Matt Hill | TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: THE NEXT MUTATION

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Interview with Matt Hill

There are few working voice actors more humble or more kind of heart and spirit than Vancouver native Matt Hill. Though the West Coast animation Mecca lies over 1,000 miles north of Los Angeles, Canada’s greatest city, or Hollywood North depending on who you speak to, is the place you go if you strive to be one of the best, if not the greatest, in the industry.  Matty (to his friends) Hill, is one such person.

Matt’s first big break was the role that found him worldwide recognition; his portrayal of Raphael in 1994’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III and then during the live action show TMNT: The Next Mutation in 1997. Hill found further global success afterwards, voicing the characters Ed in Ed, Edd & Eddy (EE&E), Kira Yamato in Gundam Seed Destiny, Tenderheart in Care Bears, and Soarin’ in My Little Pony.

He keeps his father’s personal mantra “the only thing you can do is your best” close to his heart, and takes inspiration from the adages of his heroes; the most pertinent to his life coming from the recently deceased 60 Minutes commentator Andy Rooney, “I've learned that simple walks with my father around the block on summer nights when I was a child did wonders for me as an adult.”

In the summer of 2008, Matty Hill pulled what one might refer to as ‘The Michael Jordan’ – or perhaps even the ‘Forest Gump’ – when he stepped away from his life’s work to pursue a challenge greater than himself.  After setting up the charitable foundation Run for One Planet (RFOP) in 2006, an organization whose driving force is raising awareness and promoting viable-if-not-sometimes-ambitious action on environmental change, Matt Hill set off on an 11,000 mile run across Canada and around the contiguous United States, determined to bring his message to the continent.

Matt sat down with STARBURST recently in honour of our Ninja Turtles special to discuss his career in animation, his experiences in film, and the true vocations of his life.

STARBURST: Young Matt Hill is sitting in 8th grade in North Vancouver and the voice acting bug bites him.  What happens next?

Matt Hill: Wow.  Well, I secretly missed school that day and took the bus all the way downtown (about an hour and a half journey) and I walked into – I’d actually just heard a radio commercial with this lady (who later turned out to be my agent) saying “Vancouver is the burgeoning film, tv and voice acting market, we need new actors, we need people like you!”  And I thought, ‘Oh My God, this is the answer to what I’ve wanted to do forever’ – because already at the age of 12 I was contemplating my life’s contributions so far.  And so I walked into this office – a classic New York-y office where I no kidding walk in through a shroud of smoke (because back then you could still smoke in offices), and she goes [adopts perfectly raspy NY accent]What’d you want?”  She had just opened an agency out west here, and I say, “Well, I’d like to be an actor ma’am, and I’m here to learn because I heard you guys were looking for new talent.”

She kinda looks me up and down. “How old are you?” “Well, I’m 12.” Got any experience?” “No, but I just really want to do this.”

And she gives me the once over again and goes, “Ya’know, I don’t know what it is about you, but I’ve got a good feeling - if you sign up to my class, I’ll consider being your agent.”  And I’m so excited I’ve already signed my first contract in my mind.  So I go home and she calls later wanting to confirm my attendance in this class, and my dad catches wind of it and goes: “There’s absolutely no way in you-know-what that you’re going to spend...” (I think it was $250 at that point back in ’81), so he politely declined this lady; “Thank you but there’s no way – my son is crazy.

And then she goes, “Let me tell you something. I’ve never had a kid come in with so much positive energy and a belief that this is what he was going to do.  And so you don’t think I’m shesister-ing you, I won’t charge anything and when he starts to work he can pay me back.

And so my dad goes, typical English lad, “Well, ok! Sounds good to me!

And honestly the rest, as they say, is history. I got my first gig exactly 14 days after I finished that first course, and in many respects, never looked back. It’s amazing that power of believing in your dream, and there are so many people who show up along the way that help you to achieve that. I think it’s our jobs, as human beings, to be always trying to relight that fire, to always go back to that simplicity – what do I want to do?  What makes me sing inside, what makes my heart want to jump out of bed and get the day going – because honestly it’s an amazing journey we live. For however long we’re here man, lets just do it and make it a great ride and contribute a good legacy.

And though you’ve been working now the best part of three decades, you can still hear that excitement and passion in your voice.

Absolutely! Thanks for recognising that, but we can talk about the other side of it too - there’s always the downs. In these 3 decades there’s been lots of times where I was like ‘Ah man am I ever going to book another job?’ And as often happens, it’s kind of like surfing that wave to be honest with you. You get that nice calm before the storm, and then you’re riding on the wave of your life.  It’s no different with say an acting career this long – they both belong.

And the interesting thing about the ride is being able to know that whether you’re steeped in so much work that you can almost barely keep up, or you’re steeped in no work - it allows you to open up other areas of your life. To say, ‘Wow, how lucky am I to be able to do this, because it not only affords me a great life, but it gives me this open space to develop something else, to see how I can contribute in different ways.’

The two are symbiotic almost.

Absolutely – if that’s one thing I’ve learnt in 30 years of this business it really is that truth. And also that the truth of it always turns out better than expected. Always. Even when you think ‘man, things couldn’t get any worse’ – when you get back to that gratitude you think ‘no no no wait a second, I have a lot of choice in how I’m going to react there.’ Once you realise that you kind of set yourself free.

And I’m no different from you or the STARBURST subscribers, because we’re all living sort of what I call our ultra-marathon life; we all need to eat, we all need love, companionship, we all want to feel that we’re living purposeful lives.  Its funny because we’re totally not unique, and yet we’re totally unique. It’s the ultimate zen.

What was your first project, and how did The Bionic Woman factor into it?

Oh my God dude you’re good! I had the biggest crush on Lindsey Wagner as a kid, you know that age demographic – I grew up watching the Six Million Dollar Man.

Steve Austin.

Yeah! Steve Austin. I even had the Steve Austin doll, the action figure. You know it’s funny, the guys’ toy is the action figure, and the girls’ is a ‘doll’.

Like Ken and G.I. Joe are so absurdly different.

Absolutely. And yeah, Lindsey Wagner seriously, I was just enamoured, I had a bona fide crush on The Bionic Woman. But then it was so wild that one of my first film experiences was literally a two liner in this movie – and at that point I think she was even pregnant, I’m standing there in the food line with her thinking “this is the best thing in the world.”

And so hit fast forward another 15 years from that moment and I get cast again in a movie [Contagious, 1997] where I’m actually playing her sidekick. She was a scientist/doctor, I was her scientist/doctor sidekick, and we were saving this boatload of tourists from a massive outbreak of the Ebola virus or whatever, from tainted salmon [laughs]. So we ended up becoming great friends and it was such a cool way the twist of fate works in terms of that, right?  Someone I admired I ended up getting to work with and ended up getting to know quite well.

Imagine telling 12 year old Matty Hill that.

I know! That’s what I mean! I even asked her “do you remember that movie?” And she was like “oh yeah I remember that movie.” And she didn’t totally remember that moment because I was literally the kid saying “Hey, I’m here” or something – but she was just so gracious about it. And just a firm believer in the power of your dreams, and doing everything you can to allow them to happen. Work really hard and invest in the dream, but then you know, kinda let it all go at the same time and let that flow happen.

And that flow brought you to the Ninja Turtles. Can you take us through the process of signing on for TMNT III?

Yeah, I gotta be honest with you man, the first big film experience I had definitely has to be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, for sure. To that point, that was definitely the biggest thing I had done in terms of a recognisable film or character definitely. When I got the call from my agent to go audition for it, it was kinda cool because like the local casting agent knew me, and so as soon as they said ‘Turtles’ need people to come in, put paper bags on their head and do gymnastics and jump around and be really energetic, he thought “Oh my God Matt Hill.” And literally that was the audition, we went in and we learned scenes right from the very first movie, so I learned the, um, you remember the first scene where Raphael confronts Casey Jones in the park?

Big trench coat, hat?

Yeah, and he’s like [Raphael voice]A Jose Conseco bat – what are you kidding me?” I learnt that scene, I knew every nuance of it because that was the scene we ended up auditioning with the paper bag over our heads. Because we had to assimilate being - what I learned later – blind, deaf, and dumb. But it was brilliant because it was kind of my first foray into kabuki theatre.

Did you feel any extra pressure performing a character with such history and with such a passionate fan base?

Well, and that’s a great question, because this is where I’m hoping it worked for me - I wasn’t dialled in on how huge the fan base was - admittedly my technical savvy is like, almost zero. Thankfully I can type my name and I’ve become a great two finger typer through writing and blogs, but back then in 1992 all I knew was that it was a super popular show and movie. I remembered watching the first one and going ‘Oh my God, this is just brilliant.’

And so in that respect I wanted to give the very best performance of my interpretation of Raphael that I could ever possibly do. It’s funny because I didn’t think about anything else to be honest; I wasn’t living in a world of, you know, fan pages and people going “well I really liked the first one but the second one sucked” – so I didn’t have that type of pressure on myself. The pressure I put on myself is the same kind I always do, to literally just do the best, kickass job that I can do.

So now I’ve actually got the gig, and I remember one of the executive producers asked – in one of the call backs “Ok, so now I got a question for you – do you know how to do a fwip [sic]?” And I’m like, ‘a fwip?  What the fuck is a fwip?’ Oh. ‘It’s a flip, you idiot.’ So I say ‘yeah yeah no problem I can do a flip’ not even thinking that they might ask me to do it. And so he goes “Ok, can you show me fwip?” And so now part of me is going ‘Ohhh nice job Matty Hill, you’ve never done a backflip in your life.’

And so now I’m thinking that I probably know how to do a kick-ass handspring or something. So I say; ‘How about this, I don’t want to take anyone out, so what if I do the most kickass handspring into a flip, if I can?’ Right? And so it’s one of those things where it’s like your moment, man.

And I did this back handspring which I guess looked enough like a flip that they bought it - and then he asks me “Ok, are you, uh, claustrophobic?” And I’m like, ‘claustrophobic?!?’ Which makes me think of the first movie again:

Donatello: “You’re a claustrophobic.”

Casey Jones: “You want a fist in the mouth? I’ve never even looked at another guy before!”

That’s why I love Casey Jones. But I didn’t really understand why he was asking until later – he asked because I guess one of the other actors that they’d cast in TMNT II, after they were all set, all flown to London to the Jim Henson Creature Shop to do their life casts – he turned out to be unbelievably claustrophobic and absolutely scared of getting into the life cast material, and so they ending up having to get somebody else.

So for them, it was a big concern to make sure that I could go through the whole process - and then at the same time I found out once we got to production that it was three months of the most claustrophobic, hot, heavy, sweaty, insane tapping on your brain from all the circuits inside my head, from the turtle head, and basically acting blind, deaf, and dumb.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Speaking of – you acted in the suit for TMNT III, and then provided the voice for TMNT: The Next Mutation, which makes you the only actor to play a Turtle both in and out of costume. What did you take from the experience of wearing the suit into the TV show, and how did it inform your performance?

Well I’ll tell you something – I was so grateful that I took it on. Because the second I got cast I thought ‘holy shit this is the biggest thing I’ve been cast in’ - for me this was like being adjacent to the possibility of winning an Oscar. Like, I knew it was Ninja Turtles and it wasn’t going to win an Oscar, but for me it was the biggest film franchise that the world knew, and so I wanted to give an Oscar winning performance in terms of ‘Ok if I’m inside the suit I’m going to ooze Raphael.’

So I was really glad that I was able to train with Shishir Inocalla, who was Michelangelo’s martial arts turtle, and lived in the next town over from Vancouver. And so they hooked him and I up, and he’s like an 8th degree black belt in Arnis [similar to Eskrima], which is Filipino Stick Fighting. So he’d kick my ass for 6 months, literally kicked the shit outta me for 6 months. It was fun and I was so glad we did that because it lended itself so perfectly to the role. For the first time I could almost do the splits and could now pull off a bona fide backflip, and so it was a really great way to get into Raphael.

I didn’t think I was just a guy waving his arms in a suit, I was acting my brains out.

And then it came to TMNT: The Next Mutation.

Well originally when they were casting TMNT III they found out from my agent that I did voice-over work, and so originally I was going to get a shot at reading to play Raph’s voice as well, but then obviously they hired Tim Kellecher who I believe is a true New Yorker. And hats off to him he did a great job.

And then for TMNT: The Next Mutation, they originally invited me to come back and get back in the Turtle suit as well as record the voice, and at that point I guess I knew what I went through before – which was phenomenal but it was hard work, and I dunno, I just felt that I could really lend my voice to you know, really round out the character as they say.

Being in the suit was like a rite of passage.

Yeah, I was just so honoured that they would ask me again. Exactly that – for whatever it’s worth I got to play Raphael both inside and out.

So you’re about to voice Raphael in The Next Mutation for the first time. What, if anything, were you able to take from Josh Pais, Laurie Faso, or Tim Kellecher’s interpretations of the character?

Absolutely, you can’t not take from those guys. There’s always going to be a different way of doing it, but I always went back to Ninja Turtles I, because that’s what really cemented it for me in terms of that internal battle they had; in being turtles but really wanting to fit in. That angst they had of bonding as brothers but also wanting to be recognised as individuals.

So when it came for me to do the voice, I went back and I just really liked the voice Josh had on Raph in Turtles I. But then it’s weird because I ended up watching Turtles 3 quite a bit to see my own (non-verbal) performance, because when I learnt the script cover to cover I thought my voice might be on the scratch track. It actually turned out the other way as Noel MacNeil, who is a brilliant puppeteer, who’s actually been Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street for many years – he was my amazing awesome partner in crime. So I heard his voice inside my head through the speakers, so that’s what I kinda heard for Raph.

So when you saw TNMT: TNM – did you find yourself challenging the new Raphael, Mitchell A. Lee Yuen’s mannerisms at all?

Nah, not really.

You’d already handed the part over?

That’s how I try to roll in life, I try to take responsibility for my actions and roles I’ve been asked to play, and then give the respect to the person who’s taking over. In my mind as long as everyone’s doing the best job they can do, that’s all I care about.

What have you seen of the later TMNT incarnations? Excited to see what they do with the new movie?

You want my honest answer? I haven’t seen any of them.

It’s funny, because maybe 12 years ago I was approached again in Vancouver by ABC, who were going to do a ‘Ninja Turtles – 15 years Later’ special. A four part miniseries where the Turtles are living in NY, Raph has a girlfriend, Mikey has a pizza shop – and dude, the script was so funny, it was brilliant. It was just so them.

And so the flight was booked to go to England to go to the [Jim Henson] Creature Shop, and I wasn’t about to pass this chance up because I was going to be Raphael in the suit and do the voice too. And then literally, it went away as quickly as it came. The tickets were unbooked, and it turns out that the distributing company doing the project with ABC, just kinda dropped it because I think they kinda knew that the sort of big, next inceptions of the idea were already being crafted in film form.

Which would have been 2007’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?

Yeah. I have a feeling though, that when I have a son or daughter of my own, I have a feeling that that’s when I’ll go and revisit this stuff because I’ll then want to be able to share some of it with them.

Well how do you explain the lasting appeal of the franchise then?

I’m going to go with that raw honesty of the characters. The chord that they strike in people is so, I dunno, pure. And the story goes that Laird and Eastman [TMNT co-creators] invested their last $1,500 in their dream, and people identify with that. And let’s not be too altruistic, it’s been a great money maker and why shouldn’t it be? It’s touched a lot of lives, and whether you’re from Vancouver or Kuala Lumpur, if you’ve seen the Ninja Turtles you’ve been touched by these characters in their own unique way because everyone relates to one of them.

And it’s often Raphael that people are so drawn towards.

Well yeah – he’s kinda like that dark hero who’s who finds his light, you know? At his core he feels misunderstood, yet he has the biggest heart. And yes the other turtles too – Mikey wears his heart on his sleeve, Donny uses his brain, Leo was the bona fide, first-born leader. But Raphael really is the one who in the quiet of darkness makes sure that little old lady gets across the street ok - but he won’t tell anyone about it.

I think that’s why people are so drawn to him. He doesn’t make any bones about it, he just is who he is.

So is that why he attracts talent? You’ve arguably been on the top of your game for the past two decades, Nolan North, another heavy hitter in the voice-over world, voiced Raphael in the 2007 film, and now Alan Ritchson is being touted as the runaway star of the new Turtles movie.

Yeah, and then two degrees of separation, one of my heroes, Sean Astin, who re-inspired me to be an actor the first time I watched Rudi in the ’80s, just finished playing Raphael in the latest cartoon version for Nickelodeon.

It’s kind of like this lasting legacy that just gets re-energized with each incarnation. Like a great rock song or Shakespeare – it’s because it’s good. At its heart TMNT is the classic story about the hero on a journey, it’s no different and that’s why in its own way it stands the test of time – and in Shakespeare’s day there was probably something like the Ninja Turtles!

Shakespeare in the Park: Raphael and Juliet?

Absolutely! Me and my fiancé just saw The Tempest, there’s a summer theatre here who do a 6 month run on the beach overlooking Vancouver’s water front, and that was the first time I’d ever seen that play. And although I actually wasn’t familiar with it, within 10 minutes I knew exactly what was going on even though I had no idea what they were saying.

The characters are so archetypical.

Totally. Bill, you’re a genius! But really it’s no different [TMNT], in its own way I mean.

Take us through the collaborative nature of recording.

For most of the voice-over I do, say for animated weekly series, we do a ‘Pre-Lay’. And so that’s literally what it is, we as actors lay the voices down before the animators – so they can take our performances and animate around them. And that’s how a lot of the time inadvertently the animation takes on a bit of a look of the actual actor – mostly just in mannerisms and things like that.

And well I’ve done a lot of Japanese Anime as well, which is typically the opposite of what I just said about ‘pre-lay’. They have already been animated and voiced once, and so that’s why they call it ADR [Audio Digital Replacement] – we’ll go into a studio, most of the time you’re by yourself, and whilst looking at the screen you’ll hear three beeps and you have to finish talking by the next three beeps. It’s kind of like painting fences in that you have to act the part that’s already been played, but then also bring a fresh take on it in English.

It is well known that most voice over work is done separately – have you ever worked with others during a recording session? How does it differ?

Well for instance on EE&E, all three Eds would record every single episode together. We’d do our sessions together and then the rest of the cast would get together in that afternoon to record. Except for the first recording session, which just went so far over time and budget that we never had the full cast of the show together, just the three Eds. It definitely helped the three Eds bond in a way we couldn’t have otherwise.

Ok, so Ed, Edd and Eddy. How did it start? Did you ever think it would become the juggernaut it did?

Not. Even. Ever. In a Moment. No. Not ever.

We knew it was freakin’ genius – because myself, Sam Vincent who was one of my best friends, and Tony Samson who ended up playing Eddy, we were thrown together on what is still a record I believe in Vancouver, for the most call-backs for an animated show. Usually you can maybe expect 1, 2, maybe 3 call-backs before they finally go ‘ok you got the part’ – but for EE&E I think we topped out at 7 call-backs, and we had no idea what we were doing!

But Danny Antonucci [EE&E creator] was just so laser-clear on what he wanted for these characters. Looking back on it I realise he put us through so many auditions because he wasn’t going to say ‘yes’ to anybody till he had heard every, single thing that he was searching for that he had written for these characters individually. But then he started putting us all together in the room so we could bounce lines off of each other. And it is every actor’s worst nightmare to think they’re hated – and so we would act our brains out and there’d just be silence. Danny would have his hand on his head with his microphone off – and we thought he was saying ‘these guys suck blah blah’ – but what he was saying was ‘ok ok, they’re so close, get them to do it this way’. And we’d do so many takes of the lines that I think Sammy [Vincent] said in an interview once that we were screaming by the seats of our pants – not flying, screaming; “we don’t know what he wants!

So for me to finally get the nod from Danny on ‘Single D’, I remember it so closely. We had been in there for probably an hour, I’m sweating my bazuumbas off, and I’m so frustrated because I don’t know how to give him what he wants – and finally I blew into the mic, which I’ve never done, and I tapped the mic and I just went “Eugh, how do you get water from this thing here?” It came out of nowhere, it wasn’t even a line. And everyone on the other side of the glass stopped, went quiet, before Danny burst out laughing – and then I knew, that’s what he was looking for. And he told me later, ‘that was Ed’. Everyone else has these lines that were so carefully crafted, and then Ed comes in like a freight train from the left with something so asinine and just so far away from what they’re talking about.

And it was like that; we gave our blood, sweat, and tears for every minute of that show, and at the end of the day it’s one of the shows I am most proud of because we never did any pick-ups on lines. Danny was so laser-clear on every single word that in the first season we weren’t even allowed to ad-lib anything – like if we got to do an ad-lib it was a big gift, because usually we’d do something and Danny would stop the tape and just go “do the line”. And we’d just be (snivelling) ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’.

But at the same time I have so much respect for him because at the end of the day we never did pick-ups, which is basically unheard of in animation. As a human being he’s a genius and I think the closest to Eddy – I think he wrote him a little bit after himself. Totally. But then he’s got the heart of Ed, just a heart of gold. Again, I never worked on a show where the creator of it threw so many gratitude events for the cast, and was so involved with the Make a Wish Foundation. When I was on EE&E I probably went down to A.K.A studios at least twice a month for 8 years just to hang out with kids who were fighting for their lives – and they just literally had their last wish of being able to meet EE&E. And we’d often leave there with tears in our eyes, just realising that this show had such a huge impact on kids.

And so that is when you started to realise its success?

Absolutey. Hands down. Because again I never read reviews, I just knew we were on a popular show and to be honest I was just so grateful for the life it gave me. And though I felt honoured to be able to do that, honestly I just thought I’d be going on to the next gig. I didn’t truly realise the impact it had on other’s lives in such a positive way till we started helping fulfil all those Make a Wish dreams. It’s funny, because it’s the Ninja Turtles, and Ed, Edd & Eddy that have, no kidding, struck such a chord in so many people’s hearts and lives.

And then a few years later we took off on the RFOP tour around North America – talk about the power of these cartoons and the superheroes that I’ve been blessed to play. Because it just helped us connect with the kids so much – suddenly it wasn’t just another boring talk it was Raphael, and Ed, and Tender Heart there to talk to the kids about saving the planet.

And down in the South of America where EE&E was huge, there’d be 2,000 kids in some of those big inner city schools, where I could just go and ask [Ed’s voice] “Hello my buddies and buddiettes – who wants to save the planet?” And again, 2,000 kids screaming in unison; it saved our bacon and just gave me the gift of coming full circle, making me realise ‘My God Matt Hill, how lucky are you to be able to do this work?’ I was always grateful for this life, but I didn’t realise how much of an impact it was having and in such a positive way.

You’re currently playing Soarin’ in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. How did that happen, did you ever envision yourself in that role?

Yes indeed, and in fact I just got booked to do another episode so I’m quite excited.

It was so cool, after we got back from the RFOP tour, Terry [the director] was in Vancouver (who has known me forever as he actually directed me on EE&E) and looking for someone to play this new character Soarin’. The writer’s son has autism and so named this character after him – and this guy was an extreme athlete with tonnes of energy and blah blah blah. And apparently Terry just said “I know the guy” and they just phoned me and brought me in. And I thought great, I’ll go down and do as good a job as I can do – I didn’t think it was going to resonate with the fans, in terms of going “Oh my God I love pie, SAVE MY PIE”. But again it’s another one of those things, like Raphael, it’s so neat to be recognised with such an established franchise because of its power to inspire people – for me that’s what its all about now.

And it has completely taken off.

Yeah! Holy smokes.

There’s an almost rabid fandom online for it.

It’s probably good I’m so technically challenged then.

But when I go to the conventions that’s where I really realise that ‘man you guys really dig MLP’, and to take a line from Sally Field ‘you really, really like me!’

We’d be remised if we didn’t get your thoughts on the Brony culture.

[Brony - A name typically given to the male viewers/fans of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren't allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.]

Yeah, man. I got invited to a convention last year in Texas – BronyCon. And I realised again, I personally believe that we’re no different, we’re all cut from the same cloth. And with the BronyNation, it’s a whole group of people who feel so passionate about something they feel they can identify with, which are great values. Because ultimately to me it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you’re interested in, you deserve my respect and honour and love, like I deserve. So in those terms, why not, ya’know? Why not have a nation of people that feel empowered and inspired, and if it’s cartoons that’s helped them to do that then all the power to you!

It’s really humbling. All the guys at the conventions they’re going “Oh my God, thank you” and I’m saying ‘no, thank you’. It’s such a symbiotic relationship, because if I wasn’t doing the show I wouldn’t be doing this [the interview], but if they didn’t do the show, if [Lauren Faust – influential producer on MLP] hadn’t reimagined it, if the fans hated it, then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

And there’s a lot of power in that, giving someone the ability to feel empowered – because whether it’s in animation or not, we’ve all felt that feeling before of not belonging. We’re no different, and that title ‘BronyNation’ they give themselves – that’s their club, their posse, it’s no different than my hockey team.

So tell us about Run for One Planet.  What inspired you to take action?

Well the idea for the tour just landed on my shoulders. I was on a flight to an animation convention in Detroit where I was one of the guests, and so in a way it had already started. The cartoons were my through line.

My journey was acting, but then there was also this other part of me, that ever since seeing Terry Fox [a Canadian amputee who inspired millions with his “Marathon of Hope” run across Canada in 1980] when I was 10 years old, just wanted to give back, doing something that really was not about me so much, but about the Hero’s journey of my life. Done because you want to contribute not because you want to gain fame or notoriety, but because deep inside your heart you’re asking these questions: ‘if I’m going to live to 85, 105 years, what do I want my legacy to look like? How can I give with what I have?’ For me it’s always been running, it’s always been my energy, my love, total love of people. And as you get older you realise you can’t single handily protect the planet, you’d be an idiot, it’s about what my contribution would look like.

So for me, it started at looking ay my personal footprint – how I was eating, which again came from a role; when I got Ninja Turtles that was the first time I really started looking at my diet and how it affected my environment. And it’s wild because now I can realise that the Ninja Turtles role, where I was trying to bring out all these values in these kids and the big kids, the adults, was really the early inceptions of RFOP. The truth of it was that I had been asking these questions of myself; ‘what was my story? How was I going to be a role model for these kids?’

And so when the captain turned off the no-seat belt at 28,000ft I got those answers loud and clear – for me I call it God, others might call it the Universal Spirit or your Deepest Wisest Self, the answer really came down and said “Ok Matt Hill, sit down son because you’re about to get these answers and its about to change pretty much everything”. And so really over the next 18 months we prepared for the tour, an 11,000m run across Canada and around the perimeter of America, all to inspire environmental action, one step at a time.

Matt Hill Ultramarathon Running

I truly wanted to inspire the entire Continent if I could – one marathon a day reaching and inspiring 333 million North Americans, because I thought ‘if you’re going to do this, man you gotta go big!’But then also quickly realise the value of that saying: take it one step at a time. Because we couldn’t have finished our 22 millionth step at the end of the very last day without taking that very first step after deciding to do it.

And so we had this quite cathartic 10km on the day we decided to do the tour, where we made some huge decisions: we will never look backwards, we will only go forwards, we will do everything humanly possible to make this dream happen. We’ll take care of the running, and ignore everything else that we don’t have control over – again to use my Dad’s adage: “the only thing you can do is your best.” And so after 18 months of training we ended up eventually running 420 marathons, destroyed 30 pairs of running sneakers, we consumed and burned about 3 million calories each, and yeah, in the process we ended up speaking to about 50,000 elementary school kids, in more than 220 schools. It changed my life and it’s something that I’m so proud of.

And I’m so grateful in so many ways that it coincided with the Economic Meltdown. And we weren’t kidding, we truly wanted to raise $1m to start a legacy fund for these kids, so we could grant these huge green dreams all around the world. But what, the economy happened. Could we do anything about it? No, it was what it was. All we could do was go forwards, alter our game plan. Take one kid at a time, one school at a time.

And then, serendipitously, there was also the biggest election of all time, with President Obama. We had all this publicity just go away, and to top it off we were one step away from economic meltdown. Countries were losing their entire gross capital. The East coast of America was literally for sale, people were in foreclosure – when McDonalds are having McValue Recession meals – you know things are not good. And that was our reality and that’s why I’m so proud, because we could have gone ‘oh well, we’re screwed, we’re not going to raise $1m, Oprah won’t cover us, Anderson Cooper won’t bring us in’, and when we ran through NY it was 3 days before the election and nobody covered us.

But instead it was our chance to take the gift of the moment and do what we said we were going to do; we said we were going to run around North America, we said we were going to connect with anyone who wanted to connect with us – and who reached out to us? Kids. Was that probably the greatest gift from God I could have been given? Yes. Why? Because it helped us share our message. Because it always turns out better than expected. In the end, I personally believe in my heart that the situation helped us connect with kids even deeper – because in light of everything that was going on it still meant so much to us and they could see that.

And then for me, just looking at all the gifts I received personally, seeing all these kids being blown away, all of them saying “Oh my God I’m hanging out with Ed from EE&E, with Raphael”, the gift of being welcomed into their hearts and their brains. Giving us the chance to say “Yo, yo, yo – you too can make powerful choices for yourself, you too can choose to make the world a better place, you can make a lighter footprint.”

It’s funny because I almost can’t read too much about these doomsday predictions, the pessimism. Somebody said to me ‘we’re totally screwed, the polar ice caps are already at this level, greenhouse gasses are already beyond here and here, and so basically it’ll be nothing but cockroaches and Keith Richards who’ll survive our eventual demise.’ And it probably will be, Keith will be asking ‘can I smoke that?’ But also, and this is what fires me forward – my personal, passionate belief in the human spirit because I don’t care what anyone says, man it is alive and well.

What were you surprised you fell in love with, during that time?

Oh, wow, that’s such a great question. I deeply fell in love with my country, and also with America. I was already in love with running obviously, and I don’t want it to sound cheesy, but I also fell in love with the hero that was inside me, because I realised that I was truly answering those declarations I had made as a 10 year old, 30 years earlier.

So then what questions did this massive responsibility, make you ask of yourself? What did you learn about yourself?

How am I going to be?

I was the one who signed up for it, I’m the one who said it was what I wanted to do, and I had this moment right across Canada – literally faced with anger and hurtness and all of the “dark sides” that the hero is forced to face in themselves, and just realising in the power of every moment’s choice. The moment always empowers us, and that’s what messes us up: when we forget, when we think that other people make the choice, when we think that other people have done us wrong. And it really does come full circle; I talk to my fiancé about it all the time, about our power to choose. And instead of “pointing fingers” at people saying it’s their fault, you stop, back up, and point the finger at yourself. You yourself have the power to choose how you’re going to be. And that’s what I needed to learn – if I said I was going to be a leader then I was going to have to lead, but also I had to be ok with being a human being who was also learning on this journey – because boy was it a lot of pressure!

And it’s in those cathartic moments, in-between when you’re totally out of calories because you’re running a marathon a day, and you’re totally sleep depraved – you’re at the height of your hero’s journey. And that’s really the only way I can describe it; when you choose big, you’re tested big.

I’m not going to BS you, I don’t think I’d be doing cartoons still – sorry, doing cartoons with such passion at decade number 3 – if I hadn’t been able to go out on all these other big journeys because I wouldn’t have realised my own value. That’s what I learnt, what I just realised, that it’s not selfish to realise your own value.

So turning down the intensity a little: your toughest role – and the toughest sound effect you’ve been asked to perform?

I gotta give EE&E and Raphael the toughest roles physically. Obviously TMNT speaks for itself – locked in an 85 pound suit, taking one pee a day, drinking 7 litres of water to hydrate. And then EE&E for just the sheer intensity of vocal performance – in Danny’s want for the perfect take I’d often do 27 takes. But yeah it’s definitely a tie between the two.

And oh! Toughest sound effect, because still to this day I can’t get it. When we did A Monkey’s Tale [1999] they wanted me to do the monkey cries – and I did a pretty decent cartoon monkey, but the producers wanted a real one. And so I busted my gut trying to give the producers this till they finally, thankfully, called in the big guns – the guy who made his name doing monkey cries from Gorillas in the Mist with Sigourney Weaver [Peter Elliott]. So I got to spend the morning watching this guy do his thing and I was so blown away. Still working on the monkey calls though [performs a loud, long, monkey call so close to being perfect].

Ok, so it’s Soarin’, Ed, Ironhide, Finn, Kira Yamato, and Raphael – and you, in a footrace. Who wins?

Ah brilliant! You know what, I’m saying Ed. You know why? Because he’d be running with his head back in the way that he did, he’d be laughing and he would trip all the other guys, and he would fall so far forward that he’d be in the lead without even realising it.

Brilliant. Thanks so much Matt.

It’s been a huge honour, thank you very much for chatting to me.

I just wanted to say thanks for reaching out, because any time I get to talk about what it is I do, especially since coming back from the RFOP tour, is an absolute honour. You know I really realise the effect that the cartoons I’ve gotten to do over the years and the film roles, have had in other people’s lives: people being able to say to me “dude seriously, that role really helped me get over (this) or (that)”. And they’re right, it wasn’t me, it was the role that helped them get through a tough time or help them to feel like they belong. And that is my absolute pleasure.

Before we go, any last stories you’d like to share with us?

Ok. So the height of the Turtles popularity is like 1993, and I’m actually down in LA living after I finished filming on my work permit. Obviously I got invited to the premier and all that. And I’m at the Universal Amphitheatre, we’re being introduced and all these Hollywood kids are there thinking we’re the coolest things on the planet. Well, I realised when I sat down that I was actually sitting behind one of my childhood heroes in the rock world, and that was Alex Van Halen [drummer for Van Halen] and I literally turned into a 13 year old again. And his kid is with him, so during the movie I’m plotting how I can talk to him, and now 20 years later I’m kicking myself because all I had to do was tap him on the shoulder, he would have turned around, I’d have gone ‘Hey dude, I’m Raphael’ – and his kid would have gone full Walter Mitty. And before you know it his kid thinks I’m the coolest, I’m hanging out with the band, I’m going on tour with Van Halen.

And you know what the life lesson is there? Always tap your idols on the shoulder.

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