Greg Weisman: You know he's the voice of Spawn.
Keith David: That's going to come out on HBO, I think in the fall.
Emru Townsend: Do you do any other animation voices?
KD: I played the Black Panther on The Fantastic Four, and I did a thing with Ralph Bakshi called Christmas in Tattertown.
That was a while ago.
KD: Yeah, it was my first, actually.
Between Jelly's Last Jam and Seven Guitars, it was the most fun I've ever had on stage, even though Seven Guitars was a wonderful, challenging experience, in some ways Floyd was the hardest character I ever played, but he was certainly some of the most fun. But Gargoyles, bar none, is the most fun I've ever had in life.
Well, aside from being able to play a seven, eight-foot tall guy with wings and claws...
KD: Blue, with muscles and shit.
Yeah, that's the important thing. [laughs] So aside from that, how is it more fun?
Well, first of all, the whole concept. One of the things that I liked about it to begin with was the concept. When I first auditioned for it, I came in doing the prototype of Sean Connery. I came and did my best Sean Connery. And Jamie [Thomason, the voice director] said, well, forget that. But the language, the way it was written, it was just--I love Shakespeare, and it was really, really wonderful. And I was lucky I felt it because we had Greg looking out for the integrity of the language and the writing, and we did some wonderful episodes about wonderful issues and important issues and they weren't condescending.
In fact, I have never met anyone who didn't like Gargoyles. [Of course,] who is going to walk up to me and say, "I hate Gargoyles"?
KD: Greg was saying we got a few phone calls, but for the most part, I swear, everybody who has ever seen one episode talks about how wonderfully unique it is.
You actually got phone calls complaining about Gargoyles?
GW: Letters, not phone calls. And not a lot. I worked at Disney for five years before I started producing Gargoyles, so when I say we got a couple of letters--we'd get letters protesting Satanism in DuckTales. They'd see Magica de Spell, this female duck casting magic spells, and they would send us letters literally saying we were promoting Satanism. She's a duck and a witch [laughs]. My favorite thing was, they would say, "If Walt knew you were doing this, he'd be turning over in his grave." And my response would be, did you guys see Snow White? [everyone laughs]
They have some notion of Disney being not simply family fare, but being pasteurized to the point of being complete silliness. The fact is, there was a lot of fear throughout the company, and I'll admit to a little bit of fear from myself that we were going to get hammered. Our great defense was, anyone who wrote in and said, "How can you put these Satanic monsters on the screen?", what I could say to them [was], you are doing exactly what the human characters on the show are doing. You are judging these characters by their visual appearance, you are not listening to what they have to say, you're not watching the episodes, you are judging on the surface, and that's not a message I'm comfortable sending.
Before the show came out, we'd show it at a press conference here, or a press conference there, and we'd have a lot of press people asking questions--not that they felt that way, but--
You gotta ask it.
Right, they anticipated the same thing that we did. So I had fielded tons of these questions, and was braced when the show first aired, for this onslaught of negativity which was embodied in a couple of letters. And like I said, I haven't been on a show in my relatively brief career in this industry that didn't get a couple of negative letters. So the fact that we only got a couple of letters over the two and a half years that I was on Gargoyles at Disney--God knows, I suppose it's possible that Goliath Chronicles may have gotten a hundred negative letters [laughs] since I've left, but the fact that we only got a couple of letters, than meant that there was no objection out there. That meant that a couple of people saw commercials, got freaked out, and sent us some letters, but the great bulk of people either ignored the show, or liked it well enough not to bother writing us a letter. And I realize that two letters represents probably two hundred pissed-off people...
KD: Every letter counts as one thousand, I think they say.
GW: But like I said, in the grand scheme of things--we were actually prepared that there would be some huge letter-writing campaign, boycotts of sponsors... we didn't know what was going to happen, but we had actually been made to feel very paranoid by the press questions, because they so focused on it. And because there was a fear that, we're Disney, do we dare do something that's got violence in it. And I firmly believe that the violence we did, at least in the first two seasons, was completely responsible. I'm not saying we didn't have violence, but we always struggled very hard to show the consequences of violence, not simply violence for it's sake, it wasn't gratuitous, it always meant something in the story. There had to be a reason for me to do it in the first place.
KD: And we never killed anybody. You never saw anybody get killed.
No, you never saw anyone, but getting thrown off a castle will do it.
GW: Not on-camera, but people died. But we had a reason for the violence that was there, and we tried to make sure--and I don't think we were 100% successful, I won't pretend to that--but I'd say we were 92% successful to showing the consequences of violence. Elisa gets shot; she's in the hospital; she comes close to dying; she is still laid up the next episode. She's only just getting back after that. We didn't want it to be the kind of thing where, oh yeah, he got shot, but it's no big deal. Goliath got shot by Demona in one episode, and comes very, very close to dying.
I thought one of the best points of Gargoyles was that you managed to walk that fine line between the violence having some meaning to it, and at the same time it looked really cool.
GW: Yeah, that's the tightrope you walk. I mean, you want it to be fun and exciting and a ride, but...
KD: One of my favorites is still that first episode... wow... one of the best lines in the world is, [in Goliath's voice] "I've lost everything... even my revenge!"
You do that very well. [laughs]
KD: Outside of a Shakespeare play, or a classical text where you have elevated language, where else do you get to say great things like that? And it has some weight, I mean, the whole history of the gargoyles, that's some wonderful stuff. And it has paradigm-changing potential. A lot of people can see this, can look at these things, and without being didactic or dogmatic about it, you can get messages from these, from this experience, that you can take with you for the rest of your life. And it's fun!
That is a good point. It sounds like you probably have a lot of fun saying those kind of lines...
KD: Oh, are you kidding me?
GW: Well, I think one of the things that was great, I mean, we had some parts where--just as an example, Marina Sirtis was the first person to read for Demona. And she came in, and she just nailed it. And Goliath was impossible for us to cast. And what that means is that Keith just didn't come in to read for weeks. [laughs] We just heard all these guys, I can honestly say it was over a hundred guys. And I don't want to be critical of any of them, some people we seriously considered, but no one seemed to nail it. Keith walks in the door, and I don't remember specifically what we had him read--
KD: I remember, it was [as Goliath] "My, how things have changed in the past thousand years. Stone walls, concrete streets..." or something like that.
GW: He read and just nailed it, and suddenly we're like, oh, thank God, we've got our Goliath.
I mentioned this to Emru before, when we originally, way back when, developed the show, it was as a light adventure comedy. And that got rejected, and we went back to the drawing board, and almost every character, including Xanatos, had a parallel character in the old comedy development, with the exception of Goliath, who flat-out didn't exist in the original development. So when we started over from scratch, and said, okay, let's do a dramatic action series, let's start with a lead character, and we created Goliath, and everything else in the show was put through the prism of Goliath. So the silly characters still became fun, like Bronx and Brooklyn and those guys, but not goofy. They had a more modern edge to them, but through the prism of Goliath, Brooklyn becomes a serious character that you give a damn about.
So we came down to casting these things, and the two hardest roles we had to cast were Goliath and Elisa. Everything else went much, much quicker. And we were getting towards the end and just feeling desperate that we weren't going to find someone to embody what this series was. And then Keith walks in the door, and we had ourselves a show. There's the acting ability, the strength of his voice, obviously the depth of his voice. One of the fun things that we got to do as the series progressed was we'd say, okay, now we need another really deep-voiced guy to put up against Keith. [everybody laughs] You know, every actor with an incredibly low decibel level...
KD: And it was always cast very well.
GW: It was great. There's Rocky Carroll, and...
KD: John Rhys-Davies.
GW: John Rhys-Davies, and...
KD: One of my favorites was John Forsythe.
When you're recording these, do you actually do them all in the same room, like two or three characters at the same time?
KD: Yes, when we can.
GW: When we can. The first season we were able to do it a little more, but it was always difficult. For starters, our episodes--with very few exceptions, our cast for a given episode could be twelve, thirteen people, and once you start casting the roles we didn't want to re-cast them just because someone wasn't available. We were very fortunate to cast some very busy people. Fortunate for them that they were busy, I guess, but for us it was a big pain the ass, frankly.
GW: In other words, we were getting really good people willing to do this show. Laura San Giacomo, Jonathan Frakes, Levar Burton, David Warner, just some remarkable people on this show, and then you say, gee, they're sort of busy, why's that? [laughs] So when we could, we would get as much of the cast together for a group session because the energy is better and stronger. But we record a lot of people over the phone, and Keith, who was in Seven Guitars for a big chunk of this, and also doing all sorts of different movies, like The Quick and the Dead, and a bunch of others, um...
Around then? Dead Presidents...
GW: Dead Presidents, that's right. And so Keith actually was gone quite often, and we'd just do him over the phone, and Keith, as you can probably tell, Keith is great over the phone.
KD: It's that fiber optic thing, you know.
GW: Yeah. What would happen is there'd be some studio in New York or wherever, and Keith would come in and there'd be engineers there, but Jamie Thomason and I would be sitting in a room in California listening over a speaker phone, and we could always tell the acting was good, but we'd always have to ask the engineer, "Did that sound right?" You're sort of counting on the engineer on that end just to hear the quality of the recording itself, not the performance. I won't deny that's a bit of a pain, but it's worth the effort when you've got really good people. We'd try never to use a person for the first time on a phone patch, so that we had a sense of that person in the studio right in front of us. But after we had gotten accustomed to an actor or actress, we just went with them wherever they were. I really was blessed first and foremost with a phenomenal voice director, Jamie Thomason, and then with a phenomenal cast to do this stuff with. And it was tremendous fun. Gargoyles was a huge amount of hard work, but the most fun was recording.
Well, yeah. I can imagine, that's probably the most fun, just watching it--well, not watching it, hearing it all come together.
GW: Yeah. It was really great.
Keith, you said your first animation job was Tattertown, right?
That was around 1989 or something like that, wasn't it?
KD: Something like that, it was quite a while ago.
How did that happen? You just sort of fell into it?
KD: Actually, Ralph had already cast somebody else at the time. I came in and I don't know what I did, whatever I did, he said, "Go home. I'll send you a contract in the morning." I thought he was bullshitting me. Sure enough, the next day, my wife got a call from [him]. Ultimately I went.
GW: I didn't even know about that. Like I said, Jamie was telling me--'cause I wasn't actually there for Keith's audition. We'd gone through so many of them that we'd gotten to the point where I just couldn't sit still for them. So I wasn't there. I obviously heard the tape, but I wasn't there. And he plays the tape, and I'm like, "This guy's great! Who is he?" and Jamie says, well, you know, he's listing movies, but he can't the name the characters in the movies. And then he says, They Live. And I'm like, wait a minute. Is this the guy who was in that five to ten minute punching scene with Rowdy Roddy Piper? That was the greatest scene! [everybody laughs]
I still haven't seen that movie.
KD: The quiet man goes to the big screen.
GW: At that point, I immediately knew who he was, and we just sort of went to town. And he just came in and did our first episode. And then we did our second episode in a--we did almost all our episodes in the same studio, our second episode but we did in a different studio, where the air conditioning broke. Do you remember that, Keith?
KD: Oh, God.
GW: At first, it broke, so we were all roasting. Then they managed to come in and get it turned on, but couldn't turn it off then, so we're all freezing to death.
KD: Oh, it was wild.
GW: We were like, is this the way this series is going to be? [laughs] But it all came together pretty well.