Interview: John DiMaggioSeptember 16, 2018
Recently we had the chance to talk with voice actor John DiMaggio about his extensive career and what it’s like interacting with his eclectic mix of fans.
So how did you get started in the voice acting business?
John: Let’s see…I did theater as a kid an in high school, tried to get my BSA from Rucker’s University and as it turns out I was not really a good student. Luckily I did get to learn a lot, I joined a great theater company as a student and then they had a professional company, I was able to do that when I left school, but then I was doing stand-up comedy with a partner, a friend of mine from college and started doing stand-up in the city. In the early nineties I came up with all the big comics you see today, like Dave Chapelle, Dave Attell, Mark Maron, the much-maligned Louis C.K., then broke up the act in 96’ and went to Los Angeles and started doing other stuff. I got a hospital drama, I don’t know if you remember Chicago Hope, but I did that for eleven episodes but the thing was, once I started to move away from the comedy act I began to do voiceover work in New York, I just started to audition for stuff myself and I asked a friend of mine, actor Zak Orth, and he was in a production of Suburbia at the Lincoln Center at the time, and I said hey man, how do you make ends meet between gigs and he said oh man, voiceovers, it’s great. So I started doing that in New York and once I got to Los Angeles most of the voice over was for animation, and it was a natural fit with my comedy background, and I just started getting gigs here and there and three and a half years after going out there I got Futurama and I guess the rest is history as they say.
Doing theater and stand-up comedy, did that help you professionally, as in having no fear?
John: Yeah, I mean there are certain jobs that you get when you know what to do in front of an audience, and sure there are short cuts that some people would say are cheap but hey, cheap is good, it keeps the laughs coming. It’s interesting, I think you get those chops, you know how to deliver a laugh or hold a moment. You figure out how to breathe life into something, you find your pace, you can give something texture that people can see when you perform live. Yeah, I certainly think it gave me an edge, you think on your feet especially in an audition, when you’re used to being in front of people it’s noticeable, people say ok, this guy’s got the chops.
You’ve done voice acting work on television shows, movies, and video games. Do you approach them differently in terms of preparation or are they all basically the same thing?
John: I’d say they’re all basically the same thing, really, It’s just a matter of how they record it. When you’re doing a film you’re usually by yourself, you’ll table read with everybody, but when you record it’s usually by yourself. On a TV show, you can have an ensemble recording, depending on the scheduling, getting all the actors in the same room so there’s some sort of flow. Video games you’re almost always alone, movies you can sometimes get a few people in there with you which is cool but video games you’re alone. I guess that’s really the only different way you approach it, it’s in the recording of it that’s different.
Are you more animated, pardon the pun, when you are doing voice work or are you quiet and more relaxed during the job?
John: You would probably have to ask that of people who watch me work. I don’t sit there and watch myself work and laugh, you know? I would think I’m animated, sure, but there’s also this certain amount of control you have to exert in the studio when you record because you want to capture that performance, you don’t want to be waving your hands, hitting the mic stand, making noise that they can’t edit out. It’s about getting it right and to be able to perform in front of a microphone, you have to change your performance there, that’s the thing that you’ve got to do.
Was Futurama the proverbial ‘lightbulb over your head’, when you realized that voice acting was something you could make a living at or did something happen before that?
John: No, something happened before that, everything was fine. I was going to go back to New York when I first got out here but then I booked a Blockbuster Video campaign, which is hilarious because Blockbuster is no more and I’m on a Netflix show, which killed them. So yeah, I was already working, I was booking gigs, doing pilots, on camera stuff, I was doing ok but Futurama, it really opened the door. All of a sudden I found myself in the room with the big dogs, we’re talking Billy West, Maurice LaMarche, Tress MacNeille, Frank Welker, Katey Sagal, and Matt Groening, it was crazy. To be put in that company, I mean people start to talk and they say oh man, we’ve got to get this guy in the room, so that was cool, it certainly opened doors and I’ll always be forever thankful to Matt.
What has changed in the voice acting business, say from Futurama to where you are now with Disenchantment?
John: I can totally tell you’re from Toronto by the way you say Futurama…perfect. It’s beautiful, totally Canadian. They say the same in Chicago, it’s funny. Yeah, so back to the question…I think what has changed in the business is the ability for people to audition. There’s a lot of new equipment and new technology that allow people to get their auditions heard but the flipside of that is you’re no longer in the room with the people that are wanting to cast you or work with you. You get these jobs just based on these recordings without people meeting you and I don’t know, it’s kind of strange. I always like to go into a room full of people and get people going like wow, that was a lot of fun, let’s work with that guy as opposed to just recording something in my office and sending if off, that’s definitely different. You used to have to go somewhere to record and now you get a text from you agent saying hey, can you do this thing real quick and it’s like yeah, ok. You’re driving somewhere at the time, you can pull out your mic, record it on your iPad and send it off. It’s weird, it’s convenient yet so impersonal. I think that’s happening across the board with everybody in everything, we’re all staring into our iPhones but with all things, there are pluses and minuses to that. You still have to have the goods to get in the room, though.
Let’s talk about your fans. Are they into your work as a whole or are they more into specific characters, specific lines of dialogue?
John: I don’t know, I guess you could say both. There are people who are like I love Bender but others will say well, Mark Hamill is my favorite Joker. Listen man, I don’t care, they can like what they want, it’s all up to them, I’m not worried about it. If somebody enjoys what I do I’m just grateful that I’m able to do it. It’s funny because I was at convention recently and I have all my pictures out and stuff and people walk up, who only know me as Bender, and they’re like oh my god, you’re Jake the Dog? You’re Aquaman from Brave and the Bold? You were Rico from the Penguins of Madagascar TV show? It’s always a trip because usually they don’t know and that’s always fun to get a rise out of people. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve been able to play a lot of characters so whether they like some of them or all them, it’s really out of my control.
So what projects do you have coming up next?
John: Well, let’s see….there’s nothing I can really talk about! (laughs) When I hear about it, you’ll hear about it. I can’t talk about most of the stuff, NDA’s are a bitch. I mean, can I talk about Disenchantment? Well…no. (laughs) That’s the other thing, I’m also a hired gun, people bring me into stuff here and there and it’s totally cool, I get to have this interesting lifestyle. I don’t know, I’ve got a good thing going and I’m just happy to be around.
I want to thank John for taking the time to talk with us.