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Cult | News | Features | 11 February 2004

Bender interviewed

Futurama star John Di Maggio talks about playing a delinquent robot.

What description of Bender did you get before auditioning for the part?

Basically they said, "He's a drinking, smoking, porn-loving, gambling, suicidal robot." I was like, "OK. I guess I can identify with that."

Do you identify with Bender in any other ways?

I used to do [the same] voice at the bar, before I got the gig, "Hey give me a beer, come on man." Then I got the gig and my friends are like, "Hey, that's the voice you use at the bar, man!"

So, it's kind of funny. I don't know. I don't think [I've got] any similarities with him, except for the drinking part.

Tell us about the production process.

We'll get the script, and we'll read it on, say, a Tuesday. The writers hear how the jokes work, and then they'll go and rewrite it for two days.

We'll come back on Thursday and we'll record all day, we'll record the whole show scene by scene with all the actors in the room. Then they take the recordings and play them for the character layout designers. It's character layout that makes the cartoon characters act. Then there's storyboard too, and that is where the characters are in the scene, what the background is.

So, you add them all together and they animate to our voices. In the meantime there's 3D animation going on in the States. They piece all the voice stuff, the character layout stuff and the storyboard stuff together in a package and send that to Rough Draft studios in Korea, who put it together.

It comes back, and then all the 3D animation is added and they go into post production, where we go and we do any additional dialogue recording. We do that to clean up stuff in post, and then they add the music and any extra stuff they have. Basically it's six months to do an episode.

What's it like watching the finished programme? Can you connect it with the work you did in the studios all those months before?

Oh, you can, and it's interesting, how crystal clear the connection is. [You feel], "Oh, wow! They've got it, they understood what I was doing in the studio when I was making that 'whooah' kind of a noise." They really do a great job with the character layout.

Do you get to add lines to the show ever?

Not really, but I was doing this voice in-between takes, and they actually wrote it in. I was doing this kind of Puerto Rican girl, (puts on voice) like from New York city right, listen, like I'm talking.

So they made a Puerto Rican transvestite prostitute robot. I was just doing this voice, and they totally made up the character because of that. So there's always something that you can do that gets added in.

What would you hope to see if you woke up in the year 3000?

1000 years in the future? I would hope that I could get a cup of coffee. I don't know. Wake up to a nuclear winter? I'd hope I'd have a sweater.

And what would you do with a robot of your own?

If I had a manservant robot, I'd want him toå I don't know. I'd want him to rob banks. Why not? Go ahead, Bank of America down the street, hit it up.

What was it like rewatching season two for the DVD?

What's interesting is that we did all the commentary on all the episodes. So we sat and watched them with the production team, and the writers, and some of the actors and David X Cohen, the other Co-Executive Producer.

The commentary's really funny, because you can hear things about the episode that you actually wouldn't put two and two together to know. It's been a lot of fun.

I don't know what season you're on over there, because you're a little bit behind us. People go [to me], "What happens with Bender," and I say, "Well, in season fourå" and they go "No, no, no, no don't tell us nothing."

Which is your favourite episode?

They're all fun, they're all funny. It's a hard question for me because I'm really a big fan of the show. I like watching the show, I like all the characters, I'm not just watching the show because of Bender.

I love the Professor, I also like Zoidberg because he's such a funny character. None of the [episodes] stood out in my mind, but they're all funny. I had a great time being in the room and going "Wow, this is so much fun to sit here and watch it with the people who started it."

What did you think of the Star Trek episode?

Oh, genius. I got to meet William Shatner.

What's really funny is, in 1988, when I was in college, I got to perform on the fringe at the Edinburgh festival with this theatre group I was with in college. We were performing at the Royal Scots Club, during the day. And at night, George Takei [Sulu from the Original Series] was doing a show, and got to meet him then. I didn't get to meet him this time around.

I actually worked with Leonard Nimoy a couple of years ago. We did this thing called The Lost World, an Alien Voices thing. It was live radio, old time radio theatre, and it was really cool, so I got to work with him before [Futurama].

Yeah, that was a really great episode. And Kirk and Leela making out [was] genius.

I hear that you used to do stand up comedy?

Yeah, I did standup for about six years. I actually toured England for a month, in November '94. That was a trip, man. What a great time that was.

It was really funny, because we didn't know that [in England] the compere comes out and you have two acts and then there's an intermission. We don't do that here, it's just one show, boom, and then you go. Here there's a waitress. Where you guys are - there ain't no waitress, that's what the intermission's for, go get some booze, come back.

I had a great time though. Stand-up helped me cut my teeth, I learned a lot. It helps you with your chops, your timing. It helps you with your quickness. Sometimes [on Futurama] you get the opportunity - [someone says] "Do something funny here." "Well, whaddaya want me to do?" "We don't know, just go ahead and let it ride." "Well, ok, sure." You get to exercise those chops.

I love doing stand-up, in fact I'm probably going to start doing stand-up again. I haven't got back on stage for a while, but it's time to get back in the groove.

Would you like to do a tour over here?

Oh man, that would be huge! I would love that. I would love to perform in England.

You've also done voices for videogames, like Final Fantasy X. What was that like?

That was a fun gig. I played a character named Wakka. Actually there's a couple characters I played, but one character was Wakka, and he's like, (puts on Wakka voice), "Hey brudder," He talks in a Hawaiian kind of pidjin you know, he's kinda got this kinda thing going for him. And it's much different from other things I do, y'know?

Is videogame voicing a very different discipline to TV?

It all depends on how big the role is, in the game. It was Final Fantasy X that I did, [and] oh God, there was just endless amounts, pages and pages and pages.

It's just like being in the studio, depending on who your director is, and who you're working with. On that gig, I actually got to work with somebody I love working with, a guy by the name of Jack Fletcher who's Juliard trained - [and he's] directing video games! He's brilliant, he actually did the voice direction on Princess Mononoke, which I also did. I do a lot of Japanese animated stuff with him. He's brilliant.

You get that kind of a gig and sometimes it seems endless, but you just knock it out. A gig is a gig - you walk in with the right attitude and anything is possible.

What does the future hold for you - do you think there's any chance of any more Futurama?

I've been doing some other stuff here and there, some Disney stuff, some Cartoon Network stuff, which is cool.

I think [for] Futurama, the chances are pretty slim. But hey, we've got 72 episodes completed, that's a real good run. It's bittersweet.

It's some of the best work I've ever done, the greatest gig I've ever had, and the cast and the writing staff and the production staff on the show are just absolutely professional, wonderful to work with. I've learnt so much, and they've learnt from me too, I know that. It's been a really great experience, and every good gig must come to the end. We'll see what happens.

What's funny is, the last line I recorded for the show was "Run away!!!" Literally. "Run away!" Afterwards, Matt called me aside and said, "I want to tell you, I want to work with you again". And I was like, "Well, I wanna work with you again. Who's got the upper hand here? Whose ass do I have to kiss to work with you again?" But he's got some other stuff in the works, and I'll be probably working with Matt (hopefully) in the future.

And Futurama is alright, it'll be on in syndication. It'll be OK. So, it's bittersweet, but hey man, that's the way it is, it's Hollywood, whaddya going to do? I can't be upset about it, because I've made a ton of money off the thing and I've had a great time. And I've won awards too!

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