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JP Karliak And Max Mittelman On Boss Baby: Back In The Crib, Video Games, And Anime - Exclusive Interview

Once more, our favorite C-suite baby is going on an adventure in "The Boss Baby: Back in the Crib," the newest series in "The Boss Baby" franchise that has arrived today on Netflix. The outing sees an all-grown-up Theodore Templeton (JP Karliak) framed for fraud and forced to turn back into his former "Boss Baby" self, staying with his adult brother Tim (Max Mittelman). He discovers an issue that cuts to the heart of baby-dom and only he and his illustrious baby comrades can solve it.

It's a hilarious outing that finds adventure in everything from conspiracies to nefarious waterfowl to imaginary friends. Looper spoke to JP Karliak and Max Mittelman about the series, the challenges "Boss Baby" faces, voicing your favorite video games and superheroes, and the elements that make Western animation, anime, and video game voice work different and challenging. They also came up with the perfect idea for a crossover of two of their previously voiced characters.

Taking on these roles is all about finding the character

JP, this is your second outing as Ted "Boss Baby" Templeton, and Max this is your first turn as Tim, but both of you have experience with taking over characters portrayed recently by other performers and making them your own. I wanted to ask what is or was it like to take over those roles, and how did you manage to put your spin on it?

JP Karliak: Well, the interesting thing that I say about "Boss Baby" is that I don't think I do a particularly good Alec Baldwin. I think I do a really good Will-Arnett-doing-Alec-Baldwin, and ... more than capturing the celebrity voice that preceded me, it was more about capturing who the character was, and that's true whether it's Tin Man or Wile E. Coyote or the Green Goblin. It's less about me trying to get somebody else's version and more about me finding who the character is.

Max Mittelman: If you find the essence of the character themselves, then you never have to worry about who came before or matching a voice because that's what you're going for. In fact, I learned this lesson early on in doing voice match auditions for ADR for films. When I would focus on matching the vocal tonality, I would never get the job. When I would focus on good acting, I would get the job because people saw that was more organic. Wouldn't you say, JP?

Karliak: I think so. I know for my "Boss Baby" audition, I was convinced I was not booking this because I was like, "I don't have the voice," but there was a gag in the script [where] I was like, "This is hilarious," and I kept latching into that. For me, it was "Get to the jokes, get to the jokes."

As a side note, JP, you're part of my favorite fact that I've learned recently, because I was looking over your IMDb page, and for "Red Dead Redemption 2," you're credited as "The local pedestrian populace" as a whole.

Karliak: An entirety. All of it.

Mittelman: The whole thing.

Karliak: I was crowd members in the background saying, "Huba, huba, peanut butter, watermelon."

Mittelman: "Peanut butter, watermelon." That's a great addition. I only knew about watermelon, so adding peanut butter to that is actually a great addition to that. Thank you.

Karliak: I think I stole it from "Waiting for Guffman," if I'm not mistaken. I could be wrong, I am not going to take credit for that.

As we have established, you made it your own.

Mittelman: One of my favorite types of jobs is getting to do 20 characters in the background or something, because you get to play for a couple hours [with] so many different things. That's one of my favorite things to do.

Karliak: For sure.

Ted and Tina are different kinds of Boss Babies

JP, Tina embraces both her "Boss Baby"-ness and her normal "Babyocity," right? She'll have an imaginary friend and embrace it, she'll watch kid's programs, then try and take over the world, basically, but your own "Boss Baby" character has a tougher time embracing those childhood elements, and I wanted to talk to you about that.

Karliak: ... Feels like something my therapist would say. The interesting thing is this is not original incarnation Boss Baby, this is Boss Baby returning to Baby-dom after 30 odd years of not being a baby. Even in the original series, he was always like the Gordon Gekko-y, "Glengarry Glen Ross" [type], like, "We work 18 hours a day and we do not stop," and all that. And Tina's like, "work-life balance" and "I'm a person outside of my job." 

They're both bosses, but they're both very different types of bosses, and I think that's why Boss Baby connects with Tabitha, Tina's older sister, because she's so much more in the mindset of ... she's an overachiever-young kid, she gets all A's, she's really STEM-driven, while Boss Baby was so used to Tim being second-banana in the original series [and] now he's fighting to not be second banana.

Max, Tim has to keep the peace between Tina and Ted and it's not always easy. Talk to me about how he's reacting to this really weird situation that he finds himself in the series.

Mittelman: I feel like he's come to a place in his life where he's comfortable. He's found his normal family living this normal life, and then Ted comes in to shake things up and cause all this chaos ... on one hand, Ted wants this normal Steve, but — or Tim, sorry. Ted? Tim? I'm getting now... I'm confusing names... 

Karliak: Lots of "T" names.

Mittelman: Tim. Did I say Ted? Tim, we're talking about Ted now. 

You have no idea how many times I elaborately triple-checked my notes because Tim, Ted, Tina...

Mittelman: Its my character, Tim. On the one hand, he wants this normalcy, but on the other hand, he's a little envious of the Boss Baby and Tina getting to have these adventures together. I guess he's trying to strike the balance.

Karliak: It's one of the things I love about what Max brings to it, because he's taking over for the amazing Pierce Gagnon, who was the original Tim, and Pierce really brought that fun-loving [essence] of, "Oh, I get to play. I get to play. I get to join in on the adventures," and you really get from Max that sense of, "I want to, I'm an adult and I can't, but I so want to, but I can't."

Mittelman: It's really fun, too, getting to read these scripts in advance and making these choices. I'm laughing hysterically throughout these scripts when I'm reading them, like giggling in excitement, getting to go "I'm going to be able to play that kind of thing." He's so funny. There's so much potential for comedy. I love him so much.

An adult show for kids, and a kid show for adults

I like that whole pivot from "I'm doing adult stuff" to "I want to do a kid thing."

Mittelman: And his wife reeling him back in like, "Hey, come on."

Karliak: [Krizia Bajos] plays the grounding for us very well.

She does such a good job. At this point, the franchise has seen three films, a successful multi-season series, etc. Why do you think audiences keep coming back to this world?

Karliak: Brandon Sawyer, the showrunner and creator of the series, was dumping a bunch of info on Twitter including the original series pitch. I hadn't seen it, and I was like, "Well, this would've been helpful several years ago," but it said right at the beginning of it that "This is an adult show for kids, and a kid show for adults." It really is because, on the surface, it's cute pastel-colored babies, and it's adorable, but we're also talking about stocks options and diminishing profits and all sorts of really adult-y stuff. There's humor in there for everybody. I have multiple friends who have kids who watch the show, but I also have a good chunk of friends who are adults and do not have children [that are] like, "That show is hilarious, man." We're doing something right.

That's the good kind of feedback.

Karliak: And it's also just so weird, wrapping your brain around "He's a baby" and it is that kind of brain-crack thing.

I laughed so hard at the premise that he's framed ... and so his solution is to turn into a baby.

Karliak: Oh yeah.

To pivot a little bit, I know both of you have had chances to lend your voices to Marvel and DC characters (and a number at that rate), but I wanted to ask what other superheroes are on your dream list to voice in the greater MCU or DCEU?

Karliak: Oh, Max, go for it.

Mittelman: I never had an answer for this, but I realized I do have an answer and it's Loki. I would love to play ... Wait a second, JP, haven't you played Loki?

Karliak: I did. I played him in a "Marvel Rising" webcomic. It's a YouTube series, [Loki] against Ms. Marvel, which was super fun. It was tiny, but it was a –

Mittelman: I feel like he's so fun because he's the anti-hero. He's good guy, bad guy, we don't know, depends. [...] [He] seems like a really fun character to play.

I can very much see that. What about you, JP? Anything on your wishlist?

Karliak: Specifically in those universes, for me, it's always the Big Bad himself. It's Joker. He's the numero-uno.

Mittelman: JP does a phenomenal Joker. I would love to see you play Joker at some point.

I've put you on the spot, but can I hear something?

Karliak: [in a spot-on Joker voice] I mean, you know Bats? It's always such a good time to play around!

The video game characters Karliak and Mittleman would see cross over

Perfect! Since you're both very established in the world of video game voiceover, if you could each choose one of your characters that you've played to cross over and meet each other. Who would you choose? Who would they be?

Mittelman: In video games specifically?


Mittelman: My "Atmospheric Voices" character ... No, I don't know, who? Let's see.

Karliak: Max, correct me if I'm wrong, but you were in the remake of "Final Fantasy VII", correct?

Mittelman: Oh, yes.

Karliak: What was your character's name?

Mittelman: Red XIII.

Karliak: He's the dog, right?

Mittelman: He's the lab-rat dog. Yeah.

Karliak: That guy, for sure. I remember hearing, seeing that clip, I was like, "Oh, that is so good." If I had a character that I would want him to meet, it would be Wolfgang [from "Skylanders: Imaginators"] because we're both red, badass dogs.

Hey. that's a pack for you right there.

Karliak: Yeah, totally. 

Mittelman: That would go. I don't think Red XIII has any other ... no, that's not true. He does. I'm going to stop talking. Let's not say anything anymore about Red XIII ... he's a great character, and no spoilers.

If you did leak a spoiler, what would it be?

Mittelman: It would be how much I love that character. He is great, isn't he?

Video game, Western animation, and anime voice acting are completely different

Because you've both done a lot of different types of projects, I wanted to ask you if there are differences in how you approach your work in video games versus your animated work.

Mittelman: Yes. [It] depends on what it is, and for the most part, it's because of the tone of the project. You can have a video game where ... Actually, hey JP, you and I are both in "Skylanders."

Karliak: We are.

Mittelman: That's a very fun, silly, chaotic game versus something like "The Last of Us." They're both video games but we're going to approach those completely differently, I feel like. For the most part, animated work is ... The work that I do is broad. It's funny, you get a chance to take big risks and make big choices versus in video games, it's a bit more grounded and cinematic. They're both fun. JP, how do you approach them differently?

Karliak: Similarly. One of the benefits of animation is [that] we get the script ahead of time. There is that preparation that you can do and get into it. Video games are very much seat of your pants, you show up, the spreadsheet of 600 lines in front of you. If you've got a big character and it's like, "Here we go," The director will talk you through each thing, "So, this is what's happening," and you're trying to absorb as much as you can and make really good choices on the fly. I find –

Mittelman: It causes you to be a really good cold reader, I find.

Karliak: Yeah. Max could talk more about this, but I find the same is true for doing anime, where you don't really get the script ahead of time, and it's a lot of trying to ... It's less like traditional acting and more trying to solve a problem of, "Okay, we have this much space to get this emotion in there and try to make it all work." It's a much more puzzle-y thing.

Mittelman: I enjoy doing all of those. They're all different skills, I feel like, and you get to work different parts of your brain and that's my favorite. When people ask "What's my favorite part of this job?" That's my favorite part of the job. It's the variety, and getting to do so many different things.

Tim's just trying to control the uncontrollable this season

I'm so glad you mentioned anime, because I was also curious if the process of doing that style of animation is different than more Western approaches to animation.

Mittelman: For one, Western animation is a completely original performance. You can't rely on the animation because it happens after the fact, and in anime, you are literally watching someone else's performance in another language and then, not copying, but doing your version of their performance. It's kind of like voice matches, in a way, to bring it back to voice matches, but it's more technical for sure. You don't get to go outside the box as much as, say, I do in "Boss Baby" as Tim.

That's fascinating! I think to end on, and circle back around to "Boss Baby," having seen all of it, what's your favorite scene to do and what was the most difficult one?

Mittelman: Without saying specifics, my favorite times in this season are when Tim is trying to keep control and has no way of doing that. There are circumstances completely beyond his control and he can't help it, and he gets so flustered. That's my favorite, without spoiling too much. That's my favorite thing. 

I know exactly what you mean. That's great. What about yours, JP?

Karliak: This is also a generality, but anytime to see Boss Baby getting stymied by Tina is fun, because it's usually Boss playing Alpha and charging ahead without any obstacles. She is only an obstacle, she's not a villain ... she's another way of doing things, and watching him try to grapple with [the idea] that his way isn't the only way. 

As far as the hardest? It's the opening of the series, playing adult Ted. It's the same character and it's the same voice, because it's an adult voice in a baby, but at the same time, you're trying to make it at least feel a little different because it is of a completely different looking ... It's weird. There's so much of the things that we get on the page that's like, "All right, well that's new, that's different. Sure." [There are] so many weird things.

"Boss Baby: Back in the Crib" is now streaming on Netflix.