Star Wars: How Tales of the Jedi's Corey Burton Gave Count Dooku his Dark Side Origin Story (Exclusive)

Last week, Disney+ debuted its latest work of Star Wars animation, six shorts collectively called Tales of the Jedi. The shorts have proven a hit, receiving universal critical acclaim. Half of those shorts focus on Count Dooku, revealing missing pieces from the prequel trilogy saga as they chronicle the Jedi's fall to the Dark Side of the Force and eventual defection to the Sith. It's a story that helps bring new depth to Qui-Gon Jinn's former master and Yoda's former padawan that helps illuminate Dooku's character by the time Christopher Lee plays him in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

But it isn't the late Lee who voiced Dooku in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That was voice actor Corey Burton, who reprises the role in Tales of the Jedi. had a chance to speak to Burton about Dooku (and his other major Star Wars villain, Cad Bane), touching on defining the character outside of Lee, giving him this origin story of sorts, and whether there are more stories to be told with the character. Here's what he had to say:

(Photo: Image Group LA / Disney via Getty Images/Disney+)

In Tales of the Jedi, you get to come back and play Count Dooku again. What was your first thought or reaction when they came to you and said, "Hey, we got some Dooku stories we're writing for these shorts. How do you feel about coming back?"

Corey Burton: I said, "Well, okay. When do you need me?" Now, was it already pandemic when I heard it? Yes, it was. But I said, "Yeah, just send me the stuff and let's do it." And I've been working with Dave [Filoni] since, what, we started two years before Clone Wars, I think, with auditions. I auditioned for so many characters, and I ended up -- well, Dooku I had done in a game, at first, as a soundalike for Christopher Lee. It was before, actually, Attack of the Clones came out. So I've been doing the character for many, many years.

I was surprised that we would get a view into Dooku's roots, his early life because you always wonder, where does that character like that come from? What was he like as a youth? And how did he become such an evil menacing, duplicitous character? [In Dooku's voice:] "Yes. I will compliment you and make you feel right at home whilst I stab you in the back and steal everything you've ever owned."

You've mentioned how Tales of the Jedi goes back to Dooku's roots. This honestly feels like the most on-screen development the character has received, whether in animation or even in movies, because he's already fully formed by the time of Attack of the Clones. When you read the story and saw that arc for him, what did you think of it? Were you surprised, or more like, "No, that checks out. That's exactly what I figured happened"?

When I play a character, especially a comic one or a character from one of these great franchises or collections of stories, anthologies, and such, as an actor, I try to only know what my character knows. Part of it is laziness, but I don't want to know what the character doesn't know, just in case there's a hint of nuance in delivering a line that might telegraph that he knows what's going on somewhere else in the galaxy with other characters that he wouldn't know about. So I'm as naive to the things that the character wouldn't know as the character would be. So I really only know from that character's vantage point, and I tend to forget the story arcs when we're in production. Most often we don't even see the other scenes that we're not in because of spoilers. But I don't want to spoil it for myself too, because I'm a fan also. I like to be surprised along with the rest of the audience. But the opportunity to play more of his life, to go back in time to before he became the fully evil Darth Tyranus, I was excited to play a different dimension of the character, to play all the dimensions, from young to mature. 

Whenever I'm working with Dave and these incredible people with incredible writing and I know it's going to be a masterpiece on the screen, I just do what they give me. So I get lost in it all. There are some days I've played five, 10 different characters in a day for various projects. I'll be totally involved in the universe of one set of characters and storylines and then have to just toss that all aside and dive straight into another universe, playing a totally different character. And it could be something very silly, a kids' show, or it could be an incredibly subtle and nuanced, avant-garde bit of cinema, whatever. I'm an all-purpose utility voice man as they used to call us. I'm an old radio actor. Just hand me the script and let me go.

You mentioned that you first played Dooku in a video game as kind of a Christopher Lee soundalike. Do you find that the more you have played him, and now coming into Tales of the Jedi, that element of them wanting you to sound like Lee has faded a bit and it's become more about you defining what the character sounds like? Or has that remained?

When we went into full production on Clone Wars, Dave, at the beginning of the first official episode recording, he said, "Well, George [Lucas] said that he's done with the movies and this is Star Wars now, and you are officially the characters now. So play it as you feel."

And of course, we always work with the wishes and feelings of the writers, the director, the producers. And basically, each recording session is its own thing that's just dedicated to living in that story as that character. So once you've got the character's sound locked in, you forget about all that and play the character. You let the words of the writer flow through you. And I always think of it as from the mind of the writer, the writer's hearing the character's voice in their mind, I see the words, I hear it as it came from their mind and then enhanced, augmented, filtered through the mind of the director, and that's usually Dave.

Having watched those three Dooku episodes, I found myself almost surprised by how sympathetically they present Dooku. He sees all the problems with the Jedi that end up dooming them well before the Jedi even get a hint of it. Did you find that you were sympathizing with him throughout these episodes?

Even the most monstrous of characters, they don't think of themselves as a monster. They always think there's a purpose, a higher purpose, even if they're committing a heinous act, that it's for the good of everyone. And then of course, if it's a narcissistic, selfish character for their own benefit as well, but sort of like a stern teacher would say, "For your own good. I'm destroying you and everything you own for your own good."

So yeah, in his mind, he's magnanimous. He's bringing order to the galaxy. He's not an evil supervillain. He's not intent on doing anything that doesn't serve some grander purpose.

Since this is back when Dooku was still at Jedi, we get to see him interacting with other Jedi in ways that we don't in Clone Wars. We get to see him playing against Mace Windu and young Qui-Gon and Yaddle. How did you find this experience of playing against those characters? If not the actors, assuming you didn't record together? ... assuming you got to play with the actors? 

No, No. We don't get to, No. These are all done modularly. But then again, it's all because acting for animation is radio acting. I'm trained as a radio actor. And even when we are working together in the same room, I don't see the people that I'm working with within my line of sight. I'm looking at the script, of course, and following the director, but in my mind I see the scene laid out from that character's vantage point. It's one of the reasons I don't particularly care to look at or be seen performing a character's voice because I want people to see that character because I don't look like the character. I don't behave like them. My face doesn't move like theirs.

So it's all the same, whether or not they're in the same room or not. We will sometimes hear snippets of their dialogue to play off of, but just seeing the lines or hearing them, it's virtually the same when you are in the scene, because I'm in the scene, so to speak. My whole focus is within that scene. When I work with other actors, they so often aren't like their screen characters, so I don't think about them when we're performing together as if they were appearing as themselves in the scene. I hear and see in my mind's eye only the characters.

Did the experience of playing Dooku as a Jedi in Tales of the Jedi feel very different from playing him in the Clone Wars? Because on my end, as a viewer, the Tales of the Jedi episodes have a very different atmosphere and tone from Clone Wars. Was it different on your end, or is that just in the final product?

It did of course, because it was in the dialogue itself, playing the light side of him because everybody's a complex individual and it was nice to be able to play him as before he became a dark and menacing character. I figured, "Well, all that gets stripped away." He's no longer a looming presence, but it's in there. It's the potential, and so playing him more in his development stages, as more naive you might say, or not necessarily naive, just more youthful. I wanted to feel, how did he express himself when he was a more lighthearted individual before he became driven by more grandiose, dark, narcissistic desires?

We know where Dooku's story ends. Given that you've now gone back and given him a beginning, almost an origin story, do you feel like Dooku's story is complete? Or do you think there might be more opportunities to tell stories with him down the line?

I think he's such a complex character. As with any character, even a seemingly simple character, there are always more layers. There are always sides to that character. You may think everything about a certain individual, and then you see them with their puppy or kitty or operating a water pump that they don't know how it works or something and getting frustrated. There are always more aspects than are on the surface or in any one particular setting, so there's always more to discover, I think.

Star Wars: Tale of the Jedi is streaming now on Disney+.