Samantha Newark discusses the popular animated musical drama from the 80s
Jem fans rejoice! On October 11th, Shout Factory is finally releasing all sixty-five episodes of the popular animated series with JEM And The Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series DVD. This is especially cool, as a lot of the Jem Season 3 episodes have not been seen in a long time. To celebrate this awesome 11-disc set, we caught up with Jerrica herself, voice actress Samantha Newark, to reminisce about the popular series and to find out what lies ahead for this screamingly popular toy and cartoon franchise.
Hold onto your hats! Here is our truly outrageous conversation.
What happened with the third season that we only see about half of the episodes that we do in Seasons 1 and 2? And why have these Season 3 episodes been so hard for fans to get until now?
Samantha Newark: That is a really good question. I don't know. That has always been kind of baffling. Thank goodness for Shout Factory, and redeeming the rights again. Because those episodes might have stayed lost. I'm sorry, but I don't have an answer for that one! I wasn't up to speed on what happened with that. When the first DVD came out, I had no idea that we weren't getting all of the episodes. I got confused with Season 3. I knew that we had recorded sixty-five episodes all together, but I couldn't remember how they broke them down. The seasons all look the same. So, I'm not sure what the red tape was with that situation. The show had changed hands so many times. It has been a really strange journey for the Jem rights. But I think they finally got it sorted out. Thankfully. That's good.
In watching these shows, its hard to miss that the writer's name is right out there in front, in bold, underneath the title of each episode. The stories are so well written. As well written as any live action show being produced at that time. And the storylines are so adult in theme. Can you take me through the stories that you guys wanted to hit, especially with this being aimed mostly at girls?
Samantha Newark: That was the work of the brilliant creator, Christy Marx, coming up with the Jem bible. She created all of the characters. She was basically given a contract, and then she had to run with it. She had to create all of these amazing characters. The actors were hired after all of that stuff was in place, and all of the episodes were mapped out, and the storyboards were mapped out. It was the actor's job to bring that to life. I wasn't involved with any of the writing or conceptions of Jem. I was brought in when they were looking for their Jem. I came to this after that was all done.
What was the auditioning process like for Jem? And did you identify with her at the time you were recording these voice tracks? Did any of you rub off on Jem, or vice versa?
Samantha Newark: Oh, my gosh! I feel that I was cast as Jem because I really embodied her essence. I have grown up, obviously, but I was always a really good girl. I prided myself on upholding the Pollyanna archetype my whole life. That is just my nature. When I read for Jem, I thought, "What a great fit. This is so me!" The fact that she was a singer, as well...Though, I didn't end up doing the singing for Jem. But everything she stood for? She was a good girl, she didn't take any crap, and she could stand up for herself. So, yeah...
What was the camaraderie like with the other voice actors? Nowadays, they put each individual in a room by themselves. But back in the 80s, it was a little different. You guys would often record together as a group...
Samantha Newark: Yeah. We were a group. We recorded each episode as a 'recording ensemble'. We literally had a table rehearsal all at the same time, where we would come in and rehearse our script, and highlight our parts. We would sit own with the director, and look at the storyboard artwork, so that we would know what the action was in the scene. Then we would record as a group, with many people on one microphone, taking turns. Then, if you weren't in a scene for a while, you would go and sit in the green room, and try to pay attention to when they needed you back on the mic. It was awesome. You'd get such a great energy, and a dynamic between the actors. Because they are in the room, talking to each other. As opposed to saying your lines into a mic, and then mixing them later.
Probably the most unique thing about the show, which us boys didn't have watching G.I. Joe, or Transformers, is that these characters in Jem are constantly changing their wardrobe. In most weekly animated series, the characters wear the same thing, every day, for an eternity. Even as a kid, that really bothered me. Like Charlie Brown and his yellow shirt...
Samantha Newark: The Flintstones. Yeah, that is what makes them so relatable. Girls change their outfits ten million times. That was true of Jem and Jerrica. Especially since they were rock stars, and they had to go from an interview, to a music video shoot, to a concert...All of these different things. I love how they did the costuming, and drew all of that. It was really cool.
I wanted to ask you more about the writing of the show. It surprises me how adult some of this material is. I guess girls do mature faster than boys. Was it ever shocking for you to see some of these storylines bubbling up in a show that was primarily for tween girls?
Samantha Newark: It is so strange. I guess I watch it from a different perspective. I am reminiscing about being in the studio when I watch an episode. That will probably change once I have sort of relived it again. I will start to focus on other things. I think so much of the adult material was in there, and it went so far over the kids' heads, because they just don't know. They are looking at the car chases, and the fashion shows, and the rock concerts.
The one episode that sticks out in my head is where the father has died, and it's father's day. And one of the girls is trying to come up with this song about her dad, as all of these repressed memories bubble up to the surface. I sat, watching that, thinking, "God, this is pretty heavy stuff for a kids' cartoon that is supposed to be enjoyed after school...It's so profound...Most people, who weren't sitting down to actually watch the show, wrote it off as an advertisement for the toys. And there is clearly a lot more going on here...
Samantha Newark: Yeah. Right. The episodes did get diminished by the people that never watched the show. Jem addressed some pretty heavy stuff. Christy Marx talks about it in the DVD. There was a suicide hotline in one of the episodes. And they got a lot of calls. Kids that watch the show actually called the number, because they were in trouble. You never think that a cartoon is making that kind of impact. But it was really reaching a lot of people in so many different ways. Who knew?
Did you and Britta Phillips, who did all of the singing for Jem on the show, ever get together and figure out how to merge your various talents into this one role?
Samantha Newark: No. I never met Britta Phillips until 2010. I met her at a fan convention. None of the musicians, or any of the songwriters, who were all based out of New York, ever had anything to do with the animation side of it, or the voice over side of it. Which I think is totally bizarre. Now, with the social media world, and the internet, it would be a whole different world today. But we didn't have that when we did Jem. Each group was very isolated in that regard. We are only just now starting to reunite after all of this time.
Are you guys going to have a full fledged reunion? Do you ever discuss going out on the road with Jem?
Samantha Newark: Gosh, I don't know. We've had many different kinds of reunions. In the sense of having these fan conventions. Different people go out for them. I got to meet Christy Marx. I never did meet her while we were doing the show. But I did meet her at a fan convention. It has been these fan conventions, like Jem-Con 2008, that has been bringing us all back together. It would be amazing to do Comic-Con, and have a big panel with all of us reunited. Who knows what's in-store?
I am coming to Jem late as a fan. And I am a fan. I wasn't expecting to find myself so engrossed in each episode...
Samantha Newark: That is so cool. I love to hear that, and I am hearing that more often. It is a really fun cartoon that remains fun for adults, too!
I must have been nine or ten when it originally came out. I am a guy, it just didn't appeal to me at the time. I didn't want to play with a Jem doll. But now that I am watching them, I realize, it has everything that I loved as a kid.
Samantha Newark: You probably couldn't get past the theme song and the pink that was going on. You were all, "Ahhhhh! That is a girl's show!" But yeah, when you watch it, you have all of these male characters, a lot of action. It is a soap opera for kids. But hey, you only know what you know when you are that age. It makes sense that you wouldn't watch it when you were little.
You look like Jem. Did her fashion sense ever reflect on you, or did you reflect on her?
Samantha Newark: It was very serendipitous. When I went into audition, I saw the drawings of what Jem and Jerrica looked like. I thought, "Oh, my gosh! That looks just like me!" It was so weird. It didn't need to be that way, obviously. Because it was voice over work, so they never saw me. But yeah, it is weird that I look like Jem and Jerrica.
Back in the day, did they take you guys to the mall in costume? Did you ever go out and promote the show?
Samantha Newark: That's the thing. I didn't know how big the show was while I was doing it. I never did any press for the show. I do remember that they had a huge party. An opening gala to launch the show. I think Sister Sledge played. It was a big deal. They had it at the Baxter Hotel in Los Angeles. They did throw this big party for everyone involved in the show back then, but, no, we never did any press. I wish we had some photographs of us recording. We don't even have that, which is very weird. It's a moment lost in time.
What about the toys? Did you have a collection of Jem toys from back in the day? Do you still proudly display that stuff in your house?
Samantha Newark: My mom said, during the run of the show, that I should probably get myself a doll. You are Jem! So I did go get one of the dolls. It was a glitter and gold doll. Then, over the years, I have been so lucky. The fans have gifted me with dolls, some of which have custom costumes that they have made. I have three or four of these Jem dolls now. I have a nice little collection.
Has anyone approached you about a live action Jem movie? I would imagine that if they did do a live action film, you'd have to be in it in some capacity...
Samantha Newark: I would love to do a cameo in it. That would be so much fun. The receptionist at Starlight Music. Something cool. No one has said anything about a live action movie, because no one knew what was going on with the franchise. It has been a big mystery, and it still is. I know that Hasbro is revealing something to do with Jem at the New York Comic-Con in a couple of weeks. We are all waiting to see what they have up their sleeve. I am like everybody else. Just waiting to see what happens.
After the success of Transformers and G.I. Joe, and with the surging popularity in Jem right now, I would imagine they have something special planned...
Samantha Newark: I would hope that they kept some of the same writers on board, just to keep the tone of it. Who knows? I'm not sure what they have planned. I thought it would be cool if they did a really cool animated feature film, so that all of the actors could revive their roles. We're all not 85 years old, and we all still sound good. I think it would be really cool.
You still look enough like Jem, and you are young enough, I think you could reprise the role in a live action movie, if they had a comeback...
Samantha Newark: Well, thank you. That would be a lot of fun. I am still pretty young.
When it came to the Transformers, the fans really pushed, and they got Peter Cullen to come back and voice Optimus Prime. Hasbro really listens to their fan base when it comes to properties like Jem.
Samantha Newark: I think they are aware of our connection to the fan base. We just have an awesome rapport. I am sure that they are taking note of that. Who knows? I am not sure. Lets just hope they get on board with a reunion that includes all of us. Perhaps a retrospective? Maybe? They should get us all together so that the fans can enjoy it. It would be really cool.
Do you have an episode that you hold close to your heart? Or one that you think would be a good gateway drug into this wonderful world of Jem?
Samantha Newark: Oh, gosh! That is a really good question. Because I am still doing my homework. I like Out of the Past, because it delves into the backstory of Jerrica's mom. And the death of her mom. One of my favorites is One Jem Too Many, where I get to play a really obnoxious, self-entitled, horrible version of Jem that is an imposter. It is quite fun to watch that, because I forgot that we even did that. I am still catching up on the episodes, so I will have to get back to you on a favorite.
JEM And The Holograms: The Truly Outrageous Complete Series DVD arrives October 11.