Counting down to the U.S. premiere of “Thunderbirds Are Go,” head writer Rob Hoegee and voice actors David Graham, David Menkin and Andres Williams spoke with SPINOFF at WonderCon about their update of the beloved 1960s sci-fi series.
Airing in the United Kingdom from 1965 to 1966, the original “Thunderbirds” combined electronic marionette puppetry with scale models to chronicle the exploits of the Tracy family, whose International Rescue saved lives across the globe using advanced sea, land, air and space vehicles.
The reboot, which arrives later this month on Amazon Prime, blends computer animation and models to send the Tracy brothers, and their ally Lady Penelope, back into action once again.
While the original series is a beloved institution in the United Kingdom, where the revival’s first season has already aired, it's more of a cult phenomenon in the United States.
"I remember seeing it late at night," Hoegee recalled. "I think the PBS station where I grew up in Texas aired it at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. It was 'Doctor Who' and then 'Thunderbirds,' then some other random Gerry Anderson show. I remember seeing it and thinking, 'This is very strange.' And it really stuck with me."
"It was embedded in British culture," said Menkin (“Thomas & Friends”), who voices brothers Virgil and Gordon Tracy. "So when my agent asked me to go in and audition for it, it's the first time they've ever -- and I've been up for big stuff -- it's the first time they sort of went, 'Do not mess this up.'"
Of course, Menkin didn’t mess up the audition, and “Thunderbirds Are Go” has been well-received by audiences new and old. "Kids watching all over the world have loved this show," Hoegee said. "The feedback from kids and families has been terrific."
Serious devotees of the original series have also praised the reboot. "I think the really die-hard fans know that this is never meant to replace the original show," Hoegee added. "That was never our intent. It really builds on the love that everyone has for that original series, because everyone that makes the show in New Zealand and in the U.K. -- this was an absolutely essential part of their childhood. And you can see that."
One important element in reaching the classic fans is the return of veteran voice actor Graham, who portrayed multiple characters on the original “Thunderbirds.” He reprises his role of Aloysius Parker, the resourceful chauffeur and personal assistant to Lady Penelope (voiced by Rosamund Pike), the Tracys' main contact in the British government.
"[The producers] came up to Hampstead, where I live, to meet me," Graham said. "I think they were checking out if I was still in one piece and could deliver the goods. The rest is history. It's just been wonderful to re-create my original character."
"My understanding was that he was the first person that was asked, before any other casting decisions or conversations were had," Hoegee added. "We actually depend on David quite a lot in terms of the nuances of that character, because there's certain very special affectations that David obviously knows better than anyone else. We'll write his dialogue in a very straightforward way and then allow him to embellish it as he sees fit."
For Menkin and Williams, who voices the main villain The Hood, it's important to balance influences from the original series with their own perspectives on the characters.
"Personally for me, I think The Hood is very different to the original series," Williams said. "You don't tend to go back and look to see how things were in the past and to use it for these performances. You want to bring your own [approach], obviously within the brief that you've been given by the director. You bring some of yourself into it."
"We were very much told in the beginning by the executive producer that we were almost being set up to fail anyway," Menkin added. "So I at that point made a conscious decision not to base any of the work that I did with these characters on anything that had been done before. Because then I'd be doing a poor imitation."
Adults who grew up with "Thunderbirds" and kids discovering the show for the first time are both important parts of the audience for the reboot. "We tell pretty sophisticated stories for your typical kid audience," Hoegee said. "We deal with a lot of science. We deal with a lot of plot twists. But we also have really cool vehicles that have awesome launch sequences, and heroes with cool gadgets. So little kids are going to love that. Parents are going to love the walk down memory lane, or just being able to enjoy the show with their kids."
”Thunderbirds Are Go” premieres April 22 on Amazon Prime, following a sneak preview on April 15.