"I'm not bleeding from any holes, so I must be doing OK." Legendary voice actor Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Futurama) assures us that all is well in his world as he settles in to celebrate the 25th anniversary and 4K Ultra HD and Digital re-release of Space Jam. Known the world over as the voices of Bugs Bunny, Philip J. Fry, Professor Farnsworth, Dr. Zoidberg, Ren & Stimpy, and so many more, Billy takes time out to join Bleeding Cool as he reflects on his massive career, the inspiration for his most famous voices, and how he got cast as the iconic wascally wabbit for the original Space Jam 25 years ago.
West was working on The Howard Stern Show when producer Ivan Reitman (Private Parts, Ghostbusters), impressed by his talents, asked him to audition for Space Jam. West landed the roles of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, and movie history was made. Grossing over $250 million worldwide, Space Jam wonders what happened between basketball legend Michael Jordan's initial retirement from the NBA and his comeback.
It might be an easier task now, as a seasoned veteran, but at the time, how much pressure was there stepping into those iconic voices?
BW: Well, it was daunting because I worked really hard at doing it… I just felt like yeah, those are big shoes to try and fill, so you just do the best you can. You pick a period where Bugs behaved and looked a certain way. There's like, decades of him, but each director had him being a little different, so you pick one. And the producers had their favorites, but it's so funny when I was working everyone that popped in the door was like 'He's too Jewish,' or 'He's too Brooklyn', or 'He's too cute' you know? It was always something. And I was always like (In Bugs Bunny's voice) 'Ehhh, shut up!'
You had a hand-created Ren And Stimpy; Stimpy was based on Larry Fine, correct?
BW: I created the voice for that; I didn't create the show. I was given a tape of what they wanted for the Ren voice, so I practiced that and went with what my take on it was. We were in New York, me and John Kricfalusi (The Ren & Stimpy Show), and we went over to MTV, and literally, we were in a closet with a broom and a bucket with a mic attached to it. It was right out of Hollywood. Right up the hall from Kurt Loader's (MTV News) office… then he went in and had a meeting with the woman from Nickelodeon, and he came out and said, 'Congratulations! What you did just helped us sell the show.' And then that was the end of that. He decided he was going to do the voice, and I didn't really care because I had a gig. I was just happy for that. But history played out a different way.
The next biggest hit on the timeline would be Futurama. Most folks might ask you about Zoidberg or Farnsworth, but where did you come up with, or what was the inspiration for Frye? Where does that voice start?
BW: That comes from when I was 25 years old; that's my voice. I remembered what I sounded like. I was in a band; if I broke a string or an amplifier, I would be like (in Frye's voice), 'Oh man! What the fuck?' I was whiny and nasally and complain-y. I figured that would be as good a voice as any. I was tentative, you know, all the things that Frye kind of is.
Which cartoons or voice actors inspired you?
BW: I used to like The Flinstones when that first premiered on TV. It came on (Primetime) Friday nights, and I used to listen to the beautiful voices and everything. I met Mel Blanc (Looney Tunes, The Bugs Bunny Show) once, and I did get to work with Jean Vander Pyl (The Flintstones, The Huckleberry Hound Show), who played Wilma. I worked with her doing voice-over for Weird Al Yankovic's (UHF, The Weird Al Show) kid show that he had for a while. And it was just so crazy to be standing working with Wilma, you know? I've been very, very lucky. I've either worked or met most of my idols in my life, super lucky.
Now you are in that crowd of Iconic voice actors and characters; they were your idols, now there is a younger generation of talent that idolizes you.
BW: It's weird to think of things that way, but one of the things I liked about performing was I never played it small… Because you needed to make it bigger than life. You needed to make it bigger than two dimensions. And what you did had to last for all time.
You can enjoy Billy as Bug Bunny and Elmer Fudd in Space Jam when the world's greatest legends collide in a future universe, with Jordan as a live-action hero entering a spectacular animated world. Captured by Bugs Bunny to foil a ghastly gang of space creatures, Jordan must play the basketball game of his life to save the beloved cartoon heroes from a hideous kidnapping scheme.
Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes linchpin Bugs Bunny star in the family comedy classic that introduced a whole new dimension of entertainment. The film also stars Wayne Knight, Theresa Randle, and the voice of Danny DeVito. Bill Murray, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Patrick Ewing appear as themselves. Space Jam was produced by Ivan Reitman and directed by Joe Pytka.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beloved classic, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment releases Space Jam on Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack and Digital on July 6th.