Back in 1977 no one could have imaged that Luke Skywalkers line from A New Hope would be a TV series some 30 years later.
A series, called Clone Wars, that would show a lot more of one of the most popular movie characters ever: Yoda.
For this series Yoda's voice was done by Tom Kane, an experienced voice over actor who has a very long résumé regarding work he has done for Lucasfilm.
In February 2010 I had the following interview with him. Since I am a fan of Star Wars, Yoda, and his work it was a real honor. Enjoy!
How did you get started in the voice acting business? I read that you had a fascination with voices on TV as a kid and that when you were 14 you could do any voice?
I got into it when I was a teenager living in Kansas City. I was 15, it was summer and I was bored. I knew I had a better voice than a lot of the local stuff on TV and radio because back than it was all done by (does a radio voice) the local FM disc jockey who sounded like be theretherethere’.
So I started calling local advertisers and offered my services. It didn’t occur to me anyone got actually paid for it. One day I got a call back from the American ads agency and they liked to have me donate some voice over work. I had my dad drive me over to the studio because I didn’t have my license yet and of course they walked up to him and he said ‘No, that’s the guy’. They were like ‘What?’ The co-producer got his ass whooped while the engineer was setting me up on a microphone because they rented a studio and found out I’d never done this before. I asked them if they wanted me to do the lines in some kind of accent. The producer goes ‘What?’ I said that it might sound good like the old Pepperidge farm guy. He said ‘Oh, you do that do you? Let’s hear that’. So I went (does the Pepperidge farm accent) ‘Every weekend a couple dozen Kansas City families have a couple dozen garage sales’. Anyway, they went ‘O’, recorded it and put it on the air and 5 days later I got a call from another ad agency that wanted me to do 5 commercials except it was paid and I had to join the union and here I am!
You have done voice work for Lucasfilm since the mid-nineties. How did you get started at Lucasfilm?
I got started at Lucasfilm just doing miscellaneous small parts for their video games. I guess I was actually on the very first they ever did, it was called The Dig I think. Just goofing around I would read other parts to show off. One day they were doing some TIE Fighter game. There were the voices of Yoda and C-3PO, I read them and they hired me to do them.
One of your first jobs at Lucasfilm was voicing the droid Leebo for Shadows of the Empire, which was a big project back then with books, a soundtrack, toys and a game being released. How do you look back at Shadows of the Empire?
Man, I wish I could tell you I remember all of that but I don’t. I’ve got a bunch of kids and I can’t remember what I did last week (laughs). I remember doing it but the details are lost in the mist of time.
Over the years you have voiced many Star Wars characters, from Yoda to Boba Fett and from C-3PO to Lobot. What kind of techniques do you use to come up with a voice?
I don’t really use a specific technique to come up with a voice. A lot of guys do and practice to come up with things. I just can either do it or can’t. I may massage a voice once I get going on it but generally if I can’t do it pretty naturally I don’t bother because other people can and are better at it than I am.
Your best known role is Yoda, who you voiced on various occasions.
How did you prepare for this role? Did you watch the movies a lot while trying to come as close as possible to Frank Oz’ voice?
As far as Yoda is concerned, I didn’t work on being Yoda. I saw the movies 53 times so the voice was very much in my head. Everybody tries to do Yoda, not just voice overs but everybody. I was doing stuff for LucasArts and I was goofing around and reading Yoda lines and what I didn’t know was that Frank Oz was directing a movie. They recorded it and played it for George and I’ve been Yoda ever since.
Speaking of Frank Oz, have you ever met him?
I have never met Frank Oz. I once saw him at a recording studio but didn’t have the guts to come up and say anything. So, I would love to meet him. I hope he feels I’m doing justice to his creation. I’m immensely respectful for the fact that it is his creation and I’m just caretaking it. I hope that when he hears it he’s not displeased.
You will voice Yoda again for The Force Unleashed 2 video game. Can you give us any spoilers about how the game and storyline will be?
I can’t give you any spoilers, because the secret police at Lucasfilm would have me taken out. But it’s gotta be cool obviously. It’s going to be bigger, better, faster and more intense.
You have voiced a lot of Star Wars characters for a lot of Star Wars games. Do you play these games? And which one do you consider to be your favorite?
I haven’t played many Star Wars games, frankly I haven’t got much time. I’ve got a bunch of kids and I work all day. I don’t play any games, so it’s not something against Star Wars. The kids play them all the time and I look over their shoulder. I’m pretty much in the Stone Age when it comes to playing games.
Back to Clone Wars: how does a typical work day for Clone Wars look like?
I don’t live in Los Angeles anymore so I don’t record with the cast. Usually they get together and it takes 2 or 3 hours to record an episode. Since I’m not geographically able to do that they just send me my lines and hook up with me from studio to studio and while I read my Yoda lines they record it at their end and the whole thing usually takes 15 minutes.
Clone Wars: season two is airing in the US right now. In the beginning of the series the stories were mainly aimed at kids, but it now seems that the show is getting more and more mature. How do you look at this?
It is definitely a little more mature than season 1. Obviously it was a conscious decision. They’re not trying in any way to scale it mature to the point where people don’t want their kids to watch. That’s the lifeblood of Star Wars, bringing in a new generation of padawans. They’ll never make it so mature that it’s not kid-friendly. Other projects may be different. The live action TV show may be more adult. It’s not gonna be The Sopranos.
You are directed by Dave Filoni on Clone Wars. How does he direct you and the other voice actors? How is he to work with?
Dave is a wonderful director. He’s a fan of the show, he’s an experienced competent animation voice director. We almost always agree instantly on what the right read is for a particular line. I can’t say enough about how wonderfully brief he is. He tells me what to do and what to say and he brings it all together in a wonderful little package.
How do you look at working on Clone Wars? And do you like the series?
I love working on Clone Wars. I like the series, I’m always 4 or 5 episodes behind because I try to find the time to watch, so I’m always telling people ‘Don’t tell me anything! I don’t want to know!’ It’s almost a split personality thing because when I’m working on it I’m just trying to concentrate on that as a job, to make that the best performance I can and I try to put the fact that it’s Star Wars out of my head because otherwise I get too excited. It takes 6 to 9 months for the episode to air after it’s recorded so by then I’ve forgotten a lot of it in terms of the dialogue and plot, so I get to watch it as a fan which is really nice.
When the Clone Wars were first mentioned in A New Hope back in 1977 I bet no one could imagine we would ever see this as an animated series 30 years later. Suppose someone would have said to you, back in 1977, that you were going to play a big part in this, what would you have said? And were you a fan of Star Wars back then?
Nobody could have imagined that a couple of lines from A New Hope would turn into this, 30 years later. I certainly could have never imagined that someday I would be working on a project like this and meet George Lucas, Mark Hamill and the people I’ve met over the years. It’s hard to imagine. I was a huge fan. I saw the original Star Wars probably 12 times. I took my 85 year old grandmother to see it and she loved it.
Has George Lucas visited the cast and crew of Clone Wars? What was that like, meeting ‘the maker’ and did he give you any advice?
We have all met George a couple of times at Clone Wars. I’ve met him a couple of times other than that for various reasons and projects and it’s amazing. Partly the reason it was cool because he’s such a nice normal guy. He’s such a mythic character in many ways. In person he’s just the opposite of that. He’s just a guy wearing a flannel shirt and jeans and he’s a nice regular soft spoken guy. That was a real treat, to see that he’s human. Well, ok, he was levitating 2 or 3 inches off the floor most of the time, but other than that he’s just a regular guy.
You once said that Yoda is your favorite character, so I’m not going to ask you who’s your favorite. Instead, who’s your second favorite character that you have voiced? And why?
Yeah, Yoda’s my favorite character. Next to that, probably Professor Utonium from the Powerpuff Girls because he’s a dad and I’m a dad, and Darwin from The Wild Thornberry’s because that was a great show to work on, partly because the cast was so awesome.
Suppose you had the chance to pick any character you like to voice. Which character would you choose, and why?
Well, duh! Darth Vader! (laughs) That’s the voice over gig of the century. I would only do it though if I can frickin’ perfectly nail James Earl Jones. Otherwise it would just be embarrassing.
Looking at the future: what are your upcoming projects and what would be your dream project?
I might be working on a pilot for Seth Green and I’d love to work on the upcoming Star Wars live action show. I don’t know what voice over work they’ll need, but I’m pretty sure they’ll need some droids and other stuff so I really hope I’ll get a chance at that. It’s the stuff I love more than anything.
Thank you for the interview!
(with Yoda’s voice) May the Force be with you!