Speak Well, He Can
An interview with the voice of Yoda
Tom Kane can do a good evil robot. He gets a lot of computer voices thrown his way. Stanley Kubrick even picked him to be the new HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey just before Kubrick died. Kane's also done a ton of animation voicings, including Professor Utonium in “The Powerpuff Girls” and Monkey Fist on “Kim Possible.” He was both Tony Stark and Ultron in the "Iron Man" cartoons, so he got to fight himself.
Kane has one of the best voiceover parts in the biz—he's Yoda these days in all the Clone Wars releases and associated Star Wars video games.
Kane talked with the Alibi about voiceover work and everyone’s favorite jedi master—and the one gig he'll never get.
What was it like taking over the voice of such a beloved character? Especially one who’s so well known for the way he speaks?
It was weird, you know, because I'm a fan, first and foremost. Normally in animation, your job is to sort of come up with something new and cool. That's why they give you the job—they like your twist on whatever it is. But when you're taking over something that's already an iconic character like that, your job is the opposite. You've really just got to try to keep it as true to the original as you can. So while I'm working on the project, I'm focused on trying to make it sound as good as I can. But of course, afterwards I still sort of sit back and go, Wow, did I—did I just do Yoda for something?
“James Earl Jones ... he's just got a very unique sound. It's very specific and round—very good diction, almost a hint of Jamaican. He's just very hard to mimic perfectly.”
How did you get the part?
Like a lot a guys, I did a pretty decent Yoda, and one day, I was working on a different Lucas project and there was some dialogue for Yoda. I was just goofing off and reading it as Yoda. What I didn't know was that [original voice of Yoda] Frank Oz was off directing ... and he wasn’t available. So I just happened to be goofing off in the right place at the right time, and the producer was like, Hmm. They recorded some of it, and played it for George [Lucas], and George said, Yeah, he's good, use him.
Did you do voices for your kids?
When they were younger ... I would read them books, children's books. I would always try to liven it up by giving the characters different sounds. The funny thing is that when kids are really little, sometimes they don't like that. I remember Jim Cummings, who is the voice of Winnie the Pooh and Tigger, told me one time one of his daughters basically said, Can you just ... not ... can you just read it? They didn't want to be reminded that Winnie the Pooh wasn't a real thing, that it was really just Dad.
What’s the most common thing people ask you to say in Yoda's voice?
Well they usually like to hear the “Judge me by my size, do you?” line. They like that one. That or the “Do or do not, there is no try.”
Are there any characters you'd really like to do that you haven't yet?
Probably the coolest voiceover gig this century, of course, is Darth Vader. Everyone wants to do something they can't do, and Vader's it for me.
Why is Vader so hard to do?
You have to sound like James Earl Jones, and he's just got a very unique sound. It's very specific and round—very good diction, almost a hint of Jamaican. He's just very hard to mimic perfectly.
Once you started doing Yoda, did you look to see if any of the rabid Star Wars fans had noticed?
Oh, definitely. ... The funny part is, a fan pointed out to me the other day something I really hadn't thought of: To the entire younger generation of people, you are Yoda. There's this whole generation of people who grew up on the games and the cartoons and Clone Wars. They hear your Yoda far more than they ever heard [Frank Oz] in the movies. And I said, "Well, that's kind of cool."
Tom Kane will answer questions about the Star Wars universe at the Albuquerque Comic Expo:
Friday, June 24, 5 p.m. (Panel Room A)
Sunday, June 26, 2 p.m. (Panel Room A)
Screen Talk at Jean Cocteau Cinema
An evening of behind-the-scenes screenwriting stories, straight-talk advice and good humor with screenwriter and Santa Fe resident Kirk Ellis.
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