As Seth Green enters the room, he pretends to be at an “American Idol” audition. The actor, who takes over the role of Leonardo in the upcoming third season of Nickelodeon’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” said he quickly embraced being the new guy as he, “Turtles” vet Rob Paulsen and Michelangelo voice Greg Cipes spoke with CBR News and other journalists about voicing the iconic characters, their love for the show and its enduring popularity.
“We expect to be the generation that kills this franchise,” joked Green about the possibility of the new series running as long as the original, or other Nickelodeon shows like “Spongebob Squarepants.” Taking a more serious tack, the actor continued, “There’s no way to predict it, but the Turtles are a really indelible property and it seems to be, in this incarnation, connecting with an audience both young and old.”
“One of the great things about having Seth on board is that [he is] a Turtle guy,” Paulsen adds. The veteran voice actor of popular series like “Animaniacs” and the original “Turtles” cartoon, for which he voiced Raphael, said he appreciates the way the characters are now popular across generations. “When I go to events and see people — the mean age might be 30-35 years old — they would’ve been in the prime [kid] age when I was doing the original ‘Turtles’ show. Now, they’ve got kids, and it’s such an unusual circumstance to have a show that is this powerful from the nostalgia standpoint from a show that looks like this now.” He considered the timing of the Nickelodeon revival to be impeccable. “To have something that powerful twenty years later, where you have mom and dad lined up to get Raphael’s autograph from the original show and they’re wearing their original TMNT shirts and the kids are all dressed up in their new TMNT stuff. Then they go home and watch the new show and watch the DVDs of the original show and they both love it. That’s really unusual,” he said, also hoping the show will continue to be successful.
“I hope it goes for twenty years, because this ‘Mikey ’till I die’ tattoo is just starting to heal up!” Cipes quipped, embodying some of Michaelangelo’s point of view.
In the upcoming season, Green takes the place of former Leonardo voice Jason Biggs. Asked if he sought Biggs’ blessing because of his love for the show, Green replied that his fannish devotion and career are separate concerns. “Those aren’t in tandem,” he said. “That’s also something I’ve done a lot in my career, being in the delicate position of picking up where someone else has left off for whatever reason. A lot of people have played these characters, so I just consider myself lucky to take on this mantle.”
Paulsen recalled that he talked to original Donatello voice Barry Gordon, touching base with the performer when he was offered the role. “When I got a call to read for this, my first question was, ‘Is Barry Gordon involved?’ and called him because he was on the original show. I didn’t want to do anything that would get in his way.” He noted the circumstances were different from Green’s situation, saying he “wanted to make sure I wasn’t stepping on anybody’s shell.”
Though Green could not offer a comparison between his voice and Biggs’, he did offer his take on the character: “[Leonardo’s] got the hardest role. All of these characters are quasi-superheroes, but they’re also teenagers, and Leo’s the only one who isn’t afforded the ability to let loose and be a kid. He’s always got responsibility; he’s always in a leadership position. He’s the one that Splinter has entrusted with taking care of the rest of the team. He can’t make mistakes. He can’t fail.” He likened Leonardo’s predicament to a serious high school athlete or team captain who forgoes partying on the weekends and makes sure all his papers are in on time. “I like being able to play that responsibility and the fact that he struggles with the balance of growing up and evolving himself, but also needing to be fully-formed for the benefit of his brothers.”
Asked to tease some season three developments, the group said the Turtles will be returning to New York following their defeat at the hands of the Kraang last season, and they may also attempt to find Splinter and rescue Karai. Pressed on whether or not Karai’s new mutant status would make it easier for her and Leo to become a couple, Green said, “I know that Leo cares for her. As we’re trying to save her, rescue her, all of Leo’s onus comes from love for her. Whether they’ll ever hold hands or make out, I can’t say.”
Similarly, Paulsen commented on Donatello’s pining for April O’Neil. “I’m very fortunate to do a lot of personal appearances, and there is a very vital, big female audience — many of whom dig ‘Apriltello.'”
“There is a whole generation of women who unapologetically tell you who they are physically and romantically attracted to,” Green said. “My wife, when we met, she told me her top three favorite male characters were Voltron, Leonardo and Gambit,” knowledge he said influenced his decision to take the part.
According to Paulsen, the modern day interface with the fans is a huge difference between now and the original Turtle-mania of the late ’80s. He recalled doing charity events and visiting hospitals, but as the fan convention circuit wasn’t fully formed, his interactions were far more limited. “When people found out who I was, it was like, ‘Oh, my kid’s having a Ninja Turtle birthday party! [Could you] please call?’ and that was great. But now, there’s a convention every weekend and some of them are really significant [in size], between L.A. and New York, and the Turtle love is outrageous.”
Green pointed out that conventions and the Internet have allowed fans to realize they’re not alone — a seismic shift from the old days. “You could be in your neighborhood and be the only person there that loves the Turtles. You wouldn’t have any point of access to people who are as passionate a fan as you are,” he explained. “Now, because of all these things, people have the ability to find each other to group together and celebrate the love and turn it into a community.”
“There are many people who’ve told me that if not for these opportunities to socialize with people who feel and think the way they do, they would have a difficult time in real life,” Paulsen added.
All three noted that the show is primarily staffed by long-time “Turtles” fans. “All the artists and the different roles in the crew, everyone is into it,” Cipes said. He credited Executive Producer Ciro Nieli with inspiring a devotion that makes everyone involved with the production “a warrior for Turtles.”
“When we visit the productions office, they freak! And we do, too! I don’t write ’em and I don’t draw ’em. Man, I can’t even draw stick figures, so I’m knocked out by this incredible talent and the detail,” Paulsen said.
Green hopes that devotion can be harnessed into a long-form, animated feature film. “I have to imagine all the mechanics are in place to render an 88-minute version of this [show],” he explained, adding, “I don’t think it would be hard for this creative team to map out a feature that will enhance the ongoing story.”
Though he admitted to never seeing the 2007 animated “TMNT,” Green believes “Turtles” will always be ripe for reinvention and reintroduction. “The people who loved it the most seem to become the couriers for the next generation,” he said. “That’s why I don’t complain about reboots. If it retains the complexity and emotional value, then it’s worth doing. All you’re doing is proving a point of access to the next generation. Everyone here is blood-sweat-and-tears in love to preserve this icon.”
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” premieres October 3 at 8:00 PM on Nickelodeon