are still remembered to this day, even decades later Paulsen and LaMarche still maintain a friendship just as strong as Pinky and Brain albeit with less verbal and physical abuse.
Though Paulsen and LaMarche have worked together on various animated projects, Nickelodeon’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is significantly different in that Paulsen has taken on the role as voice director for the series. But you can’t take the actor out of Paulsen quite so easily, since he also plays the villainous Foot Lieutenant with LaMarche, his former “Brain” ironically voicing the dimwitted Foot Brute. It’s a fun reversal of roles that’s not lost on either actor.
During New York Comic Con I had the opportunity to interview Paulsen and LaMarche and let me tell you, these two entertainers are just as animated and hilarious as the various cartoon counterparts they’ve voiced in the course of their extensive careers.
Taimur Dar: I was recently talking with my parents about how TMNT was an enormous part of my childhood—
Rob Paulsen: Did your parents buy action figures?
Dar: Oh yeah, absolutely!
Paulsen: Then thank you Taimur’s mother and father because as a result of your kindness my child’s teeth are straight today.
Dar: [Laughs] Besides being the voice of Raphael in the original 1989 cartoon, Rob, you’ve mentioned in your podcast how much your own son loved TMNT growing up as a child of that era like myself and so many others. So I was curious Maurice if TMNT was a part of your own son’s childhood?
Maurice LaMarche: Jonathan, my boy who’s now a man of 24, came along a little bit later. He watched the Canadian version of the Turtles as a kid. So yes, it was a part of his life but not the Rob Paulsen version. He never got really into animation.
Paulsen: He’s a crazy town musician. He’s got it all. Really handsome, really talented, very nice and so unlike his father.
LaMarche Also incredibly slim! He’s a great boy as is your son.
Dar: When they were casting, were you aware that Rob was going to be the voice director?
LaMarche: Yes. I didn’t think I was going to get anywhere near it. The first news I heard was from Rob. We text each other all the time. I got to do a couple of episodes of the last iteration as that Marlon Brando sounding frog. We not only play friends on TV we actually are friends. I think I was one of the first people Rob texted that he would directing the next iteration of Turtles. At no point did I go, [deep voice] “Oh good, I got a guy on the inside. Hope he gets me in there!”
But they did make a call and they did say that I would be good for Foot Brute. I said, “Hey, I’m there for Foot anything. I have a foot fetish…
LaMarche: I’m kidding. I don’t actually have a foot fetish except when it comes to playing characters from the Foot Clan. I got to the studio and the first time there I forgot that he was the director because we’ve been clowning around with each other for nigh on 25 years. It took me a second to go, “Oh wait a second. He’s the boss on this one.”
I thought he [Foot Brute] would be a one-off and these guys [Foot Brute and Foot Lieutenant] have been back every third or fourth episode.
Paulsen: What’s really cool, especially for guys like “Moe” and me, we’re really good at our job and we’re very lucky but in the traditional sense we’re not celebrities. We get the characters that are famous. We have people like Lena Headey from Game of Thrones, John Cena, Rhys Darby from Flight of the Conchords, John Lydon which is a big deal for me because he’s Johnny Rotten for God’s sake. They’re rock stars and movie stars. Kat Graham, Omar [Benson Miller], Ben [Schwartz], Josh [Brener]—all TV people.
The great thing about Nickelodeon is that they understand that there is a huge fanbase who is very aware of what Maurice and I do. From the beginning when I got to work, Ant [Ward] and Andy [Suriano] said, “Do you think Maurice will work on the show?” Not, “Do you think Maurice will audition?” There was never a question about that. They have treated “Moe” and me with utter deference in the same celebrity vein as they have with John Cena and all the other famous people by including us with these celebrities who are being featured in the show. They asked if Maurice and me would do it and that’s a big deal to us. We do not take that lightly.
Dar: As you mentioned, besides acting as the voice-director Rob also voices Foot Lieutenant. When you record your lines together are you on opposite sides of the glass?
Paulsen: I work with “Moe.” We sit next to each other.
LaMarche: That’s why I said it was hard for me to remember that Rob is a fellow actor AND he’s directing our segments of the episode. We [the cast] don’t often get to record together not only because of the schedules of our celebrity friends but also ours. The voice actor is the nice smelling plumber.
Paulsen: Beautifully said!
LaMarche: We’re running around from studio to studio. On a good day you got four sessions and you’re bopping around! So my agent will say, “You can have ‘Moe’ from 4-5 but he’s busy all the rest of the day. He’s got a cartoon the next morning and he’s gotta leave to go do a promo.” I’m very lucky to be working that much.
So when we do it, it’s often just Rob and me, and that’s why I often forget he’s directing. It’s tremendous fun and I love hearing my friend speak the voice of the director and yet still talk “actor” to me.
Dar: Rob, on your previous two tours of duty in the TMNT franchise, you had the great fortune of working with possibly two of the best voice directors in the business, Sue Blu and Andrea Romano. Has there been anything you’ve learned from them that you’ve been able to apply now that you’re in the voice director chair yourself?
Paulsen: Thank you for asking. It sounds like the pat answer but it’s the truth. As “Moe” said, I learned to speak to actors. I know a lot of people I’ve worked with and I can mess with. And I love that camaraderie because I get to work with people who are my very best friends in the world, one of whom is sitting right here. I love Maurice with all my heart. He’s one of my very best friends. We have a lot of other mutual friends with whom we work on a regular basis. Not everybody gets the joke the way we do.
As a result of seeing how Sue and Andrea—and you are right in mentioning them in the pantheon, I am not even in their shadow. But I know now how to work with actors, new folks and celebrity talent coming in who are, believe it or not, very insecure when they get into the booth because they hear Maurice or Tress [MacNeille] or Frank [Welker] and they go, “I can’t do that.” And I reassure them and tell them that they don’t have to do that. I know how to make them relax because I’ve seen how people do it with others. So that’s really what I learned from people like Sue and Andrea and I’m very grateful. It’s not hyperbole. They’re the best.
Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles premiered on Monday, Sept. 17, on Nickelodeon. New season one episodes will continue to air throughout 2018. The new 26-episode series is co-executive produced by Andy Suriano (character designer, Samurai Jack) and Ant Ward (supervising producer, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) at Nickelodeon in Burbank. Veteran animation industry voice actor Rob Paulsen is voice directing the series.