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Listen: Samurai Jack’s Phil LaMarr on how to age a character through their voice

Samurai Jack is back after more than a decade. Voice actor Phil LaMarr explains what that means for Jack. 

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Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

You can hear someone’s age in their voice.

That’s the point that voice actor Phil LaMarr illustrates in a new episode of Vox critic at large Todd VanDerWerff’s podcast, I Think You’re Interesting. LaMarr, whose voice you’d recognize as Futurama’s Hermes Conrad and Justice Leagues John Stewart, among many other voice roles, was speaking in this case about the new season of his show Samurai Jack.

The new season of Jack premiered on March 11, 2017, a decade and change after the show ended its fourth season in September 2004. The new revival leaned into the age gap, and now takes place 50 years later — a jump that opened up an avenue for LaMarr and VanDerWerff to discuss the concept of aging for a voice actor:

VANDERWERFF: It’s 50 years later; the character has not aged. In the time since it’s been off, you probably have aged. How did you approach that question of someone who’s 50 years older but also not older — creating and stepping back into that role, and finding that element? He sounds wearier, but also not, if that makes sense.

LAMARR: There are vocal things we associate with age. Depth. Texture. Things that make — weakness, physical weakness. Those are the things we associate with age. If this is what I sounded like when I was young, this is what I sound like mature and this is what I sound like older. That’s not the case here. His age is solely mental. It’s — what’s that line from Raiders of the Lost Ark? It’s not the years, it’s the mileage. That’s literally what it is with him. It’s nothing physically [that] has changed that much. Everything mentally has changed.

This transcription doesn’t do LaMarr’s voice justice; you really have to listen to the bit, and hear how he adds different kinds of depth and scraggly texture to his voice, and how it shifts the image he’s creating.

Listening to LaMarr’s casual expression of vocal aging makes you appreciate the kind of thought and preparation voice actors go through in their heads, and how they hear the world differently.

You can listen to I Think You’re Interesting on iTunes and Android apps, or at its official page. To hear more interviews with interesting people from all branches of the entertainment industry — from powerful showrunners to web series creators to documentary filmmakers — check out our archives.

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