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INTERVIEW: ROB PAULSEN AND MAURICE LAMARCHE ON 'ANIMANIACS'

Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
October 25, 2021

Two veterans of the voice acting world whose work is engrained in the childhood nostalgia of pop culture, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche reprise their roles as lab mice Pinky and Brain in Hulu's revival of the '90s animated classic Animaniacs, now in its second season. Though over two decades have passed since their original run and technology has since transformed society, the lovable, scheming duo have remained stalwart in their mission to do the same thing they do every night: try to take over the world.

In these excerpts from a group interview conducted with a handful of outlets, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche talk about the misadventures of their murine characters, and share a bit of oral history on the origins of their voices. Additionally, Maurice graciously entertained our appreciation for another of his long-lived roles: that of the animated Egon Spengler from The Real Ghostbusters, which ran from 1986 to 1991.

Seasons one and two of the Animaniacs revival, along with the complete original series, are streaming now on Hulu.




MEDIA: Maurice, obviously Orson Welles and Harold Ramis were the starting points for your performances as Brain and Egon, but at what point does an impersonation take on a life of its own and become distinct from its inspiration? And Rob, going back to the earliest days of Animaniacs, did you test drive a wide assortment of voices for Pinky before finding the perfect complement to an Orson Wellesian Brain?

MAURICE: I don't think Rob knew I was going to do Orson Welles for Brain, so that's the sort of genius of [writer/producer] Tom Ruegger and [voice director] Andrea Romano, of putting those together and going, "Those two guys would be great together." It's interesting, you talk about it starting out as an impression and then taking a life of its own--I think that happened in both those characters. I started out doing a much more subdued Harold, but I realized that as we went along, and the [voice] directors pushed me in that direction--Marsha Goodman on Ghostbusters--that Egon was going to have to have a little more expression and a little more action in his voice. So he kind of started in that sort of Harold "I collect spores, molds, and fungus" place, but as he went on, he had to take on a little more oomph. And so it became its own thing. With Brain, it started as a Welles impression. By episode three, we were kind of folding in, like a souffle, an egg yolk of Vincent Price, so that there's a little high and a little bit of a low for Brain. And in there is where he lives. I watch footage of Welles now, and I realize how much I've departed from Welles. And yet I can still do Welles, I've dubbed actors playing Welles in a couple of things. So they do take on their own life.



ROB: [pauses] Yeah. And I'm sorry, I was so enthralled by what Mo was saying...What was your question for me again?

MAURICE: [jokes] "How much do you love what Mo is doing?" That was the question.

ROB: Oh that! A lot! [gives a thumbs up]

[laughs] Did you try out other voices for Pinky?

ROB: Oh yes, I'm sorry. Yes, in fact, I did. I had six callbacks for Animaniacs. And when Pinky was ultimately cast, I don't exactly recall what else I was auditioning with, but I do know that the guy who had already been decided (at least up to a certain point) was probably in the running to be Pinky was our mutual friend John Astin, who was not only Sean's father, but Gomez Addams from The Addams Family. And John, of course, is just a marvelous actor. But it was my deep love and appreciation for British humor that...Because we're dealing with cartoon characters, and there was no prototype, that gives me a ton of room to play. So I just tried throwing something in there that was my take on what it might have been had Pinky been a Monty Python character. [demonstrates a low, slow voice] "And it was a little bit more sort of stupid--you know, down here--at the beginning: Egad, Brain! It's difficult saying the words [with R-sounds]..." And then as it morphed and Brain got to be in his groove, Pinky became a little bit higher and a little bit more effusive and excited and happy and fun, fun, silly willy, and...Narf!

How do you suppose Pinky and Brain's dynamic would be changed with the addition of a new companion--say, a "Third Musketeer" to the group?

MAURICE: Well, you'd need to go back to the OG series, available on Hulu, and watch the episode "Pinky and the Brain and Larry." It was [writers] Gordon Bressack and Charlie Howell's answer to that question.

ROB: Yes!

MAURICE: The brilliance of it was they did add a third mouse to the team, because there was talk of spinning Pinky and the Brain off into their own show, and some of the executives at the then WB network said, "Well, we gotta expand the family--we can't just have a half hour show of these two characters trying to take over the world, so we gotta add more characters." And Gordon and Charlie and I, almost as a protest, wrote this episode where we add a mouse version of Larry Fine from The Three Stooges to Pinky and the Brain. And the genius of Andrea Romano...Of course they had already collaborated that Billy West would play the mouse Larry. And when you watch the episode, you'll see how it affects the balance between these two characters. They are a perfectly balanced team! And you add anything to it, and something doesn't work.

ROB: And it turns out this [season], we do have a third mouse! We have Julia.

MAURICE: Yes! But she's on the outside and she's our adversary, so it's a little bit of a different thing. But her portrayal by Maria Bamford is just such a joy to watch. It truly is.

ROB: [gasps] Just kills it. Just kills it.



How was your experience of working on the episode in which Brain and Pinky are accidentally conjoined?

MAURICE: Well, believe it or not, that was one of the episodes that, due to the pandemic, we didn't get to record together. We were setting up our home studios, and our schedules were in conflict, and we weren't sure how we could hook each other up so that we could see each other and hear each other...So we both kind of had to guess what the other was going to do with the character. So we recorded that episode solo.

ROB: But it's interesting that you brought that up, because you, I think, are the fourth journalist today who's brought up that particular episode who seemed to like it. And that is a testament to the folks who are putting it together. Because we were in totally uncharted territory. And we always prefer being together...The scripts are always really solid, but if we improvise or try stuff, even if it doesn't end up on the screen, the energy that happens between these really wonderful actors is just organic, I don't know how to explain it. It just makes everything better. So it was definitely a bit of a challenge, and especially with that episode.

MAURICE: Yeah, in the OG series, we never didn't record together. If one of us got a cold, they actually waited a week to get us in the studio together.

ROB: Yeah, always way better.

MAURICE: So this was, as you say, uncharted territory, Rob.

ROB: But it sounds like that particular episode where we're attached worked.

MAURICE: Now I can't wait to see it! We haven't seen screeners yet...You guys know more about the show than we do. [laughs]


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