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Voice Actor Dee Bradley Baker Talks About Eagly In Peacemaker, Star Wars Characters, And More - Exclusive Interview

The words "icon" and "legendary" are thrown around quite a bit in stories about performers and filmmakers in Hollywood, and it's not often that the recipients are truly worthy of the distinction. When it comes to voice actor Dee Bradley Baker, though, the two words of high praise are only a pair of the endless ways to point to the mic master's towering achievements. In Baker's three decades in showbiz, he has amassed an astonishing 642 film, TV and video game voice credits to date, a number that's bound to rise dramatically as long as the prolific voice artist can find the time to fit more gigs in.

Baker's list of credits, naturally, is long and distinguished, and unfortunately can't all be mentioned here. In short, though, he's lent his talents to several major TV series, from "Adventure Time," "Family Guy," "American Dad," "Phineas and Ferb," and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse," as well as such live-action movies as "Space Jam," "The Jungle Book," "The Nun," and "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings."

Zooming in from an illuminous studio cube from his private studio in Colorado, Baker discusses in an exclusive interview for Looper his work with writer-director James Gunn to bring his soaring vocal talents to Eagly in "Peacemaker," as well as the sounds of Sebastian the rat in "The Suicide Squad." Baker also discusses his work in the series "Avatar: The Last Airbender," and "The Spectacular Spider-Man" and "Ultimate Spider-Man"; and delves into why his turns on several "Star Wars" series — which includes "The Clone Wars," "Rebels," "The Mandalorian" and "The Bad Batch" — hold such a special meaning to him.

Fly like an Eagly

James Gunn comes to you to voice an eagle, and I'm sure, obviously, you've done a lot of different animal voices throughout your career. So, voicing an eagle, that's not such an unusual request, is it?

It's not for me. I get much more unusual requests on a daily basis, but this one was unique because this is a very realistic eagle, and it's beautifully animated. The folks at WETA animation did such an outstanding job. Much of that was done when they came to me to add an expressive nuance to the performance of the eagle in the scenes. Happily, that was so beautifully rendered already. It wasn't entirely finished, but most of it was, that I could see exactly what the eagle needed to sound like and feel like and the flow of the comedy and the discussion that's going on.

Part of why I'm called in to do something like this — whether it's an animal or a monster or an alien or something — is there's an intelligence or intent underneath it so that it plays out as a character in the scene. It's not just a sound effect. I don't think of myself as sound effects guy, really. I'm really an actor that channels my voice acting in a weird way, but it's acting. That's what they brought me in for — to add the extra feather in, if you will — that extra nuance to the performance of Peacemaker's sidekick.

Sounds of Sebastian

Since you voiced Sebastian the rat in "The Suicide Squad," how much did that contribute to the fact that James called you back and asked you to Eagly?

The way it played out, as far as I can see, is that they called me in because I've got a good reputation for problem-solving these kinds of things. They gave me a shot at it, and they liked very much what I was doing for Sebastian and the rats — and there were a lot of rats. It's like, "Well, he can do this kind of stuff." If I'm asked to do something and it's outside of my wheelhouse or I don't think I can do a good job, then I'll pass. 

I want to make sure that whoever I'm working with is very happy with what we got. So, [James] and the sound team threw it to me. It was like, "Oh, how about an eagle?" And we jumped in. And right away, there's like, "Yep. We like your eagle. Let's do it," and so, we went with it.

Remote but in the thick of the action

Right now, technology probably allows you to work from anywhere in the world, and I would imagine you have a pretty elaborate setup where you're coming to me from today. I would imagine most of your work during the pandemic had to have been remote work, yes?

Yeah. Since COVID, my career is completely mobile. I've worked from closets and from Los Angeles — a little Los Angeles studio I have in my garage — and out here in Colorado, I probably did most of, if not all of "The Suicide Squad" movie as Sebastian from here in a closet. I built a little sound studio here in Colorado that I worked on [for] "Peacemaker." If you got a decent microphone, which doesn't have to be expensive, an acoustically dead environment and a good internet connection, then you're good to go as a voice actor. It's one of the careers that was resilient, and that whole industry pivoted very rapidly to the collaborative orchestration of making shows and powered through COVID and is going stronger than I've ever seen it, still.

Working under the Gunn

Another element to your work is having that clean feed — that pipeline to James Gunn. How involved was he in directing you? Was he pretty hands-on? Was he in the recording sessions with you?

Yeah. Someone that puts out such good and satisfying storytelling has got to be someone that first of all, chooses really competent able generals to do their thing, and then is very hands-on from a god's-eye view, if not right in the trenches, at times. For me, he was directly directing me during Sebastian for our rat sessions. And then, he might have been involved with some of the "Peacemaker" [sessions], but that was mostly with the sound team.

He's very directly involved with approving and listening, and suggesting and sculpting the final performance as it comes together. That's a marvel to me, how the whole process comes together. I'm just a guy that swoops in, fixes the air conditioning and swoops out. I don't get to run the whole building. He does it so beautifully, but very much with a hands-on attitude towards it all.

Forging the bond between Eagly and Peacemaker

It's interesting how you can really feel that connection between Eagly and Peacemaker. So, I'm wondering if there is any sort of back and forth that you had between Cena? Both of you guys nailed it from your end of things. How did that relationship work?

Well, that's an interesting question, because first of all, he has the hard part. He has to interact with probably someone holding up a tennis ball with a couple of dots on it and act like this is your best friend — and then fill in with your imagination as an actor who you're interacting with, and that's not a small trick. That's pretty hard to do and I think he does a beautiful job with it. It really feels like the relationship was already clear, and it was already there. I was adding that in the post-production process, because I've not met John.

I passed him at a convention, I think it was up in Seattle a few months ago — I didn't get a chance to say hi, but I don't think the show was out yet. I don't think I had anything to say yet. I haven't worked with him. The animation and the directing and the acting was already so solid in there that it was really easy  to insert what I did — to bump that up a little bit, to add some seasoning to it.

Topping off the 'Peacemaker Dance'

Now, let's not forget Eagly's grand entrance in the finale of the "Peacemaker Dance." He's just as much a pivotal participant in the dance as anybody! Did you have any idea that Eagly was going to be a part of that or was it a surprise to you?

No, no. I think they'd showed me the dance — which, by the way, I love the show. I watch the show. I'm a fan of the show. It's not just because I'm in it. I think it's a great show. When you watch a series from the streaming services, they allow you to skip the intro. "Peacemaker" is the only show [where] I never skip the intro, because I always want to see them do that dance. I found myself thinking, "There's got to be people on YouTube that I could go to that'll teach me that dance." I want to learn to do that dance! [Laughs]

Well, look, you already have your "Peacemaker" colleagues. You should be going to them. You got a direct pipeline to the source, so—

I'll wait here in my bird's nest for my invite!

Tuning into his work

Well, it's interesting that you mentioned how you do watch the show. I mean, with as much as you do, I would imagine you can't watch everything because it's simply a matter of having the time. Do you follow every single project that you're a part of or is it just impossible?

There's a few that I follow because I love them, and I try to ... I need to make space in my time, which isn't very much, because I'm a dad. You're running the home, and then you're also this freelance gun-for-hire voice actor. You're right, there isn't very much time, but there are some shows that I definitely make time for that I watch because I like them, and I happen to be on them ... "Peacemaker" is one, as is anything from the "Star Wars" universe. I've loved "Star Wars" very much since I was a kid, and I always watch those. I'm involved with a lot of those, and the new "Star Trek: Prodigy" series that I'm on, too. I've loved "Star Trek" since I was a kid.

I've actually been watching some "American Dad" recently and getting into that, but I'm usually so busy that it's like, "I spend my day going to other planets, being other species, and then I have to make dinner and clean up dinner." By then, there's not a lot of gas left in the tank to surf the internet and take the streaming surf for what's on out there. There are shows, usually fantasy-based or animation, that are fun for me that I like to jump in with when I can.

Send in the clones

This might be a tough one to answer because you've done hundreds of roles, but what's the most unusual voice acting request that you've ever received?

Most everything I do is very unusual. For me, the most unusual is a not unusual. It's probably "The Bad Batch" series for the "Star Wars" universe, where I'm playing straight-ahead clones. Each of them are actually a very different mode from each other, and to go through whole scenes on a series that's based on these guys — it's five of them — and to just talk back and forth among these guys in their different voices is a really satisfying creative challenge and an acting challenge. It's like nothing else I've ever been asked to do. Plus, I love "Star Wars," so it's particularly gratifying to do that.

It's really fun to have something like Eagly hit. I do have some ambivalence about doing interviews for it, because I don't want people to think of me as doing the voices. I want people to think of Eagly. I want that to be alive and real and a relatable character, but that's all I want, and I don't want people thinking, "Oh, there's a guy that I know doing that sound." I only want them to think of Eagly. I don't want to undermine the magic of it, of the story.

Well, I remember interviewing some guys that did the visuals for "Independence Day" years ago. They told me that they don't want somebody to come into the theater and say, "Hey, look at that great matte painting in the background." They want you to believe that it's that real background.

That's the mission of good special effects and voice acting, you want to be [an] invisible part of the storytelling process. Yeah, I get that.

Star Wars is in Baker's DNA

Knowing how huge "Star Wars" has been in your life and in pop culture history, can you take me back to that first time where somebody from Lucasfilm said, "Hey, Dee, we want you to be a part of what we do." 

Yes. Actually, I'll show you this [holds up photo]. This is me in October of 1977. It's me in a Jawa costume. I'm not kidding. That's me in 1977. I went to a dance like that. Nobody would dance with me, understandably [Laughs]. I was thrilled, and it was completely unexpected because that wasn't the kind of stuff I was typically doing. I would do the stuff that was typically more comedic or the weird stuff, or the animals, monsters and creatures and things. I had worked on the "Avatar: The Last Airbender" series [as Appa] with ["Star Wars" writer, director and producer Dave] Filoni. He had directed some of that early on, which is one of my favorite shows, too. I love the "Airbender" universe. It's brilliant.

For them to hire me and to play these straight-ahead soldier clones, who have these nuanced variations between them ... they're all individual humans, and they need to seem like they're different, but the same — I never would've guessed that I would've been hired to do that. I probably wouldn't have thought that I'd be capable of doing it. It's one of those things where you're throwing it [out there], and you get it, and you realize, "Actually, I have it in me. I could do this."

Star Wars favorites

And then, what's even better, they say, "Hey, how about Captain Rex?" and eventually Commander Rex, and then, it's "How about voicing the Frog Lady in 'The Mandalorian?'" Is there any particular favorite you have among all of those characters that you've done in the Star Wars universe?

I'll always be very fond of all the clones. I feel bad if any of them ever die. The ["Star Wars: The Clone Wars"] "friendly fire" episode was particularly difficult for me to do, but I have a real fondness for them. It's really nice to see how deep the fan love goes when I go to an occasional convention and to see that these characters mean a lot to people. They give them hope, and they give them a kind of a role model for how to live and how to treat others and how to view change and difficulty and hardship as it comes your way. Plus, it's a good story and well told, and it connects with people, and it really means something. That's a lot of the satisfaction of working within a mythology like "Star Wars."

Baker is content just playing Rex in the animated realm

It's so interesting how Lucasfilm is leaping back and forth and tying together the animated stuff with the live action stuff now in the "Star Wars" universe. I'm thinking with Ahsoka Tano, for example, leaping from the animated series to "The Mandalorian" and showing up again in "The Book of Boba Fett." Given how close her character is to Rex, is there any desire for you to play Rex in live-action, much in the same way Katee Sackhoff played Bo-Katan in "The Mandalorian"?

My career is centered in voice acting, and that's really where my heart and my focus and my momentum is. I think if I dressed up in clone armor, I would look less like a clone than I do now. I would look like, "What is that guy wearing about armor for?" It wouldn't feel like ... not even a cosplay outfit. I think I'd rather be a Jawa [Laughs].

It's interesting. It's gratifying as a fan of "Star Wars" to see how the central stories, how these mythologies, the tiles of the mosaic all link together. Whether they're on the television or whether they're streaming, whether they're animated or live-action, I think they all find a fulfilling realization of what these characters are to be, because the creative engine that creates these is so good, with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni, and all the rest of people who care very deeply about these stories and are making interesting story choices. They give you stories where things happen, they're not just moving the pieces of the characters around on the chess board, but big, significant things happen.

I'm so gratified. I'm so thrilled for fans these days, for all that they have and all that is coming. I  got a movie every few years when I was a kid. There's so much good "Star Wars," as well as other mythologies, all the way up to "Peacemaker." [That's] not for the kids, but fun if you're ready for it.

So, you'd be quite happy, say, if a live-action clone situation comes up that Temuera Morrison take it on?

Oh, good Lord. Absolutely. He originated the characters. Nothing else would make sense for him but to apply his brilliance to the characters on camera. That's what he's doing so beautifully. He's such a good actor. He's such an impressive fellow. I so enjoy what he's doing in the Boba Fett series. It's great to see. I love it.

Avoiding aspirations

After doing multiple voices now for DC and Marvel — and I love how you voiced Morris is in "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — is there particular DC or Marvel character that you haven't voiced yet that have yet to leap into the live-action realm or the animated series realm that you haven't voiced that you'd like to voice?

Nothing springs to mind on that. I navigate my life in a state of readiness without being too specific about the horizon ahead or that's coming towards me. Part of what I do is I avoid aspirations, and I want to be ready to make things. That's why I have this battery-charging chamber that I'm in right now, that I work from, [where] I add all these lights. I've got dinosaurs, I've got lava lamps. I've got all this stuff going on that's as much for me as anything, because I want to charge myself and be ready to make some something out of nothing with the people that I get to work with. That's all I'm focused on. I can't think of something that I'm wishing or wanting for other than just to be ready.

Well, I was going to compliment the ambiance. I didn't know if your setting was real. You never know what people really have with green screen backgrounds these days.

This is my studio.

What a fun place to go to work every day. That's for sure.

I even got ... Here, I'll show you. I've got a giant mosquito. Isn't that beautiful? No, I picked it up at a Halloween convention I went to. I like to go to Halloween conventions, and it's like, that's a beautiful mosquito. I said, "I've got to get that."

Baker would like to voice Curt Connors again

Like you say, it's hard enough to think of a different DC or Marvel character you'd like to voice. Is there any character overall that you would love to get a crack at someday? It could be in any genre.

I wouldn't mind revisiting Curt Connors [AKA the Lizard in the "Spider-Man" animated realm]. I like the idea since it's kind of a werewolf-type story of a guy who's a decent guy that gets this affliction, and then he has to deal with it ... That kind of werewolf story is interesting. I've voiced him in animation, and I could see revisiting Curt Connors.

Apart from your own work, who provided your all-time favorite voiceover performance?

I got to take it back to Mel Blanc. His brilliance, his acting, the clarity of his ideas, the extremity of what he was willing to do and able to do is ... That's rocket fuel that'll get you through a whole lifetime. It's a beautiful thing to think about, whether he's doing something small and dainty, or whether he's screaming his lungs out, which is just as beautiful to me. That's where my interest for animation and that sort of reach of storytelling, where it took root with me was listening to his performances, with the brilliant animation and all that goes with it, too. You got to credit the animators. You got to credit the writer, which, in those days, the animators were the writers, that it is a grand collaboration to create any of these characters.

With Eagly, it's like, yes, I do the sounds. It's a meaningful part of the performance, I'm happy to take credit for that, but there is a small army of brilliant artist technicians who are creating all of that, in addition to the writer and the director and all of that. So, it is a collaboration. It's not just me.

"Peacemaker" is streaming exclusively on HBO Max with new episode dropping Thursday. The season finale is set for Thursday, February 17.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.