Did you know that voice actor Kevin Michael Richardson has played Bill Cosby on two separate animated shows? I’m sure that had to factor in somehow in his casting as Panthro in the new ThunderCats series, as the character makes his return after the fake-out in the series premiere two weeks ago. In addition to his new gig as the smoothest ThunderCat, Richardson has a regular role on The Cleveland Show as sensitive nerd Cleveland Jr., American Dad! as the occasionally sinister Principal Lewis, with various other ongoing parts in series like Young Justice and Transformers: Prime.
We spoke to Richardson yesterday about getting the role of Panthro, “getting” the character, and how easy it is to forget just what character you played a couple of months ago because you’re playing so many at one time.
Also, Richardson wanted to be sure to give a shout out to his old school friend, Steve Corey—Steve, if you’re reading this, Kevin says “What’s up.”
MTV Geek: What were your thoughts when you got handed the role of Panthro?
Kevin Michael Richardson: I was excited, man. I remember getting finished off of a gig in the Valley and my agent called and said, “By the way, you’re Panthro,” and I was like, “Oh, wow, cool!” [laughs]
I was very excited to hear the news, man because you never know with directors and producers what their choices are going to be anymore. They go in so many different directions that you never know. So I was just really glad to get that.
Geek: What do you think it was about your performance that convinced them? I’m gonna throw this out there: you’ve got that silky, deep voice, so that might have been part of it, right?
KMR: Yeah, that’s it. [laughs]
I don’t know, man. I just tried to approach him with gravitas, with some wisdom and it just kind of came out. It came out of me when I took a look at the audition dialog and I think it just felt right. And I was just excited even to have the opportunity to audition for him, you know? So, it just worked out. I don’t know what to tell you, man—it worked out.
Geek: Obviously, there was the appeal of being a big franchise character, but for you, personally, what drew you to playing Panthro?
KMR: Well, first of all, he was one of my favorite characters. I mean, I must say, I love looking at Cheetara, I think she’s really sexy and all that stuff, and Lion-O, of course, with the sword is badass. But Panthro stood out for me because he seemed like not only a strong badass, but he was kind of cool, you know? He was like the cool cat. And he drove the ThunderTank, which was badass. So just the whole idea of playing this guy was way beyond me. It’s kind of like living a dream, actually.
Geek: When you said that about the tank and everything it kind of conjured up this image of Panthro as the guy always hanging out in the garage, fixing the car.
KMR: [laughs] Right. But didn’t you like him for that? I mean, I liked to listen to him and kind of chuckle when he was saying stuff to WilyKit and WilyKat. He was like “big brother,” no pun intended.
Geek: What did you take away from Earle Hyman’s take on the character back in the 80’s? [Funny bit of coincidence: Hyman played Cliff Huxtable’s father on The Cosby Show. Just thought I’d put that out there.--CW]
KMR: I tried to… well, no, I didn’t even want to try to that, actually. But what inspired me was just to respect his coolness—just keep his cool. However, this Panthro does have say, slightly more of a temper. I think he can be a little less levelheaded than usual. But he definitely has heart, and he’s definitely no b.s..
So, I really didn’t try to take anything away from the original. The only thing I wanted to do was respect that Panthro’s cool gravitas. I hope that makes some sense.
Geek: Could you tell us a little about the character’s introduction in this week’s episode?
KMR: I’m not supposed to, but he enters when they need him the most. And you’ll definitely see that ThunderTank. The episode deals with Lion-O encountering a species that only has a 24-hour lifespan. I don’t want to spoil the plot for you there, but the young one is played by Atticus [Shafer, the young star from the sitcom, The Middle]. It’s a really well-done, heartfelt episode.
And then, Panthro makes his entrance to save the day when things get really heated up, because these guys get to be really deep in the s**t there. And you’ll see that, of course, too.
Geek: And you’ve got another tough guy role in Kilowog in Green Lantern: The Animated Series.
KMR: Oh, yeah, right.
Geek: How many episodes are you guys through at this point?
KMR: We just completed the first season, so right now we’re doing ADR for that.
Geek: And what the difference in how you approached Kilowog versus how you approached Panthro?
KMR: Well, Panthro, he’s this really cool, big badass cat that lives in the jungle—he has this gravitas and he’s more like, say… he’s definitely going to have one-word answers, and he likes to be to himself. Kilowog is sort of like the “Brooklyn Brawler from Outer Space,” [laughs] if you will. But Panthro has this delivery of [puts the deep bass into his voice] “Everything’s going to be alright—listen to me and just don’t say a word. Sit tight.” Whereas Kilowog has this [adds higher pitch and a gravelly element to his voice] “Alright, guys, are we gonna do this or are we gonna take all day, or what?” You know, this big, boisterous, gravelly, rough, tough guy—he’s a drill sergeant who just, again, another no-nonsense character. He’s a little more edgy and less patient—he just wants to get things done. And he’s rough, really rough and gruff around the edges, too.
Geek: Are we going to be seeing more of the space-based action or will it be focused more on Hal on Earth? Will we be seeing a lot of your character throughout the first season?
KMR: This will definitely be “space-based”—I like that term. And you’ll definitely be seeing some Kilowog. Definitely a good amount of him, yeah. If it’s too much Kilowog, then it’s bad thing, right? So, you’ll get a nice dose of Kilowog.
Geek: And I don’t know how much you can talk about this with the show still in production, but you have the role of Robbie Robertson in the new Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon.
KMR: Wait, who did I play?
Geek: I saw in your credits that you played Daily Bugle employee Robbie Robertson. Was that wrong?
KMR: Oh, jeez Louise, and I forgot who I played. Yeah, I think they brought me in for—that was the name they gave me?
KMR: Man, I don’t remember! [laughs] I remember meeting Drake [Bell, who’s playing Spider-Man and Peter Parker in the series] and recording and they had me playing one of the Wrecking Crew guys and somebody else, but I must tell you I do not remember.
Geek: Oh, wait—who are you playing in the Wrecking Crew?
KMR: Oh lord, no, I don’t. I just remember it was one big guest on there—I think it was a couple of episodes—but I did a guest. But I don’t remember, please forgive me! [laughs] I don’t remember what I played, and the sad thing is, I’ll only remember once it comes on and I hear the voice. I’ll go, “Okay, that’s the guy!” And my kids are really good at picking up the stuff that I don’t remember doing, too.
So, again, man, this is part of the problem, I guess, of doing stuff all over town, you know what I mean?
Geek: I completely understand. I mean, I’ve heard your voice on so many different shows over the last few years, I can see where it might get easy for you to lose track.
KMR: Yeah, and it’s sad, because Spider-Man is really cool—definitely one of my favorite heroes.
Geek: What about the Seth McFarlane stuff? The new seasons of The Cleveland Show and American Dad! should be coming up pretty soon, right?
KMR: Yes, I just did the table read for them and The Cleveland Show this morning, and it’s looking pretty funny. Seth, of course, is a genius at what he does. They’re tackling some funny issues in this episode, so what we read today was hysterical, basically dealing with Stan and Francine’s sex life. [laughs] And they’re asking Principal Lewis for some advice about how to improve their situation, but that’s all I can divulge there at the moment for you!
Geek: So that means we’re going to see more of Principal Lewis: Marriage Counselor?
KMR: Yeah, kinda sorta. He’s just trouble, man. Principal Lewis is freakin’—he’s just a can of trouble! No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
Geek: What else are you up to right now?
KMR: Well, we’re really excited about The Cleveland Show, I’m doing Transformers: Prime, I’m playing Bulkhead in that; we’re wrapping up The Penguins of Madagascar where I play Maurice—there’s only like a handful of episodes left, maybe like five episodes left of that. Green Lantern, Kilowog, we wrapped up the season and I guess we’re waiting for it to air shortly—I guess within a month or two. Is there anything else I’m forgetting? Oh, there’s The Old Republic, the Star Wars game—I narrated that, and I played the lead hero in that. We’re excited about that, too.
I just worked and got a little loopy when I got in, so I’m not as sharp. And I’m also turning into an old man, so bear with me!
Geek: Well, I want to thank you for taking the time out to talk to us and sharing everything you’ve done so far. And I know I’m looking forward to your appearance this week, and I’ll bet our readers are too.
KMR: Oh, yes, give a big shout-out to everybody and thanks for watching. And my buddy Steve Corey, I miss you and love ya, and I hope you and your family are well.
Panthro returns on this week’s episode of ThunderCats, “Song of the Petalars," -- airing this Friday, August 12th 8:30/7:30c on Cartoon Network.
Check out some preview video clips below!