While Tom Kenny was doing the rounds as a stand-up comedian in Hollywood, a casting director for what was then the Hanna-Barbera studios approached him after his set and asked if he had ever thought of doing voices for animation. “Only every day of my entire life,” was the answer, and before long, Tom Kenny became one of the ubiquitous voices in American animation. Among roles far too numerous to count (probably even for the IMDb) has been the actor behind such iconic characters as Heffer on Rocko’s Modern Life, the Mayor on The Powerpuff Girls, Eduardo on Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Zilius Zoxx on Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and the Ice King in Adventure Time. But perhaps his biggest claim to fame is being the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants on Nickelodeon’s long-running smash-hit TV series, which has spawned numerous spin-offs in video games, merchandising, amusement park rides, and now two feature films, with the first movie coming out in 2004 and the second, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, getting released to theaters in February of this year and available now on DVD and Blu-ray disc.
Toonzone News got a chance to talk briefly with Tom Kenny via telephone to talk about the second time around as SpongeBob for the big screen.
TOONZONE NEWS: My first question is about the voice actor “behind the scenes” DVD bonus feature. It looked to me like what you guys were doing the ADR rather than the main recording sessions. Is that right, or was that just staged for the featurette?
TOM KENNY: Yeah, it was. We do both recording and ADR with the movie and the TV series, but obviously the biggest difference is theĀ gestation period in the basic cable ghetto. Even something as popular as SpongeBob doesn’t get a free pass to ignore your deadlines, so you always have got to be feeding the monster. It’s kind of a runaway train all the time. At least in the recording process with the movie, we were able to take a little more time and revisit scenes and tweak scenes in way more microscopic detail than you have the luxury for in basic cable animation. But whether in TV or the feature, you record your voice tracks based on the storyboard, and then they animate those to your voice recordings. There’s always stuff that comes back where the lip flap is a little off, or they decide to change the line a little bit or something like that. So I think they were doing the EPK when we were doing ADR.
TOM KENNY: You know, it’s funny, I would say the majority of people think that. (Laughs) For the movie, we had more time to finesse the scene, so you record it and then come back a week later and it’ll be the exact same 2 pages with just a couple of words changed. And then you come back and it’ll be the same scene with a couple of other words changed or a joke added or Mr. Krabs says something instead of Squidward. It’s a luxury that you totally don’t have in the world of basic cable animation, where delivery dates are everything.
TOONZONE NEWS: Related to that, in an interview for the last movie with NPR, you said there’s tons of times where you’re driving home and you go, “Oh, I just thought of the perfect read for that one thing!”
TOM KENNY: Yeah, and that doesn’t just happen with SpongeBob for me. That happens with everything. I’m like Mr. “D’oh!” Homer Simpson has got nothing on me (laughs). I do tend to over-think everything (laughs), probably more than most voice actors. As I’m leaving, I’m always going “Gaaah!” It kind of lingers in my brain for a little while.
TOONZONE NEWS: Did you find that happened less in the movie recording sessions, since you did get a chance to go back and record the same scene again? Do you feel that you can really give a better performance or feel more comfortable about it?
TOM KENNY: Well, I don’t think it’s a case of a better performance because the one thing that doesn’t change is that SpongeBob and Squidward and Patrick are still themselves. That’s true no matter what the running time is or the medium is. The characters are the characters are the characters, and so whether SpongeBob is being SpongeBob in a theme park attraction or in a video game or a TV show or a big-budget feature like Sponge Out of Water, personality drives everything. It’s character character character.
My approach is always the same, to just try to be SpongeBob and interact with characters in SpongeBob’s world as SpongeBob would. (laughs) It’s funny to talk about playing it real when you’re talking about the insanity of Bikini Bottom, but you’ve got to keep it real within the rules and laws of hyper-stylized cartoon rhythms. If anything, it’s just that you get to finesse the comedy of it a little longer, which is kind of a double-edged sword. Sometimes, your first instinct really is the best, and sometimes not. It is good to be able to get to revisit stuff a little more often and a little more leisurely.
TOONZONE NEWS: What’s next? I know there’s Adventure Time and more SpongeBob, and the new YouTube series you’re in.
TOM KENNY: Yes, Talking Tom and Friends. Definitely the first show that I’ve ever done based on a phone app (laughs). “Hey, this phone app would make a great show!” Actually, though, that’s not true, because I’ve done Angry Birds Star Wars. That’s done out of Finland, but I did it long-distance by phone. It just randomly happened that the guy who was leaving the studio in Finland while I was talking to them by phone in Hollywood was the guy who does the voice of SpongeBob in Finland. We actually had a great conversation, and then he came to the States while we were recording the movie, and he dropped by one of our recording sessions. That was kind of neat! But Adventure Time is ongoing, and I’m Doctor Octopus on Ultimate Spider-Man, Clarence is in production on Cartoon Network and there’s a rebooted Powerpuff Girls that’s just beginning recordings. Miles from Tomorrowland just started recording its second season for Disney. I’m sure I’m leaving out some things, but that’s kind of my week generally, these days.
And, of course, thanks to people supporting the Sponge Out of Water movie so well at the box office, thanks to the fans that still have so much love for SpongeBob, SpongeBob SquarePants rolled into a new season with me as voice director. That’s kind of a new thing for this season, where I’m directing other actors in the booth. That’s kind of fun, a different hat to wear. I did some voice directing on Skylanders video game commercials and stuff, but had never really done a series. It was never really an aspiration of mine, but they said, “We want to use somebody within the show who’s familiar with the characters and things. We don’t want to bring in an outside voice director that we have to school about everything.” So I said, “Yeah, OK.” And it turns out that I really, really enjoy it, so that’s kind of new for this season. I would guess that they’re probably thinking about a follow-up to Sponge Out of Water. I sure hope they are! (Laughs)
So all kinds of stuff going on. And then the usual weird little jobs that nobody even knows are me, which are kind of fun. You know, “It’s America’s Most Trusted Brand,” a lot of that kind of macho stuff that nobody would think, “It’s the SpongeBob guy doing that.” Every day is different. You just get into your car and you just drive around and do all this crazy stuff, from wacky cartoons to just straight-up promos. And it’s a blast. I love it.
Toonzone News would like to thank Tom Kenny for taking the time to speak with us, and to Alan Meier and the Paramount PR team for arranging the interview. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is available now on DVD and Blu-ray disc; read Toonzone’s review here.