Two of voice actor Josh Keaton's major roles right now couldn't be any more different from one another: on the one hand, you have space cop and pilot Hal Jordan over in Green Lantern: The Animated Series, and on the other, you have his regular role as Jack, the teenage sidekick to the Earthbound Autobots in Transformers: Prime. But in a recent e-mail interview with Keaton, the actor told MTV Geek what made these two characters tick, how one of them shared a lot of similarities with a certain wall-crawler Keaton has voiced from time to time, and even teased a new video game project with Activision (please tell us they've found a way to make a sequel to Maximum Carnage!).
MTV Geek: With a season of Green Lantern under your belt, how do you feel like your handling of the role of Hal Jordan has changed or evolved?
Josh Keaton: Well since I've started I've had the benefit of brushing up on my GL lore through some comic book reading as well as a season's worth of GL: TAS scripts to see how he reacts to a ton of situations. This story info has definitely helped me understand Hal better as he's very different from me so I wasn't able to pull a lot out of my personal experience. I grew up nerdy, scrawny, playing video games, and getting picked on. Hal would have been the dude that intervened when I was getting hassled in the locker room.That "guy's-guy" self assuredness, his game with the ladies, as well as the sheer squareness of the dude's jaw were all things I wanted to make sure my portrayal put forth. On that last note, the placement of my voice in that more adult place is much easier for me now; after several years of pretty much living in a teen mind/voice it was more difficult than I would have thought. I've also started talking like Hal all the time because I think I sound a lot cooler.
Geek: When was the moment when the character clicked for you?
Keaton: Reading "Secret Origin." The insight into his family life is where I connected to Hal's motivations and was able to make them real in my own head. The image of Hal showing up to enlist on his 18th birthday in his dad's flight jacket even at the risk of disownment is burned into my brain and is the core of my Hal portrayal. This guy will do what he thinks is the right thing to do. Regardless of the outcome or the sacrifice.
Geek: A full 180 away from Hal is your role as Jack on Transformers Prime: how does he contrast with your other regular gig in terms of characterization and finding the right voice/personality for him?
Keaton: Jack is similar to Peter Parker in that he has a single parent figure, a teenage life with its issues and problems, and is all of a sudden thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The difference with Jack is that he has no superpowers. His first reaction? Stay the hell away from the things that will (might) kill you. Self-preservation and wishing for a return to blissful ignorance would be the ultimate goal. Extraordinary events, however can cause people to do extraordinary things and in this case, the cynic rises to the occasion. I patterned his portrayal after how I, myself would react in this situation. Well, how I hope I would react. As for the voice? It's pretty much how I sounded in high school.
Geek: Has working in CG allowed you any more flexibility in terms of your performance? It’s obviously a little easier to correct in the edit than traditional animation.
Keaton: I haven't really noticed much of a difference, but that's because we record the dialogue before any of the animation happens. For the actors it's pretty much the same process.
Geek: Having played superheroes in the past, was it all easier or difficult to find his voice? Along the same lines, is there any kind of character you have a particularly affinity for?
Keaton: Jack kind of is a superhero, just without powers. He deals with alienation from a "normal" life and secrets that govern his life which he's not at liberty to share with anyone. But the courage he must have in order face these new challenges and live as a "squishy" among bots, some of which are trying to pretty much destroy humankind - that's pretty superhuman if you ask me. I suppose I like playing superheroes because I love exploring what they're like behind the mask, and not simply what they're about when they're kicking ass.
Geek: When approaching these characters, what do you draw more from in terms of reference: the design, the script, personal experience?
Keaton: Yes, yes, and yes! Character designs are important but not always necessary. There's obviously an instinct that kicks in when you look at a sketch of a character - I can quickly imagine what he sounds like to me, much in the same way I have a "voice in my head when I read the comics." The design isn't always essential, however; it's really just a jump-off point. The script and character descriptions are usually more useful in creating a character; they give you the insights that the writers have into the character, story context, sometimes their history. And of course personal experience. My instincts will always be dictated by my own experience, but they don't always help me when I'm playing a character that's markedly different from myself because my instincts are not necessarily their instincts. That's why I'm always watching people (non-creepily of course) - everyone I come across in life IS a character and for those roles that I come across that are nothing like me they give me a wealth of stuff to pull from.
Geek: You’re a regular go-to guy for Activision when it comes to their Spider-Man games (following his role in the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, he's played Peter/Spidey in multiple games featuring the character). What kinds of conversations do you have in the booth do you and the VO directors have about capturing the character? Or at this point, do they kind of give you free reign?
Keaton: I guess it's kind of free reign (cause THAT's not a contradiction). Obviously I'm bound by the dialogue and the overall arc of the story so most discussions and direction adjustments would take place if I needed more context on a scene or where it is in the story, but in terms of actual scene performance, they let me do my thing and take it from there if anything needs to be changed.
Geek: What else do you have coming up?
Keaton: A couple of pretty big video game projects but I've signed my life away and can't disclose much else about them. I'm also going to be guest starring on an episode of Scooby Doo, (I can't begin to tell you how awesome that is), I'm back out auditioning for on-camera roles, and I was just interviewed for a new documentary John DiMaggio is producing called I know That Voice!
You can catch a new episode of Green Lantern tomorrow morning when it airs on Cartoon Network, and Transformers Prime airs regularly on the Hub.