From STAR WARS: THE PHANTOM MENACE right through to recent work THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO, voice actor MARC SILK has had a diverse and fulfilling career. So with WALES COMIC CON on the horizon we thought it would be a great time to discuss this incredible journey with the man himself...
STARBURST: When and how did you first get into voice acting?
Marc Silk: My heroes were people that did that. Ever since I was a kid watching cartoons, I was fascinated with the idea that there was someone voicing my favourite characters. So when you see the very rare behind the scenes shows on TV, it blew my mind. There was a documentary on TV when I was 9-10 years old, and it was called Of Muppets and Men. You saw behind the scenes of The Muppet Show. My jaw hit the floor, because you go “Oh my God, those are the people who make what you see come to life!” I remember seeing Jim Henson performing Kermit the Frog, Frank Oz doing Miss Piggy, and Dave Goelz performing Gonzo. I just thought that it was the coolest thing in the world. I remember on Blue Peter once, they had a guest called Don Messick, and they said “What do you do, Don?” and he said, “Well I’m the voice of Scooby, Scooby, Doo!” Again, I kind of fell off the sofa. These were my heroes, they were the biggest stars in the world, but you never really knew who they were. So, it was kind of that. Even as a kid I was taking all of this in, being inspired by people who were behind the scenes. People like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas or even people like Robin Williams and Kenny Everett, a great TV comedian who was also a great producer. As a short cut back to your answer, I did work experience at a radio station in Birmingham. I taught myself really how to run a studio by watching people who I thought were the best at what they did. When no one else was there, late at night I would go into the studio and teach myself how to do it. I would get a microphone out, teach myself how to do character voices, and just experiment. I started out as a producer, making other people sound good. I was the button guy, the pair of hands you see on a mixing desk making other people sound like Hollywood. Bit by bit I needed voices for what I was doing, and I did it. I learned that way, I’ve got no formal training. Being inspired by people behind the scenes, I thought I’d rather be there creating characters, doing it that way opens up a whole new world of character creation that I don’t think you could do if you were in front of the camera, or on a stage. There are hundreds of characters that I’ve performed character voices for. I just don’t think you could do that if you were seen in vision.
What was your first major acting project, and what do you remember the most from this experience?
Things just went well really early on. The first big break was Chicken Run. They’d already cast all of the main characters. Right at the end, I got a call saying that Aardman are making this movie called Chicken Run, they need extra chickens! Basically Aardman needed extra cluckers. So I had to put a showreel together showcasing that I could do really good chickens! I thought, this isn’t just sounds, this is voice acting. So I gave them a whole load of different examples. To show that you understood yes it’s funny, but they might be larger than life characters. In the end it’s still acting. You’re creating these characters, and you’re bringing them to life. So I put this showreel together, showing what I would do, but just to leave them remembering me a bit more, to put my stamp on it, I did a five-part chicken harmony to an instrumental recording of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York, right at the end! I got the gig. When I was in the studio, any time they needed me, I heard someone say “Can you bring in the Sinatra chicken please!”
You went on to work on the Chicken Run video game! What was that like, and what did you contribute to the game?
Yeah, after we did the movie, I ended up being brought in to work on the game. I was Mel Gibson’s character, Rocky the Rooster for that. I was basically replicating Mel Gibson’s character voice for the actual game. As well as other bits and pieces, again that was very early on, and it opened up the games world for me. I’ve done a lot of game work, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some incredible titles.
You've worked on a stack of video games over your career; as time has gone on, and the graphics/technology within games has, of course, become better, how has that sort of helped you accomplish what you do as an actor?
At the core of it, where you start it’s exactly the same. In the end, we are telling stories. Any piece of entertainment will have great characters, stories, and performances. So whether the quality of the actual animation is more, maybe cinematic/realistic, that can end up making it a more immersive experience for you. In the end, funny is funny, and dramatic is dramatic. It doesn’t matter how good technology will get, with reading a book it’s still your imagination and great writing that make that thing come to life. I’m a huge tech-head, I love going around a studio, and seeing how technology can help us tell a story. Or make something even more magical. What I love with the advances in it, is like I said, the way it can make it more immersive. There’s a real landmark game that I worked on called Black & White, by Lionhead Studios. I was all of the main characters in that. We recorded that over a series of months. Thousands upon thousands of lines. The scripts were like a printed version of Wikipedia. I was the voice of the conscious of this game, it was the first real, big, God game, where you chose to be good or evil. I was the voice of your conscious, of good and evil. We recorded character dialogue that covered every single permutation of what you could do. For its time, it was ground-breaking. So that is where technology becomes your friend and helps as a game-player. With animation, the computing power now is so much that you could perform an animated character live. You have every possible movement that the character could do. It’s almost like a puppet, and you could talk to someone live, with that character voice performing it live at the same time. We did that when I was performing Johnny Bravo. There’s also a great show on the BBC called Go Jetters, it’s on CBBC’s and I play the kind of bad guy, who is just misunderstood. His name is Grandmaster Glitch, again what we’ve been able to do in terms of being interactive with that show, it helps in terms of education. In the end, it’s just fun. It’s just really great fun, as an audience you like the characters based on the strength of the story, and the performances. That’s what it all boils down to. Brilliant writing, great characters, and great performers. A clue to what is at the heart of something that’s timeless, if you go back to something like The Muppets, if that was great CGI, it wouldn’t have been any funnier. That’s still as funny now. At the heart of those great characters were brilliant performers with Jim Henson, and Frank Oz. It just stays with you.
As you briefly touched on, another huge world that you got to be in was the cartoon classic Johnny Bravo - how did this opportunity come about, and what did you love the most about voicing him?
He is such a larger than life character! Johnny was a big male himbo who loved himself more than anything else. He was put into his place by everyone around him. What I loved was almost going back to the technology side of it. We actually performed Johnny Bravo live for the entire day between shows. So Johnny Bravo becomes the host of Cartoon Network, for twice a year, for about three years. It was a huge technological feat. We did it live in the UK, and it was seen as far as South America. In-between Cow and Chicken, The Powerpuff Girls etc. Johnny was actually the live in-studio link guy, but it was all performed using high-end computing power, and me performing the voice live. Talking to kids live on the phone. Doing competitions and all kinds of stuff. That’s taking something to a whole new level. It’s the first time that an A-list Cartoon Network character had ever been performed in that way. I only found out about it afterwards when I saw a feature about it in a magazine. We were too busy doing it. It was a hell of a thing to do it, and when that microphone opened, the trust in you was enormous. It’s a huge privilege and responsibility, you’ve got to be funny, professional, keep it going, stay in character, do it on time, and listen to what the kids are saying that are phoning you. It was an amazing thing to do the voice for.
Did your background in radio help you with achieving the voice of Johnny Bravo in a live situation?
Yeah, so I hosted a radio show for a few years before I went full time doing voice work. I think that was incredible groundwork, for knowing how to get through anything. Working in local commercial radio, you know that at some point, everything will just fall apart around you. It did. Things would stop working, technical things wouldn’t work correctly. As the host of it, you had to make it carry on. Often when things went wrong, it was almost better because of that. So having that experience was an incredible starting point for performing this character, or any other character live. Because they knew that if something went wrong, you’d make it OK. That moment could end up being more exciting or more thrilling for the viewer, because you know that it’ll be OK. It’s a lot of fun to see how you’ll get out of it.
How did you end up becoming a part of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and what do you remember the most about working on this sci-fi giant?
I got a call saying, “Are you free? on Tuesday to meet with a casting director of a brand new Star Wars movie?” I said “Give me a second... yes!” and this was of course for The Phantom Menace. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and it had been 16 years since Jedi. In fact, I’ve still got a STARBURST Magazine from around that time! It’s got Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, and I think Leonard Nimoy was on the cover as well. I was reading STARBURST in school, I was a fan of it! Anyway, long story short. I ended up working with George Lucas on Star Wars. Talk about a triple whammy. I’m a Star Wars fan, it’s the first Star Wars film since Jedi. I’m working at Abbey Road Studios, and being directed by George Lucas. It was incredible. I played a character called Aks Moe, and he was the ambassador of Malastare, he was in the senate scene. Within the Star Wars universe my role was relatively small, but it was still a role in Star Wars! It’s something that I’m entirely grateful for, and I’ll remember every single moment of it, forever.
It seems like George Lucas was a very interactive and hands-on director?
He was! He was very hands-on. He directed me, and people from Skywalker Sound were in the control room at Abbey Road Studios. Rick McCallum the producer was there, Robin Gurland the casting director, and then George actually directed me. He was such a lovely guy to work with. I walked into the studio, and the first thing he said was “Would you like a potato chip?” so at that point, I thought, “This is going to go OK!” Also, when you work on something of that scale, it’s a really good short-cut for future work, because they think, if they trusted you, then we can probably trust you as well. I think that was the project that opened so many doors. It’s taken me to places that are just wonderful. I now host Star Wars Symphonies, a couple of years ago we did Symphonic Star Wars, and it was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and myself live at The Royal Albert Hall! We did two shows in one day, and we had over ten thousand people come to play. To be asked to be the person to front that, is a hell of a thing. I go back to, “I’m a Star Wars fan” and a huge fan of John Williams, so to share that with other people that like the same stuff that I do, is incredible.
Going back to cartoons, you got to play both Scooby-Doo and Shaggy, how did you go about doing your own approach on these characters, especially as they've been around for a very long time?
I grew up, watching the original Scooby-Doo, and a tip of the hat to Don Messick, the original voice. Scooby-Doo started in 1969, and it celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. I did interviews for the BBC a few weeks ago, just celebrating, and talking about the history, and my love of it. I got to meet Don Messick as a fan, at a gallery event for original Scooby-Doo artwork, before I was doing this professionally. I’m a fan. I actually collect original animation art from my favourite shows and animation artists. I’ve got a huge archive. My love of this, is more than just what I contribute. I’m still a big fan of the craft that happens behind the scenes. When it comes to my involvement with Scooby, I’ve just always been able to do it. I think that when you really love something, art, music, whatever it might be. It’s just in you. Like if you’re learning how to play the guitar, you learn the tunes by your favourite musician/band. So when doing character voices, I was learning how to perform my favourite character voices, and two of them were Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. You figure it out. So just from playing around in studios for other recording sessions, people got to know that I could perform these characters. But also, more than that. I could perform them accurately. It wasn’t just copying what someone else had done, it was understanding where these characters had come from. How to make them live and breathe. If all you do is copy what someone else has done, you can’t really go anywhere. If you understand why they did it that way, and what made it work. Then that’s the most healthy starting point. Just playing in studios, I would sometimes just do it, for no other reason than it being funny, to entertain people that were in the room. Then word got around that I could do it. Then about ten years ago I got brought in to start doing the voice of toys, games, commercials and things for Cartoon Network, and CITV. It’s a hell of a thing. These characters are such icons, they’re not just another character, they’re something that you’d see on a T-shirt! That’s the level of epic that these characters have reached. So the first day I found myself in a studio with a script, and the first line says “Yikes!” you realise that this is going to be a fun way to spend the day.
Talking of well-known cartoon characters, Danger Mouse got rebooted back in 2015 - how did you become a part of it?
Danger Mouse was a huge favourite of mine, and it still is. The very first cartoon that I ever worked on was created by the people behind Danger Mouse, Cosgrove Hall Films. When I found out that they were rebooting it, I spoke to one of the people behind it and said that “I’d love to be a part of it. There’s a whole bunch I could bring to it.” Then they went, “Alright, leave it to me!” Then a few months later I got a phone call asking me to come down and perform these characters. In the first season of Danger Mouse I’m the voice of 31 characters.
What can you tell us about another one of your latest TV shows, Go Jetters?
It’s an incredible show. That’s now showed all over the world, it’s got its own magazine. They’ve actually just released the Grandmaster Glitch plush toy! So there are a lot of people getting Grandmaster plush gifts this year. That’s an amazing show. It has that Sesame Street, Muppets sensibility, where, it’s really exciting, really funny, but you might just learn something along the way? It’s that. Anyone of any age could watch Go Jetters. It’s a terrific show.
Thunderbirds Are Go is still going strong, especially as it’s a new approach that also respects its roots. What can you tell us about working on it?
Yeah, I’m the voice of the incredibly handsome Captain Rigby. He has the greatest eyebrows on TV. It looks like they’re freshly baked. It’s Weta Studios that have done all the live background and models for it, and CGI characters. In Season 3 it’s gone from being a great new animation show, to something that is truly cinematic. Ben & Nick Foster, their soundtrack is a full orchestral score. It’s like something from a movie. Lee Majors is the voice of Jeff Tracey! It’s absolutely incredible. I’m Captain Wayne Rigby, a super tough guy that works with international rescue, but in terms of heritage it’s so wonderful what they’ve achieved. They brought in David Graham, who was the original voice of Parker in Thunderbirds. He is still the voice of Parker now. They know all of those little bits of detailed spice that fans will love. I’m a fan, so I just get excited watching it. You’ve got Rosamund Pike as Lady Penelope and David Graham as Parker. It means the world to me, just being in that room. Forget work for a second, to be in that room, when we’re recording. To walk in there and the original voice of Parker goes “Morning Marc!”, you go, “Yeah, this is it!”.
Two Point Hospital went down a storm with gamers. What can you tell us about your role within the game?
It’s incredible. It was a smash hit for Two Point Studios and Sega. Within 48 hours after it came out it became the number 1 game worldwide on Steam. It was up for a BAFTA this year at the BAFTA Games Award. When you’re playing the game, I’m the voice of the diverse presenters on the radio in the background. It’s become such a big deal now that these characters have a following. We keep on releasing new add-on packs that feature these presenters having new adventures.
How excited are you for your upcoming appearance at Wales Comic Con, and what can attending fans expect?
It’s kind of as good as it gets. The guests that they get at Wales Comic Con are up there with the absolute best that you’ll bump into. The atmosphere is terrific. I love meeting the people that walk through the door, because I think I love the shows as much as they do. So for anyone who is coming to do Wales Comic Con, come over and say hello. I’ll make sure that they are thoroughly looked after, I’ll give them as many voices as they want. Whether they want to bring pictures for me to sign, or if they get something from me, I’d love to do that for them. It’s a great and really exciting day.
What else can we expect to see from you in 2020?
There’s a couple of new shows that I’m working on right now that haven’t been announced yet. I’ll tell you about those when I can. There’s more Thunderbirds to come next year, more Go Jetters as Season 3 continues. I think that it will go to infinity and beyond.
For more information on MARC SILK and his work, visit his official website www.marcsilk.com. To meet him in person, head to the next WALES COMIC CON on December 7th - 8th.