Exclusive Interview Series: Andrea Romano…Best Of The Best

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“Television Sweeps Month” begins on Thursday, February 4, 2016, when the industry determines who is watching what shows and how often.  Networks trot out their “best of the best” to draw viewers and garner that notable recognition.

Andrea Romano is one of those “best of the best” in the industry.

With 8 Emmys and over 40 nominations, and an IMDb page that reflects her work with Academy Award, Emmy, Tony and Grammy winners and nominees, along with hundreds of notable actors, one would think that her dreams have been realized.  That person would be wrong.  Andrea Romano has made, and plans to continue to make, the most of her time on what she calls “this beautiful planet Earth.”

Eight Emmys and over 40 nominations…to put that in perspective…Cloris Leachman and Carl Reiner have won 9 Emmys each.  Mary Tyler Moore and her co-star, Ed Asner have won 7 Emmys each. Tim Conway also has 7.  Alan Alda has 7, and Anthony Geary of GENERAL HOSPITAL has 8.   Art Carney of THE HONEYMOONERS fame won 6. Academy Award-winner/multiple Emmy nominee/Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award winner, Ernest Borgnine, won an Emmy at age 92.

Borgnine, Asner and Conway have guest starred on Romano series.

Emmys are given to the “best of the best,” and Andrea Romano has earned that distinction, time and time again.

A veteran casting director and voice director for some of the finest animation projects in the history of television, Andrea has cast and/or directed the likes of STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ANIMANIACS, STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS PINKY & THE BRAIN, STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS TINY TOON ADVENTURES, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, THE BOONDOCKS and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS, and those titles only represent a small portion of her credits.

Romano has given so many actors and other folks a start or an incredible opportunity (including me) in the entertainment industry that it is true to say that she is, in fact, a legend as well as a friend.

This is Part 1 of our Exclusive Interview Series…Burning Questions with Andrea Romano.

THE TV ADDICT:  You have such impressive credits.  STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS TINY TOON ADVENTURES, STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ANIMANIACS, STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS PINKY & THE BRAIN, JUSTICE LEAGUE, BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES, SUPERMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES…on and on.  Is it fair to say that your shows are like your children so you would never name a favorite?

ANDREA ROMANO:  That’s probably true.  I have so many that are my “favorite,” that it’s hard to say that I have just one.

TVA:  That being said, can you name three memorable episodes or series when the casting came together like a “perfect storm” that you did not expect to happen that way?

AR:  Remarkable casting events, if I may say, came together with STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ANIMANIACS, which was an enormous challenge for me as it was the second series I was both casting AND directing.

We already had done one series with Steven, my first to cast AND direct [STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS TINY TOON ADVENTURES], and he was happy with our work.  We knew that we had to “up our game” and get better.

Animaniacs photo logo Steven Spielberg presents

We had a couple of issues casting Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner.  They all needed to sound like children, yet their attitudes had to be very “adult.”  The humor was very adult.  We did try some children, but they just didn’t understand the humor well enough to get it right, so we knew that we had to use adults.

 TVA:  What was your process in casting ANIMANIACS?

For Yakko Warner, who was to be, arguably, the head of that series, we knew that we wanted Rob Paulsen.  We had worked with Rob for many years, most recently on STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS TINY TOON ADVENTURES, and [producer] Tom Ruegger and I just knew that he was the right guy.

Rob Paulsen with characters

I’ve told this story very often of how we submitted five voices for Yakko as “Actor #1,” “Actor #2,” “Actor #3” and so on, and three of the five were Rob Paulsen.  Sure enough, Steven picked one of Rob’s.  We just knew that was the way to go, so that was kind of speeding everything toward our way.

Tress MacNeille photo

When we started casting for Dot, we knew that Tress McNeille would be better for it than anybody else.  We didn’t even worry about putting her audition on tape with other actors because she was so much better than everyone else that Steven would approve her…and he did.

TVA:  Was there a particular challenge in casting any of the Warners?

The biggest challenge was finding the voice of Wakko.  We went through hundreds and hundreds of auditions.  We were sitting in the last day of callbacks, and we liked some of what the auditioning actors were doing for Wakko Warner, but not totally.  Either there was a lack of the proper energy, or something else that was slightly off.

Then, Tom Ruegger pulled out a reference book of celebrities and famous people.  He was referring to it and asking the actors, “Can you do a so-and-so impression?”  He got to one section and saw The Beatles.

Landing on that page, we asked the actors to do their various impressions of The Beatles.  An actor that I never had met before, Jess Harnell, came in.  He was very enthusiastic and an excellent musician, but without much experience in animation, if any.  But, he certainly had the “animation energy.”

Jess Harnell photo

We asked him if he did any impressions of The Beatles, and he said, “I do all of them.”  He did each and every one of them…all excellently.

Wakko Warner is the youngest of the three Warners, kind of cute and a smartass, and he wears a great big hat that covers most of his head.  He’s really kind of the silly one, and the Ringo voice that Jess did worked so well for that character.

Wakko Warner

I may be mistaken, but I think they pitched all of the characters’ voices up just a little bit, about 5%, which gave them just that little bit of a “youthful” edge.  This may sound a little strange, but the pitching up also gave them a “not quite human” sound to be a little more cartoony than a human voice.

When you see the Warners, we always joke, “What are these characters?” because they certainly are not rabbits or mice.  We just called them the “puppy-children.”  But they sound kind of like children, and pitching them up gave them a little bit of sparkle.

So, to answer the question, this mystical, magical moment was watching these three actors truly become a family.  They WERE the three kids.

Rob and Tress absolutely led Jess along as far as teaching him how to do this.  They showed him how to do publicity for this kind of thing, like what kind of things to say in an interview and what kind of things to say at a live appearance.

Animaniacs replacement picture Yakko Wakko Dot

To watch them all work together was so rewarding.  It was such a “family affair” that they all are still like a family to this day, some 25 years later.  They are still appearing together at various live functions where they are singing ANIMANIACS songs with orchestras and signing autographs.

Rob Paulsen, Tres MacNeille & Jess Harnell photo

It’s just one of those shows that has had a true, lasting effect on the fans.  The kids that were watching it loved it.  Their parents loved it.  When I do personal appearances, those fans that were kids when the show first came on are now adults and tell me that, because they loved the show so much when they were younger, they are turning their kids on to ANIMANIACS and that their kids love it!

That’s real longevity.  That’s really the way that you want a series to go.  It’s like the LOONEY TOONS situation, which we all watched and loved as children, even though we didn’t get half of the jokes.  Now, when we watch it as adults, we get the jokes and it’s still a good show because we now understand the jokes.  LOONEY TOONS is still funny, 50 years later.

That’s what has happened with ANIMANIANCS, and it’s still a great series, because the casting came together in such a beautiful way.

Click here to read more from our interviews with Andrea Romano.

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