John DiMaggio is one of the most sought-after and hardest-working voice actors in the biz today. He grew to prominence as the voice of Bender Bending Rodriguez on the Matt Groening-created animated sci-fi comedy series Futurama, and has stayed in prominence with roles in things like Cartoon Network’s trippy and hilarious Adventure Time as Jake the Dog. For the past few years, he has been working on a passion project, a documentary film entitled I Know That Voice that features virtually every voice actor in the business today. DiMaggio is the film’s executive producer and acts as its narrator. Though the film is still being edited, culling hundreds of hours of footage, it is available for pre-order now through the film’s official website. Mr. DiMaggio was nice enough to talk to us about the film and about his work, Bender, Jake, and even the Joker.
NERDIST: You’ve been working on this film for such a long time; How did you get the idea for a film about voice actors and voice acting, and how did it finally get going?
JOHN DIMAGGIO: A couple of years ago, I guess it was about 2010, my buddy and I, Lawrence Shapiro, he’s the director of the film, we were in Amsterdam for a music festival, and people there knew me from all kinds of different cartoon stuff that I had done. Larry was like, “Wow, we should do a movie about people who do cartoon voices,” and I thought that was a really interesting idea. We could do that. And we started to really try and put something together, but we didn’t really have the means and the know-how to really organize it and get it done. That’s when, in about October of 2011, I brought in Tommy Reid, who’s the producer on the movie. He said, “I really want to do something with you,” because we’d worked together in the past, and I said, “What about this project?” And he said, “That sounds unbelievable. That sounds incredible. Let’s do it.” And we just started putting it together, and people started coming out of the woodwork to come and talk to us, and once we started talking to people, people started hearing about it. I mean, we’ve got 160 hours of unedited footage and we’ve broken it down to 90 minutes of some great stuff.
Basically, it’s everything you ever wanted to know about voice acting and the animation industry but were afraid to ask. It’s turned out really great. We couldn’t be happier. The film has already on our website garnered 1,100 pre-orders in two weeks, which is pretty good word of mouth. When we originally put a trailer out to garner attention, it went viral, to our surprise. It got close to 700,000 hits with nobody really pushing it. So, we’re very excited about it. We’ve been in post-production for awhile. You know, that takes a sweet minute [laughs]. As a first-time filmmaker, it’s been frustrating, but it’s coming together and coming together well. That’s the good thing; it’s just a matter of time. It should be wrapped up and released by the fall.
N: That must be gratifying to have that many pre-orders so far in advance.
JD: It’s really amazing! We really wanted to make sure that our core audience was aware of this. We want people who are interested in this genre to know that this is a go-to film. We want them to know that any question they have about voice acting, this is the movie they should watch. It’s really been something; the support has been phenomenal, and the movie’s not even out yet. Word of mouth is really something.
N: Since you did interview so many voice actors, how long did it take to shoot everything?
JD: It took a while. We shot for well over a year, year-and-a-half. We’ve been in post-production since the beginning of the year. About 15 months altogether, I’d say. About 15-16 months to get all those interviews. I’d be in the studio and I’d look at the people in the studio with me and say “Hey, you wanna be interviewed for this film?” And people were like, “Oh my God, yeah!” That was key for me. Being the executive producer of the film, that’s what I needed to do. I needed to get those strings pulled because I was the way into that; I was the connection to that part, and that’s what was really important. You know, it’s been a labor of love; I put up the coin to make this thing. So, I’m pretty excited, and the outpouring of support from my peers has been fantastic. There were people saying, “Man, I wish I’d done that.” Me being in the business really helped. So, that’s what I did, and Tommy put the hustle in and got it organized and Larry was the man in their shooting the thing.
N: So, is it safe to say that the movie leaves no voice acting stone unturned?
JD: For everybody who always has questions for me at conventions, it covers all the bases, and I think it’s something that everyone, you know, from 1 to 92 can get. I don’t think there’s really anybody that doesn’t like cartoons. And if they do, they’re very grumpy. [laughs] You know, so the movie’s really like a valentine to the industry, to the people who’ve really helped me become a successful actor. It’s really about them; these people who are the unsung heroes, if you will, of the entertainment industry. They fly under the radar and they deserve a little kudos and they deserve a round of applause. You know, I Know That Voice, that’s the whole thing.
N: Because so many of our readers are fans of yours, I’m going to ask a couple of questions about you specifically. One of my favorite roles you’ve done is the Joker in Batman: Under the Red Hood. With a character like that, who was really made famous by another actor, how did you go about making it your own?
JD: It was really just tapping into the script, tapping into the reality of it as opposed to the cartoon aspect of it. Really tapping into the mind of a sadistic, psychotic criminal. And also having Andrea Romano in your corner and everybody who was involved. Bruce Timm and all those guys really know what they’re doing. You know, Batman is sacred ground, so you really have to be in the right way to do it. And I really lucked out. I got the call from Andrea and went in and she was like, “You’re gonna play the Joker,” and I was like, “Uhhhhh, okay.” And it’s been great. I get great feedback on it, except from, you know, diehard Mark Hamill fans. [laughs] So, you can’t please them, but that’s all right. I don’t care about that. That’s fine, you know, they can say what they want. They wouldn’t say it to my face, though. [laughs] People talk a lot of shit on the internet and that’s fine, it’s just really funny. Other than that, it’s just a completely positive experience, a wonderful experience, and I’d love to play the Joker again. They have not approached me about playing the Joker again, but if they do, I will leap at the chance.
N: You’ve done so many great roles over the years; how gratifying is when ones like Bender or Jake from Adventure Time strike chords with people the way they do?
JD: Oh, it’s wonderful! It’s the reason you do what you do. I mean, Bender is a franchise character, and so is Jake. It’s just funny, I’m so fortunate to have those opportunities in my life to play these kinds of characters and to touch so many people, you know? Appropriately. [laughs] But, it’s really been fantastic. It blows my mind sometimes. A lot of the time, actually. You walk out on stage at a convention and people lose their minds. And it’s been great, I’ve been really fortunate. Futurama really opened up a lot of doors for me and those doors have continued to stay open. It’s been really wonderful. I love what I do.
N: And, finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about Futurama and Comedy Central’s decision not to pick it up. What’s your reaction to this, and do you think it’ll stay gone or do you think it’ll be back again via a grassroots campaign like last time?
JD: You know, if it gets picked up, great. If it doesn’t, I’ve been doing Futurama since 1999 and sometimes the curtain closes and that’s the thing that you’ve gotta take. I certainly don’t want it to, but I think that this time around is unusual in that it seems like it’s the closest it’s been to really not being anymore. And I hope that’s not the case. I hope that something happens and we get to do it again, because there’s nothing wrong with it. You know, it’s a great show, the writing is still fantastic. Anybody complaining that “Oh, the writing is different,” we have the same writers since we started and anyone that’s new is of Simpsons pedigree. It’s ridiculous; they don’t know what they’re talking about. The show is phenomenal and it’s still got plenty of life in it, plenty of steam in it, plenty of energy in it, plenty of laughs in it. And we’ll see, you know. If somebody decides to do it, if Adult Swim says they want it back, then great. If not, it’ll still go down in my life as one of the greatest things to ever happen to me professionally, and so be it. Let it walk off into the wild blue yonder. Working with Matt Groening and David X. Cohen and all the writers and the actors has been one of my life’s biggest pleasures. I would love to see it keep going, but if it doesn’t, “fare thee well, yo.”
I Know That Voice can be pre-ordered now at IKnowThatVoice.com. And for even more voice actors, check out the second trailer for the film below.