The actor who does many of the voices for the series talks about the new DVD and the future of the show
Billy West has provided the voices for some memorable animated characters in his career like The Ren & Stimpy, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and Doug. He has also provided a number of voices in the hit animated series Futurama and he came back to reprise those roles in the new straight-to-DVD series, the latest of which is Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, which hits the DVD shelves on June 24. I had the chance to speak with this voice actor over the phone, and here's what he had to say.
In the past, you've turned down the chance to reprise some of your voices like Stimpy and Doug. Since you came back for Futurama, is that an indicator of how special that show is to you?
Billy West: The thing about Doug was Disney got involved. They had no interest in paying me any more money than I had made for four years establishing the character. Then they wanted me to do upwards of 12 voices per show for X amount of money and I was already living in California basically. I was just nicely trying to tell them that I'm not interested and they wouldn't take no for an answer but they would never make it more enticing in anyway. It was just the same offer, over and over again and I just said no. With The Ren & Stimpy, when that show came back, I knew exactly what they were going to do with that show, and I wanted nothing to do with it. I just didn't. If I would've put my name on that it would've been a liability, at this point.
How did you first break into the voice-acting profession? I read you were inspired by Mel Blanc.
Billy West: Yeah. All my heroes were guys like Don Messick, people like that really paved the way. I'm just really really glad that I'm able to work and do this, do exactly the kinds of things they were doing. It's very very satisfying.
In this DVD you do 12 different voices, I believe, in the new one?
Billy West: The new one? Yeah I saw it last night and in the credits that everybody does and I think a lot of people are going to be surprised. You think Maurice LaMarche just does Kif Kroker and then you see all the characters they did. That's a great opportunity and these people are at genius level. They showed Dean Harmon, who had pretty much been unsung on the show, and he does tons of incidental characters and actually this time around they show them with your name. I just thought that was so cool. Tress MacNeille, she does a ton of characters and John DiMaggio doubles up and Phil LaMarr. You got all these people that are able to do all these different voices and I think, maybe the average person is not even aware of that, the average fan. Not the rabid fans. I've been called a rabid fan, and I'm proud of that (Laughs).
I saw on the Blooperama on the special features, they had a part where they had all the voice actors working. Is that how it normally works, you guys all in the same room riffing off each other when you do your recordings?
Billy West: Yes, it's kind of like radio style. We just are able to work ensemble a lot of the times, which is really really great.
So is this done before the animation process or during or after? Do you guys get any visuals to kind of get into that kind of character?
Billy West: Yeah, everything is recorded and they put stuff together afterwards. We don't watch animation and try to match out voices, they build it around what we did, with timing and track-reading devices. It's always kind of been that way. It's just really cool that the opportunity came up to do it. It's my favorite show.
For the guest voices, do they come in with you as well or are they just separate and do their thing for a day?
Billy West: I've worked with Brittany before because I'd been on King of the Hill a couple of times and I had never met David Cross. I love what he does, especially this character that he played, the voice of Yivo. I just thought this performance was so nailed. It was just the perfect, annoying, passive-aggressive, overly-familiar, the kind of character that Greg Kinnear would play or something.
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. He'd be the back-up, I guess.
Billy West: Yeah, and there's something very psychotic about the end. It's like all is lost and he's just like, 'Oh well.' That's kind of psychotic.
Exactly. He has this kind of loveability but he's also quite demented at the same time.
Billy West: Yes. It's a really great balance.
I read that you used to do celebrity impersonations on the Howard Stern Show. Are there any that you maybe haven't used yet and might be planning for future Futurama's?
Billy West: I don't know. What I do is basically get called on to create characters, rather than impressions. I like doing impressions but I'm far more in my element when I'm asked to create them. I remember waking up in America one morning, an America that didn't give a shit about impressionists. There's only so many places you can go.
I saw on the sneak peek of the next DVD, Bender's Game, that you guys poke fun at the fantasy genre a little bit. Is there anything else you can tell us about that one?
Billy West: I can't tip that one yet. I'm busy promoting this one. If you go on the Internet I'm sure the plot is up there. The script for the movie is probably up there too.
I read that you're developing a character called Billy Bastard. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Billy West: Yeah. I've been working on it for a long time and someone takes an interest in it and it kind of dissipates because they're scared of it. I ran into a movie producer who totally got it and he was a fan of mine from the Stern show, so I think it'll be a feature. Who knows what'll happen. It's me just trying to keep looking for an activity.
Besides that, do you have anything else lined up that you're looking at?
Billy West: Well, I'm still doing lots of commercials. M&M's commercials, there's always a lot of work in that. I'm like a guest voice on lots of different cartoons where they'll call me in and I'll do a character, that kind of stuff. It's been pretty busy and I'm just very fortunate.
Are you working on the next two DVD's right now? Are they all recorded now?
Billy West: We're doing a commentary on the next one today and that'll be fun. We'll all just be in there watching it and commenting.
Will that be the first time you've seen the new one?
Billy West: Yes and I think that the DVD commentaries can be just as fun as the movie itself. Fun in a pure sense where we're just dying laughing over stuff.
I talked to David X. Cohen, once before the first one came out and yesterday for this new one. Before the first one, it seemed that one of the objectives of these was to get enough buzz to get these back on the air. Have you heard any sort of buzz about that, bringing it back to the network?
Billy West: There's this wait-and-see attitude, but I was told that this would be the one that would decide whether there would be a show built or not. It's already number 9 on the Amazon pre-order list.
Yeah, I saw the first one sold really well. I think it debuted at number 2 or 3, the first week. These are obviously big sellers so it would make sense.
Billy West: Yeah. I'm just astonished. I've been overseas, I've been to New Zealand and Australia and England and these people are just crazy about the show. I couldn't believe it, how much interest there was. There were all these people that came out to say hi, at these conventions. There's just so many sci-fi/fantasy fans. You'll notice that early on there were only one or two sci-fi conventions and now there's 20 of them that pop up all over the United States in rotation, which tells you that there's just this growing number of people who just want to take the reality they're faced with and dig into a comic book or something. Everybody's mad, everybody's depressed, cause look at what we would up with.
Finally, overall, with these DVD's and the series itself, what have you enjoyed most about working on this series and for people who aren't as familiar with Futurama, what would you say try to entice them to pick up these DVD's?
Billy West: What would I say to them? That if you're a fan of the show, then, God, there's so much here for you. It was worth the wait.
Well, that's about all I have for you. Thanks so much for your time, Billy.
Billy West: My pleasure. Thank you very much.
You can find Billy and his multitude of voices and more when Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs hits the DVD shelves on June 24.