Ubiquitous voice actor Maurice LaMarche on Futurama, Pinky And The Brain, and more
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The actor: Maurice LaMarche was a successful stand-up comedian until the ’80s, when a family tragedy, depression, and a burgeoning career as a voice artist prompted him to shift his focus. Since 1980, he’s taken on hundreds of cartoon, commercial, and film voices, from Destro on G.I. Joe to Yosemite Sam on The Looney Tunes Show to Toucan Sam in Froot Loops ads. He can currently be heard in a wide variety of roles on Futurama, which begins its seventh season on June 20.
Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (1990-1991)—“Zoltan”/“Tomato Guy”
Maurice LaMarche: Everybody else in the cast had seen the movie. I had not. My experience of John Astin was just this very friendly— probably one of the first celebrities I had an ongoing reason to spend time with week to week. We just hit it off. He’s the kindest, sweetest man. What I remember is the people I meet. For the audience, the memory they have of [an animated] show is the drawings that move. Mine is, “How much carpet was on the wall in the studio? Was it a darker studio, or one of those more brightly lit studios? Do they use a lot of wood? What kind of mics did they use?” That’s the kind of thing I remember: Who sat where and who told the dirty jokes. But what I remember about that is John Astin’s extreme kindness. We became friends and discovered we have the same birthdate: March 30. I’ve lost track of him. He’s moved, and he’s teaching theater at a university back east. We used to speak every year on our birthday. Also, what’s significant about that show for me is, that’s where I met Rob Paulsen, who went on to be Pinky in Pinky And The Brain and so many other things. He’s so prolific, it’s amazing.
I remember, because I hadn’t seen the movie, having to come up with two voices on the fly. There’s this guy named the Tomato Guy, and all he ever does is, every time he sees a tomato, he says, “Tomato!” and I thought, “Well, what does he look like?” And they showed me a picture, and he was kind of nebbishy, so I immediately thought Woody Allen. I just infused him with a Woody Allen voice. Then Zoltan looked mean and cranky, and I was a fan of Taxi at the time—still am—so I saw Louie De Palma, Danny DeVito’s character on the show, so I gave him [De Palma voice] kinda a gruff thing like this, the way Louie De Palma talked.
And working with [voice director] Stu Rosen, who worked very… He had a sort of ability that made the actors all band together, let’s just say. He had a way of creating camaraderie by setting himself in a somewhat oppositional role, because he had something snarky to say about just about everybody. It was never mean. It was just, he always had a comment. And he smoked. He smoked in the booth, and that was back in the days when you could smoke almost anywhere. And I remember watching him smoking a cigarette, eating donuts, and the engineer’s face turning greener and greener. Which wasn’t as bad as Ralph Bakshi. Ralph Bakshi came into your booth and smoked next to you. I worked with Ralph on Cool World, but Ralph directed by coming in the booth with you and standing 5 feet away from you and smoking cigarettes into your face. And depending on your character, antagonizing you, or making you just say things over and over again, or telling you you were a genius—whatever came to him. But he blew cigarette smoke for the whole thing.
Cool World (1992)—“Superhero Jack Deebs”/“Vegas Vinnie”/various
ML: I walked into one of the last days, and we were doing a looping session, and I was following in this kid wearing one of those loose ski caps with stripes on them. Very much a grunge Seattle kind of thing. He turned around after he was done and I was next, and I thought, “Hey, good-looking kid.” And Ralph goes, [gruff Bakshi voice] “Maurice, this is Brad. Brad, Maurice.” And I was shaking hands with the young Brad Pitt. But it was one of those things where you didn’t know, “Oh, I’m shaking hands with the next big thing.” He was a nice kid, a little bit quiet. “How you doing, how you doing?” And that was it. And he left, and I stepped in. I ended up playing the superhero character Gabriel Byrne turns into, and I actually did end up dubbing the cartoon version of Brad Pitt, and doing it more cartoony, because at the time, Brad was very low-key. But it’s that moment where you say to yourself, “Why couldn’t you have thought he was the next big thing? Why didn’t you just shake his hand and feel some sort of glow or warmth?” That [operatic choir effect] “AaaaAAAAh, aaaaAAAhh?”
I remember Ralph was extremely creative, and he did like a lot of what I did. Which meant kiss of death, I never worked with him again, but everything I did—it was the first time he had encountered me with my little bag of tricks. [Bakshi voice.] “That guy’s a genius. That guy’s a fuckin’ genius. You know what, don’t stop recording. Do not stop recording. Just record everything this fuckin’ guy says, because he’s a fuckin’ genius.” And so that was my experience of Ralph. I remember at the time being naïve enough to think, “I’m in this guy’s next six pictures. This is fantastic.” Kiss of death. When they call you a genius, you’re done.
Animaniacs (1993-1998)/Pinky And The Brain (1995-1998)/Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain (1998-1999)—“The Brain”/“Squit”/“The Godpigeon”/various
AVC: Speaking of that “this is the next big thing” glow, have you ever walked into a recording booth and thought, “This project is going to be a gigantic, humongous hit?”
ML: I had that with Pinky And The Brain. By the time we recorded the first, which was basically just Rob Paulsen and me—it was the Jeopardy parody, where Brain goes on Jeopardy to win the money to build his device that will allow him to take over the world. I remember turning and looking at [Paulsen] and saying, “This was great. This was really a cut above.” We just said, “I hope they do more of these.” And we didn’t know how many little parts of the Animaniacs anthology Pinky And The Brain would be—we thought it was supposed to be six episodes spread out over the season, and it took on a life of its own and spun off into its own show. And 18 years later, I still get two or three mailed requests for an autographed picture of Pinky and The Brain a week.
AVC: How did you feel about being asked to return to that character over and over for new spin-off shows?
ML: Oh, I would definitely kill to do—well, not kill, maybe maim. I would maim to play The Brain again. I just loved to work with Rob Paulsen and actually do some new Pinky And The Brain. It was for me and for him, in terms of that chemistry, the crowning experience of my work. Okay, I’ll use the “c” word: career. And to get to play two characters like that—it really is that chemistry, that give-and-take between two people, that’s the thing that’s so satisfying as an actor. I tend to think of myself as a guy who just stands in a rooms and flaps his gums into a microphone and collects a check, but I guess there are times when I’m actually acting, and Pinky And The Brain was one of those, where I played a relationship, where I really felt like he became Pinky and I became Brain.
I would visualize the cartoon while we were reading, and it wasn’t just lines on the page. And we realized on a level, we were playing the love between these two characters—of course, Brain can’t show his. He’s so guarded. But we realized these two characters love each other, and that’s the most important thing about any relationship on a television show. Phil Rosenthal always said, “You’ve got to make the show about love.” When he was creating Everybody Loves Raymond, he would say, “I’m making this show about love.” And in its own way, I would say Pinky And The Brain, it’s about love.
The Real Ghostbusters(1986-1991)/Extreme Ghostbusters (1997)—“Dr. Egon Spengler”
ML: I certainly got to work with a lot of ectoplasm, and it’s very gooey. It’s extremely gooey, and that’s fun. No, working on Ghostbusters—it was a built-in hit. When we heard they were making a cartoon show based on Ghostbusters, and Ivan Reitman was involved, and Michael C. Gross, and Joe Medjuck, the guys who produced the film, I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to get this.” And it was a huge call. I remember walking into the casting session, and there were 30 people in the room, and there were 10 chairs. But the only two guys that were up for Winston were Ernie Hudson and Arsenio Hall. I knew Arsenio from stand-up. We were both working at The Comedy Store at the time. I looked across the room, he looked up at Ernie, and then mouthed to me, “What the F am I doing here?” [Laughs.] I just shrugged and was like, “I don’t know. Go do it anyway.”
AVC: And then he got the Ernie Hudson role, and Ernie Hudson didn’t.
ML: And he got the part! I don’t understand! But I love Arsenio, and always have. We were so thrilled. Here’s two comics from The Comedy Store working on this thing. [The producers], I remember distinctly them saying, “Don’t do impressions. I know a lot of you guys do impressions.” And they didn’t know me from Adam. It was only my second series. I’d only done the chief on Inspector Gadget prior to that. “Well, a lot of you guys do impressions, don’t do impressions of any of the Ghostbusters.” Michael C. Gross came out and said that, and I was like, “I’m screwed. I have no ideas besides that.” Egon doesn’t look like he sounds any other way. I looked at the model sheet, the drawing of the character that’s the visual bible to what the characters looks like, what he’ll move like, what his expressions will be. And they had that there for us, and I said, “I can only hear Harold Ramis. I’m screwed.” I go in, and it’s the only thing that comes out of my mouth. I try a sort of [extremely weedy nerd voice] a poindextery voice, and I’m like, “That’s not him. I just can’t do it.” And I get in the booth, and Gross goes, “Go ahead.” And I wind up doing my best sort of globble-bubble Harold Ramis, and they went, “Okay, thanks a lot.” And that was it. They’re like, “Did you have any other ideas?” And I said, “No, not really.” “Okay, thanks.” And I went, “Well, screwed the pooch on that one. Forget that. I did the exact opposite of what they told me to do.”
And then I got the call, and I was like, “I got it?” And Michael Gross said to me, “We know you were just doing a Harold impression, but you know what? We figure one guy has to sound like somebody from the movie to anchor it, so you’re the guy.” And I got to do like a hundred-and-something episodes of that show, and it was another chance to work with Frank Welker, who I had just come off of working on Gadget with. And he taught me everything. Frank, without me paying for a single lesson, Frank was my mentor and my Jedi Master of voiceover. He taught me everything about the technique and working this thing. I was just a stand-up comic at The Comedy Store, doing impressions. He molded me, just the little gentle hands from the next chair over, into a voiceover actor. And didn’t charge me a cent for it, and didn’t say, “I’m your teacher.” In my mind, he would become a bumper sticker: “What would Welker do?” The only thing I haven’t got down that Welker does is showing up on time. Frank is 10 minutes early for every job, and you can count on it. You can count on me to be five to 10 minutes late. You can set your watch by me. I don’t know why. I cannot get anywhere on time. I’m terrible that way. It’s my one flaw.
AVC: There’s an interview where Frank Welker talked about how when he went in to do the original animated Transformers, they showed him a table with all the Hasbro toys and said, “Pick which ones you want to do, then figure out how you think their voices will sound.” Has that ever been your experience with a TV show? Toy-based or otherwise, where they just say, “Pick who you want to do, then figure it out from there”?
ML: I can see people doing that with Frank. Well, of course, that’s what you do with Frank Welker. “Who do you want to be?” He’s the George Clooney of voiceover. Like, “What part do you want in this, George? What part do you want in this, Frank?” He probably picked them up and looked at them, and “Rarr rarr rarrr!” I can just see him vocalizing with every one of them, and then everybody’s probably saying, “Oh my God, he does everything.” That’s never happened with me. I’d probably freeze, as opposed to Frank, who’s completely free with it. But that’s why he’s Frank.
Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law (2001-2007)—“Fred Flintstone”/“Apache Chief”/“Inch High Private Eye”/“Quick Draw McGraw”/“Yogi Bear”/“Speed Buggy”/“Doggie Daddy”/“Wally Gator”/“Droopy”/“Atom Ant”/“Magilla Gorilla”/various
AVC: You played a lot of classic cartoon characters on Harvey Birdman. How did that come about? Did they audition you for individual voices, or ask which ones you could do and write them in, or was there another route?
ML: Well those guys, Erik [Richter] and Michael [Ouweleen], they created such an atmosphere of, “Let’s just spitball and make each other laugh.” And we would screw around for half an hour before getting in the booth, just talking out in the lounge area, or going into the control room and just going over the script with our feet up, and it was like real creative, get the creative juices flowing before we even started. Erik and Michael would say with a character, “By the way, he’s Fred Flintstone filtered through James Gandolfini. So do the Alan Reed version of Fred Flintstone, as opposed to the Henry Corden Fred Flintstone.” I was like, “These guys are hip. I like them.” Alan Reed was the deeper actor, and as much as I like Henry as a person, Henry took over and kind of did a caricature, just the yelling version of what Reed would do. But Alan Reed had a whole quiet side to him, and he could be deeply warm. He was a real actor. And so when we got to do it, that note of, “You’re seething, but it’s all contained inside”—I just had so much fun with the idea of Fred Flintstone if he really did want to kill someone. Michael and Erik spun everything as though it was in the real world, and they gave him a real-world flaw.
Hanna-Barbera cartoons were my childhood, so they were in my wheelhouse anyway. I’d walk to school doing those characters in grade school. People thought I was this weird kid, the outsider kid, but I certainly had a lot of practice [at classic characters], because I went into my own little world doing cartoons. I say to the kids of today, “If you see a kid like that walking to school right now, be nice to him, ’cause he’s going to grow up to do cartoons your kids will love.”
Futurama (1999-2012)—“Morbo”/“Kif Kroker”/“Orson Welles’ head”/“The Hyperchicken”/“Horrible Gelatinous Blob”/various
ML: I’d worked on The Critic, and that was as close as I thought I’d ever get to the creative team behind The Simpsons, working with Jim Brooks on The Critic. I thought that was my shot at prime time, and it lasted two seasons. It was nice. They called me and said, “Now Matt Groening’s doing his own show called Futurama,” and I was like, “Well, I can’t get that lucky, to get another prime-time show.” I walk in the room, and it is Matt Groening doing the casting, along with David Cohen, and they literally, without handing me toys or sculptures, they handed me every character on the show. And I did what I could with them, and of course Billy West got every character on that show. [Laughs.] But they liked something about me. I was not in the pilot, but I did come onboard from episode two. And I remember wanting it so badly, and I remember the interview going well, and making everybody laugh. But not much else. I was so intimidated by Matt. Here I was with this juggernaut, who had changed the face of television, who literally turned television from what it was in the ’80s into what it was at the close of the ’90s.
Out in the waiting room, they had a ton of celebrities, people from sitcoms and that sort of thing. And I thought, “Well, I’ve got no shot here.” But I decided to go in, and I took the advice of Mike Binder. Mike Binder told me early on after he had some success as a director, he said, “Don’t worry about whether you’re good.” He said, “If you go in there hoping to be good and hoping they’ll like you, you’re going to be bad because you’re involved in your ego. You’re going in there to help them. And if you’re not the guy, help them have a fun day before you get out of the way so they can find the guy they’re looking for. But always be service-oriented. Think about that as you’re helping them.” So that’s what I brought into that. We just riffed and had fun. And I walked out thinking, “Well, I’m not going to get that. One of the sitcom stars that’s out in the waiting room is going to get that.” So when they brought me in in episode two, I couldn’t believe it.
It’s an incredible ride, getting canceled and coming back, doing the movies, having the movies wrap, going, “That’ll be it.” And then we come back to our sixth season, and now seventh. And tomorrow, we’re going to do the very last episode of season seven. We don’t know, it could be our last episode ever. It’s possible. Certainly the show’s never been more popular. I think we’re above 21 million Facebook likes right now. But one never knows when the ride will stop, so I’m always grateful at the end of the season. And the way the production schedule works, they don’t have to tell us whether we’re coming back until December. So we’ll have a little party—I can’t tell you how many final wrap parties we’ve had. And we’ll probably have another one, and then we’ll go, “I hope we get to do this again. See you guys later. Bye.”
But it’s been incredible. These are the cleverest scripts I’ve ever gotten to work on, and I’ve been lucky enough to have some nice character arcs. And I was lucky enough to get an Emmy because they wrote such a rich story about mid-life crisis by plugging this tertiary character, Morbo, into the center of the story. And throwing in Orson Welles’ head in a jar just for comedic good measure. That ended up being a sort of tour de force for me, and I ended up with an Emmy. But when you tell a story about a mid-life crisis by giving it to an alien overlord… [Laughs.] The streams of that just are hilarious.
AVC: Given how flexible you are with voices, how often have you been on a show where they write something specifically for you, like your signature Orson Welles impression? Or for that matter, where they have a new character and hand it to you because you’re there? How often does being on the set mean you just constantly get more work?
ML: Well, the Welles thing, especially, I’m known for. So it’s happened more often than I can count. It happened on Hey Arnold, where Craig just said, “We’ve written this thing just for you. We’ve got to do an Orson Welles episode.” So I did a little bit of a War Of The Worlds parody there. There was The Simpsons, with “Treehouse Of Horror”—I think it was 17 or 18. Again, I was Welles. The episode was shot in sepia-tone, and it was The War Of The Worlds with the Simpsons twist on it—it was “Ha ha, it was a joke,” but the next day, the real aliens come. [Getting written into a show] happens with Welles more than anything else. Many, many shows have gone, “We’ve got to do an Orson Welles episode, because we’ve got Moe here.” M-o-e, that’s my nickname in the business, everybody calls me Moe. And I’m always happy to do that. I love doing the Welles voice.
I always say, “The Brain isn’t Welles.” The Brain is 70 percent Welles, 20 percent Vincent Price, and I don’t know, there’s another 10 percent of something else in there. I don’t know what. Some people think it’s Peter Lorre. I don’t know what it is. So I don’t think of Brain as Welles, but people do. I assume I have done direct Welles rip-offs, including looping Vincent D’Onofrio in Ed Wood. He did such a perfect physical impression, but he opted for this high, reedy kind of voice, so they brought me in, and I dubbed it. It happens on shows more often with Welles than anything else.
The Tick (1994-1996)—“The Evil Midnight Bomber”/“Handy”/“The Human Ton”/“The Deadly Bulb”/“Mr. Smarty Pants”/various
ML: I didn’t have a regular part on that, but they seemed to use me a lot, always as villains. Art Vitello, we worked together on Taz-Mania. That’s another show that was even more like a party than working on Harvey Birdman. We would trade comic books for an hour before getting in the studio. We’d eat the free food, we’d all—Jim Cummings had been at The Comedy Store, same with Art, same with me. We’d look at whatever [comics] the other didn’t get, and it was just a bunch of nerds, hilarious nerds getting together. So Vitello, I really enjoyed working with him. So when he took over The Tick in season two, he just thought of me for everything. Now there’s a show where they went, “Well, he does everything. We’ll just bring Moe in. He’ll find a voice for this.” And because the feeling on set was so free—it was more like a writers’ room where we recorded. All kinds of spitballing was allowed. It was such a creatively free environment.
The first thing I did on that, the thing that stood out for me—my friend Sam Kinison, whom I’d known since 1980 when he was the doorman at The Comedy Store, had just died. So when this Evil Midnight Bomber character, who they said, “He mutters and then he explodes, mutters and then he explodes”—I just thought of Kinison, and I wanted to pay a little tribute to Kinison. I thought, “Here’s a chance to—Sam’s gone, but maybe I can tardily immortalize him in a cartoon.” So I laid down my best Kinison impression. It’s nowhere near the quality of Craig Gass’. Craig Gass’ Kinison impression, when I hear it, I think Sam’s back from the dead. But [the Evil Midnight Bomber], it’s pretty good Kinison. It became its own thing. People still ask me to do The Midnight Bomber What Bombs At Midnight at conventions and that sort of thing. So The Tick, again, really free and creative open experience, where anything went, and often did.
Popples (1986-1987)—“Puzzle Popple”
AVC: Looking back on your career in general, is there a role that stands out for you as the hardest to voice, or the hardest on your voice?
ML: Yes. Believe it or not, it was a children’s show called Popples from DiC Entertainment, which basically got me started. Marsha Goodman, who cast me first on Wolf Rock TV, with Wolfman Jack, and then The Littles, another one-shot job where I got to work with Hank Kimball from Green Acres [Alvy Moore] and Horace from Green Acres [Hal Smith]. She cast me in Gadget, then Ghostbusters, so I thought, “Third time’s the charm!” Well, they just wanted me to sound so cuuuute, and in a register that wasn’t mine. They kept saying, “No, no, your voice is too low. It’s going to scare kids. Go higher. Go higher.” So I’d have to talk [nauseating treacly voice], “Hi, I’m P.C. Popple, and I talk like thiiiis!” And it strained my voice, and it was the most difficult thing to play, because I couldn’t bring any other notes to this character except ridiculous sweetness and giggliness. It was a strain, and it hurt.
Yosemite Sam is pure pain. I’m having so much fun with him now on The Looney Tunes Show, I shut the pain out. And they’re very kind to me. They only make me do one or two takes. So hopefully I’m hitting what they want in those one or two takes. Yosemite is also a difficult voice, but because I’ve gotten to play so many different notes with him, it’s more of a pleasure. Popples was by far the toughest voice of my career.
AVC: Is there a role that you do that you just think of as your natural voice, straight up?
ML: The way I talk? I only use that for a couple of—I used it for a throwaway doctor, doing a commercial on, I think it was Animaniacs. I just said, “I’m not going to do him. I’m just going to talk the way I talk.” I remember that came out and I saw that episode, and I went, “Mmm-hmm. Okay. I’m never doing that again.” That was about as interesting as watching garlic sprout. It works well in the commercial world. When I do Lexus commercials, that’s basically the way I talk when I’m just speaking really quietly with someone right next to me. Perhaps it’s even an intimate voice, almost a whispering-in-somebody’s-ear kind of voice, but that’s as close to the real me, if you hear me on a Lexus commercials—I’ve been the voice of Lexus for three years. That’s my real voice.
Elf (2003)—“Buddy’s belch”
AVC: Your oddest IMDB credit just says “uncredited: Buddy’s belch” for Elf. Did you literally get called in just to burp in this movie?
ML: I have something that’s been in my back pocket since the fifth grade. I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp. I used to get in tremendous trouble in particularly the fifth grade, ’cause I would fold up plastic puke and palm it, and go [queasy voice] “I don’t feel well, teacher, I don’t—” [Enormous sustained gassy puking noise.] And then I’d drop the plastic puke and hope it would land right side up, because then the joke really paid off. When it landed upside down, it really wasn’t a good payoff to the joke. And so when it came time to do Animaniacs and the Great Wakkorotti, where he sings in burps, I went in and literally did scales in that burp-thing, and sang songs in the burp-thing, and they sampled it and just plugged it into all these classical songs with the character Wakko singing at the Hollywood Bowl, just burping.
Well, somebody working on Elf saw that and said, “Get the guy who did the burps for the Great Wakkorotti on Animaniacs.” So that was one take, one long, sustained 15-second patented Maurice LaMarche belch.
AVC: What’s the pay scale on a 15-second belch?
ML: Well, I was able to get double scale on that, so I think I got something like $1,200 for that. But I’ll tell you something. Every March—because residual checks from SAG are about three months behind on home-video sales. Every March, I get a very nice little check for the Christmas sales on Elf on DVD, and the TV plays. That 15-second belch—the job basically took 17 seconds. Took longer to fill out [the paperwork] than the job itself. And I get a nice little check every March or so. My birthday is in March, so Christmas pays for my birthday, in a strange way.
Pom Poko (1994)—“Narrator”
AVC: Is working with Disney markedly different from all your TV experiences?
ML: Well, I’ll tell you, Disney does work a different way. They tend to work with actors individually. Not a lot of ensemble recording. But they do have a good reader in there with you. DreamWorks works the same way, where you literally just have your lines. And it’s one page that they’ll just stick on a giant board and put in front of you, and you work one page at a time. And they work with you until that page is what they want, and then you go on to the next thing. You only record a few pages at a time, and then they send you off and you come back for another few pages. A great way to rack up session fees. I pretty much did [Pom Poko] in two sessions. Basically, we just watched the film, and [I did] another spin on the Orson Welles voice, because it was a fairly Wellesian read, and they thought Orson Welles would make a wonderful narrator for that.
So Pom Poko, I was hitting the cues, and we worked pretty much all day over two days on that. But it was a good experience, and we were able to get a lot of it on the first take, so it was never tedious, not doing the same thing over and over and over again. I channeled Welles, who also was notorious for not doing multiple takes. I’m always happy to do multiple takes, but I guess the Welles thing, it just flowed and was exactly what they wanted most of the time. And when you’re looping, especially when you’re looping something in another language, the thing they care most about is, do you start talking at the beginning of the cue, and do you end at the end of the cue? Then they worry about interpretation. They don’t want you spilling over into somebody else’s lines. I’m pretty good at hitting those marks. So we just rolled along merrily on Pom Poko.
AVC: You said earlier that a lot of your memories on these roles are about sitting around with other talented people. In a case where you’re just in the studio by yourself, do you still enjoy those experiences?
ML: I’m always glad to work. There is a way to work with that where you totally use your imagination and project yourself into the cartoon. And of course, you can’t deny that you’re there with a reader, so you don’t deny the existence of other people in the room. It’s not a psychotic experience. But I really try to go into the reality of whatever world they’re creating and step into it, so in that way, perhaps I have to use my creativity even more.
My preference is to spitball, and be in a room, and crack each other up between takes, and just have it be an ensemble experience. I love that. We have that on Futurama. We have tremendous fun. And I don’t know where I got it in my head that work should be fun. [Laughs.] Because we all know that work is work. But I’m lucky enough that what I do is fun 99 percent of the time. So we make the fun, ’cause we’re using our creativity. But I prefer to work ensemble for that reason, and it produces flow a little more easily. But when I work in a situation where it’s just myself and the director or the reader and me, I try to make sure that we have fun there too. But I’m always a more-the-merrier kind of guy. Now obviously, in a commercial-spokesperson setting, where you’re the only guy in the room, you have no choice. In that case, I just make sure that everyone in the control room is having a good time, and we all enjoy each other and it’s fun.
The Critic (1994-1995)—“Jeremy Hawke”/“Orson Welles”/various
AVC: Is there a role that stands out for you that we haven’t already talked about that’s the most fun that you’ve had on a set?
ML: We didn’t spend a lot of time on The Critic. I’ll just say that getting to work with Jon Lovitz was an incredible treat. I was a little intimidated by him at first. He was the guy from Saturday Night Live who had created all these great characters, but at the end of the first table-reading—I think I played 10 characters in the first episode. And he turned and looked at me like, [Jon Lovitz impression] “Where the hell did you come from? How come I haven’t heard of you?” And after the first table-read, we stuck around and talked in the conference room after everybody left, then went over and played videogames. Jim Brooks had a Terminator 2 videogame right there in the office, and so we went over and played Terminator 2 and then went to McDonald’s. That was our first day. By the end of the day, we were friends.
So just getting to stretch, getting with Mike Riess and Al Jean, who—Al now runs The Simpsons. And this project of theirs, where they broke off from The Simpsons and pitched the show and got it… And then finding out they used to come to The Comedy Store and watch me 10 years before. I was one of their favorite comedians at The Comedy Store. That was one of those things where they were went, “We’ve got to get Maurice LaMarche, get him to come in.” And so it was great. It was just great. A great cast. Got to work with Tress MacNeille and Kath Soucie and Nick Jameson. It was really wonderful. It was a great experience. The scripts were so clever. The only thing I held back—all the cultural references were to movies that were hot then, so if you watch them now, the references seem a little dated, but they stand up in terms of their wit and humor. But it was a very satisfying experience there. The Critic, Pinky And The Brain, Futurama. Those three especially have been the most satisfying creatively to work on in terms of characters and working with terrific actors, and writers, and producers, and directors. I’m a lucky, lucky boy.