Phil LaMarr has enjoyed an incredibly illustrious career in Hollywood. After graduating from Yale, LaMarr became a member of the famed improv group The Groundlings, moving on to star as one of the original cast members of FOX’s MADtv. LaMarr’s extensive voice work has included the animated series Samurai Jack, Static Shock, Futurama, Family Guy, Justice League, Young Justice, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. In addition to his animated voice work, he has also provided voices for a variety of titles in the video game world, like the Metal Gear Solid Series, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Injustice: Gods Among Us. On the big screen LaMarr has had roles in films such as Pulp Fiction (as the ill fated Marvin), Stepbrothers, and Manna from Heaven (which featured among its crew Film Dumpster’s own Nick Berg and Jeff Heller). We recently had the chance to catch up with Mr. LaMarr at Buffalo’s Nickel City Con:
I’m curious what your thoughts are on stunt casting, and Hollywood’s casting of someone like Ben Affleck to voice a character that someone like yourself could have done.
It doesn’t really have to do with stardom, necessarily, although I think some of those decisions are driven by stardom, and there are certain cases where they weren’t. You know, if you cast Robin Williams in something, you are not only getting his stardom, but you are also getting his performance. It’s when they make a choice that lowers the quality, and cast someone that they know is not the best choice for the role, simply based on what they perceive as marketability. That’s just dumb. That’s like saying “we’re not going to write a second draft of a script. We’re just going to shoot this one.” It’s bad business.
You obviously make a decent living doing what you do, but you’re not making A-list celebrity money to do the same job. Does that bother you at all?
Um, no, because, in television animation, we’re used to I being a scale job. Everybody makes the same. Frank Welker has been doing this for thirty years, and when he and I star in a cartoon this year together, he and I will be making the same amount of money to start. It make sense to pay someone more if you’re buying their fame. My beef is when it doesn’t make sense to buy that fame. If you’re doing a young kid cartoon, they don’t care that you got Brad Pitt. That’s not going to translate into dollars. That’s money wasted.
I think the biggest example for me was that Justin Long was cast to play Alvin in Alvin and the Chipmunks, but they modified his voice to sound like Alvin, so really anybody could have played the role.
That one is weird one, although, Justin does have comedy chops. It’s not like they took someone from Real Housewives, or something, “They have a lot of Twitter followers. Let’s cast them.” But decisions like that are made, and to me, that’s a bad decision. But if Justin auditioned, or they heard him do the part, and they said “He’s kind of funny, he’s got a good vibe, we pitch him up, it works.” If that part of the process is in there, then I’m fine with it. Chris Rock is very very funny. If you write a character around him, that’s a different thing. It’s when they make the decisions not counting the performance, not counting quality. And they do it too much, is the problem.
You work in a lot of different mediums, from TV to film to stage. Is there any one that speaks to you more as an actor?
What speaks to me most are scripts that are good. To me, quality is a genre unto itself. Pulp Fiction has more in common with Samurai Jack, then it does with a movie I did called Back by Midnight, which was a really bad prison comedy. That stuff requires more effort, and it hurts sometimes to tell bad jokes. But the stuff that’s good elevates you. You don’t even feel like you’re working, and that’s across all mediums. My favorite thing to do is something that is great.