Though you may not be familiar with his name, you know his voice. If you were born between the late 70’s and now, chances are you grew up hearing Rob Paulsen. He has voiced cartoon characters on nearly every major show for the past three decades. The man is a legend in the industry whose imdb credits that stretch from here to eternity.
Paulsen started out in Hollywood as an onscreen actor. He did commercials for every company under the sun, Jack in the Box, Honda, Taco Bell, he was even the voice on the first Got Milk ad. From there he moved to television shows and movies. You can catch him in Spaceballs, Macgyver, and St. Elsewhere among others. But it was his voice work on the cartoon show GI Joe: A Real American Hero that started him down a path that would reshape his career. Over thirty years later; actor, singer, writer and director Rob Paulsen has become one of the most celebrated names in animation. He will likely go down in the same league as Mel Blanc (though you probably can’t get him to admit it.) And, he was kind enough to talk to us about his life and work in Hollywood.
Now, I don’t often care for interviews with actors. Sure, actors are the face and voice of the characters and stories we love, but they are seldom the creators. As Paulsen has said himself, he’s a hired gun “I don’t draw ‘em and I don’t write em….” he told us “….I can’t even draw stick figures.” But, every once and awhile, there is an actor who ‘gets it.’ Someone who understands the art with the same sense of awe and wonder that we the audience does. Rob Paulsen is one of those artists.
He understands the importance of make believe. “It’s not hyperbole…” Paulsen said “…it is magic.” Cartoons often get dismissed by adults and the larger artistic community. I mean after all, it’s just kids stuff right? Not according to Paulsen. He’s seen first hand the joy it brings, the importance it holds to so many, and the deep emotional connection these silly little drawings have on us. “Those shows are utterly timeless” he told us. Not just for us but for the creators as well.
You get a real sense of that on his podcast Talkin’ Toons (which also has an onscreen component on Nerdist.) On his show Paulsen talks to other people in the cartoon industry, and hearing the history and passion of the work from those who’ve worked behind the scenes is infectious and endearing.
Fairly recently Paulsen had a fight with throat cancer, which could have easily ended not just his career but his life. Thankfully, he is doing fine these days. However, it did seem to spur him on to writing a memoir. His book Voice Lessons will be out later this year and it chronicles not only his life and his work but how cartoons helped him deal with his cancer. (We won’t be publishing our review of it until closer to its release date but I will say this, if you are a fan of cartoons or Hollywood history put this one on your wishlist.)
Through it all Paulsen has maintained his humor and his perspective. He has a refreshingly grounded view on his fame and his place in the creative process. He is the first to share the spotlight with those behind the scene. Not in the superficial, smarmy, Hollywood ‘oh the crew, they’re real heros’ kind of way. But in genuine appreciation for for everyone who has worked hard on the shows he’s involved in. I would swear the man knows the name of everyone with whom he’s worked, their hobbies, the last time they had a colonoscopy, even the name of their childhood pet. He honestly seems that invested in the work and the people around him.
Even more remarkable he is able to talk about his own skill without any sense of hubris “It defaults modesty to say ‘awww I’m not that good” [but] I should be I’ve been doing it for 35 years.” And that was the most we could get him to toot his own horn. He seemed very comfortable lauding praise on others in the industry but openly felt that the merit of his talent “…is for [the audience] to judge down the road when I’ve checked out and gone to that big animation studio in the sky.”
At the end of the day Paulsen was everything a fan wants a star to be. He was very gracious, kind, funny and truly appreciates the work in the same way we fans do. Don’t believe us? Listen to the whole interview above. Paulsen talks to us about Animaniacs new and old, Ninja Turtles, Pinky and the Brain, Jimmy Neutron and more. And after that, check out his podcast and you’ll see: the man’s optimism and congeniality never seems to waver. Not unlike the make believe worlds his voice inhabits.
Are you a fan of Rob Paulsen’s work? Share your favorite tv, movie, convention or cartoon memories with us in the comments below.