When it comes to voice acting in video games or animation there are definitely some established actors. Some actors make their name for playing a specific role for a majority of their career while others jump from various projects, always putting in a unique performance that’s never forgotten.
One such actor that has been in the voice acting game for over twenty years is David Kaye. Now unless you’re a voice acting enthusiast you may not recognize Mr. Kaye’s name but you’ve most likely heard him before. Having played characters such as Megatron in Beast Wars/Beast Machine, Optimus Prime in Transformers Animated, along with playing characters in Gundam Wing, X-Men: Evolution and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Mr. Kaye has provided the voice to characters that people love.
But Mr. Kaye’s most notable role, especially to gamers, is his performance as the small robot Clank in the popular Ratchet & Clank series and as Nathan Hale in the Resistance series. That alone shows Mr. Kaye’s diversity as an actor when you consider the man behind the voice for Megatron is also responsible for the kind and slightly geeky robot that is Clank.
Mr. Kaye was nice enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to discuss his career and some of the projects he’s been a part of. I hope everyone digs this as there are some interesting tidbits dropped by Mr. Kaye.
Ian Fisher: Somewhat of a standard question but can you tell us how you got into the voice acting industry? And once you did get into voice acting did you think you would be in it for as long as you have been, let alone be famous for roles certain roles?
David Kaye: I was always interested in television and radio and the media even a really young age. After some years on the air as a disc jockey I joined a morning show in Vancouver, Canada and started doing characters and singing goofy songs and making up voices, etc. While in Vancouver I signed up for a commercial/modeling course. The modeling part was...uh...kinda..not me but the commercial acting classes were fun and the man who taught the course went on to become my first agent. Within a few weeks DIC animation was casting GI Joe and my new agent asked if I could ‘do voices’ I lied and said YES! I really had no idea what I was in for. I went and read for a few characters and ended up landing the role of General Hawk. That’s where the love affair started and I made the decision after the first session that this was what I wanted to do forever! Once in, my goal was to continually evolve and make sure I was in this for the long haul. As far as ‘famous’ I really didn’t expect any of that. Sure has been fun!
When you were cast on Beast Wars in the role of Megatron did you have an idea that this was going to be a big project for you, in terms of how recognized you would become for the character, especially given the size of the Transformers fan base?
No. No idea. I had heard of the show from the 80’s but never really remembered it. I pretty much walked in with no expectations
Having played Megatron for close to three years and seen fellow actor Gary Chalk portray Optimus Prime in Beast Wars/Machines, was it somewhat easy for you to jump into the role of Optimus Prime in Transformers Animated since you had knowledge of the character and a base to follow? Or was it perhaps challenging in a way stepping into a role that was so established already?
David Kaye: I actually played Megatron from about 1994 on through 2001 or 2 I think, in various series. Optimus came in 2003-04? Man I forget I’ve been involved with the franchise for over 15 or more years as far as I can tell. It was a show cast in Los Angeles and since I was based in LA I was able to work on the show if I actually got a part. I auditioned for Megatron, thinking at the call backs that I was playing him again, then they all told me to try Optimus as they were having trouble filling the role. It wasn’t an easy transition. Totally different character and rhythm, etc etc AND he was the ‘good’ guy!
Some of the projects you’ve worked on such as Beast Wars had all the actors sit together in a room to record their dialogue. As an actor do you wish more projects (both games and anime/cartoons) did this since it creates a theater like atmosphere between the actors?
David Kaye: Sure it’s way more fun. Most of the time it’s how it’s done. On feature animated films though, and due to celebrities schedules and the nature of the business here in LA, it’s tough to get everyone together for a record anyway. But there’s nothing like the energy in the room when the cast is all together.
For certain animated projects, such as G.I. Joe, did you perhaps try to amp your performance a bit since the acting was what really brought the character to life?
David Kaye: That was my first series back in ‘89 I think. I didn’t really know what I was doing. As far as ‘amping’ it up some show’s call for a little ‘amping’ others want it very conversational and underplayed. A lot of video game projects are going that way, which I like. It’s more real.
Having played a wide range of characters was there a particular role you somewhat struggled to find the voice and identity of?
David Kaye: Yes. Animated Optimus! Took a few shows to get him down. Still to this day, I’d like another crack at it.
Over your career you’ve been in projects where you’ve played a character for an extended period of time, whether it’s doing 25+ episodes in a show like Gundam Wing, eight Ratchet & Clank games or countless episodes of Transformers. Do you prefer doing long projects since as an actor you can see your character grow and add more to your performance given the material you have to work with?
David Kaye: Sure. The character (and me) have more time to get comfortable with the project and the role.
As a veteran voice actor do you think that voice acting is now looked upon as being fully “legitimate”? By that I mean that in the past despite the performances and level of quality from the actors it almost seemed like voice acting was looked down upon in some respects or at least not acknowledged fully.
David Kaye: I never knew and never cared really. I was a job I always wanted to do and now that I’m beginning to do more movie trailer and network promo work I can honestly say it’s a dream come true. As for the nature of the style in which things are done now, with video games, and certain cartoons, etc, the more ‘real’ it is the better. Just go back and pull up some old ‘Superfriends’ on YouTube and you’ll hear the acting ‘style’ is quite different! It SOUNDS like a comic book. I still actually LOVE all the old stuff it’s hilarious. In a good way.
Has it ever bothered you when Hollywood actors are cast in video games? In some cases it works and Grand Theft Auto is an example of that. But in other cases it flops terribly and almost ruins the experience. Does it bother you that at times quality actors like yourself are losing out on potential projects to actors who don’t give a damn and who are only cast for marketing purposes?
David Kaye: Well unfortunately that’s how Hollywood works. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Pixar and Dreamworks and the like so I’m not complaining. What I don’t like is how ‘easy’ some think it is and then get in there and are completely lost. That’s a waste of time for all involved.
Mr. Kaye as Clank in "Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time"
You’ve worked on the Ratchet & Clank series since its inception on the PlayStation 2 in 2002 up to its most recent release on the PlayStation 3. Having seen the jump of the visuals do you think we’re getting closer to the point where video games can match or exceed the experience found in movies, both from a narrative and visual perspective?
David Kaye: Absolutely. And by the way, the fun is just beginning!!!
What has it been like to work on the Ratchet & Clank series for so long? Over the years the character of Clank has become absolutely huge, which is of course due to your amazing acting. Would you rank the material in the R&C games and the character itself as some of the best work you've done?
David Kaye: I love the people involved. It’s ALWAYS a blast going in to work on this series. I don’t, as a rule, do a lot of VG’s based on the fact that I just don’t have large blocks of time during the day to do them. It also depends on the individual project and especially the people involved. The R & C stuff is written so well, and it’s always such a great atmosphere that I guess it comes through in the performance. They make it easy and fun so that translates into the work I think.
This may be a somewhat silly fanboy thing to ask but based on your history with the character I have to ask this. What are your thoughts, if any, on Hugo Weaving’s performance as Megatron in the Transformers films? As an actor is it somewhat difficult for you to see someone else step into a role that you’ve established so well over the years? And even though the Transformers films don't entirely focus on the Autobots and Decepticons, would you be open to playing a character in a Transformers movie?
David Kaye: Certainly. I would have LOVED to grunt or groan or something. But I certainly wasn’t expecting a call from Michael Bay. I did audition for a few characters but to no avail. Who knows if anyone even heard them. I’m truly happy for Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, two of my idols and original Transformers voices to be cast in the films. Hugo is a favorite actor of mine as well and hey, it’s ‘Hollywood’ so what are ya gonna do.
Has there ever been a project you’ve worked on that has really surprised you to the point where you were like “Whoa, this is better than what I thought it was going to be?” Or was there ever something that surprised you from a story perspective such as the ending of Resistance 2 and the surprise death of Nathan Hale?
David Kaye: What!!??He dies??!!
You’ve played a wide range of characters in various genres over your illustrations career. But which character would you want to be remembered for when you step away from voice acting?
David Kaye: Honestly...truly? Really?? Well I’ve dreamed of voicing movie trailers since I was 8. No Joke. Saturday Matinee at my hometown movie theatre. ‘The Legend of Boggy Creek’ was the film and this ‘voice’ comes on announcing the newest movie. Old school announcer. I honestly looked up and was enamored with that voice and have never forgotten. I’m now beginning that career as of January, and although ‘Megatron’ would be the ‘character’ I’d like to be remembered for in cartoon land, I’m leaning toward being one of the busiest cast of voices you hear in movie theatres everywhere.
Lastly, what projects can we expect to hear you in next? Will you be reprising any roles in upcoming projects like Nathan Hale from the Resistance franchise?
David Kaye: Don’t know about Nate. There are some interesting developments always coming from Insomniac games. We’re working on more R & C currently. I’ve guest appeared on the new Scooby Doo recently working with Maurice Lemarche and Frank Welker. The Regular Show and Flap Jack are shows I’ve worked on recently and a bit of ‘insider’ news if you will, I’ve just begun working at Warner Brothers Studios and a new and exciting project for the ‘Batman’ VG franchise. Deets coming soon.
I would like to thank Mr. Kaye for taking the time to participate in the interview. And very interesting tidbits about Resistance and R&C. Hmm, I wonder who Mr. Kaye will play in Batman: Arkham Asylum 2. Could make for a terrific Two-Face or Black Mask.