Exclusive Interview Series: Andrea Romano On ANIMANIACS, Rita, Runt and Inspiration From Desperation

Andrea photo at Paley

Animation casting and voice director and Comic-Con rockstar, Andrea Romano, has won 8 Emmys and been nominated for over 40.  In Part 1 of this series, we discussed STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ANIMANIACS and its main characters, Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner.

STEVEN SPIELBERG PRESENTS ANIMANIACS is a television series that is loved worldwide where it is seen in over 30 languages.

This is Part 2 in which Andrea discusses more about some of our other favorite characters on ANIMANIACS.

For more in our series with Andrea, click here.

THE TV ADDICT:  In Part 1, we discussed the casting of the animated Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and the Warner sister, Dot.  Can you tell us a bit about casting the other characters on ANIMANIACS, like Rita the Cat and Runt the Dog?

Rita and Runt Christmas photo

ANDREA ROMANO:  We had such a marvelous cast on ANIMANIACS.  Each episode was made up of several segments, and each segment had its own main characters, with Yakko, Wakko and Dot appearing in at least one segment in every episode, along with other stories and little shorts, as well.

TVA: How do you go about finding a character’s voice when it is still in the development stage?

AR:  For an example, let’s use Rita and Runt from ANIMANIACS.  “Often, in animation, impressions are used as a jumping off point in creating a voice.  They’re not always intended to be spot on impressions.”

Frank Welker photoFrank Welker came in, and at the time, RAINMAN was a popular film.  Frank was playing around doing his RAINMAN impression but giving it just the flavor, not a spot-on impression.

The character of Runt was one of a dopey dog who always thought Rita the Cat was also a dog.  When we heard Frank’s variation on the RAINMAN voice, that’s when we decided to use that voice for the dog named “Runt.”

TVA:  Are there other factors that go into choosing a voice based on a concept?

AR:  Decisions often are based on contemporary talent and who and what’s hot during the time that you are making a series.  During ANIMANIACS, Rickie Lee Jones had just put out a popular album, and she was really hot at that time.  It was requested of me to make her an offer, without even an audition to do the series and she accepted.

About a week before the first session, we were lining up the talent and scheduling the first recording session, and I got a message back from the agent saying that she had changed her mind and didn’t want to do it.

Rita and Runt montage #1 photo

TVA:  I imagine that threw the schedule into turmoil?

AR:  Yes.  That change made the situation desperate, because we were to be recording in a week on a major Steven Spielberg-produced series, and I don’t have a “Rita” yet.  Music had been written for Rita, and it needed to be in the right key.

I found out that Jones wasn’t available on a Friday, so I went in on a Saturday at what used to be the Imperial Bank Building in the Sherman Oaks Galleria [the former home of Warner Bros. Animation] and got out my “Players Directory,” which is like a big yearbook of talent.  It shows actors’ agents, their headshots, their credits, etc. and contact information.

So, I sat there and paged through all of the female actors and made a list of actresses and good singers that I thought would be right for the part.

Tom Ruegger came in and we reviewed the list for the type of celebrity that we could offer to Steven Spielberg for approval.  We ran five names past Steven, our top choice being Bernadette Peters, and Steven really warmed to that idea.

So Tom and I sat down and wrote a very personal letter to Bernadette explaining what the series was, what the character was…that Rita was a cat looking for a home…and that there would be singing.

We sent the letter off to her agent and almost instantly got the response that she wanted to do it.   It was such a relief!  Plus, it was really, really good casting.

Not to pat myself on the back, but every once in awhile I believe that things happen for a reason.  Rickie Lee Jones dropped out and Bernadette Peters became the voice of Rita.  And she was a wonderful Rita.

Bernadette Peters photo

TVA:  Your letter must have been very convincing.  How did she respond?

AR:  Bernadette’s response was so wonderful.  She said that she was touched by the fact that we wrote her a personal letter.  She loved the fact that Rita was a cat because she’s a huge cat fan.

When she used to fly in for the sessions, we always had to ensure that she was flying on a flight that would allow her to bring her cat on the plane, because she wasn’t going anywhere without her cat.

The brilliant Richard Stone, Julie Bernstein and Steve Bernstein wrote the most beautiful songs for her, and we all were so thrilled to work with her.  She was a brilliant Rita!

Stay tooned for Part 3 of our interview with Andrea Romano.  For more in our series with Andrea, click here.

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