Ever wonder what it’s like to be the voice behind some of the world’s most favorite and notable characters? I recently had the wonderful opportunity to chat with John Kassir, the voice of Elliot the dragon in Disney’s Pete’s Dragon, coming out Friday, August 12th.
I have been a fan of John’s for as long as I can remember. I grew up watching him behind the voice of The Crypt Keeper from HBO’s Tales From The Crypt as well as many, many cartoons and movies. He’s had quite an extraordinary career ranging from voice-over work in movies, shows, video games to on camera and on stage work. Having the chance to chat with him about his work is something I will cherish.
Soon, we get to “hear” him as Elliot flying across screens in Pete’s Dragon starring Robert Redford, the lovely Bryce Dallas Howard, Karl Urban, Wes Bentley, Oakes Fegley as Pete. I’m quite excited to see this film, everything about it looks amazing.
What was it like voicing Elliot the dragon in Disney’s reimaging of Pete’s Dragon?
Well, it was a lot of fun, it was hard work of course. In this case, I got to voice the dragon from the film that was for the most part made. In most cases I have to voice my part without any images other than the direction that I get from the pictures and ya know often some storyboards, that kind of thing, and then of course once they animate it, we go back and clean up some things and add some things and that kind of thing. This situation they had already animated everything, the live action shop, for the most part and I had to go in and do a bunch of different versions of all the different things that I was seeing, so that was kind of a luxury to have that but at the same time it was hard because it was so beautifully done I had to rise to what they had done so it was an exciting process. Long process and it came out really great.
How were you approached for the project? Did you have to audition or was the casting department familiar with your work?
The director was familiar with my work, he brought me in to do some background vocals for a shot that the actor from New Zealand, I think, who couldn’t do vocal pickups at that time. They needed something temporary and the director knew my work, so he brought me in to do it with the intent of asking me to give a try on some of the dragon vocals. So, I did some for him during that session and it was exactly what they wanted so they hired me on the spot. And of course once we got started they kept liking what they were hearing and wanting more and more so we wound up with a bunch of different sessions to do that.
What’s it like to be the voice behind one of the world’s most popular characters, The Crypt Keeper?
Well, that’s sweet of you to say. For me it was a lot of fun just to be involved in it originally. I used to collect the comic books when I was a kid, so it was a lot of fun to have the opportunity to audition for it and then to my surprise it was such a great show, I was excited to be on it and of course it wound up lasting seven seasons, which is incredible with anything you do in television. I always loved the show and I always loved the Crypt Keeper and having a blast doing it. I’m a horror fan myself so I enjoy going to the horror conventions and seeing other people , horror people and horror fans. Of course, much to my surprise also it was great to finally find out that there was a whole generation of people who grew up watching Tales From The Crypt when they weren’t suppose to at a young age (laughs) and there ya know being a whole new generation of Tales From The Crypt Fans so to me the comic book is legendary, the show is legendary, and obviously the character is legendary so I’m really proud to be a small part of that and to be associated as the voice of the Crypt Keeper.
Are there any episodes that stand out in you mind?
Ya know there was obviously “Oils Well That Ends Well” which was the last show of the sixth season, which was originally suppose to be the very last episode of Tales From The Crypt, then we got picked up for a seventh season, the one they shot in London, but that was suppose to be the last episode and they had me star in it on camera along with Lou Diamond Phillips and Priscilla Presley that was kind of *in Crypt Keeper voice* one that’s a little close to my heart, if I had one *famous Crypt Keeper laugh*. But some of my favorites include “The Man Who Was Death” that was directed by Walter Hill that starred William Sadler, which actually was the first episode aired, just a great episode, Ry Cooder did the music for it, it just had a really great feel to it. I loved “Death Of Some Salesman” directed by Gil Adler which starred Tim Curry as the mother, and the father, and the daughter who bring a gnarly fate to Ed Begley Jr’s character, it’s a great, great episode. I think Tim Curry was nominated for an Emmy for that. He should have won, he was great. And then ” The Ventriloquist Dummy” directed by Richard Donner, it’s one of my favorites with Bobcat Goldthwait and Don Rickles with a ventriloquist dummy twist, that’s definitely one of my favorites, it’s just so classically a comic book story brought to life so well, I really dug that one.
I think my favorite one was the soap, where humans were made into soap.
Oh my god, (laughs) you like the really dark stuff .
Well, I thought it was funny. I didn’t really think it could happen so it was hilarious to me (laughs).
Well, that’s the great thing about Tales From The Crypt, the humor that’s brought to it, the tongue-in-cheek aspect to it makes it more like a rollercoaster ride than anything else. The Crypt Keeper let’s you know that you’re gonna have fun and this is a fun thing to do and if he were apart of that rollercoaster ride, he would be the ride up the ramp that takes you all the way to the top before it drops you. It’s just a really fun thing to do. I feel pretty excited about it.
What challenges do you feel there are as a voice performer?
There’s definitely some advantages too being a voice actor and that’s I’m not typed out by my physical look or my age or race or even whether I’m human or not, so that’s kind of very cool. Some of the disadvantages are it’s mostly in your imagination, so you have to create a lot of things that aren’t there. Which makes it much more fun and creative on some levels, but very often you have to work in the studio as opposed to a great location, which you might get to work with. You don’t always have as many actors to play off of which is one of the fun things about on-camera acting or on stage acting. So those are some of the differences , some of the advantages and disadvantages of voice acting.
When you’re going on a voice over assignment, is there any special preparation you take?
Well, obviously I like to take care of my voice, I like to do a good warm up for my voice before I do my voice work. Obviously I want to do my research and make sure that I come in prepared, to bring different choices to the table for the director and the creators when I go in so that I have a bag of tricks to draw from when we go start recording. A lot of times I’ve already auditioned for it, we know what the voice is or have already worked on it. We know what the voice is, I’m gonna go in and make sure out of the 1,000 voices I’ve done, that I remember which one I’m gonna do. But taking care of my instrument is one of the most important things. I did musicals in New York, on and off the Broadway stage so I learned how to properly take care of my voice and warm it up to get the most out of my voice.
Is there any advice you would offer an actor who wanted to pursue voice over work?
Yes, certainly. Voice over work is a very tough field. You certainly have to compete against a lot of people who are already well established but there is also a great market out there for union and non-union performers to audition on some of the online voice audition sites. Obviously, having good representation is an important thing if you want to make a career out of it. And knowing what you’re doing and knowing the lingo and knowing how to deliver once you’re given a job is an important thing. You can nowadays put together your own recording equipment right to your laptop, you can make your own reel. And of course there are classes that are offered very often from voice directors and voice actors and voice casters, those are also great ways to make connections, but also a way to get your professional reel together and also to get experience and also you can give yourself a professional edge that other people may not have.
Since you said you’re a fan of horror movies, what’s your favorite horror movie?
My favorite horror movie? Well, I can tell you what my favorite horror movies were. They were definitely the Universal horror movies. When I was a kid I loved the whole library of them. Dracula, Frankenstein, to this day my favorite comedy is still Abbot and Costello Meets Frankenstein. So I loved the monster movies, they had just such a style to them that was haunting anything with a theremin, ya know in the background was always some of my favorites. I remember what I thought was the scariest movie when I was growing up was definitely The Exorcist, that kind of resonated in a way that was pretty, pretty scary. It set the standard for a lot of those type of religious or satanic or psychological horror movies that came to follow. So I think that’s a great movie too.
Are you working on any current projects that you can share with us right now?
Well, of course Pete’s Dragon is my main project that’s coming out. I’m very excited about that. It’s such a beautiful movie and everyone is loving it, the reviews are off the charts and David Lowery, the director did a wonderful personal job with the movie it’s just has such a intimate feel to it, even though it’s got effects and all those things, you just fall in love with the characters. Bring a handkerchief, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it’s a good movie. Disney’s quite proud of it as well, you can tell by how much they’re plugging it. I’m really proud to be apart of it, it’s really an instant classic for sure. Most of the other projects I’m doing, well I’m shooting a movie called And Then There Was Eve that I start shooting next week, that’s on camera. And voice over wise I’m currently working on a number of games and a new animated feature , I’m swore to secrecy on those, so you’ll know about them when I’m allowed to say something about them. So, they’re keeping me busy, I’m really lucky and happy to be working on good projects.
Make sure you all go out and see Disney’s Pete’s Dragon hitting theaters Friday, August 12th.
If you want to see what else John Kassir is up too, what conventions he is attending as well as other projects, follow his page on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @JohnKassir
Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter @erinwise82 or @thenerdygirlexp