By Jukka Issakainen - May 2012
Michael Donovan was the voice of King Randor in the 2002-2004 He-Man series by Mike Young Productions. He also was the voice-director for the show.
Because 2012 marks the 10th Year Anniversary for the cartoo-show, here is an interview with Mr. Donovan!
Can you tell us about yourself?
Well, my name is Michael Donovan. I live with my family in Los Angeles, California. Very much into living a healthy lifestyle ... Good food, no junk food ... love the outdoors ... and I love what I do for a living!
How did you get into voice-acting business?
Kind of a strange way. I worked as a radio announcer for many years. I worked at a radio station back in the early 80's. I was doing afternoon's (2-6pm) and for some reason this day was bored at the same old stuff.
So I created a little 'character' voice to put on the air. I recorded him in the studio so I could play it back when I was on air. That created some interest with the people who were listening ... so I started to do it on a regular basis.
I called him "Herbie" ... and he became a regular on the show. In time I found I could create other characters, which appeared on the show. When I moved back to Vancouver in the late 90's, I shopped around these characters that I had created and got an opportunity to audition for a cartoon show that was happening in Vancouver.
I didn't get onto that show, but the next show I auditioned for I got on to. The show was an NBC show called, "Captain N: The Gamemaster". I played the voice of the "Eggplant Wizard". It was actually very similar to the voice I used for "Herbie". From there it sort of snowballed ... and I was cast in many more shows. So far, I've done hundreds of cartoons.
I understand you are also a voice-director, was it a "next step" for you in the business?
No next step ... I'm focusing more lately on getting back to my roots ... voice acting. But I still direct. I just finished directing the 26 episode series, "Ninjago" for Lego. It's doing very well.
What does a voice-director do?
The voice director is like the captain of the ship. It's my job to work with the producer to get the actors to produce the very best performance for the show. My job is to make sure what's written on the page, get's recorded properly, so the animators can then animate the show ... all the way to the finished product. Then after animation is complete, there might be changes to dialogue etc ... my job is to get the actors to again perform to the best of their ability to get the show done.
Did working on the He-Man cartoon differ from your past experiences?
No, we handle each show the same way. Of course, the dynamics of the show always differ. He-Man was what I call a "Live action" cartoon. It differs from working on a more "Cartoony" type show.
What is your best / worst memory from the He-Man recording-sessions?
Actually, as I recall it was all good memories. When recording a session there really are no bad parts. What I remember from the sessions is that I had a producer who was great … and actors that were equally great! What more could you ask for?!
Has an voice-actor surprised you in a recording-session (any show you've been involved in)?
The actors are constantly surprising me. When we get into session we have a script … and I have an idea of what I need from them. But more often than not, the actors will bring their own spin to their characters. Sometimes what they try doesn’t work … but most often, they’re ‘take’ on their role has insight. Many times we go with what they’ve come up with. They know they’re character better than anyone!
Do you prefer recording-sessions with most/all voice-actors in the same room?
Yes … definitely! We do animation both ways … together as a group and separately when doing ADR (Automated Dialogue Replacement – Dubbing). Having all the actors in the studio together gives them the chance to really ‘act’. It’s like a radio play. They feed off of each other’s energy. It’s really the only way to record!
Did you see any episodes of the classic He-Man cartoon by Filmation Studios?
Yes, they were great! So I knew that the bar was set high when we started to do the casting for the 2002 series we did with Mattel.
You have worked before with some of the voice-actors on MYP He-Man. Were you in charge of casting?
Yes, I did all the casting for the series.
Were you given information that Randor and Keldor were supposed to be brothers and did you work this subtext into your role as Randor?
Yes … I was given a series “bible” … with all the info pertaining to the different story arcs. When I was cast as Randor, I was very much aware of the of the relationship between these two characters. Sort of the story of one brother gone bad … while the other brother tries to reach him … but to no avail.
Stratos had a very distinctive accent, making him sound a bit Sean Connery with the scottish-voice. Where did this idea come from?
A lot of times, when you have so many characters, the voice actor will bring something to the table that we all look at each other and say, “Hey … I like that!” That’s what Scott McNeil did. Scott does so many characterizations that we thought it was a good separator from his other roles.
Skeletor's voice is very close to the original performance by Alan Oppenheimer. Was this intentional from the beginning when handling auditions?
Definitely. We had many actors trying to reach that area of performance. We had a lot of good auditions … so it was hard to make the final choice. Ultimately, Brian Dobson was seen as the best for the role.
He did a great job! When did the casting-calls begin for the cartoon?
That was quite a few years ago … but as with any cartoon show … the casting starts long before the show starts, so the Producers and the people that need to hear the auditions don’t have to rush. I’d say we started casting 1-2 months before recording started. Initial plan apparently was to only make a pilot-movie.
When you got asked to come work on He-Man, was it still only planned as a movie at that time?
That’s usually the case. The Producers want to make sure the show is well received before they put out the millions of dollars it takes to do a big series.
I recently interviewed Gabe Khouth and he said that while it was great being voice the of Orko and Mekaneck, a dream for him would have been voicing He-Man. Were there many voice-actors that auditioned to play He-Man?
Yes, we had quite a few. It was nice to get Cam, because not only did he have the ‘lighter’ side of his voice for Adam … he was also well suited to give us the ‘big voice’ of He Man.
Was there always a plan to have one voice-actor play the dual role of Prince Adam/He-Man?
Yes, it cheaper that way.
Do you know if any of the old voice-actors from Filmation were contacted for the new show (even as a cameo-voice)? John Erwin (He-Man), Alan Oppenheimer (Skeletor), Lou Scheimer (Orko)?
No, unfortunately none of other actors from the first series were contacted, because the new series was done under the umbrella of a Canadian union.
How did the process go in deciding who [existing actor on the show] would voice new characters, like Lord Dactys the leader of the Speleans (bat-race)?
As we needed new characters, new auditions were held. Sometime we used existing cast, but usually with main characters we have new casting sessions.
Gary Hartle is credited as the director for all of the episodes. Did you guys work together in getting a clear direction for episodes with the tone or anything else?
Gary was there in the studio for the first pilot episodes. I don’t think he was there for all the shows. Ian Richter from Mattel was the guy who was always in the sessions. Gary and him spoke regularly and Ian made sure his wishes were carried out.
How was it working with MYP/Mattel on the He-Man cartoon?
It was one of the best experiences I have had. I worked closely with Ian Richter, who has since become a good friend. Ian is now at Dreamworks ... but as a producer, he was very supportive ... and fun to work with. As it was with all the cast and crew. Good memories!
Thank you for this interview, Mr. Donovan!
Thank you Jukka!