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Exclusive Interview: Voice Actor Billy West Talks Futurama, The New Season Starting June 19th and Much More

Whether you're familiar with the name Billy West or not, there are likely not many people in the country that doesn't know at least a few of the actor's characters. For more than 20 years, West has been voicing some of the most iconic characters in television history including the main characters in the classic Nickelodeon cartoons Doug and Ren & Stimpy, many of the voices in the hit animated series Futurama and the Red Plain M&M seen in nearly all of the commercials for the candy.

We recently had a chance to sit and talk with the actor about the upcoming, and for now, final season of the Comedy Central series Futurama. In the interview, West talks about his favorite episode from the entire series, what his favorite part of the job is, how he keeps track of the countless characters he has voiced over the years, where Futurama goes from here and more. Read on for the full interview found only on BioGamer Girl!

AMANDA DYAR: Unfortunately, Comedy Central announced earlier this year that Futurama would not be coming back for Season 8. What was your first reaction to hearing the news and do you think fans will be pleased with the final episodes featuring the Planet Express crew?

BILLY WEST: I was kind of surprised because the show, in my opinion, is too good not to be on television. It doesn’t matter who shows it; it is a good show. I was thinking that immediately there would be people who would probably want to buy it or lease it or whatever they do. Lease the rights to it. Somebody like Netflix. There is so much happening with programming that is just not allocated to television; it is on the Internet for entertainment. So we always thought it would have another life, but you know I have separation anxiety already, because that was my favorite show. Whether I had anything to do with it or not, I would have been a fan because of the writing. I think this season is the best one we have ever done. I can tell you that. It seems to have everything in it. It has so many laughs, and I think people are going to be really happy.

AMANDA: This isn’t the first time the show has been cancelled and has managed to make a comeback, so do you hope that the show may be able to pull off this feat again down the road like you were saying with maybe something like a Netflix original. Would that be something that you are hoping for?

BILLY: I think something like that is probably in the works, or I hope it is. I know it has a huge fan base who gets really active when someone is going to take their favorite show off the TV.

AMANDA: You've been with Futurama since the beginning and have voiced numerous characters throughout the show's existence. Do you have a favorite character you perform on the show, and if so, why?

BILLY: You know what? That is a really tough question, because it would be like asking a mom or father who their favorite kid is. I put a thousand percent into everything, and I love performing all of them. There is something really great about each character that just makes me happy and provides something interesting and passion for each character. I love the stuff that I do, and I am always glad that we can do it.

AMANDA: Is there any single episode, film or scene that sticks out above the others to you for any reason?

BILLY: Yeah, the “Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” was a real favorite of mine. It was like an opera, and it was singing, and it was a really adventurous thing to do--the singing character, I mean I can sing, but all of a sudden you have to sing like that character would sing and that is kind of hard. 

AMANDA: Fry is obviously one of the most popular characters in the entire series and in modern television. How do you feel the character has evolved since the beginning of Futurama, if at all, or do you think he's still the same lovable idiot we got to know way back in the year 1999?

BILLY: Well everything changes. I mean even the performances change as the show goes on and on. If you take episode three of "The Simpsons" and compare it to one or two, the characters will sound totally different. They morph and they find themselves, in other words, they find who they are really supposed to be. So it is always like a work in progress, but we got the opera voices to where everyone was happy with them.

AMANDA: You have also voiced characters for numerous video games, such as Dr.Zoidberg in The Simpsons Game. How is the acting process for video games different for you than that of movies and television or is about the same?

BILLY: It is the same thing because it is basically a sonic medium. In other words, we can record the same way no matter what we do. They just take the tracks and play it to whatever media that it is suited for rather it is a video game, cartoon or a record.

AMANDA: You've voiced many other great television characters over the years including favorites Doug Funnie and Ren & Stimpy. As an actor, is it difficult to put a character you've played for so many years behind you and just move on to the next, or is it a more complex process than that?

BILLY: You know I look back fondly. I remember the voices, I remember them very well. And if I want to hear them, then I will do them. But I will occasionally see an old episode of something from a long time ago, and it will make me happy. Plus, you never know when someone is going to do a new project with those characters, so you got to keep them in your head somewhere. People like to hear you do it. I go to a lot of these conventions and sci-fi stuff. There is people that come for voice stuff like Ren & Stimpy, Doug and Futurama. And I am happy to do it for them, so I pretty much remember everything I did.

AMANDA: Do you ever take anything away from one character to add it into the personality of the next?

BILLY: Yeah, actually that is a good way to create voices. You take real life performers from like all the years of show business and movie history; you take the energy of one and fuse it with the voice of another, and you can create new characters. You can kind of super collide voices like you have a bad impression of a voice no one has ever heard before. It is fun to experiment. 

AMANDA: I had watched a video where you stated that your inspiration for Fry was how you saw yourself in your twenties. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

BILLY: Yeah, I was a musician. I was not employed very much, and I was usually in a band. When I wasn’t in a band, then I was usually driving a truck or washing dishes or something at 25, and I really had a kind of whiny voice, and I was complaining as a musician (imitates Fry voice) 'Like I broke a string, now what are we going to do.' And that is how I remember myself, whiny and complainy.

AMANDA: It was a shock to me to hear that Futurama was canceled, because like you stated, it is a good show. People seem to enjoy the show whether they are young or old. Why do you think this is?

It is because it was written in a way that there was something everyone could enjoy. It was like those old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons--they were written on true love. They were written where there was something for the adults and you could enjoy your kids watching it, because they saw something different in it that you may not have caught since it was geared towards them. Then a lot of jokes would go over the kid’s head because the parents would be sitting there laughing. There was something in it for everyone, and I love that cartoons can be written that way.

AMANDA: You have also done work on various other shows such as Family Guy and King of the Hill which are somewhat similar to that of the long-running Simpsons TV series. However, Futurama is on the same level as all of these shows and gets canceled twice. Why do you think this is? 

BILLY: I don’t know, the show is like a piñata you know, just keeps getting beatin’ (laughter). You know split open and all the candy falls out, and then someone puts it back together and sticks it up there again. I guess it was just meant to happen like that, because it is just so different from everything else. I think a lot of people don’t know what to do with it and handle it right. You never know; there are a million reasons why something is around and why something isn’t.

AMANDA: You've voiced characters that I grew up loving as well as some of my own kids' favorite characters today. What has been the most rewarding part of your career in your opinion?

BILLY: I think it would be, and I am being totally honest, one time my mother’s boyfriends asked me about show business, and I said, 'Walter I am barely in it, but what do you want to know?' And he said, 'What would you say is the best part of your job? Working with the people that you love to work with, and they're all so great and everything, and you feel inspired, or is it the reward of seeing it on television? What is the best part of your job?' He was a firefighter and I said, 'Walter imagine if you woke up everyday and you went out to your mailbox and in your mailbox was a check for a fire you fought in 1973.' And he says, 'Gotcha.' In other words you keep getting paid for stuff that you did. And I said, 'How come you don’t get residuals? The fire you put out, it stayed out. You should keep getting paid.' (laughter) But that is how performers get paid is residuals. You keep getting them. Every time they run something, and you're in it, then you keep getting paid a certain amount of money for it.  

AMANDA: I know you can't reveal much about the second half of season 7 which airs on June 19th. Why do you think fans should tune in for these last 13 episodes and how will they be different from all of the others?

BILLY: Well there are going to be some formulaic things that people loved like hell. People loved that sad episode called “Jurassic Bark” about the dog. They liked it, but they kind of hated it in a way, because it would make you cry. It was so sad, anyone that loves animals, that would probably rip them to pieces. But I think there is going to be another tearjerker episode, and the season ends with like a wedding of some sort, and there are going to be some musical numbers. But what I think they did is that they sort of had a feeling that this was going to be the last season, and everyone poured so much into it. I believe it is the best season we ever did, and it is up to the audience to decide whether it is or isn’t. But I think people will be very happy.

AMANDA: Also, I know you must have some new projects coming up soon, but are there any you'd like to tell us about today? 

BILLY: I am doing a cartoon for Disney right and we are recording it called the “Seven D.” It is Disney Kids programming and the “Seven D” is just a new take on the seven dwarfs. They kind of reinvented all of them and I think it is a great show and it will be out soon. I still do a lot of commercials and I still do all the M&M commercials. I am just enjoying what I do, and I will keep coming into work until they tell me not to come in anymore.

AMANDA: Speaking of kids, my daughter’s birthday is today and she turns 11. She wanted to know with all the voices you do for Futurama, how do you keep them separate and is that difficult for you?

BILLY: It is not that difficult for me, because it is something I just had it built-in. I don’t know how to do anything else, and maybe that is why I am good at this. (laughter) But it is really not, I know the characters so well, and I keep them separate. There have been parts of the script where I have talked to myself for three or four pages where there was six characters that I did.

AMANDA: Well is it hard for you talking to yourself or have you just got use to it?

BILLY: Well, I love talking to myself. You meet a better class of people that way. (laughter)

To learn more, visit the official Futurama and Billy West websites. Also, make sure to tune in on June 19th for the premiere episode of the final season of Futurama.

About The Final Season of Futurama
“Futurama” rockets into space for the (second) final time as the Emmy® Award-winning series will conclude its long history with this summer’s all-new season. The thirteen-episode summer run will premiere on COMEDY CENTRAL with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday, June 19 at 10:00 p.m. with the emotional series finale scheduled for September 4. Special guest stars for the final season include Larry Bird, Dan Castellaneta, Sarah Silverman, George Takei, Adam West and Burt Ward. The show’s entire original voice cast will be returning. Including the yet-to-air season, this will bring the total number of episodes in “Futurama’s” storied history to 140.

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