Whether you’re an avid animation fan or a casual cartoon viewer, you’ve no doubt heard the work of Tom Kane. The versatile and very much in demand voice actor is the new voice of Yoda for the animated movie and TV series Star Wars: The Clone Wars, as well as numerous video games based on George Lucas’ space opera. He was also the voice of precocious monkey Darwin on The Wild Thornberrys, and has lent his golden pipes to such popular shows as Duck Dodgers, Disney’s Kim Possible, Ben 10, Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends and Robot Chicken, among many others.
A father of six, Kane recently got to lend a fatherly touch to Marvel’s Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark for the Marvel/Lions Gate direct-to-video feature Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow, which comes out on Sept. 2. He’s also providing the voice of Marvel villain Magneto in the upcoming series Wolverine and the X-Men, scheduled to debut on Nicktoons in January. We recently spoke to the recording-booth superstar about his career and the opportunity to help bring a very different vision of Iron Man to the screen.
Animation Magazine Online: How did you get into voice acting?
Tom Kane: I’m a little different than a lot of the guys because most people, depending on the area of voice over work they do, either started off as disc jockeys and turned into commercial announcers, which I am, or they come to it from being an on-camera actor. I actually started doing voiceovers when I was 15 years old. By the time I’d gotten out of high school, I’d probably done a hundred commercials, and by the time I’d finished college I’d dome about two to three hundred. But I’d always wanted to do cartoons. My mom tells me that when I was only three or four, my grandfather, who was from Germany, would be sitting there watching a Kansas City Chiefs football game and cussing at the TV in German every time a player would drop the ball or something, and I would repeat what he said. My grandfather would laugh and say, ‘The kid’s got a pretty good German accent!’ Apparently, I just had a knack for mimicry. I grew up in the golden age of TV reruns and I like to say I got my dialects that way. I got my Scottish from Scotty on Star Trek, my French from LaBeau on Hogan’s Heroes and stuff like that.
I started doing commercials locally in Kansas City, but as soon as I got out of college I knew I wanted to do cartoons and there was only one place that existed and that was Los Angeles, so I moved there and promptly failed miserably. I got signed by an agent who thought I could be the next big cartoon guy because they listened to the demo reel I put together. It’s a good problem to have, but immediately I started landing lots of other work as a voiceover guy for commercials and promos for networks like NBC, ABC, FOX and Disney Channel. I got so successful at that so quickly that my agent sort of forgot that the reason I came out to L.A. was to get into cartoons. I auditioned for a number of things over a number of years and didn’t really land anything. I kind of gave up on the idea that I was going to get somewhere as a cartoon guy.
As happens sometimes, as soon as you give up on something it falls into your lap. I got a request for something from Klasky-Csupo on Nickelodeon. It was The Wild Thornberrys and I was auditioning for the role of Darwin the chimpanzee. I worked up this voice that was kind of cross between Roddy McDowall and Jonathan Harris. I went in and started doing the reading in front of all the producers’Arlene Klasky and director Charlie Addler are there on the other side of the glass with all the producers. I get six words out and they’re like, ‘No, no,no,no,no. It’s not supposed to be British. Tim Curry has already been cast as the father, Nigel, and we don’t want two Brits in the main body of the cast.’ So I tried to do the think I’d worked up minus the accent. In some cases you can do that and in others you can’t. Five times a year I get some hapless ad agency person saying they want me to do John Cleese, but not British. And I’m always like, ‘Well, that’s impossible.’ So I did the character without the accent and it just sucked. I started to walk out and turned around and said, ‘Let me at least do it for you.’ So I did it, they were laughing and I got the part. One thing led to another, and suddenly, I’m on cartoons all over the place.
AMO: Had you done a lot of superhero stuff before?
TK: No. I did the original Iron Man cartoon. I was the character Homer, which I think made his first appearance in the second season. I was also Doctor Doom in a couple Spider-Man cartoons, and I did some other villains in bits and pieces for other cartoon series, but not a lot of superhero stuff. I have four boys, so any thing I do that connected to Marvel or any of the superheros makes me a big hero at home.
AMO: Being Iron Man a few years ago wouldn’t have been as big a deal as it is now. He has always been one of the somewhat marginalized Marvel heroes, but now he’s one of the big ones with the success of the Paramount movie.
TK: I always use my kids as my live-in focus group. They watched the Iron Man cartoon I did years ago and they liked it, it was okay. They weren’t head-over-heels about it because they were more into Batman, Superman and the other chatacters who had big super powers. They went and saw the Iron Man movie that just came out and now they’re fans. They came back just bubbling. My 16-year-old son said that what’s so cool about Iron Man is he’s human. He’s using technology to do this stuff, but he’s one of us. And I think that is part of th appeal of the character. He’s not from Crypton and has not been given his gifts through the situation he finds himself in, but he goes out and makes it. I think the timing and the success of the feature film is definitely going to help this project.
AMO: Did you get a chance to help create the character for Next Avengers?
TK: No. The instances are very few and far between where a voiceover person does get to direct or guide and help develop the creation of the character. The producers and directors are very clear on what they want and the reason they picked me is I already matched what they wanted. With this show, the thing I think I brought to [the role] that may have given me an edge is that this guy, more than probably any time Iron Man has appeared in print or onscreen, is fatherly. He’s a father in this show. For Tony Stark, that a completely radically new thing. He’s like the perpetual bachelor. Having six kids, I was mentally putting myself in that mode, and maybe that helped.
Read our early review of Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow here [www.animationmagazine.net/article/8664], and read more about the making of the movie in the October issue of Animation Magazine.