Hacker's Interview with Gary Chalk



Chalk:  *takes the offered sheet of questions and reads off the first one with energy* First off, just a throwaway question: your first name. One “r”, two “r’s”, or shall we leave it as one of life’s great mysteries? *Quickly focuses on the camera* No, it's two r's! It's totally different.


Chalk: *looks back down at the questions in hand and passes them back to me* Okay, you ask me the questions and I'll answer them.


Hacker: *takes papers back* Okay.


Chalk: *looks around the room* Now, let's find a spot… *moves over to some chairs* And then here's what you can do. You can rest your camera on the back of this chair. *pulls one forward*


Hacker: *takes a seat and does as instructed* Alright, that works! It's great. *Focuses camera on him* Okay, you’ve done all sorts of performing imaginable, from live-action TV and film, animation, live stage and even singing telegrams.  What would you say has been the most bizarre or unusual gig you’ve ever had as a performer?

Chalk: The most unusual gig I've ever had was to dress up as Fernando the Kissing Bandit and I went into a board meeting with secretary of state in Audomon. They were having a big conference at this big round table and I was dressed up as this guy Fernando with this gauche hat and this big thick painted on mustache and this secretary of state was sitting at the table and I came in singing Fernando's hide away.  The first thing she said was as I walked in the room was "You're not going to take your clothes off are you?" *chuckles* And I said no and then I sang her a birthday song and then ran up to her and planted a big wet kiss on her cheek and left this outline of this painted on mustache on her face. It was quite funny. Right in the of the government meeting.


Hacker: *laughing along with him* I'll bet it was funny!


Chalk: *nods* It was. It was hysterical.


Hacker: Who did you look up to as role models during the course of your career?

Chalk: As role models? Uh, in the course of my career I looked up to people like Al Guinness [Alec Guinness]. He was my hero. Uh, Dodge Butler was my voice over hero, just loved him because he did all of those quick draw McGraw, Hilberry Hound, Snagglepuss and he was just the greatest thing since sliced bread. Al Guinness I've always admired because he played so many different characters and he was in a lot of my favorite movies like The Lady Killers, Lavender Hill Mob and I just thought he was the best.


Hacker: When you played Optimus Primal in Beast Wars, he was a relatively new commander, short on experience, but had enough power and skill to do the job, as well as a good rapport with his crew.  When Beast Machines began, his character was changed a lot, and not much to your liking… and yet, your performance was still able to make it work.  How do you manage the motivation to turn in a good performance, with a script you don’t particularly care for?


Chalk: Well, the thing is, is that unfortunately. Well, I should say fortunately we as performers are trained to do things and say things that we don't really believe in or we really don't want to say, but it's our jobs to make it sound believable and good.  I was not happy with that Beast Machines era or that series of scripts because it was taking Optimus from a take-charge kind of boss kind of guy into this sort of new age guru kind of character.  It didn't seem to my mind to work.  And plus the fact that everybody was sniping at each other. You know all the characters were always yelling at each other, and I thought "Wait a minute, aren't we supposed to be about team work and together and settling our differences for the common good?" And that wasn't happening in that show, and I was getting annoyed with it and I expressed my feelings and they started to change it around a little bit after that. But that's basically it, that's what we get paid to do. Is to make it work even though we don't like it.


Hacker: Well, from what I've seen of the show, you have done an excellent job make it work.


Chalk: Thank you.


Hacker: *looks over sheet* Um…okay you've answered number five in that other interview so, have you been interested in other aspects of the performing arts, such as script writing or even directing?


Chalk: Um, have I been interested in other aspects. Yes, I have done a little bit of writing, still doing that a little bit. I've always wanted to do directing, but directing is a tough one to crack in the industry.  I had an opportunity to direct cartoons years ago, but got turned away because they wouldn't let me be any voices in the show I was going to direct.  Then I found out that that was something just made up and the company wanted me in, but the people who were producing it wanted me to be directing the show. So um that opportunity came and went. I think I'd like to do all those things, but sometimes you know, the old Chinese proverb "be careful what you wish for" ‘Cause I've seen some friends of mine who have become directors and they said it's a lot harder than you think.  So, I dunno I mean there's other aspects.  I've always wanted to be a rock n' roll star.


Hacker: Don't we all?  Or an astronaut?


Chalk: *chuckles* Yeah.


Hacker: Let's see, you’ve also performed the voice of Optimus Primal at the live script-readings at two Transformers conventions before this one; BotCon ’98 and the OTFCC in ’03.  How did it feel to play your animated character in front of a live audience, as compared to recording in the studio?


Chalk: Well… *laughs* As a performer? It's way better to do it in front of a live audience than it is in a studio. In the studio, there's no feedback. There's just somebody who is sitting at the board going *monotone voice* "Good one, okay move on."  But with the audience you've got reactions to the lines and an audience response and it's way more fun.


Hacker: What was it like in the ’03 convention, to perform the live script-reading with a cast member from the original Transformers series, namely Gregg Berger, who played Grimlock?


Chalk: *nods* Oh with Grimlock, with Gregg. Yeah, That was fun! That was good because we had the guy who does the music play the soundtrack while we were performing so he would you know we'd have "Don't go in there, it's dangerous." Bom Bom Baam! And he'd play the music in the background while we were recording and we had a couple of people from the audience who auditioned and became cast members as well. It was hysterical and it was kind of neat because you're hearing the voice that you hear on the Generation one cartoons and you're there with him in the flesh and it was very very fun.


Hacker: Let’s say you’re given a chance to do a voice-acting session with any animation voice actor who ever lived.  Living or dead, who would you choose? 


Chalk: *no hesitation here* Mel Blanc. *laughs*


Hacker: *didn't get to finish question* *laughs* Oh okay, and if Mel Blanc is your first choice, who would be your second choice?


Chalk: My second choice? Dodge Butler.


Hacker: Yea, Blanc was like the god of all voice acting.


Chalk: Mel Blanc? Oh yeah.


Hacker: Many of the characters you’ve played, both in live-action and animation, have often been the “big guy” types, including command figures and police officers. Is there another character type you’d love to try acting that you’ve seldom done before?


Chalk: Well, I'd like to play a high school teacher, a doctor. I'd like to play a comedic buffoon kind of character, I'd love to do that. But every time I try and go for those things, they go, "Nope! You look like every cop we ever knew.  You're playing a cop." But I don't wanna play the cop…"You're playing the cop."

So I always end up playing those kinds of roles due to the physicality and the voice and everything, so that's what they go for.


Hacker: You have a hammer, a ferret, and a roulette wheel. What are your plans for the evening?


Chalk: *stares blankly for a moment* *chuckles through his next couple of words* A hammer? A ferret? *laughs* And a roulette wheel…My plans for the evening? *adds English accent to his voice* Well, I think I'll tuck into a nice hot cup of tea and read my book. I'm reading a book about Hadrian's Wall right now… *laughs again* I'm really boring when it comes to this… Well, with a hammer, a ferret…First I'll get hammered, then I'll ferret out some friends and uh…What was the other one?


Hacker: A roulette wheel.


Chalk: And go gambling! *really laughs*


Hacker: Alright, we're done with the questions, now we have a word association.  Optimus Primal.


Chalk: *thinks for a moment* Word association?


Hacker: Oh yea, like uh like single word answers, but you're not limited to single word answers.


Chalk: Oh okay, Optimus Primal…Big bot, hard pressed, long suffering.


Hacker: Okay, Hack & Slash from ReBoot.


Chalk: Dumb buddies…Hack & Slash…improvised…improvised dialogue which is what I loved with Hack & Slash and one of the characters I really truly miss in my life is Hack & Slash.


Hacker: He-man, any series.


Chalk: He-man….what did they do to the animation in that second generation He-man? They really buggered it up. I played He-man back in 1988 and it was a mess.  Then they came back and fixed it a couple of years ago with the new generation of He-man: Masters of the Universe, but I was too old to play He-man, so they said "Well, you can play Man in Arms." And I played Man in Arms…Oh I'm getting old…


Hacker: David Kaye.


Chalk:  Good pal, good fun to be with. Great voice.


Hacker: Susan Blu?


Chalk: Great golfer, good pal and a good director and a gal who I have a standing invitation to go play golf with in LA…as soon as it stops raining there.


Hacker: *laughing* Jessica Alba.


Chalk: Sexy, sweet, a really really nice kid. I really enjoyed her.


Hacker: Alright, Johnny Depp.

Chalk: I remember the first day I meet Johnny Depp, he came in to replace a character in 21 Jump Street . We shot the pilot in 1985 I guess it was. The guy they hired, the network thought he was too old, so they brought in this kid named Johnny Depp. Short hair, Mister Clean-Cut, looked about 12 and he was very shy and he walked on to the set and I went, "Oh hey, how are you? So we're shooting you again?" And we had to re-shoot the first episode. I quite liked Johnny Depp, we got along quite well.


Hacker: Okay, Popeye?


Chalk: Popeye….ah Popeye…OH! Billy West! He plays Popeye.  Great guy! He plays on uh…he played Stimpy on Ren and Stimpy? And he played in Futurama that guy…Fry. I get to work with him. He was so good as Popeye. I just loved him and I get to play Bluto and I remember having an argument with the producers about the accent of Bluto and they said "We don't want him to sound like that" But that's what he sounds like. He's a black man from the thirties. They said, "No he's not" And I said, Guys, he's black! He was a Paramount singer, he sang bass for Paramount Studios. And they listened to the tape and they're listening and listening and they go "Oh my God, he's black!" And these guys had never known that Bluto was black. It was very bizarre.


Hacker: Mainframe, the animation company.

Chalk:  Mainframe, love'um. Great bunch of guys, bunch of mad Englishmen. I love the company they've given me a lot of work over the years, I've done a lot of shows for them, Shadow Raiders, ReBoot, Transformers, Weirdos, and the Cinderella Stories and Scary Godmother. They're a great company.


Hacker: Ian McKellan.

Chalk: Love Ian McKellan. Great, great actor. I've seen him a few times around town in Vancouver. I loved him as Gandalf and he is what I think is a blue-collar actor.  He's been acting royalty and he's a blue-collar guy.  ‘Cause he works and he has no pretensions about him, he just loves to hang out and have fun. He's just an actor.


Hacker: Elmer Fudd.


Chalk: *smiles* *does Elmer's voice* Ooooohhh, be very very quiet…I loved Elmer Fudd.  I just identify with him sometimes I'm always zigging when everybody else is zagging.


Hacker: Okay, Dragon Booster, the cartoon.

Chalk: Dragon Booster…That's kind of a cool new cartoon.  I like it's on CBC  and I play Mortis, who's sort of the mentor. Another mentor! *Throws up hands* How many mentors can you play!? Damnit… but ah, no I like it. It's kind of a unique style and it's sort of this stylized classical animation, but it's CGI and again a lot of my old crew are in it. A lot of people that I work with like Matt Hill and Tabitha, and who else is in there…Mark Oliver plays the bad guy…not Moordryd …that evil guy…what's his name? Oh the evil guy., he's great, and that's a very interesting show.  Nice new show.


Hacker: Alright, final one, yourself!


Chalk: Myself? Oh, what do I say about myself? Oh I'm just a working stiff. Blue collar and I've been doing this for thirty years.  I don't see this job as an exciting sort of fun thing. I still have fun with it, but to me it's just a way of making a living, it's not like you know something you aspire to it's just what I do for a living.  And I do voices and I get paid for what I got kicked out of school for.


Hacker: Alright well thank you very much for your time today *shakes his hand*


Chalk: Thank you, very much.

This interview is copyright to Hacker and may not be used in any way without her permission.