North Texas voice actors team up in new cartoon superhero series

Posted Thursday, Jul. 04, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Marvel’s Avengers Assemble • 10 a.m. Sunday • Disney XD

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What are the odds?

Three of the actors doing character voices for the seven-member superhero team of Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, a new action-packed cartoon series that premieres Sunday morning on Disney XD, are from North Texas.

Travis Willingham, a TCU graduate who grew up in the historic Lakewood neighborhood of Dallas, portrays Thor, the Asgardian God of Thunder who loves the thrill of battle with his Uru hammer.

Laura Bailey, who grew up in Allen, plays Black Widow, the world-renowned former spy who’s trained for high levels of combat, tech and strategy.

And Troy Baker, who hails from Plano, provides the voice for Hawkeye, the expert archer with astonishing accuracy and a quiver full of trick arrows.

The three animation voice specialists with North Texas roots have known each other for years.

“We were all with the same talent agency, the Wolfe Agency in Dallas, back in the early 2000s before we separately found our way to Los Angeles,” Willingham says.

Willingham and Bailey, as a matter of fact, dated back in the day; once she moved to California, they got back together and now they’re husband and wife.

And Baker — who admits that he and Bailey didn’t get along during their Dallas years, “because I was kind of a jerk then” — has become the couple’s best friend.

The wisecracking Baker jokes that they were hired together as a package deal.

“The producers got a group discount,” he says. “Buy two, get Troy for free!”

But don’t believe him for a second. They all auditioned and won their roles separately.

Willingham — who could make a mighty convincing Thor on camera as well, given his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame — had previously played the mighty warrior on Ultimate Spider-Man. Baker had prior experience as Hawkeye on Ultimate Spider-Man as well. So they had that going for them.

Still, the odds that these three would wind up on the same cartoon superhero team are so imponderably long that it would take J.A.R.V.I.S., the artificial intelligence in Iron Man’s armor, to calculate them.

The rest of the seven-member team: Iron Man (voiced by Adrian Pasdar, formerly of Heroes), Hulk (Fred Tatasciore, who also plays the big green guy in the upcoming animated series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.), Captain America (Roger Craig Smith) and Falcon, a rookie superhero (Bumper Robinson).

Willingham says it’s a dream job for each of them, because they’re all cartoon/comic book/video game “nerds” who have followed the Avengers’ exploits their entire lives.

“It’s part of our upbringing, something that was a big part of our childhoods,” he says. “We love these comics, we love these stories, we love these characters — and that makes this a job of passion.”

Adds Baker: “I’ve got a stack of comic books about which my wife is always saying, ‘Wouldn’t that be better in the storage closet? Do we have to display it?’ I am definitely a kid at heart.

“When I was younger, my dad had a T-shirt that said, ‘I’ll always grow older, but you can’t convince me to grow up.’ That’s kind of my take on life. I’m always going to be a kid. So it’s such a bonus and a perk that we get to be in a show that we’re going to want to watch and ‘nerd out’ over anyway.”

‘Wide variety of work’

Willingham loves playing Thor because of the “otherworldly regal tone” that the character has. “He’s got the power, he’s got the hammer, he’s got the lightning, and he speaks in a manner not normally associated with this realm, and that’s always fun for me.”

Baker, who was a professional rock-and-roller before he found his way into voiceover work, is a good fit for Hawkeye, Bailey says, because actor and character share the same swagger.

“Hawkeye is a character in the Marvel universe I’ve always loved,” Baker says, “because he doesn’t have super powers per se — he’s just really, really skilled at what he does. Plus, I definitely have the same cockiness and, I hope, some of the wittiness.”

Bailey, meanwhile, thinks she’s an ideal fit to play Black Widow because of her take-charge attitude. “I have a tendency to tell the guys what to do,” she says. “Maybe a little too much, in fact.”

To which Willingham teasingly responds, “You? No! Never!”

Then Baker adds, in a moment of complete seriousness, “One of the things about Black Widow is she’s usually the smartest person in the room — and that’s pretty much true with Laura as well.”

Each of the three has well over 100 voice acting credits, everything from cartoons to video games to English-language versions of Japanese anime.

Bailey was the first to try voice work, in the 1990s.

“I started with FUNimation [an animation production company based in Dallas] doing Dragon Ball Z,” she says. “I kept doing it, because you get to experience such a wide variety of work. I’ve played so many different roles that you can’t do on camera. You’re limited when you’re on film. You only can play what you look like. But with voice acting, you can play anything you can think of.”

Willingham, who married Bailey in 2011, worked on Dragon Ball Z as well and liked voice work for essentially the same reasons. He has done a fair amount of on-camera acting, including parts in such films as Thor, Friday Night Lights and Ray, but animation is his bread and butter.

“There’s such an abundance of projects in this area,” he says, “and you get to work with the best in the business.”

Baker says he went from recording an album with his band (he was the singer-guitarist for Dallas-based Tripp Fontaine), to doing car commercials in the same studio, to voice work.

“One thing led to another and I’ve just been stumbling after myself ever since,” he says.

Ensemble work

While A-list movie stars in blockbuster animated films tend to record their lines in solitude, the actors in cartoon TV series are generally in the recording studio at the same time, bouncing lines of dialogue off each other.

That’s certainly the case with Avengers Assemble. Bailey believes it’s the ideal way to work.

“One of the best things about our recording sessions is that we get to record together,” she says. “It’s one of the things that I think makes the show so right. Because when we record, we get to look into each other’s eyes and banter off of each other. You can feel the characters interacting.”

Willingham agrees. “It’s fun to see the actors taking on the personalities of their characters,” he says. “The cocky swagger happening with Troy, Laura rolling her eyes at the guys, Fred and I smashing things that aren’t really there around the microphone.”

Given the recurring theme of teamwork, Avengers Assemble shouldn’t be recorded any other way.

“One of the things that’s really cool about this show, and it’s kind of at the root of who the Avengers are,” Baker says, “is that you’ve got this group of superheroes that by themselves are able to accomplish great things, but when they come together, they can truly accomplish amazing things.

“With teamwork, you can work wonders. That’s a universal truth that I think all of us, kids and grown-ups alike, can take away from watching this show.”

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