Josh Keaton is no stranger to the world of Spider-Man. After portraying the web-slinger’s best friend, Harry Osborne, in practically every Spider-Man related video game of the last ten years, Keaton was the perfect choice to have step up and take on the voice of the wall-crawler himself in the latest animated series, “The Spectacular Spider-Man.”
The show pays homage to the classic Stan Lee & Steve Ditko stories of the ’60s, as well as incorporating elements of the feature films and the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic book series. “The Spectacular Spider-Man” garnered fans’ and critics’ praise when it premiered last spring on The CW, and has now returned for a second season that premiers this week. Now running on Disney XD, season two promises all-new villains, continuing adventures and more growing pains for Peter Parker to overcome.
CBR News had the opportunity to speak with Josh Keaton about the great responsibility that comes with playing Peter Parker and Spider-Man, his love for the character, and what fans can expect from the brand new season of the show.
CBR: To start with, before you were involved in “Spectacular Spider-Man” you worked on a lot of Spider-Man related video games. Were you a fan of the character before working on these projects?
Josh Keaton: I grew up reading comic books and Spider-Man was always one of my favorites. I felt that I always identified with him. Spider-Man is awesome. I definitely was a huge Spider-Man fan growing up and still am.
Do you still read comics?
I don’t but I do stay involved with a lot of comic book properties. I haven’t stayed as current with current releases as I should. Especially considering that a lot of the people who work in the industry are my friends. So I definitely try to stay involved that way. Mainly now, it’s just being involved with the other media avenues that some of these properties have taken on. With Spider-Man, once I did get the role, and once I started recording the episodes, I went back and started re-reading a bunch of stuff. I got the fifty-years of “Amazing” on DVD (“Amazing Spider-Man Complete Comic Book Collection”) and I’ve been going through the PDFs and catching up on stuff that I had never read before.
How did you get the part of Peter Parker/Spider-Man on “Spectacular?”
For this one there was a lot of auditions. I basically went in and I auditioned for three parts. The first time I went in, I auditioned for the dual roles of Spider-Man/Peter and Eddie Brock/Venom, and Harry Osborn. They called me back for Eddie as well as Peter. I went in, did the call back and they put me on tape again. I think they had a process where they started out with like three thousand people that they auditioned and it’s just a system where they keep narrowing the pot down. They’ll go through and do a round of auditions, they’ll make they’re picks and they’ll re-audition those picks and just keep narrowing it down until they arrive at their final choices.
How do you approach the dual role of playing both Peter and Spider-Man?
I really just looked at my whole High School career, because aside from having the proportional strength, speed and power of a spider and shooting webs from web-shooters, I was pretty much Peter Parker. I had kind of a similar double life where I was a dork in high school — and I’m still a dork. I was totally into geeky things and was never the popular kid. You know how school is in general, once you get pegged as this, that’s pretty much who you are until you’re an adult. If you’re a dork in elementary school, you’re probably going to be a dork all the way through high school.
But then I had this whole other life where I was a child actor. I had a whole other set of friends that were in the entertainment industry outside of school and among that group of friends I was not an un-cool guy. I was just doing my thing. So I totally understand that whole thing of this group thinks you’re this, then there’s this whole other life out there. A lot of the same things happened to me. I was totally oblivious to girls who may or may not have had crushes on me. So it was really just looking back on a lot of these early High School days of my own to get that same motivation.
Is there a voice change or any other audible distinction between Peter and Spider-Man?
As far as the difference in voice, there really isn’t. I mean he doesn’t morph, “Hulk-Out,” or go through any kind of physical change when he becomes Spider-Man, it’s more of an attitude shift. At first, when he was becoming Spider-Man, when the powers were still kind of in their early stages, when he was really just starting to live with everything, he was definitely more confident as Spider-Man because he could do so many things that he was never able to do as Peter.
But the longer he has had the powers, the more he has had to work them into his life and work his life around the fact that he is now Spider-Man. He almost has to play up his nerdiness as Peter a little bit because he’s treading that fine line of, “Oh shoot, I can’t reveal too much because then they’ll know this and they’ll know that.” So there’s constantly this thing where he can’t show off too much athletic prowess, he can’t show off reflexes that are too fast. He’s always going to have to seem a little meeker and sometimes he over does it. As far as an actual voice change, there is none. It’s more of an attitude shift.
Some animated shows make it possible for all the actors to record together and some shows have actors record separately. How does it work on “Spectacular Spider-Man?”
They’re very good about trying to book actors together as often as possible, if scheduling permits. Let’s just say I have an episode that’s really heavy with Sandman or if it’s an episode where there is a lot of the high school stuff going on, they’ll try to book all the people that have a lot of meaty scenes together so they can all read together. I love when they do that because I might have all my choices laid out and I might know kind of what I’m going to do when I’m going in there, but the other actors may have made they’re own choices and one may be totally out of left field for me, but I’ll roll with it and those kind of happy accidents are usually what leads to some of the best moments on TV or film.
It’s always the unplanned things that shine through and I’m glad that they allow for that on “Spectacular.” There are some times when I have to go in to the studio and do the solitary thing but again it kind of works for the show. When Peter is swinging around Manhattan he does have a lot of that same alone time where he’s kind of bouncing thoughts off his own head. He’s just thinking about the day, thinking about the events that just happened and he’s making sense of them not aloud but in his head and it still works. If I’m in the studio alone and that’s what I’m recording, it still kind of works for the overall sense of the character.
What can fans of the first season look forward to in this new season of “Spectacular Spider-Man?”
Well, the second season starts right off where the first season ends with Peter looking for Eddie and trying to deal with the smooch that was just planted on him by Gwen. It’s going to start right there. There’s going to be a lot of the old villains that you’ve seen in season one returning along with some new villains. You’re going to see Mysterio, Craven, and the Sinister Six may possibly be coming back. They’ll be some really cool arcs in there. “Gang War” is going to be happening. There’s also going to be a Master Planner arc, which will be cool.
How has Peter changed from when we last saw him in Season One?
It is kind of picking right up but there definitely is a change. He just had his powers in season one. He had just finished the summer where he obtained his powers. So season one was really just figuring all this stuff out. You’re seeing him now have to deal with super villains because before, (during) that summer he was just taking care of low level crooks and now all of these other things are coming out of the woodwork. So now in season two he’s already had some time to deal with this. He’s already seen a lot of the ugly side of what goes on and he’s also changed into this pseudo ladies man. He’s got all these girls vying for his affection and that’s a huge change from where he started out. So there are definite changes at school as well as how he deals with life as Spider-Man.
Is this the coming-of-age of Peter Parker?
It really is. I mean, our Executive Producer and writer, Greg Weisman, has said, “The overall theme of the show is the education of Peter Parker and it’s really him learning how to be Spider-Man and make that work with the rest of his life.”
Do you have a favorite villain on the show?
On our show I got to say I really like Tombstone because Tombstone was never really an A-list villain. For licensing reasons, Kingpin was not available to us. I don’t want to say they basically made him into Kingpin because he’s his own character but I really like the way the show has treated him. I love him. I love our Goblin too but I would definitely have to throw my hat in there for Tombstone. I think he’s really, really cool.
Have you heard any news about possibly doing a third season?
I don’t know. Season three will hinge a lot on season two’s ratings. I know that the toys are selling really well so that always helps. The season one DVD set will be coming out in July. I know that volume four of the first season is actually already out, so all four DVD volumes are available now but the complete season set will be available in July.
Finally, the show is a combination of a lot of different interpretations of the Spider-Man folklore, from the classic Lee/Ditko comics to the feature films and even incorporating some elements of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” comic. Personally, which is your favorite version of the character?
My favorite version, honestly, I like the classics. Because that’s what lead to everything being the way it is. That’s the foundation. That’s where a lot of these early relationships were thought up. Everything else is just an evolution of that. I really like that even though our show tries to cherry-pick and picks the best of everything, at heart it really tends to focus around the Lee/Ditko era and use that as its base. I’d have to go with that and say a lot of those are my favorites as well.
“Spectacular Spider-Man” airs Mondays on Disney XD.