He’s currently the voice of Obi Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars cartoon, the third season of which premieres on Sky Movies HD on 23rd October.
HeyUGuys recently spoke to him at his home studio in LA and were pleased to discover that his passion for the material is partly derived from the fact that he’s a huge fan of the world he works within.
HeyUGuys: How does it feel to be part of the Star Wars universe?
James Arnold Taylor: It’s a fantastic feeling and a dream come true for someone who grew up surrounded by it. I was seven years old when Episode 4 came out and if anyone had told me back then that I would become part of the universe and in the way that I am, I don’t think I would have believed them. I still wake up everyday thinking that this is the coolest job in the world.
Also, thanks to the prequels, having the chance to explore this other side to Obi Wan and being the character who is the glue through this entire Star Wars series is great.
How does The Clone Wars compare to that of your other voice-over work and what were the challenges of taking on a living, breathing character like Obi Wan in this form?
I’ve been really fortunate to be involved in so many franchises, whether it be Transformers, the Final Fantasy video game series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and now the voice of , but they all come into focus once you get to play Obi Wan Kenobi. Every fan around the world is so familiar with the character and the pressure you could put on yourself to be that voice could be quite overwhelming.
It was a dream of mine since I was a young child to do voice-over in cartoons and in animation and now that I do this on a daily basis, I still tend not to hold that lightly, and take into account that I am voicing a character that both Ewan McGregor and Sir Alec Guinness did such a great job with, and that needs to be honoured properly.
Because this is George’s universe, the network isn’t on our back to make certain concessions and straight-jacket us by saying “we need to have a laugh here and now an explosion over there”. We’re telling the story of the Star Wars saga and we have the freedom to do it the right way. It’s a wonderful work environment.
It’s apparent with Obi Wan that you’re not just trying to mimic McGregor or Guinness, and you’ve attempted to stay true to the character and not just the actors who have played him.
It actually started very specifically as a voice-match for Ewan around the time they were doing Revenge of the Sith and I was doing the voice for the video game version of the film. I had to be really mindful of what he was doing then, but it was that voice-matching which locked me into the character for the folks at Lucasfilm, because I was able to get a grasp of both the light and more dramatic sides to the character, which Ewan was also doing.
Now with The Clone Wars I’ve been given the freedom to make the character my own, so if you listen to what I’m doing now, compared to what I was doing back for the game, there is some difference there. I try to combine a little of both Guinness and McGregor and Clone Wars director Dave Filoni has been a big influence on me in regards to having the opportunity to do that.
How much direction do you get as a voice-over artist, and does it differ from a live-action set?
It’s exactly the same method as far as direction goes. Dave directs all our voice sessions just as it would be if we were in front of a camera. Due to security measures we only receive the script 24 hours before recording, so we don’t really know what’s really going to happen in each episode until we get to set that day.
We’ll all have a run-through with Dave before the recording and I’ll also have the freedom to suggest changes to my own lines if I feel that there is something that Obi Wan may not say in a certain way, so there’s a lot of leeway to get it right before we go on.
George is in there for the entire process, from inception of each story and the development of that, to the look and feel. He does entrust a lot to Dave, but he’ll closely observe what’s going on and he has a hand in making sure that it all stays true to the Star Wars universe, and that the cartoon series isn’t a separate entity to the films.
His involvement actually gives you the freedom to get it right because he’s very open in giving all us a chance to make the necessary changes if what we’re saying doesn’t quite ring true to the characters.
In terms of your own background, how did you start in the industry? Were you a traditional actor who then segued into voice-over work?
Since around the age of four I knew I wanted to work within animation doing voices. For someone who is 5.4’ and looks a little like David Spade, the opportunity to play different types of characters on camera is limited. That side to the industry would never allow me the freedom to do the things I do in the voice-over work.
I knew when I was younger that I had been blessed with the ability to manipulate my voice and to be different people, so I was right at home being a voice actor. I’ve done live-action stuff from time to time, which is a lot of fun, but voice-over is really the thing which I’m most passionate about and love doing. I started at 16 as a stand-up comic and got into radio the year after, and that period was where I really learned my craft.
My first big job was voice doubling for Michael J. Fox on Stuart Little – a great start into the world of animation and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Our thanks to James Arnold Taylor for his time.
The third series of Star Wars: The Clone Wars starts at 5.30pm on Saturday 23rd October on Sky Movies Premiere/HD