Interview: The Cast of Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

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If one word defined my generation, I’d cast my vote for “Cowabunga.” If another word shall define this upcoming generation, I’d place my bets on “Booyakasha!” As a lifelong Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fanatic, we currently live in the golden era of Ninja Turtles fandom. The sewers of New York City are in high demand. The IDW comic book series continues to receive critical acclaim and the theatrical reboot was a commercial success. To top it off, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series might be my all-time favorite adaptation.

Back in 2012, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were revived by the creative minds of Brandon Auman and Ciro Nieli. Some fans were apprehensive towards this remake since Nickelodeon had purchased the rights to the franchise; just like Disney and Star Wars. However, those assumptions were crushed quicker than Splinter in the dumpster circa 1990. Unlike most reboots, Nickelodeon’s T.M.N.T. captures the innocence of the original series and the intensity of the comic books with state of the art computer animation. The creators pay serious homage to all previous adaptations (shows, films, and comics) yet take the Turtles into uncharted territory from a storyline perspective.

Truth be told, this might be the greatest cast to ever summon the words “Turtle Power.” Voice actor Greg Cipes shares so much in common with Michelangelo; his joyful personality and knack for comedy instantly lights up the room. Seth Green – the new Leonardo – brings a confident demeanor and vulnerability to the fearless Turtles leader: quite the departure from his work on Robot Chicken. Sean Astin’s “Goonies never say die” attitude certainly translates into his approach as Raphael since he’s a tough personality that will always defend his brothers. Speaking of legends, Rob Paulsen created the most lovable version of our favorite genius Donatello yet. He has seriously matched – maybe even topped – his performance as the original Raphael. Yes, he also played Raphael in the 1987 series, which speaks volumes about his diverse vocal range.

Without giving anything away, the season three finale wretched my emotions in a way that I haven’t felt since I saw Toy Story 3. The good news – Season 4 premieres on October 25. Nickelodeon kicked off the New York Comic Con in “Cowabunga” fashion when they hosted the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle panel. Better yet, Pop-Break joined an exclusive roundtable where we interviewed Ninja Turtle actors Rob Paulsen, Greg Cipes, Seth Green, and producer Brandon Auman. Believe us; keep your eyes glued to the screen as the Ninja Turtles give us the full insight into “why they love being a turtle.”

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Let’s talk about season 3. Where do you think you improved as a season? Do you have a favorite episode?

Brandon Auman (Executive Producer): I was just talking about the “Tale of the Yokai” episode, which I really like a lot. It’s the episode where they went back in time and the Turtle’s saw a human Splinter and a pre-burned Shredder and all of their drama for Tang Shen. I also love the episode where Donnie loses his mind.

Rob Paulsen (Donatello): That one where’s he like, “Bleh bleh bleh! (Laughs).” Because it’s self-serving: (his favorite) the Speed Demon episode. That was cool because when I was kid, I was really into the Ed “Big Daddy Roth” model kits. When Donnie would (animated noise) and stick his tongue out while driving the car; that was great. Anytime that any of us get to chew the scenery for a while, it’s always great fun. I know it sounds trice but it’s an embarrassment to riches. You get the scripts and gasp when you’re reading them. It’s pretty cool when you see them on the screen. It’s like a movie.

Greg Cipes (Michelangelo): I don’t have just one favorite.

Rob: Sounds like Mikey

Brandon: Cipes loves all of them.

Greg: For me, I don’t separate any of them. For me, there’s only one day anyway in real life so it’s all just one long Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle episode. It’s the truth man. I love them all. Oh hey, look who it is!

(Seth Green joins the group and shares a seat with Greg Cipes)

Rob: There’s our little Leo (Laugh)!

Brandon: Are you guys touching each other’s buts (Laughs)?

You’re all one tight knit group. Do you guys record together at all?

Seth Green (Leonardo): Very tight

Greg: Most of the time we do.

Rob: When we can, it’s always preferred. We would much prefer it.

Is there room for improv?

Brandon: Yeah, definitely.

Seth: The show is really well written. We just have to say it (Laughs).

Rob: No, it really is. The scripts are always really solid. But the thing they always encourage – because we are who we are – we really do go off and bounce around the wall. Seth was also like that with Robot Chicken. When there is so much room to play, I believe that regardless if the improv winds up in the show because sometimes it does get a little blue. The thing it does, when we’re all together – to use an acting phrase – it increases the energy on which we all play off each other. I swear to god, it shows up in the product. Any show I worked on where I had some room to play; whether it was Turtles, Pinky and The Brain, Animaniacs, and even Seth has been kind enough to have me on Robot Chicken; they encourage the actors to bring something to the party. And it absolutely makes a difference in what you see on the screen just in terms of the way the actors interact with one another.

Seth: I allowed Rob to bring his full brilliance to the show (Laughs).

What are your favorite scenes to act out – the comedic scenes where the audience really senses the brother’s chemistry or the scenes where their willpower and fighting skills are pushed to the limit?

Greg: I mean, personally, I like comedy and I like funny.

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Rob: Coming from Mikey?

Greg: Just in general. In life, anytime we get to play off each other and have fun, that’s my favorite.

Rob: There are a number of episodes where you’re (talking to Greg) into watching that show – what’s the name of the action adventure show?

Brandon: Crog Nard?

Rob: Crog Nard! And I love that because you’re really into it (towards Greg).

Greg: I love scenes with Ice Cream Kitty of course (Laughs).

Rob: That’s like being in a fevered dream. I have to say because I don’t often work on shows in which I get the chick. I love the episodes where I’m with April. Those episodes where I’m really tongue-tied and sometimes she will say, “Oh Donnie, you’re so great!” She will give me a kiss, and I’m like, “Oh, my god (makes shivering noise)!” And that’s because I don’t get that in real life. I’m the old guy. So it’s nice to have some say, “Oh my god Donnie, you’re so cute!” and smooch (makes kissing sound) and go “AHHHH (joyful noise)!”

Brandon: Well, he gets that (kiss) from me. Every once in a while, we’ll give Donnie a smooch.

Rob: I don’t care; I’m not afraid to hug a man (Laughs). There’s just so many of them (great moments). And the thing is – when we’re doing ADR (Additional Dialogue Replacement) at the end of an episode when it’s in post production and we could see it on the screen; how many times do we go, “Holy shit! Look at this!” I mean, it’s badass! When you watch that show on a 70-inch flat screen TV in HD, it really looks like a movie. And this is a TV show! I really don’t know how you guys do that (towards Brandon).

Greg: Wait, this isn’t a movie?

Rob: Life is a movie for Greg.

As we approach the fourth season, do you feel this season will be accessible for new viewers? Could they jump into the story or do they need to understand the lore?

Rob Paulsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
Rob Paulsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Brandon: I think there is enough there. You’ll have to watch 401 (Season 4: Episode 1) and let me know. We kind of set up the intro for 401 so that you know what’s going on even if you missed all of season three. You will get a sense of, “Oh okay, there was a Triceraton invasion.” We actually explain all of that in the intro. So even if you haven’t watched any of season three, you’ll get a sense for what’s going on. Once you see the Turtles, April, and Casey with the Fugitoid played by David Tennant, the chemistry is so good and you will get it. It really feels like a Doctor Who/TMNT crossover so I think season 4 will be really exciting for Sci-Fi fans.

Rob: One of the things that I find really interesting; everybody binge watches now. Ron Perlman used to work on the show and I’ve known Ron for a long time. When he was doing Sons of Anarchy, I kept saying to my wife, “Hey, this show is really hot right now. Maybe we should watch it.” And she was like, “Eh, I don’t know. There’s motorcycles and violence.” She saw an episode in season 4 and she said, “Oh my god!” And than she watched another episode and that show was also kind of serialized, and she said, “Hey, let’s go watch this from the beginning.” A lot of people do that.

And we still have a lot of folks from the beginning where the Turtles remain a huge part of their childhood. They’re a little trepidatious (of the new series) – understandably so. My son was one of them. My son is 31. Obviously when your old man is Raphael in the first show, he said, “Oh wow, they are doing Turtles again? Well, good for you dad. I know you have to keep working but ah, the Turtles? Man, are they gonna…?” Than he said, “Well, I’ll watch it.” He watched in on Hulu and freaked out! And we get that a lot!

People will come back and say, “Wow, I had completely forgotten about the show and all of a sudden I watched a few episodes; my nephew watches the Turtles and now I’m going to start watching it.” In this day and age, you get a lot of people who say, “Wow, this is wild! I’m going to start watching from the beginning.” And they just binge watch everything. Having something that is cross generational where parents and children literally could watch it together and enjoy it together; it’s a very cool thing and cool part of the whole process.

When you guys read the script for the season 3 finale, what was your reaction like to the events that took place between Splinter and Shredder?

Rob: Ugh, that was pretty tough.

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Greg: I’m still scarred. It was sad. My father is here at Comic Con. He follows me everywhere I go. He’s been making a documentary film about me since birth so a father-like figure in my life is very important. So to see Splinter go like that, it affects me. It’s sad. The shot of his eyes closing at the end, it doesn’t leave me. Every time I blink I see him (Laughs).

Rob: The Twitterverse blew up. Did you guys see that? People were freaking out like “Oh my god! Oh my god!” It’s really interesting because objectively you say; it’s just a cartoon. On the other hand, you say, “Holy shit! This is very important to a lot of people.” I love that something is so compelling to an audience. And it’s not just a two-hour movie. When you get done, however many seasons we end up doing the show, you’re going to have a lot stuff that goes like this (uncomfortable gesture) emotionally. Isn’t that what we’re all trying to do? You want to make people feel stuff. And this killed me emotionally.

Brandon: I think it will stick with kids too. Things that affected me like watching animation in the 80s and 90s – there are still things that have stuck with me over the years like the death of Optimus Prime. Cartoons and animation really do have a strong emotional affect on kids. And who knows, I think this might stick with kids for the rest of their lives. I really think so.

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Rob: Instead of saving a 401k for your retirement; save it for therapy. Your children will need it. Well, it’s also very unusual for something like that to happen. I did a show in the 90s called Mighty Max. And my son loved that show. It was with Tim Curry, Tony Jay, and Richard Moll. I remember the character played by Richard Moll – he was a guy named Norman and Norman dies on the show. My kid was 10 or 11 and he still remembers that. That is so rare for a character to expire in what is a children’s show.

Brandon: I think shows like this; they stick with you. Shows over the years have gotten so much more sophisticated, darker, dramatic and serialized. If you look at Kora or Avatar, these are dramas in some ways. Yes, they have comedy but they also have the dramatic punch so you don’t forget about it. And we want that.

Rob: And they are really powerful. I don’t know how many people I’ve talked too about…what’s name of the M. Night Shyamalan film?

Brandon: The Last Airbender?

Rob: Yeah, I’ve talked to people all over the place and they will go, “Ah, the movie (passive sound); the cartoon show (joyful sound)!” They are really invested in that. And it doesn’t go away. It’s a powerful art form. I’ve learned that the older and older I get – when I meet people who have listened to characters that we have all done over the years; I find out what a profound affect I’ve had on them and they on me. Myself included, I remember working with Mel Blanc when I was 25 and he was 85 or something. I remember mustering up the courage on a Jetsons movie and I was sitting next to him and I asked him, “Would you mind?” Before I got it out of my mouth, he said, “What’s up, Doc?” It blew my mind! It wasn’t like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” It was like, “Holy shit (choking sound)!” Oh, it was the greatest.

Brandon: Things affect you more as a kid. As an adult, you watch something and say, “Ah, that was a really good episode,” but then you really forget about it. As a kid, it really sticks with you.

Greg: Like when I dated E.G. Daily when I first moved to California 18 years ago and Tommy Pickles would be on the phone with me. That was weird.

(Everyone breaks into laughter)

Rob: There is a lot of stuff we can play with in there. You and Tommy Pickles! Oh my! “Yeah (seductive voice)!”

Hoon Lee (Splinter) is here so can we expect Splinter to return in flashbacks or dream sequences?

Brandon: Who knows? Hoon is here because of the drama that occurred during the season 3 finale. Who’s to say?

Greg: Hoon’s to say? (Laughs)

Brandon: He’s a king now and he’s a very busy man so who knows if he could come back or if we could even make it happen?

Watch the entire Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles New York Comic Con Panel below