Interview With Larry Kenney: Part Two: Thundercats Has His Tongue
For the better part of two decades, voice over actor Larry Kenney has been associated with Lion-O, the leader of the Thundercats.
For the better part of two decades, voice over actor Larry Kenney has been associated with Lion-O, the leader of the Thundercats.
In Part One Kenney spoke with us about his career and the fun they had in the recording booth in the first part of the interview.
In Part Two, Kenney continues to talk about the show and the possibilities of a future movie.
CosmicBookNews: Well, considering the Thundercats were part of the 1980s, so was The Cosby Show…
LARRY KENNEY: [DOING A BILL COSBY IMPRESSION] Yes, it was very huge on the television and the children thought it was marvelous and the adults didn't quite understand it.
CosmicBookNews: [LAUGHS] That's beautiful!
LARRY KENNEY: [DOING A BILL COSBY IMPRESSION] Well, thank you very much!
CosmicBookNews: The gentleman who did the voice of Panthro...
LARRY KENNEY: Earl Hyman.
We had two Earl H's. We had Earl Hammond who was Mumm-Ra and many other characters and Earl Hyman who is still with us was Panthro and he was Bill Cosby's father on The Cosby Show.
CosmicBookNews: Did he ever share what it was like working on The Cosby Show?
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, he often mentioned what a great guy Bill Cosby was and he loved doing his show.
But we really didn't have that much time to swap stories because when we recorded The Thundercats we worked two days a month, we did two episodes each day, we would record four episodes a month.
People would often ask us, “Why would it take so long?”
Well, what the creators begin to do is write 13 scripts, because 13 that's the standard minimum. You don't know four or five weeks in, if it is a hit or if they are going to buy another 13 weeks. So unless you have lots of money in advance you can't pay writers to write 13 more episodes and pay the animators to animate 13 more episodes.
It took almost two and half years to record 130 episodes because we would do it twice -- usually on Thursday or Friday once a month, and we had two episodes each of those days and we would break for lunch.
CosmicBookNews: How did you get involved with the Thundercats?
LARRY KENNEY: There was a process involved in it.
My agent would call and say, for instance, “On Wednesday at 2 p.m. you are to go to 909 Third Avenue and up to the third floor, but stop by our office and pick some scripts the day before.”
My agent would normally say, “We would like for you read for this character this character or this character.”
The creators I would read for would show me pictures or give a brief description of what the show was about and vaguely what they would like for the character to sound like.
And you give them your idea what you think the voice should sound like and sometimes the producers or director would ask, “Can you do the character’s voice a little younger or a little older?”
So I read for the people from Rankin Bass, the people who were in charge of casting the show which included Mr. Rankin himself, and I had to read for him and Lee Donniker, who ended up directing all the shows.
They asked me to read for Lion-O, and I think I read for Tigra.
Someone, later, told me they auditioned 300 actors over a two week period. But about three weeks after I auditioned, my agent called and said, “You got the part of Lion-O on this new show.”
I said, “Great.”
And at the time it was wonderful because it was another job and it is also always nice to get another job.
CosmicBookNews: But it was a job that got you an action figure!
Did you get a chance to collect any of them?
LARRY KENNEY: You know I have one Lion-O figure in my desk drawer here…hang on a sec…[DESK DRAWERS OPEN UP AND CLOSE]
Lion-O, come out of there!
[IN LION-O’S VOICE] Let me out! [LAUGHS].
I have one Lion-O and a Jackalman who I also voiced.
[IN JACKALMAN'S VOICE] We must get the Thundercats, yes?
CosmicBookNews: Oh yes!
He was annoying. [LAUGHS]
LARRY KENNEY: He was a jackal. [LAUGHS]
[IN JACKALMAN’S VOICE Let's sneak up behind their backs and slit their throats! [JACKALMAN'S LAUGH]
CosmicBookNews: That sound like Golem from 1970s cartoon The Hobbitt.
LARRY KENNEY: Are you suggesting here, Don, that I perhaps ripped off a voice?
CosmicBookNews: [LAUGHS] No! I am suggesting I can pick your inspirations.
LARRY KENNEY: Oh that's a good one that's a great response! I'm gonna have to remember that.
Golem isn't that also the name from the Lord of the Rings?
In fact, Rankin Bass in the 1970s did an animated Hobbit movie, with director John Huston doing the voice of Gandalf.
LARRY KENNEY: No kidding.
CosmicBookNews: Yeah, the character of Golem, if you listen, and stay away from the recent film versions with Andy Serkis as Golem, sounds like Jackalman.
LARRY KENNEY: I didn't see it. I will have to listen for it.
When you're talking about animated things, it's a cartoon and they give you the description he's evil he's a mutant and he's called the Jackalman and because jackals are supposed to be sneaky they're like coyotes.
I picture them with their backs slinking down and skulking and stalking their prey. The first thing that comes to an actor’s mind is that sound that [IN VOICE] Snidely Whiplash, “I'm going to get you my dear.”
The characters tend to sound the same.
But I will listen for it.
CosmicBookNews: Please take it as a compliment.
LARRY KENNEY: Oh, I will.
I was mostly kidding.
CosmicBookNews: Mostly kidding? [LAUGHS]
To shift gears, you said before the interview that Rankin Bass were trying to do something that was not so violent and more wholesome, but these days, wholesome has such a negative/syrupy connotation.
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, I know.
CosmicBookNews: But you were telling me they were really trying not as violent as the other cartoons that were popular in the 1980s.
LARRY KENNEY: I don't think that Rankin Bass ever did anything that wasn't top notch. You go back to Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer which was from my childhood with Burl Ives as the narrator and something else with Fred Astaire, and they always did top notch productions.
CosmicBookNews: Dan Gilvazan, who voiced Bumblebee for The Transformers, said that some people criticized the cartoons for being half hour cartoons for toys. But he said it was the toy companies who provided the money for excellent creators to tell stories
LARRY KENNEY: Interesting. I like that.
I certainly like that and I agree with that thought. I certainly haven’t given much thought to asking, “Were we doing a half hour commercials for toys?”
You would have to ask the producers why they decided to do it to begin with I don't think that's why they decided to do it.
You certainly know that at a certain point it became obvious, I don't know if it was in the 1960s or the 1970s when started, making these action figures that sell.
I think in my memory, not from any knowledge of the business I remember G.I. Joe commercials for the toy. I don't remember any action figures for the cartoons before when I was kid.
You weren't buying Zorro action figures with Guy Williams modeled for the toy.
LARRY KENNEY: Exactly, so I don't think anyone can think and invest all this money to begin with to create episodes of a show that may never get on the air just so they could make a lot of money to make action figures.
But that aspect is there once you got a hit show the, toy companies come to you and buy the rights to make action figures.
What are you going to say, “No?”
LARRY KENNEY: It helps perpetuate and enhance the visibility of your own product. I remember taking my oldest daughter who is in her 30s, and there was like three rows of Thundercat figures at Toys R Us.
Even if you never had seen the show and you're a kid and you go there and see these rows of toys, you will say, “I want to see that show.”
Speaking of the show, talk to me about the infamous out takes www.cheezey.org/thundercats/sounds/outtakes
Did you have any idea they would survive so long?
LARRY KENNEY: Not really.
We were adult actors and we had people with great senses of humor and ask any actors, you're going to show off at any chance you get.
Anyway, you're working and are serious about doing the show, but when you mess up, you are going to say, “You dumb [f-word]!”
You never think it is never going to be heard and this in 1983 and no internet. At least everyone in the world didn't have a computer.
We had no idea these things were going to be everywhere.
Every actor who did a project like this knew the engineer or recording engineer and was probably going to tape something like that, that was said on tape.
The engineers probably kept those tapes, and maybe at his Christmas party for his friends he would say, “Listen to what the guys on the Thundercats say when they think no one is going to hear it.”
Now all of a sudden 25 years later, it is on the internet for everyone in the world to hear.
It was a little bit of a shock to us at first, “Oh god. If they hear this there goes the whole nice image people had regarding the Thundercats.”
I thought everybody's going to say, “What foul mouths they had.”
And the exact opposite has happened. Everyone is saying, “Wow that's funny.”
We were just actors having a good time.
It is what anybody else at their job would say when the boss's back is turned and when you're not talking to your client, you say to your friends or co-workers, “You hear what that dumbass said?”
But I was really worried at first that small kids would hear it and say, “Mommy, you hear what Lion-O said?”
But that's not something to worry about.
CosmicBookNews: And obviously the actors were not being prima donnas about it.
LARRY KENNEY: As evidenced by the laughter you hear in the room afterwards.
When you watch a movie and they show the out takes at the end of comedies, you know one actor will say something to another and everyone laughs because they know they're not serious.
When you are doing this sort of work, it may sound strange when you are reading the lines and you have to record it seriously.
[IN LION-O’S VOICE] “Cheetarah. Snarf. We've got to save these people!”
I'm an actor you want to convey that feeling and you feel that so, but every once in a while, you need to break the tension, so that's one of the ways actors do it.
CosmicBookNews: Have you heard anything about any future Thundercats projects?
LARRY KENNEY: Every few years there’s a rumor on the internet the people are going to call me or e-mail about and tell me there's going to be a new “Thundercats” show or movie.
So far they have never panned out.
But I don't want to say I know this for a fact but the latest rumors I've heard, is that Warner Bros. are involved, which would make sense, since they're the ones that put out the DVDs and who are putting out the DVDs of the episodes.
I don't know, it would seem logical to me that if sales of this went well and if they are monitoring sales and if there is a market still out there for Thundercats, they might consider a live action or animated movie.
[NOTE: A CGI-related Thundercats movie was in the works, but as of Aug. 2, Thundercatslair.org, had confirmed it was shelved.]
CosmicBookNews: Would you mind if they reinvented the Thundercats like how Battlestar Galactica was reinvented or would you like to see them pick up where the show left off?
LARRY KENNEY: Uh...that would be a tough one.
I don't even think that way. I don't think like a producer. My biggest hope is they keep the sensitivity of the show, the over all feel to the show - the commitment to the Code of Thundera.
Like you said, wholesome has a negative connotation, but keep it wholesome.
You couldn't just put the same old show back on the air - times have changed and animation has changed.
They would probably use the language that you heard on the out takes [LAUGHS] but if they do make changes the look of the characters, the mission, I do hope they would keep the good feeling of the show.
CosmicBookNews: Like Cheetarah is now some crack addicted prostitute.
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah!
Keep it so people would recognize it as Thundercats.
CosmicBookNews: One last question, was it ever explained why explained why Lion-O grew up and Wilykit and Wilykat had stunted growth?
LARRY KENNEY: [LAUGHS] You know, I never thought about it. I couldn't even begin to answer you.
I'd have to go back and watch it again.
I think it may have been explained they were kept young, weren't they in some kind of chamber?
CosmicBookNews: Yeah, they were in sleeping chambers.
LARRY KENNEY: I don't know.
CosmicBookNews: Oh well.
Do you have any current projects people can look out for you in?
LARRY KENNEY: I was the announcer on “Best Week Ever” on VH-1. I'm the guy that said, "It's everything you love! Everything you missed! Everything you want to see again!"
I can still be heard as Count Chockula, Sonny the Coo-Coo Bird.
I’m also the guy on the Skittles commercials that says, “Taste the rainbow” or “Feel the rainbow.”
CosmicBookNews: Would you like another cartoon series?
LARRY KENNEY: Yeah, sure.
That's what I do for a living. I'd love to do another Thundercats type thing and contribute to its success.
CosmicBookNews: And we wish you success.
Thanks for talking with us, Larry.
LARRY KENNEY: Thank you. This was fun.