L.A. People: Phil LaMarr, the Voice

Kevin Scanlon

It took me a while, but I eventually discovered that many of the voices insinuating themselves into my head from obsessive Cartoon Network viewing belong to Phil LaMarr. While LaMarr has a successful acting career, including a pivotal and strangely humorous decapitation scene in Pulp Fiction, and many years on the sketch-comedy television show MAD TV, none of this sent my fanboy heart atwitter until I learned he was the voice of Samurai Jack, the hero of a fantasy Cartoon Network series of the same name, and of the Justice League’s Green Lantern, a baritone cartoon presence with a voice so deep it should have killed LaMarr to have produced it. As if that weren’t enough, he’s also the Jamaican-accented Hermes Conrad on Futurama. LaMarr’s tremendous talent is that he vanishes Houdinilike into a dramatic interpretation of a multitude of these flat two-dimensional characters, and they resonate with better characterization and dramatic nuance than most fleshy actors ever manage to create.

I first met Lamarr years ago, when I was commissioned to do a play for teenagers by the South Coast Repertory Theater and was invited to give my opinion on the casting of the male lead. Of the two actors competing for the part based on the teenage me, LeMarr never grabbed his crotch as the other actor did with gusto — something I was never inclined to do in public as a teenager, or even as a middle-aged man —and hence, I gave Phil my wild approval for his sensitivity and restraint. Years later, our circles crossed again, because our kids went to the same schools and only then did I find out he was that voice. Right now, LaMarr has voices in the new Cartoon Network series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and in the movies Madagascar:Escape 2 Africa and Bolt. He’s also currently shooting the lead in the independent film A Night at the Bijou.

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