Thursday, May 19th, 2011 at 7:57 pm
If you’ve watch any cartoons produced in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard the voice of Steve Blum. Blum has over 400 titles to his credit on his IMDb page. He is widely known to a generation of anime fans as the voice of Spike Speigel in Cowboy Bebop, and is just as widely known (if not more so) as the voice of Wolverine in basically any TV show or video game since X-Men Evolution. And this is just a small sampling of the different characters Blum has played over the years. You can currently hear him as the voice of Starscream in Transformers: Prime, or as the voice of Grayson Hunt in Bulletstorm, along with still playing Wolverine on Marvel’s Super Hero Squad and in Marvel Vs Capcom 3. I was able to talk to Blum for a few minutes to learn how he got started, what it’s like to be a professional voice actor, and much more.
Geeks of Doom: You’ve got a lot of different shows going on right now. Can you give us a rundown on everything you’re working on right now?
Steve Blum: [laughs] I wish I could tell you! Most of the projects I’m working on right now, I’m not allowed to talk about. That’s usually the case for me, we have to sign non-disclosure agreements, but the ones I can talk about would be Transformers: Prime, which is ongoing right now – and of course Super Hero Squad. We finished recording for the second season, I don’t know if it’s going to be picked up for another. Please please please, folks, watch it and tell them you want more! And Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, we finished up recently, or rather I finished up recently, just some guest spots on that as Red Skull and Logan. I think those are the only things I can really talk about other than shows and games that are already out. IMDb usually posts my stuff before I even know it’s OK to reveal, so you can always check in there from time to time. I also make announcements at live events and conventions and on my website at steveblumvoices.com.
Geeks of Doom: You’ve done a lot of work for Marvel, specifically with Wolverine. Was there something that you did to get into the character? How fun is it to play that character?
Steve Blum: The only thing I have to do to “get into” the character is conjure up a mental image from the comics – and I can almost feel the adamantium surge through my bones. Playing Wolverine never gets old. Wolverine is a character that I have a deep love and fascination for. He’s one of the most complex characters I’ve ever worked on. And I still feel like a little kid every time I get to go into a studio and reprise the role. I do have to audition each time, on every incarnation. There’s always the little bit of the unknown that goes on with it, so it’s kind of always a new thing. Nothing is a given in this business.
Geeks of Doom: That is a little surprising to hear that with Wolverine and the X-Men, and Hulk Vs, and all the video games you have done. It seems like you should be a lock for the role whenever it comes up. I know that there are certain things that they haven’t chosen you for, in terms of playing Wolverine.
Steve Blum: Well, my relationship with Marvel is very good and there’s a lot of love going on there, but they don’t always have complete control over the product, because sometimes the licensees reserve certain rights. There are often other hands in the mutant pie, as it were.
Geeks of Doom: So, how did you get in to voice acting in the first place?
Steve Blum: My first job was on a show called The Guyver, and that was just sort of an accidental thing. I kind of fell into it. I was a mediocre musician at the time, hoping to make a career out of music, working a day job in a mailroom and as a driver and PA for a low budget film company – and the guy who was the head of the mailroom was casting an unnamed “Japanamation” project – nobody really knew what that was at that point! I didn’t realize that people here in the States actually worked on them. Everything was pretty much subtitled in those days other than things like Robotech or Speed Racer. And he asked me if I would be interested in coming out on a weekend and pretending I was a monster tearing the limbs off another monster. I seemed to have a natural ability to hit the lip flaps. So they hired me on for 26 episodes and then they hired me for the next show, and then the next one. Eventually I got to do human voices and I learned how to act on the job. It was just a fun hobby for many, many years, that didn’t pay much, but I loved it.
Geeks of Doom: And then at a certain point did it just turn into your regular job?
Steve Blum: Yeah, it took many, MANY years before that happened. It was only about ten or twelve years ago that I was able to quit my job and do this full time. A lot of people think it was an overnight success and I was somehow “discovered.” It simply doesn’t work that way. You have to do it for a long enough time until people eventually notice you. The most difficult thing is just to get noticed by casting people who already have their crews of people that they can call and trust. They rarely have time to listen to new tapes (or CDs). Casting and production schedules are fast and furious, so they just need to get the job done as efficiently as possible. I had to stick to it and I did it because I loved it – and all of the sudden one day, decades later, I realized that I was making enough money to quit my job. When I did make the jump, the union went on strike and I was out of work for eight months, living on credit cards, so it definitely wasn’t easy. Took years to recover from that.
Geeks of Doom: Is there a specific way that you use to come up with a particular voice, having done so many voices over your career? How do you keep things fresh?
Steve Blum: That’s the trick, but fortunately it seems to happen fairly naturally. I always go by instinct first. I’ll look at a picture of a character or take a description of a character that’s given to me, and I’ll just do the first thing that pops out. That usually seems to be the most organic process for me. Then I surrender to the directors, producers, and writers to dial me in to what they were thinking. And a pretty good percentage of the time it’ll be the same voice! There are some instances where the directors have had something very specific in mind and no matter what I do, they’re going to want to hear that very specific voice, regardless of any suggestions from me or anyone else. It’s my job to make them happy and to fulfill that role in the project. I have to check the ego at the door. It’s not personal (or shouldn’t be). They know the grander arc and they know who they’re marketing to. It’s kind of funny – I’ve been accused of having only one voice by some evil emails in the past, but I want to assure you guys – it’s not by my choice. I’ll always try to change something.
Geeks of Doom: Looking back on GI Joe Resolute, and it struck me that there are scenes where you are acting against yourself. Is that something that is interesting to you, and how do you something like that?
Steve Blum: I love doing that. I love the technical challenge of coming up with voices that are distinct enough that can play off of each other realistically. In the case of GI Joe Resolute, I probably would have cast me a little less in that because it was such a short piece that my voice overwhelmed my ears. I could tell it was me and it kind of bugged me a bit. But, they were very limited with the budget they had for that and that was sort of a teaser for a grander idea and so we worked with what we had. And we had a very short amount of time to record it too, so we did the best we could under the circumstances. In most cases they’ll try to spread out the characters enough so they aren’t necessarily talking to one another, but personally I love that, I love that challenge. It was a freakin’ party in there.
Geeks of Doom: I know a lot of people who really enjoyed that factor of Resolute, just marveling at your ability to act against yourself.
Steve Blum: Thank God! Felt like I barely pulled that one out! I’ve been doing that for years. It’s sort of a requirement in anime, you have to be able to play multiple characters. Still to this day we’re required to do an average of three voices on an episode of pretty much anything we work on. They usually try to spread them out so they’re not right next to each other but if you’re going to have any longevity in the business you have to be able to do several characters within the course of an episode. So it’s nothing new and it’s something we’re all prepared to do. Hopefully.
Geeks of Doom: Moving onto Transformers, which is probably the big thing you’re working on right now, what can you tell us about what’s coming up?
Steve Blum: Well, I’m not allowed to talk the story per se, only because I don’t want to give anything away –that and the fact that Soundwave is watching my every move with tentacles and lasers pointed at my spark chamber. The only thing I can say about my character, Starscream, is that he’s going to get some of his just desserts in the next season. Some of the badness that he’s been spreading around is going to come back to him and that’s about as far as I can go at the moment. It gets pretty hairy in the second season for a lot of the characters. There’ll be some incredible guest stars and some really fun and surprising twists. We’ll also just dig a little deeper into the lives and history of all the characters.
Geeks of Doom: Starscream is a fairly popular character on the show, and I know that you’ve taken the voice in a different direction as opposed to the original voice. Was the change something that you did intentionally or was it something that the creators of the show came to you with?
Steve Blum: l I auditioned for it from my home studio so I just took the specs that they gave me and fortunately it was basically a description of my impression of what Starscream would have been from the very beginning. Sort of the dark, delusional, megalomaniacal bad bot. They said they wanted to go a little bit darker than in previous versions, so that’s where I started. And then I saw the character design for him, immediately I thought dark, snaky and snarky. So I started there and sort of worked my way up. I’ve seen some of the episodes from some of the earlier incarnations, including the old Generation 1 stuff, so I had some of Chris Latta’s (the original voice of Starscream) voice somewhere in the back of my head and the Transformers movies with the amazing Charlie Adler voicing Starscream, and he had a pretty vicious take on him as well. So all of that kind of ran in the background as I approached it on my own, and as I do with most characters I’ll just go by what instinctually comes up first, rounded out with influences, whether they be intentional or ambient, and then I build on that, and then the directors will sometimes ask me to sprinkle in some of the more classic voice types on top in certain scenes or for certain emotions.
Geeks of Doom: Moving a bit into the past with Cowboy Bebop, and just how did you come up with that character? Was it something where they explained what the character was and you took it from there?
Steve Blum: Well, like a lot of anime we didn’t have much to go on, and I hadn’t seen the show before I auditioned for it, so I just had words on paper. I had a great director there who really knew what was going on with the series and had seen it front to back and I basically relied on her to dial me in on the character. Without Mary, I’m not sure what it would’ve sounded like! What was so great about Spike is that he’s really close to my regular speaking voice. I actually had Spike a little bit tougher and maybe even more film noir-ish based on the visual on my first take, but then we basically went back to my regular speaking voice and from there just smoothed it out. So that was probably the easiest character to slip in to once I let myself relax into him… Although I wasn’t really sure what my regular speaking voice was at that point, and still don’t know sometimes! [laughs] But what made Spike challenging for me was later on in the movie, we came to a moment there where he actually became vulnerable for a couple of scenes and that was something that hadn’t happened throughout the series. I actually found that more difficult for me than the bulk of the recording. Taking him to that place and going there internally.
Geeks of Doom: Well, thanks for taking the time to speak to us and giving us some insight into the whole process of voice acting.
Steve Blum: My pleasure. Thanks for having me. And a huge thank you to everyone out there who supports what we do. I’m deeply grateful. Bang.