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The Hardest Working Vocal Cords in Show Business: An Interview with Patrick Warburton

From the cartoon world of The Family Guy to the real life soundstage of Seinfeld to the blended realities of both realms in a recent spate of AmEx commercials, Patrick Warburton has seen (or at least voiced) it all. His booming contrabass underscores the dry tone embodied by much of his work, whether his chiseled visage is on screen or off. His four children, however, seem to prefer the latter — whenever they’re allowed to see it, that is.

‘Just because [The Family Guy] was a cartoon, at first we thought we could let them watch it. And then it became ‘Oh, my God! Kids, out of the room!’,’ he says. Patrick’s upcoming work for The Cartoon Network is similarly off limits. ‘It’s called The Venture Brothers and it’s funny. It’s a take-off on Johnny Quest, but it’s very adult and very tweaked and that’s something that [my children] will not watch.’

No such embargo is required for his work in family-friendly fare like The Emperor’s New Groove, a fact that he appreciates. ‘I’ve got four kids so I love doing animated stuff that turns out well and that they enjoy. I know that it’s a great experience for them, so I kind of experience it vicariously through them.’

His role as Buzz Lightyear of Star Command also falls into that category. In this television spin-off from the Toy Story franchise, he reprises the role made famous by Tim Allen.

‘I went to play golf one day with a buddy of mine and Tim Allen’s manager happened to be in our foursome. He didn’t know of me or who I was so I decided to mess with him a little bit and I said, ‘What do you guys think of the new guy voicing Buzz for the cartoon?’ and he said, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t think we like it.’ And I said, ‘Well, of course, because, you know, he’s making Buzz a little bit more manly.’ Now that’s a joke. Let me emphasize that. [Tim and I] have fun with each other.’ (Warburton and Allen have done two movies together –Big Trouble and Joe Somebody.)

Patrick’s voice work crosses over into the real world in a series of American Express commercials now premiering on the Internet. In them, he voices an animated Superman who waxes comedic with a flesh and blood Jerry Seinfeld on superhero minutiae such as how to pick a good name. From Patrick’s performance it should be obvious to even the casual observer that someone is being overlooked for the lead in the upcoming Superman feature from Charlie’s Angels director McG.

‘I’m gonna be 40 next year. How about a heading-into-middle-age Superman who’s a little bit goofier? Wouldn’t that be fun? I don’t know what our friends at D.C. [Comics] would think about that.’

One need only look at his stint as the title role in the short-lived live-action television incarnation of The Tick for proof of his superhero credentials.

‘That, to me, was an honor: To get into the blue suit and get to be The Tick. I loved that. I just wish that our beloved Fox network had actually given us a shot instead of killing off the show as they did.’ The show ran briefly in the fall of 2001 with little promotion and against such heavyweights as Survivor.

Patrick cites the expense of the program as motivation for the lack of company support. ‘It becomes costly to shoot a show like that. Especially when the networks are making a jillion dollars doing reality TV. They’re gonna just say, ‘You know what? This just isn’t cost-effective for us, even if the critics love it and the fans love it. Screw them! We don’t own the show. Sony owns the show.”

A similar lack of corporate imagination besets his forays into live action work in Hollywood, where he’s generally offered roles in the vein of his Puddy character on Seinfeld.

‘My first opportunity to do some interesting dramatic roles came from elsewhere. I got an offer from some Australian filmmakers to do a picture called The Dish with Sam Neill which turned out real nice and that was a great experience. It took a team in Australia to offer me a role like that. Here in Los Angeles they’ll barely read me for roles like that.’

Still, he can’t complain about the success he’s had so far. ‘For the most part, I’ve had it pretty damned good. There are a lot of things that I’d still like to do. But I’ve had some nice opportunities.’

One such opportunity is filming now. He’s currently co-starring with Martin Lawrence in a film with the working title Rage Control. He plays a grade school coach who has to put up with Lawrence’s character, a recently demoted temperamental NCAA coach. ‘I get to play a real tool, which is fun.’

In his spare time, the former Orange County resident enjoys a nice round of golf. ‘I did tell Peter Gallagher on the golf course the other day that there is no such thing as ‘The O.C.’ They just made that up. But I hope they feel really cool.’ He also enjoys the musical stylings of a certain Seattle-based grunge collective. ‘I am a sick Pearl Jam fan.’ He’s met lead singer Eddie Vedder and listens to the band incessantly, but his enthusiasm for the group is not always shared.

‘‘Wishlist’ is one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs of all time. Phenomenal lyrics in that. I say things to my wife like, ‘I wish I could be the full moon shining on your Camaro’s hood,’ and she looks at me like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about!?’ [In a mock whining voice] ‘Well Eddie knows what I’m talking about… Eddie understands! I wish Eddie was a woman and he was in love with me and we were married!’ That’s funny, see.’

High five, Patrick!

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