Michael Benyaer Dialogue
Michael Benyaer is a Canadian actor who's done live action and voice work for cartoons and video games. He portrayed Hadji in season one of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest.
- Sometimes Benyaer, Benyer, Banyaer...is that your own doing or the fault of the credits writers?
I spell it Benyaer. The fault of those other people.
- How'd you come to join the cast of Real Adventures? I apologize beforehand for evoking any stigma this might have with typecasting...like, Adam West will always be the 60s Batman, but I hope the character of Hadji doesn't carry that stigma. I know some of the actors, like J.D. Roth, were really into the show's concept.
Type-casting. It’s funny you say that, because before quest, I had done a lot of voices for animation where I was playing anything but stereotypes. I had been the voice of Ken for Barbie and Ken, I had done GI JOE, Reboot, a couple of characters each on “Hurricanes” and “Exo-Squad”, as well as guests on other shows. But after my first professional visit to LA at 25 years old, I was out for dinner with some friends who introduced me to a woman who was a literary agent (we were practicing a pitch for a sit-com at the time) and she took a look at me, after I had been introduced as an actor, and said, “do you do a middle-eastern accent? A famous cartoon company is re-doing a cartoon and one of the characters is middle-eastern.” This was less than 8 hours of having been in LA as an actor, and already I was type-cast! I had been acting professionally since I was 17, and although I dealt with type-casting in on-camera, having it occur with voice over was a bit of a surprise. I figured that was LA. I wasn’t that interested in what the woman had to say, as I had become very blasé, and my friends were shocked. I found out the next day, that it was JQ, and I said, I knew the character but he wasn’t middle-eastern but Indian, to which her assistant replied “same thing.” I didn’t want to get into it, but clearly they are not. I then said, “I can do an Indian Accent, but the character is like 7 years old. I’m good, but not that good”. I was then told that he was 17 in the new show. I then became more interested, and saw it as a real possibility that I could get to live in the states and make my way as an actor there. After calling around to people I had worked with, I finally spoke to Andrea Romano’s office (she had cast me and directed me in the first season of Reboot) and they referred me to an agent at ICM, which at the time was the biggest voice over agency in Los Angeles. I met with the agent, and he asked me to extend my trip so I could audition for H-B, and I did. After having flown back to Vancouver, I was told I had the role, but had to “audition” again, and of course I got the job. It allowed me to move to LA and get my working visa, as well as eventually my Green Card, which had been a huge hurdle for a young Canadian actor like myself.
J.D. is a smart guy, and had worked as a host and producer for kids TV, so I think he respected the attempt made to make the show also educational as well as exciting for kids.
- If not when you first learned about the show, when did you fully learn about or become attracted to Hadji's character?
Also, touched on this earlier. It’s funny because you’ve posted a quote I said in an interview about the show in 1996 on Wikipedia, where I said there were not a lot of East Indian heroes on tv. Obviously, today if you look at “Heroes” there’s that character, and the girl on ER, and the character on “Lost”, (who although is Iraqi, is played by someone of Indian ancestry) my comment seems a bit off. But waaaaay back in 96 there were not a lot of positive portrayals of “other” ethnicities in tv and film. And because of world events of the past several years, there has been a lot of call for middle-eastern roles to be bad guys (I’ve had my share), but once again, not as many heroic ones, or lead characters. I’m sure that will all change in time. This is a round about way of me saying that, although, I knew of the original show from the 60’s, I was most attracted to Hadji’s character because it represented a regular character of “other ethnicity” that people knew. I was excited to do the role in a more positive and researched way.
- Would you consider voicing video games more difficult than animated features, or vice-versa? Or perhaps television acting is harder than both?
Thank you for asking that question. I don’t consider any to be more difficult than others, as a general rule. To me acting is acting. Whether it be voice, or film or tv. Probably the most difficult would be musical theatre, just on energy and skill level. For voice over you don’t have to wear make up, or do blocking, etc. But it can be hard in the sense that you might have to do a 4 hour session of yelling (which is really the hardest part of video games, because I’ve found a lot to be action games where guys are yelling). So, in that sense there seems to be less time to record a game than an animated show or feature, but it’s not really difficult. As my dad always says, “it’s not digging ditches.”
- Do you have any personal media projects you're working on right now in Los Angeles?
- Sort of in that line of thought, do you have any interesting hobbies, like music, art, or writing?
To answer both of these questions, I also wrote for tv early in my career. I was hired right after high school to write for a late-night tv series which was aimed at young people, kind of a Saturday Night Live with topics of the day, and info-tainment stuff - the show was on the CBC (Canadian network) and after that was cancelled, while I was in College, I wrote a bit for some animated shows, as well as Sesame street in Canada. But after moving to LA, my focus really turned to acting because the competition is much greater here. I have ideas for shows and scripts, and I look at them more and more, and I will eventually write them. But then it’s the challenge of getting them made.
- The Proverbs! There is a famous (among fans, I guess) line in NDOVU'S LAST JOURNEY: "The paradox of karmic fate is the razor's edge between predestined reality and active choice." If you can recall, was that line a tongue-twister, and what are your thoughts on Hadji's other wise quotes?
The proverbs were written, and they were quite intelligent and insightful, a testament to Peter and his writing staff. I do recall that was a tongue-twiser and there was another which was a long speech something about “winnetka”, which took a little longer to get right because of the accent I put on to do Hadji. Once again, all credit to the cleverness of the quotes goes to the writers of the show.
- Speaking of accents earlier, is there a particularly hard one you're still trying to master? Did any come naturally?
I have just been blessed with a good ear. I can usually listen to someone and pretty much approximate it. Some come easier than others, but I don’t know why.
- I'm afraid I don't know all I should about voice acting, but for the Quest series, was it done scene-by-scene? Would you work with others in the studio in real time? Forgive my ignorance here!
A lot of pre-lay animated series (as opposed to dubbing where the animation is done first, and you watch it and dub to the picture) is recorded with as much of the cast in a recording studio together, as possible. “Real time” in that they like to run scenes, with a short pause between lines so they can edit. If someone is out of town or unavailable they can record them separately, which I’ve done on many occasions, but in the beginning they like to have everyone together to set the tone of the show.
* In the Quest PC game Cover-Up At Roswell, you are the only season one actor to appear; the rest are season two with a stand-in for Dr. Quest. Was there a delay in Hanna Barbera's switch to Rob Paulsen, or did you attempt to stay on the show?
They had already started recording the second batch, and I believe we had recorded 32 episodes with the cast I was part of, and when the decision came to replace everyone, they wanted to keep only 26 of the ones we did. And of those 26 they wanted to “fix” certain episodes and had us come back and record pick-up lines, etc. It was during this time the game was commissioned, and I recall that (voice Director) Kris Zimmerman was probably instrumental in getting me that job. I’m thankful to her, because it was a lot of fun, and I became friends with Quinton Flynn, who voiced Jonny (and I had met earlier when he did a guest role on the earlier series). Quinton and I still stay in touch. I didn’t do any of the second set of episodes of 96. I recorded 32 episodes, and was then told they would only keep 26, and then we fixed those.
- During your work and after leaving the cast, did you follow the show's debut? And do you recall any thoughts on the overall plots and episodes? Not so much development history but just your opinion of the show's quality. Were you satisfied with how your vocal portrayal of Hadji was presented?
I thought the show was great. I didn’t have cable at the time, but my girlfriend at the time did, and she recorded a bunch of episodes for me. Maybe all, I’m not sure. I was very happy with it, and think it’s a shame we didn’t do more. But that’s how things go sometimes. Regarding my vocal portrayal, I thought Hadji came off well, and to quote my mom when she saw the show, “Are you sure that’s you? It doesn’t sound like you at all!” I’ll take that as a compliment from someone who knows me very well.
- Did you have any thoughts on the design changes (to what they considered a more classic look)?
I did not really see any of the changes to second set of 26 (or any of the artwork, so I didn’t have any thoughts.)
- How did you become involved in Robot Chicken?
Funny you should ask about RC. As you know, I had done a lot of voice over, especially for animation. But over the years in LA, you make friends with actors, and one was an actress friend of mine, Chad Morgan, who lived in a huge house with some Canadian actor friends. We became good friends, and in 2000, she had been dating Seth Green for some time, who I had become friendly with through her. When Seth had the idea to do a show called “Sweet J Presents” they asked me if I wanted to do voices for it. It was for an internet site funded through Sony, called “Screenblast”. They produced several episodes, but the site wasn’t totally successful. So a few years later, after I had returned to LA from Canada (I had gone back to Canada, to go to Law school, as a fall back position for acting) I got a call from Seth that they were doing the show for Cartoon Network and would I like to do some voices (many of which I had done the first time around) now that show could pay me! I said of course, and that’s how that came about. It’s funny because something like that which I did basically as a fun thing with friends, has taken on a huge life of its own. I got a wool beanie with the shows name on it, and wore it a lot this past winter in both LA and Vancouver, and people would come up to me and say, “Robot Chicken! I love that show!” The original stuff for Sweet J is on the DVD of the first season. You can see that a lot was re-done on the tv version, and you will see that once the show got more successful they got the real celebs to voice themselves. So a sketch where I had done some voices originally was now totally the real people. An example was “Enter the Fat One”, where I had voiced Miyagi, and some others. In the tv version they actually got Pat Morita and Joey Fatone.
- And lastly, did you get to make off with any cool Quest gear, like the Robot Chicken beanie? Ah, I'm not looking to buy or anything; this is just sheer curiosity!
I got a poster, and some other stuff. There was a QuestWorld shirt, and I picked up some of the toys that were released.
A big thanks from all the fans goes out to Mr. Benyaer for the interview!