Ricky Church chats with Adventure Time and Futurama’s John DiMaggio…
For anyone who has watched cartoons or played video games, you are very likely to have heard one of the many voices of John DiMaggio in at least a few things. DiMaggio has had quite an extensive career in voice acting over the course of 30-plus years. Some of his most famous roles include Futurama‘s rude and loudmouth Bender, Adventure Time‘s happy and laid-back Jake the Dog and the gruff and bad-ass Marcus Fenix from the Gears of War video game franchise. He’s also supplied his voice in two of the live-action Transformers films, Teen Titans Go!, Halo Wars 2 and the latest Spider-Man animated series as well as Matt Groening’s new Netflix series Disenchantment. Needless to say, the list goes on and on.
As the Fan Expo convention begins in Toronto today, we got the chance to chat with DiMaggio about his various roles, including Bender and Jake, what it’s like to team up once again with Groening and the upcoming series finale to Adventure Time. Check out our interview below…
Ricky Church: You’ve provided your voice to hundreds of projects of various genres, from TV to video games. How do you keep things fresh for all these different roles?
John DiMaggio: Prescription drugs. No, no. It’s all fine-tuning. If you just listen to what the director wants, what the character bible wants, then you can find the place that’s different from where you started or that’s different from something else that you immediately get compared to. I think there’s always something that you can hear someone in. There’s always a little thing that you can tell who people are and of course you can lose yourself in a role and in a voice, but there’s always something. I think across the board that people just do that. Just listen to the direction and play it from there.
RC: Two of your most well-known roles are Bender from Futurama and Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, two characters who are drastically different from each other.
JD: Sure. If you were to throw Marcus Fenix into that mix, that would be the trifecta of different sounding voices from places! Yeah, totally.
RC: So what’s fun about playing Bender and Jake with their differences, personalities and characteristics?
JD: I think the fun thing about the both of them is they’re really able to say what they want. Bender being rude and Jake being able to say something true to the moment. I think that freedom is really a joy that I get to play in these characters. They always get the opportunity to say what they want which I think is great. It’s fantastic. I’ve been real fortunate with a lot of characters that I get to play. You play one you get to play them all I guess (laughs). “He’s good at that so we’ll just keep him in that zone”. But I think that’s the big thing between those two guys.
RC: Now you just mentioned Marcus Fenix. I’m a big fan of the Gears of War games so first great job on the series!
JD: Thank you!
RC: Secondly, unlike so many of your other roles, Marcus is a much more stoic figure, but one with hidden depths to his character with how he feels towards his friends and family. What do you find special about Marcus Fenix and is there anything about the upcoming Gears 5 that you’re excited for?
JD: Well I’m just excited that the game keeps going. I never imagined when I booked the gig as Marcus Fenix that it would last this long which is a really great thing. Thank you to all the fans of the game and showing such an interest and creating an avenue for all these stories to be told not only within the video game franchise, but in the novels, adult comic books and stuff like that. It’s a trip! I’ve just enjoyed playing Marcus because he’s such a badass and it’s a bit of a departure from what people normally know me for, but its cool. It keeps people guessing about what I can do which is kind of nice (laughs).
It’s a great bunch of people, first at Epic and now at The Coalition. Rod Ferguson is a fantastic guy and he runs a tight ship. Cliff Bleszinski is another great one and he graciously let it go and the guys at Coalition have been fantastic in what they’ve done with the game. It’s a great bunch of people. Great cast, great crew, what more can you ask for? Playing the character is a lot of fun because I get to inject levity at certain places that normally wouldn’t have levity and still maintain a total badass point of view. There are just little Easter eggs here and there in the game that we’d be playing around in the studio and everybody was on the floor laughing and say “We’re going to use that somehow because that’s great”. You can’t not use it. We’ve just had so much fun with Gears and I’ve played the game and I love the game and it’s just a great franchise to be a part of.
RC: Awesome! Now you’ve worked on one very famous Matt Groening series Futurama as Bender which we discussed a bit and now you’re part of another Groening series on Netflix called Disenchantment. What’s it like to be working on another Matt Groening series, re-teaming with him and where do you find the inspiration for King Zog?
JD: First of all, being on Futurama was a big deal for me and getting to work with Matt was an even bigger deal. When you work with somebody that long, I’ll go to bat for him any day of the week. Honestly, being able to make the boss laugh just makes me feel I’m in the right place as far as what I’m doing in my life. He’s really one of the most brilliant people. Great guy to work for, great guy to perform their stuff for and also to collaborate with. He’s really something and when you work with somebody for that long you kind of develop a shorthand and the inspiration for King Zog came from what me and Billy West [Fry from Futurama] used to do, we used to do the tube bar takes. I don’t know if you want what tube bars are, Google them, tube bar. There was a tube bar in New Jersey in the 70s and it was this old guy, an ex-boxer that ran this bar, and this band that played there which he banned. So the band, in retaliation, prank called the bar for about a year and they would make Red, the owner, answer the phone and go – [puts on different voices]
Band: Hi, can I speak to a guy named Sal?
Band: Yeah, Sal Lami
Red: Salami, eh? Salami, phone here! Salami!
It was just unbelievable and then when he figures out they’re screwing with him, he loses his mind and goes on just the filthiest of diatribes.
RC: Kind of like Moe in The Simpsons too!
JD: Yeah, that was exactly the inspiration for Moe and Bart! That whole exchange. So basically, at the auditions for it I did a kingly sort of voice with an English sort of flair and I got the job and went to the table read and Matt pulled me aside and said “Just do Red”. And I said “Okay, got it” and went from there. It was a wrap. It was just something and that’s been the way since. It’s been really amazing. And it’s all Matt. Everything, the whole thing, like sure, I do the character and contribute, sure, absolutely, but Matt was the guy that went “Do that voice because I know you can do that voice because I’ve worked with you before”. It was something that just fell into place and it’s been really beautiful. I’m glad people are enjoying Disenchantment. It’s a really wonderful show.
RC: Nice, that’s good! Now a person favourite role of yours is The Joker in Batman: Under The Red Hood.
JD: Oh, thanks!
RC: Yeah, awesome job on that role! It sounded like you took a lot of inspiration from the various sources of The Joker and just melded them into one being.
JD: Actually my favourite Joker is Cesar Romero in the Batman ’66 show. I just went in and there was maybe a little bit of that, but that was about it. The Joker was just like, they said “You gotta be evil. Evil as hell” and I was like “Okay”. It was Andrea Romano, voice director extraordinaire, and she helped me and it was like “Okay, I gotta be this guy”. I don’t think I pulled anything from any other Jokes except for maybe Cesar. That was about it. But it was a blast. I really enjoyed playing The Joker and I’d love to play that Joker again because it’s that Joker. There are many Jokers, it’s like playing Hamlet or Macbeth, it’s one of those kind of roles. I’m just glad Mark Hamill liked my Joker. That’s all I got to say about that. He came up to me once and said [puts on a Mark Hamill voice] “John, I really love what you did with that. It was really great, I loved it.” I was like “Thanks man, please tell your fans to take it easy one me!”
RC: Now one final question. Adventure Time’s final season is going to end in a couple weeks. How do you feel about it ending and is there anything you can tease for the final episode?
JD: There’s nothing I can really tease, but it’s one of those things. All good things must come to an end. It will be sad to say goodbye to Jake, I kind of already have. I probably won’t be watching. I don’t know, I’ll record it, but I don’t know how much I really want to watch the last one. I watched the last episode of Futurama and that really bummed me out. I think that I’ve kind of said my piece to the show and it’s a beautiful character to play. Jake the Dog is really just an amazing character and it was a lot of fun with a lot of ups and downs to it, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The episode is going to be great. There’s a final song by Rebecca Sugar that will blow everybody’s minds.
RC: Awesome! Thank you very much for speaking with me John and looking forward to your future projects!
JD: Thanks, I appreciate it and I’m looking forward to coming up to Fan Expo! It will be fun!
Thank you to John DiMaggio for taking the time to speak with us. He will be at Toronto’s Fan Expo Saturday, September 1st and Sunday, September 2nd.