When you consider that the title sounds like the caffeinated fever dream of a particularly excitable eight-year-old, it’s perhaps not that surprising that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has had so many incarnations: Gritty monochromatic independent comic book, beloved ’80s cartoon, mega-grossing feature-film trilogy, an endless assortment of action figures, fondly-remembered videogames, a second animated series that ran for several years in the 2000s, and a big-screen animated reboot.
Next year, Nickelodeon will relaunch Turtles as a new animated series, and EW can report exclusively that Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings‘ Sam, The Goonies‘ Mikey, and Rudy‘s Rudy) will be voicing red-masked Raphael. He’ll be joined by a cast that includes Jason Biggs as Leonardo, Greg Cipes as Michelangelo, and Rob Paulsen as Donatello. The series will be executive produced by Ciro Nieli, Joshua Sternin and Jeffrey Ventimilia, and is currently set to debut in Fall 2012, although select fans can get an exclusive first look at the reimagined Turtles at the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con. EW caught up with Astin to talk about his role in the new Turtles series, why Lord of the Rings led him into voiceover work, and his favorite cartoons growing up.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Raphael has typically been portrayed as the grumpiest Turtle. Is that still true in the new series?
SEAN ASTIN: Do you mean to say the coolest?
Well, he was explicitly “cool, but rude” in the original cartoon. Is he still rude?
He’s still working through issues. He’s really good at what he does, and he doesn’t suffer fools lightly. Sometimes that arrogance can get him in a little bit of trouble.
You’re obviously a little biased, but is he your favorite Ninja Turtle?
He’s everybody‘s favorite Ninja Turtle. Raphael’s the coolest, no question about it. Ask anybody.
Hmmm, I dunno, I know a lot of people who think Michelangelo is the coolest. He’s the party dude!
Yeah, if you like that sort of thing. [Laughs] But Raphael is Raphael, you know what I mean? Everyone tells me, “Raphael! He’s the red one with the sai?” Everybody knows the Turtles by their identifying characteristic, which I just think is hilarious.
Your Goonies co-star Corey Feldman voiced Donatello in two Turtles movies. Did you ask him for any advice about getting into the mindset of a Ninja Turtle?
No, but I certainly had him in mind as a signpost. Actually, I don’t even think he knows yet. [Laughs] The crazy thing is that Rob Paulsen played Raphael in the original series, and now he’s playing Donatello and I’m playing Raphael. [At the recording session] I was looking at him, like, “Am I doing this right?”
In the original cartoon, the Turtles had kind of a surfer-dude accent — like, “Radical! Tubular!” Will that be maintained in the new series?
I don’t know if it’s that far. I don’t think it’s [adopts a perfect ‘Bill and Ted’ impression] “Dude, how you doin’, dude!” It’s just not quite as intense. A little bit more refined. They’ve got a slightly better education, maybe. More refined chemicals.
What were your favorite kids cartoons growing up?
When I was a little kid, I loved Underdog, and Tom Slick. And Robot Monster — I don’t know if that was the title of it, but that was what the little boy called him. Remember that? The monster would hide behind the mountain, and then he would come out, hold up his arm, open up his fingers, and shoot missiles out of them? And the little boy was his friend, he lived on his shoulder?
Wait, I’ve never heard of that, but it sounds awesome. It’s called Robot Monster?
That’s what the kid called the monster in the cartoon. It was Japanese. I don’t think I ever knew the title of it. But that was good.
Were you a fan of any of the earlier Turtles series?
I was too old for them. My wife’s brother’s son — Little Andy, who’s now Big Andy — when he was four years old, he was sleeping in the Turtles sleeping bags, wearing the Turtles clothes, playing with the Turtles toys, watching the Turtles show. I remember we took him to Disney World, and we got sort of a private audience with the Turtles, I thought he was gonna have a heart attack. He was seized with terror and awe.
I enjoy the world of the Turtles. These people who are doing [the new show], man, they are so fired up. They know they have something that people love, and that they’re getting a different crack at it. The producers recognize how much the fans of Ninja Turtles expect from the new show. With the new show, you’ll have one of two reactions: People will be fired up and excited, or people will be really skeptical. And the people who are fired up, you don’t want to disappoint them. And the people who are skeptical, you want to turn them.
Between this, your Disney Junior show Special Agent Oso, and your old gig narrating Meerkat Manor, you seem to be doing more voiceover work. Was that a conscious career decision?
I used to want to work as a voiceover actor. From the time I was a kid, I used to want to do commercials and cartoons. I would go in for auditions and I just couldn’t get them. Then on Lord of the Rings, we had dialect coaches, and we spent six weeks in these little trailers. They had diagrams up of the shape and structure of your mouth, how the tongue and the teeth work on shaping sounds. All this stuff you think you know, but once you really start studying it with experts and professionals, you’re like, “Oh my gosh, I get it!” I came away with was a different command over my own vocal instrument.
Do people generally recognize you from Lord of the Rings, from Rudy, or from The Goonies?
You would think it’s be Lord of the Rings, since it’s more recent, and it made so much money. But mostly, people recognize me either for Rudy or for Goonies. Some people from the Adam Sandler movies, some people from 24, but I would say, if there are 100 people that recognize me, 35 would be for Rudy, 27 would be from Goonies.
And now, with Turtles, that’s one more group of screaming fans.
I’ll start hiding behind pillars in airports and doing the Raphael voice.
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