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'Speed Racer' Interview

Peter Fernandez, Voice of Original Speed Racer

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Peter Fernandez

Peter Fernandez

Brad Barket / Getty Images
Speed Racer Complete Classic Series Collection was released on DVD October 7, 2008, to introduce a new generation to the original cartoon that started the anime craze. I had the pleasure of discussing the DVD with Peter Fernandez, the voice of the original Speed Racer.

Nancy Basile, Animated TV Guide: With the Speed Racer DVD coming out, that's pretty exciting. Have you seen any new interest in your previous life as Speed Racer?

Peter Fernandez: Oh, I'm overwhelmed by the reaction to Speed Racer after all these years.

N.B.: Great!

Peter Fernandez: I mean, I go to these comicons, I get invited to them and it's -- I was at the doctor's today and everybody was waiting for me.

N.B.: [laughs]

Peter Fernandez: The receptionist to the nurses, to everything. And they printed out the picture and I autographed them, a whole slew of them, to the patients waiting in the waiting room.

N.B.: Aww, that's fantastic! Well, Speed Racer, I think, has always been as touchstone for kids, like me, who grew up in the '60s and '70s. It's amazing to me that [the suits] are just figuring this out and putting out the complete collection. I think it's just fantastic.

Peter Fernandez: I think it's being put out, not only for them, but there's a whole new audience for Speed Racer. Thanks to, you know, it playing on the cable networks and everything. It's a series, I think, that does not grow old. Even Speed's car, the Mach 5--gradually, cars are beginning to look a little like it. It was way ahead of its time.

N.B.: Very much so. And even in the live-action movie, they stuck to the original design, thank goodness, of the car, which just goes to show it didn't need to be reinvented, right?

Peter Fernandez: Right! Well, the live-action feature, you know, was written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, who did The Matrix. And they flew me over to Berlin where they filmed the whole thing, or taped it, to do a cameo in it and when I met them, they said, "Oh! When we were kids we used to run home to catch Speed Racer."

N.B.: What was your cameo? Because I saw the movie. I was very upset, actually, that it didn't play better to audiences.

Peter Fernandez: Well, I think it'll have a life, though, through DVDs.

N.B.: Oh, absolutely. It was just gorgeous to watch.

Peter Fernandez: Oh yes.

N.B.: So, who were you? What was your cameo?

Peter Fernandez: My cameo was towards the beginning, the first race, I was one of the announcers. They kept showing ones talking different languages. I wore a funny hat and horn-rimmed glasses. Then I got a close up of me looking at the audience and saying something like, "I knew Racer X and wherever he is, you can bet your ass he's damned proud of his little brother."

N.B.: Excellent. And you did know Racer X. [laughs] Very well, as a matter of fact.

Peter Fernandez: Well, I sound like him, now.

N.B.: You've had quite an extensive career in writing and voiceover work. One of your cartoons is showing on Adult Swim now--Astroboy.

Peter Fernandez: Oh yes. Well, that was when I did not do any voices but did most of the scripts. Astroboy is written and directed by Fred Ladd, but I don't know if Fred even wrote one script. [laughs]

N.B.: [laughs] So, do you feel like there's kind of a renewed interest in classics like Popeye and Underdog? Can you attribute it to anything?

Peter Fernandez: Well, one thing I can attribute all that to is they were better - I still say cartoons - they were better cartoons. There was more realistic action in them, sort of, rather than these sort of heads, now, with the background moving very slightly, everything very flat. I think they were much more creative.

N.B.: In some ways they had to be because they new, they were inventive.

Peter Fernandez: Uh huh. Yeah.

N.B.: You've been part of the whole introduction, not just to cartoons, but to anime for America. Did you get to travel to Japan very much?

Peter Fernandez: I've never been West of California. And I can't speak Japanese or any of the other languages. I did a lot of dubbing of feature films and everything, from any language in the world. Rather difficult, but I always had a translation from which to work.

N.B.: Oh! I wondered about that.

Peter Fernandez: Yeah, well, you know, that tells you what was being said but then, the trick is to you know, make the mouths look like they're saying it in English. Not mouths but the dialogue look as if they're saying it in English. And that's very tricky to do a good job on.

N.B.: Oh, I can imagine, because they're not actually saying what you're saying. [laughs]

Peter Fernandez: You know, in doing what we call dubbing, there are only three letters in the whole alphabet in which you close your lips. And that's pretty much throughout the world. And if you can get things to - and they're interchangeable - you can get the line to work on those M, Bs and Ps, that's the beginning of constructing the line to look like English.

N.B.: Wow. So, when you're doing something like that, do you watch it several times? Or do you just take it like 10 minutes at a time? Do you break it down frame by frame? Did you just get to the point where you could almost do it instinctually?

Peter Fernandez: Oh, no. You couldn't do that. We record it line by line because the actor, to really do a good job, has to memorize that line and then when that little section of film comes up, look at the screen, so that he can tell, or she can tell, that it's in sync.

N.B.: How long would that process take for a typical feature film?

Peter Fernandez: For a feature film, it could take anywhere from six days to three weeks, depending on the length of the film and how big the cast is and everything else.

N.B.: Wow. And that's just you in a room with a big screen and a microphone and somebody in a booth.

Peter Fernandez: Yeah.

N.B.: Wow. That must take a lot of discipline, because I can imagine that can be very tedious.

Peter Fernandez: It is tedious but it's challenging. I've always loved dubbing for the challenge, I guess.

N.B.: Do you prefer voice work to writing? Or is it apples and oranges to you?

Peter Fernandez: Well, it's more apples and oranges but I like it all.

Peter Fernandez talks comicons, Wachowski Brothers and Courage the Cowardly Dog

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