Noel Fisher, like a lot of 30-year-old men, grew up a fan of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” But he’s also done something that very few of those 30-year-old men have gotten to do, beyond spirited playtime adventures: He’s become a Ninja Turtle, with his role as Michelangelo in the freshly released Jonathan Liebesman-directed “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film.
Fisher — who plays Mickey on “Shameless” and appeared in “Battle: Los Angeles” (also directed by Liebesman) and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2” — provided both the voice and on-set motion capture of the foursome’s noted party dude for the movie. Following its estimate $65 million opening weekend — beating out Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy” for the top spot at the box office — the new “Ninja Turtles” is officially a success, with a sequel already announced.
CBR News spoke to Fisher shortly before the release of the film to discuss what it was like becoming Michelangelo, his past as a “Ninja Turtles” fan, appealing to multiple generations and his past life as the voice of Toad in the 2000-2003 animated series “X-Men: Evolution.”
CBR News: Noel, how’s life as Michelangelo treating you today?
Noel Fisher: I don’t get to eat as much pizza, but I’m doing pretty good. [Laughs]
When researching before this interview, I found that you and I are less than a year apart in age. I know how big of an impact “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” had on my life as a kid — was that the same for you? Were you a big fan growing up?
Absolutely. I was a big Turtle fan. I had a lot of the toys, I had Krang’s dome. I was actually looking through old photos maybe two years ago — right before this started happening — with my parents, and I saw a bunch of a 10-year-old me, with Turtle sweaters on, and a big Ninja Turtle face on it. Running around, all Turtle-d out.
Was Michelangelo your favorite back then?
I really did like Michelangelo, but my all-time favorite back in the day was actually Donatello. I’ve since seen the error of my ways, because Mikey’s bomb.
Donatello! You don’t hear that much. Raphael seems to be most people’s pick.
It seems the fan favorites are usually Raph or Mikey. Those are the two ones people really love.
So what was it like for you, taking on this very unique role, and playing this character? It had to be a different experience filming the movie — not only are you the voice of Michelangelo, but you were also on set doing motion-capture.
Yeah. We did the whole kind of Andy Serkis bit. [Laughs] We were on location in New York. In very strange ways, it’s quite similar to a regular acting job. We were there, standing in the real set, doing the scenes with real other actors.
That’s not always the case — it’s not always the same person doing both voice and motion-capture — how important was it to have the opportunity to engage more with your fellow Turtles and the human cast?
I think that’s something that was really important to all the actors that were playing the Turtles. We had lots of conversations about really making sure that brotherly energy, that family dynamic, was present. That’s something that being on set with each other, doing the scenes, is a strong point of motion-capture. You can do voiceover stuff, but something about being there really helps create an energy that I think for something like this is really going to be seen on screen.
All four Turtles have well-defined personalities, but Michelangelo might be the most clearly defined of the group. Was there room for you to put your own spin on it?
Yeah, definitely. That’s my favorite part about playing Mikey. I got to go to work for this whole shoot and really just play, because that’s kind of what Mikey does. Even in these dangerous, hectic situations that they all find themselves in, he’s still got that great, flippant attitude, where he can spout off some little one-liners in the middle of kicking some butt. That’s the most fun, ever.
Obviously you’re used to playing human characters — this was a whole different process of getting this role and filming it, plus the post-production involved. How unique of an experience was all of that for you? It’s not a role that comes along every day.
This is definitely one of those dream roles. I grew up with these characters. I grew up with pretending to be these characters, and it’s kind of funny — I’m no longer a teenager, and now I get to continue pretending to be a Ninja Turtle. [Laughs] My 10-year-old self would just not believe me at all if I told him.
Plus there’s the physicality involved — how was that aspect for you?
The physical aspect of a movie like this is pretty extreme. It’s very demanding. We trained for a month with 87Eleven, which is the stunt crew that did this movie, who are just, like, professional badasses. They trained us with our weapons, we got to do a lot of that kind of stuff. We were as prepared as we could be going into it. That was maybe my favorite part — just getting really into that physical aspect of Mikey, and as comfortable with nunchucks as I could, and really bring that to the character. I think that’s really important. I think that was really important for all the guys. They’re ninjas!
What you can share about Michelangelo’s specific role in the film? In a lot of “Ninja Turtles” stories, he’s kind of the comic relief, not driving the story necessarily as much as Leonardo or Raphael might. How active of a character do you see him in this film?
The movie really does have a lot of the brothers. Without giving anything away, he’s there all the time, providing those one-liners, and in some ways also kind of providing the heart of the family. I think that’s a cool thing about Michelangelo — he’s the youngest brother, and in some ways he’s got the least amount of baggage. Raph and Leo, there’s some tension there. I’ve really enjoyed playing the brother that just wants everybody to get along, you know what I mean? He’s just all about loving each other.
This movie got a lot of scrutiny pre-release surrounding the tone of it — people assumed this was going to be a “dark and gritty” Ninja Turtles movie — but it seems spiritually similar to the original cartoon in a lot of ways. What do you like about the tone of the film? How would you characterize it to people who might be skeptical?
“Ninja Turtles” is a world that’s been around for a really long time now, and it’s had a lot of different incarnations. A lot of people don’t know this, because you and I grew up with the ’90s show, and that was very kid-friendly, and the movies were quite kid-friendly — but the original comics are super-dark. There’s a lot of heavy stuff in them. I think what they wanted to do with this movie is strike a balance. There’s something that’s really special and really unique about the fun-loving teenage aspect of the Ninja Turtles, and that’s something I think little kids — like you and I growing up, and the new Nickelodeon show, which I think is awesome — a lot of new kids are getting into these characters. It’s a whole new generation enjoying them.
That being said, you also want to be able to do have fans that grew up with it who are adults now, they want maybe a little bit more gritty action, have that mixture of darker tones to it. That was something I wanted — I wanted to have a balance between those two aspects. I think that’s something we’ve done in the movie. As you seen in the trailer, the action’s pretty badass.
So it’s looking to hit a number of demographics.
Basically, there’s something for everybody. Anyone can enjoy it. If you want to bring your kids, they’re going to love it, because there’s cool action, and there’s a lot of that family vibe to it, and it’s really kind of fun. And for audience members like myself, you get that blast-from-the-past aspect, and you also get a little bit more of that gritty, real tone to it, with a little bit of heavy-hitting action. I think it’s a great combo.
Looking at your past credits — you did some voice acting work a little earlier in your career, right?
Yeah, I did an X-Men series in Vancouver. “X-Men: Evolution.” I played Toad. [Laughs]
I was pretty young when I was doing that. I think Burger King had a toy? One of the fast food restaurants had a toy. It was my very first experience of going out and buying my toy. “Oh man, I have an action figure!”
So this is not your first time on comics and cartoon-based material.
No, it’s not. It’s just definitely the most involved one I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a whole new level!