Dee Bradley Baker is a voice actor who has made an impressive career out of bringing personality to some of the most popular animated characters on television and in movies and video games. If you watch a show or play a video game, chances are Baker is in it voicing someone or something. I had the opportunity to talk to Baker about his role as the voice of all the clones for "Star Wars: The Clone Wars." He is practically the only actor voicing most of the characters in a new four-part clone-centered story arc that is beginning this week.
Does it ever get confusing remembering which of the clones you're voicing?
When we start out with the script. I usually need to review it with (Supervising Director) Dave (Filoni) who has all this much more clearly in his mind than I do who is who and where they stand. It's actually becoming increasingly easier. We can actually go straight through the story now. It used to be that we'd do each one separately straight through. Now we're able to just go straight through a scene and then I can make the adjustments for each clone. There's a lot of it in the "Umbara" arc you're going to see.
Tell us a little bit about what we can expect from this upcoming story arc with the clones?
This is the most intense, remarkable, and difficult of the clone arcs so far. I don't usually get this involved personally with the characters I portray. This one in particular was difficult because of what the clones have to go through. It was hard to go back down into it. They're in extremely difficult situations and there are many issues including butting heads with their commanding Jedi, which is not Anakin Skywalker in this case. They're handed off to this other Jedi. It's an extremely difficult fighting situation. It's a "Black Hawk Down" type situation almost. Things don't go well at all in the war. They go just as badly with their commanding Jedi and that's a very big problem. A lot of them start dying. They don't agree with the way their campaign is being waged and they eventually have to take matters into their hands. This is very unusual and goes against their programming, especially for a guy like Rex. It's a very unique storyline. We see Rex have to grapple with this kind of an issue.
How different was your workload for this four-part "Umbara" story arc from your normal voicing duties for the show?
It's similar to the three-part Domino Squad arc from the first two openers of last season and then the "Rookies" episode. That's kind of a three-part arc. This is a four-parter and it's mostly all clones. It's a lot of work just vocally. It's mostly me. It's even more difficult and challenging because of what these guys have to go through. It's not just training or trying to sort through a difficult attack on an outpost or anything like that. This is in the middle of a large battle under extremely unfavorable circumstances with a leader whose style and agenda are very different from what they're used to working with. It's extremely difficult for them. There are different directors for each episode but the second part of the arc was directed by Walter Murch who did the sound editing for "Apocalypse Now" He's in the feature realm. He coined the term "sound design." He's a brilliant guy. He's very exacting and specific about what he wants. We had to do many retakes where we would record and then work it out. He'd go back, listen to it, and look at what they had put it together. He'd decide it needed to be a little bit different here, needed to be this level of presence, and this kind of emphasis. I had to keep going back in to fix these lines and it was not pleasant. The work, though, certainly pays off when you see the final arc. It was't necessarily vocally rough. I don't mind doing retakes but going back to what these clones had to go through was uniquely challenging for me. I really feel for these guys and felt bad for what they have to go through. That's not to say it's all bad. There are some really great heroic moments where you see the clones being what they're good at. They're not just well trained and physically primed but they're also flexible, smart and they have a sense of humor about things even in the face of danger. There's a part of the story where they break off and solve an issue at hand in a fun way. You're totally with them and it's very heroic and absolutely marvelous. It's as good as any heroic clone moment that we've made so far in this series.
Every time an actor from "The Clone Wars" is asked a question about the show, you come up as their favorite voice actor. It seems like no one has anything bad to say about you. Why do you think that is and how does it make you feel?
It's really wonderful to hear that. This last year in 2010 when I started going to a few more "Star Wars" conventions and Celebration I really started to get a better look at the range of people that love these clones. You have not only young and old fans of "Star Wars" itself but you also have families that really connect to it. I've had military officers from Afghanistan come up to me, thank me, and tell me how much their guys love this show and what it means to them as soldiers. It really gave me an appreciation for this. This show has really humanized these guys and put their plight in three-dimensional terms that people connect with. I think they love the clones because they're human. They're not super human. They're not Jedi. These guys have many advantages in terms of their genetics and training. They're humans and mortal and because of their acts of heroism are sometimes more deeply felt. They seem easier to connect to because they're human just like we are. It's gratifying to see the degree to which these people connect to the clones. It's a wonderful thing.
Can you share with us a little bit about Jedi General Pong Krell?
He's a Jedi general whose extremely tough and by the book. He doesn't particularly think much of clone. He has his own style and his own strategies. The Jedi have been pretty good working with their clones. They have a working relationship with them even though they are in charge of them by rank. There's stuff that starts going down with Krell. It's just something we haven't seen before with a Jedi general. The hard thing is it's understandable with this particular front of the war. This planet of Umbara is uniquely challenging and uniquely difficult in Krell's view. It requires really harsh actions and strategies. The unique aspect is the difficulty of the clones coming up against their commanding Jedi. That's something we haven't seen before. We've seen a traitor in the midst of the clones. We've seen the Jedi dealing with the clones in difficult situations. We've seen the clones alone in very difficult situations without a Jedi to help them out like in "Rookies." In this situation, they come up against not only the war but also their commanding general. That makes it kind of an epic story. It's a four-parter and it's like a movie. It's quite remarkable.
Who were the biggest influences on you as a voice actor or actor in general?
You have to refer to Mel Blanc as far as voice acting. This sort of project isn't something that Mel Blanc would have been hired to do. I might be wrong on that but he didn't do a lot of straight-ahead stuff. There wasn't a lot of straight ahead stuff going on back then. As far as actors are concerned, I remember where I was and when I heard that Peter Sellers had died. The reason was because of two movies that I saw him in that really affected me. One was "Being There" and the other was "Dr. Strangelove." The thing that really struck me about "Dr. Strangelove"and resonates with me now is here's this guy who is doing three roles and I didn't know that the same actor played them all until after I had seen the movie. That really knocked me out. In a sense, that is a version of what I have to do vocally in a more subtle way. Not only with "The Clones Wars," but also on a day-to-day basis as a voice actor going from show to show and doing extremely different projects that are different in tone for a completely different audience. I'm just trying to deliver the best performance that I can. In a way, I think of Mel Blanc but I also think of Peter Sellers.
Is there anything else you want to share with "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" fans before we conclude?
I just say enjoy it. I wish you could see it on the big screen as I have. It plays like a movie. It's a new level of what this show can do and where it's going with the clones. I can't say enough about it. My involvement with it aside. I don't take all the credit for it. It's a team effort with the great writing, Dave's (Filoni) directing and George's (Lucas) great vision that he puts into this show. It's a spectacular new depth and shows what this is becoming. I'm very proud to be a part of it.
For more articles by Eric Shirey, check out:
Actor Clancy Brown Talks About Voicing Savage Opress for 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars'
Eric Shirey is the founder and editor of Rondo Award nominated movie news websites MovieGeekFeed.com and TheSpectralRealm.com. His work has been featured on Yahoo! Movies, Yahoo! News, Yahoo! TV, Associated Content from Yahoo!, DC Comics, StarWars.com, KISSOnline.com, and other national entertainment websites. Eric has interviewed and worked with actors like Harrison Ford, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Gerard Butler, Brooke Shields, Brendan Fraser, Michelle Monaghan, Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Gene Simmons, Ashley Tisdale, Selena Gomez and many more.