Nickelodeon recently debuted an all-new live-action puppet comedy series called The Barbarian and the Troll featuring the voice of Spencer Grammer (Rick and Morty) as Brendar, the aforementioned barbarian, and Drew Massey (Sid the Science Kid) as Evan, the aforementioned troll. But there are other prolific voice actors involved with the show, including Phil LaMarr as the voice of Steve the Knight. ComicBook.com had the opportunity recently to speak with LaMarr all about the show and his role as the big armored knight with something more inside.
To get an idea of what the show looks and feels like, you can check out the trailer above, or the poster below:
Nickelodeon's The Barbarian and the Troll was co-created and executive produced by Mike Mitchell and Massey. As noted above, it stars Grammer as the voice of Brendar and Massey as Evan the singing bridge troll. Additionally, Massey is joined by fellow puppeteers and voice talent Colleen Smith, Allan Trautman, Sarah Sarang Oh, Nicolette Santino, Peggy Etra, James Murray, and Jeny Cassady. The show also features the voices of comedian Gina Yashere and Phil LaMarr. You can check out all of our previous coverage of Nickelodeon right here. And keep reading to check out our full interview with LaMarr!
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
On Steve the Knight and Voicing a Puppet
ComicBook.com: Could you tell us a little bit about Steve?
Phil LaMarr: I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say, but Steve is connected with Stacy the Owl, who you caught a glimpse of, there in the pilot.
Now, obviously, you have a prolific history as an actor. Do you approach voicing a puppet any different than your hundreds of other roles?
Not really. We're fortunate enough that they're letting us come in and add to this. Because a lot of times the puppeteers will voice characters as well. Although, in my experience, puppeteers are usually doing multiple characters. So, I think that's probably the only reason they brought us, Spencer [Grammer,] and some other non-puppeteer voice actors in, and because it's nice to get that wide palette, so the voices are as different as the puppets themselves. But from a voice acting standpoint, the only difference is you get to see what you're doing right away, as opposed to waiting nine months for the animation to be done.prevnext
On How Voicing a Puppet Works
You talked a bit about how the puppeteers will often voice the puppets themselves. So, as a voice actor, how exactly did that work for you? Were they prerecorded lines that the puppet then tried to match? Were you talking, and then the puppets did it live? How does that really work for you?
Well, it's basically sort of the same thing that we sometimes have when we do on-camera acting. And let's say there's something that's recorded that didn't sound quite right. So, you have to go back in and redo the lines you did in a scene and sort of have to match your voice to your face. But in this case, you're matching the voice to footage of the puppet. And it's a little easier to match with puppets because generally, they don't have lips. So, you get a little more leeway, but it's also great because you see the physical performance and that can really help you get a read on the line. Because you're not just seeing the words, you're seeing the attitude, the feel. And so you know what to voice.
Oh, interesting. So for your part, it's all ADR and there's scratch audio of the puppeteers to work from.
On How the Pandemic Affected His Work
I'm sure you're tired of being asked this sort of question but I have to ask it. How did the pandemic affect your work for the show? If at all?
Well, actually I don't think it would have been much different. We basically had to record remotely, but since the show was produced and shot in Vancouver and I'm in LA, I'm pretty sure they would not have flown me to Vancouver for a voice anyway. [laughs] So, in this particular case, I don't think it made that much of a difference. The only difference was in olden times, Mike Mitchell, the director would have just been on the phone and now he was on Zoom, so I could see him. So, in that case, the pandemic actually made it better.prevnext
On Getting Involved With the Show
How did you first get involved with The Barbarian and the Troll? At this point in your career are you still auditioning for these things or did they come to you?
Well in voiceover, you always have to audition, because the thing is no matter what work you've done, that someone loves, they're hiring you for a completely different character and a completely different voice. So, it's not like being a movie star where, “Hey, we want Tom Cruise to come do his Tom Cruise thing in this movie for us.” With voice acting, they always want something new, and so, it’s like, “Well, here's what I think Steve would sound like.” They're like, “That's the one, come do it.”prevnext
On Steve the Knight's Voice
As you said, you can't really tell us too much about Steve right now, but what does he sound like to you? Can you describe the voice of Steve as someone who's done this sort of thing a lot?
Well, It's interesting because what I find the most fun about The Barbarian and the Troll is that it's taking all of these medieval fantasy tropes that we all know, The Barbarian Warrior, and giving everything a spin. And in all of these stories, there's always The Black Knight or The Knight... That way that Evan is a spin on The Troll under the bridge, Steve is a spin on The Knight Who Stands Guard. And he doesn't sound like that's the traditional sound. Steve’s sound is completely different, and so is his situation. Mike and Drew have done a really great job repurposing all of those tropes into just a really funny take on everything. I mean, as you could see by looking at Brendar it's like, “Wait, is she Conan? Or is she a Disney princess?” Yes.prevnext
On Working Together and Not
You'd mentioned that obviously production was in Vancouver and you're in LA. Have you been able to work with any of the other voice actors together? Has it just been you in a room somewhere working via Zoom?
Well, because of the pandemic most, actually not most, all of my recording has been done from home. And for folks in animation, that's actually been one of the saving graces. That all of the cartoon working, the drawing, the editing, everything could basically be done at home. Not so much shooting a medieval puppet show. So, once things got safe enough, they took all the folks up there. And some of the puppeteers are people that I've worked with in the past and they're incredibly talented. So, I'm kind of sad that I didn't get the chance, but like I said, I wouldn't have any. Way when you're just doing a voice in a show with puppets; they're not spending that kind of money on you.prevnext
On Working From Home
I've done a bunch of interviews for animation over the past several months, and that is not uncommon to hear about working from home. What was your home setup like? Did you have to upgrade, are you still recording under a blanket or what does that look like for you?
No, no. I was very fortunate. I, a few years ago, just not really for any real reason, decided to just go ahead and build a studio here at the house, just for my auditions. And so when this hit, I was like, “Oh, okay, well now we've finally made that expenditure worth it.” Here's a five-year guess that has borne itself out. So, no I've been fortunate, I have a comfortable air-conditioned studio space. Although the big problem with recording from home is when your neighbors have a gardener who always seems to show up right when it's recording time.
The most common complaint I hear about recording from home is leafblowers.
Mm-hmm. Exactly. Because if you have a dog or kids, you can shut them out of the house or put them in the backyard. But somehow leafblowers manage to cut through a wall, no matter how thick.prevnext
On Working From Home Going Forward
Do you, as someone who has been doing this for years, do you think we're going to continue this recording from home set up or is it going to be a mix? Are things going to go back to normal for the animation industry, do you think?
I don't know. I mean, I think that's really more of a question for the production people, because for them it's going to come down to dollars and cents. Is it cheaper for people to record from home or would they rather pay to have the greater control of people coming into studios? That's a bean counter question, not an actor question.
Let me reframe it in an actor way. Do you feel like the lines you're recording are of the same quality? Do you feel like you're getting the same oomph out of a home setup?
Yeah. Yeah. It's actually been sort of interesting that a bunch of threads that were already in process in the voiceover industry -- the pandemic just sort of brought them together. For the last, I'd say seven, eight years, fewer and fewer cartoons have been recording actors together. Now it's become the industry standard to just record everyone alone. So, you're not getting the thing that we prefer, which is to be in a room together and have your lines bounce off each other. And so you get that organic feel. For most of the cartoons over the last five years, haven't gotten that anyway. So, when we moved to recording from home alone, that didn't change. And in terms of quality, basically that goes back to the digital wave that killed the music business. Once people realized, “Oh, sound can be transmitted quickly, cheaply and easily.” It makes no difference whether you're on the other side of a room or the other side of the country, the sound quality is exactly the same.prevnext
On Singing Knights
Given the content of the two episodes I’ve seen and given what we've seen of Evan the troll’s, Drew Massey’s, song. Does Steve sing? Did you sing in this show?
Yeah. Yeah. Well, it's funny because they established that Evan, from the start, he's got his little music jones and later, we'll, may find out that he's not the only one in this world who's down to do a song or so.prevnext
On What Makes Steve Different
Now with your background and number of roles, what do you feel is different about Steve the Knight specifically versus anything you've done before?
Well, every role is different unto itself. For Steve, I think the most unique thing is, like I said before, he's the trope of the big, plate armored knight, but the character is really not about that. He's got a whole other agenda and he's sort of a more sweet stepdad than a dragon slayer. Which I think is why he's called Steve the Knight.
Yeah, Steve is a pretty disarming name.
Exactly. Regular guy, but with a giant helmet and a huge sword.0comments
“But underneath it all, I can still just be a regular guy!”