By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Freddie Prinze Jr., who gives voice to space cowboy Kanan Jarrus in the new “Star Wars Rebels” animated TV series told co-star Tiya Sircar, who voices warrior firebrand Sabine Wren, that while his wife Sarah Michelle Gellar’s TV series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was popular internationally, he was playing a character in a franchise that is popular interglactically.
The son of the late comedian Freddie Prinze obviously inherited his dad’s sense of humor, which comes in handy on the animated action-adventure sci-fi series that is premiering Friday with a one-hour episode on Disney Channel at 9 p.m. ET/PT. The weekly half-hour series will premiere on Monday, Oct. 13 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD.
Prinze, 38, a father of two, recalls that he was a big “Star Wars” fan while growing up in Albuquerque, and he’s got the scar to prove it. He cut his chin on a sheered off flagpole (substituting for a light saber) while playing with a cousin as a boy, which left a mark. So when he was called upon to provide the voice of Kanan, Prinze was more than just a little excited to do it.
Initially, he wasn’t going to tell his daughter, Charlotte, 5, that he was voicing one of the characters in the Disney/Lucasfilm Animation series, but her classmates at school let the cat out of the bag. Though Prinze laments the loss of some of the “magic” that goes with that revelation, he says he is going to enjoy watching the series with her anyway. (His son, Rocky, is only a year old, so he’s too young yet to watch it.)
Set between the events of “Star Wars: Episodes III and Iv,” the story unfolds during a dark time when the evil Galactic Empire is tightening it’s control over a remote planet and ruining the lives of it’s inhabitants. Prinze’s character, Kanan, is part of a motley crew aboard the rebel starship “Ghost” that, along with a few other heroic defenders, guards the planet against a host of new villains. Taylor Gray voices the character of Ezra Bridger, Steve Blum is Zeb Orrelios, Vanessa Marshall is Hera Syndulla, Jason Isaacs is the Inquisitor and David Oyelowo is Agent Kallus. There’s also a cantankerous old astromech droid named Chopper (sort of a forerunner of “Star Wars” beloved R2-D2.) The series is executive produced by Dave Filoni, who also worked on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” and “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
Just days before the series premiere, Prinze is fighting off a cold but excited about the being part of the “Star Wars” universe.
Q: Being part of the “Star Wars” franchise, do you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure? Is it intimidating to be part of this beloved universe?
Prinze: There’s pressure. For guys my age, this is sort of in your DNA. You said, “May the Force Be With You” quite often in your childhood. The scar on my chin is from playing “Star Wars.” I take it real seriously, man. So there’s pressure. You’re the appetizer for the main course that’s getting ready to happen, whether you want it to or not. You want to make it special and you want people to remember it. Fortunately, with “Star Wars,” they keep things in-house. They keep the family that did great things doing more great things. So, it takes a little of the pressure off because I’ve already heard a lot of good feedback from people seeing it. You read some of those speeches (as your character) and I think about when I was 12 years old and dreaming about say this (lines from “Star Wars”), so there’s pressure. At a certain point, you have to say, “if it sucks, it sucks. I’m just going to go for it,” and that’s usually when good stuff happens.
Q: Do you remember the first time you saw the original “Star Wars?”
Prinze: I’m old enough remember when cable was invented. There was an actual cable that hooked into a box, and had buttons on it. You got to pick the channel. And the first movie I got to see on cable was “Star Wars.” About 20 minutes in, the sound went out. I couldn’t hear 10 minutes of the movie, and then the sound finally came back. I watched it with my cousin, Chris, who also was the cousin with whom we bent the flagpole back and forth until I got stabbed in the face. We did everything “Star Wars” together.
Q: Is the process of voiceover recording comfortable for you? Or do you feel stripped away from your acting skills because you can only rely on your voice?
Prinze: I learned fairly quickly but it definitely was a challenge at first, because as an actor, on film you can use your eyes or your body language to show different emotions or not show different things. With voice acting, originally I felt handcuffed. I didn’t feel I was good at it. I did this one videogame called “Mass Effect,” where I figured I just had to go for it, and then I started being more comfortable in my own skin. And then, when you’d see Steve (Blum, who voices Zeb Orrelios) go for it like you’ve never seen anyone before, I thought, “If he can go that bananas, then I can go for it too.” It makes it more comfortable. Not to compare him to Columbo—Steve’s not that old—but when I worked with Peter Falk, it was a very similar situation. It was like acting school 101. He had a very different style from what I learned from my acting coaches. It was a matter of taking a call from him at 2 a.m., and he would demand that I’d buy him some True 100 cigarettes. I’d go get some smokes at the Essex House and then bring them to his room, and he’d talk to me about acting, and what was necessary to execute a good moment on film. So I watched (my castmates recording) and I learned a lot from them, seeing their techniques and what they’re doing. So I’m much more comfortable now than when we started.
Q: Who would win a battle between Kanan and Michelle’s Buffy character?
Prinze: It’s a tough question. Buffy probably has more experience in battle than Kanan does. But she doesn’t have the Force so that’s a big big big plus. At the end of the day, Sarah would have to agree. I mean, we could fight and see. But I say, probably Kanan (would win). The Force sort of trumps all. Superman doesn’t mess with Jedi.
Q: What is your favorite trait of your character?
Prinze: Kanan’s best quality is that he’s hyper-loyal. He’s like that old dog that follows you home and appreciates that one thing that you did so he’s going to stick with you forever, and if anybody else comes in, he’s probably going to bite them. He adheres to his master. He’s on a leash. (He laughs.)
Q: How many cool points did you get for being a part of this? Are your kids aware that you’re the voice of Kanan in “Star Wars Rebels?”
Prinze: I definitely gained some cool points. When I picked my daughter up from school, the boys are like, “You’re a Jedi!” They think they know something that’s a secret.
Q: What’s your favorite “Star Wars” character? Is it easier playing a new character in a franchise than taking on one that was established by someone else?
Prinze: Boba Fett. He’s the coolest.
Q: The storylines are pretty dark and you have a dark backstory. Are you concerned that it might be too dark for the younger viewers watching this?
Prinze: Kids are pretty sharp. Remember the movies that we saw when we were kids? “The NeverEnding Story” wasn’t a feel-good movie. The horse died, so it hurt. “The Wizard of Oz” is legit! My daughter is obsessed with the Wicked Witch because she wants to be evil. (He laughs.) She’s a villain in the making. But kids are smart so I think the stakes need to be as real as they can be. Kids can smell out fluff. They know that when they’re watching “The Smurfs” if Gargamel is going to get them or not. It needs to feel real to an adult to feel real to a kid.