Neil Ross is the man who was responsible for the voice of Wally in Curse of Monkey Island. Although this role was rather small he certainly belongs to the voice-acting elite. Find out about Neil Ross' most important jobs and his life here - an interview by Junior.
Thanks for agreeing on doing the interview. It's good to see that there are some people left who still care about their fans. Those are the questions we came up with:
Questions??!? Nobody told me that I'd have to answer questions!??!! I thought this was some kind of contest in which I might win cash and fabulous prizes!! Oh well, carry on .................
Let's start right away. Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself so that our visitors get to know you better?
Yes, I'm tall, slender yet well muscled with a disturbingly masculine ........... wait a minute - that's not me, although I did play a character like that once. Actually I'm an average looking fellow who was born in London, England. My mother is English, my father Canadian. We emigrated to Canada when I was still a child and lived in Montreal until I was twelve. At that point we left for California. We spent my teenage years in San Diego after which I hit the road to do radio. More on that later. I now live in the Los Angeles area with my wife and daughter. I don't really have hobbies per se. I've become quite health conscious in the past few years so I'm educating myself on that and try to put in about an hour a day working out. I've also started taking classes in a martial art called Lotar, based on techniques developed by the Israeli Special Forces. SO DON'T MESS WITH ME!! Actually you can mess with me now as I've just started and still only know how to cringe and beg for mercy (an old trick the Ross family has perfected over the centuries).
How did you become a voice-actor and how did you end up as the voice of Wally?
I started out as a disc-jockey. I'd always been fascinated with radio. Truth be told I would have loved to have been a radio actor but that stuff was long gone when I came of age. As my radio career progressed, I realized that I had much more success in the production studio voicing commercials and promos than I did in the air studio. I had been fooling around with character voices and accents since I was a kid, inspired by people like Peter Sellers, Peter Ustinov and Jonathan Winters and people kept suggesting that I go to Hollywood, "get in cartoons and make a million dollars." Eventually I found out about Voiceover, a catch-all term which encompassed animation and everything else. When I came to Los Angeles in 1978, it was my intention to transition out of radio and into Voiceovers. It took about seven years. I could have bailed out a few years sooner but by then I had landed a job working for Gene Autry's KMPC in Hollywood. It was a legendary station and after having spent something like twenty years getting there, I was loath to quit. I think I'll deal with how I got Wally in a later question.
What does an average day in the life of a voice-actor look like?
There is no average day. That's one of the things that keeps it from getting dull. When you work as many different types of Voiceover as I do, you can have all kinds of different days. Just last week I did the voice of Speedy Gonzalez for a toy. Went to a couple of auditions, did a gig at my home studio and ended the day at E! Entertainment where I updated my narration of the E! True Hollywood Story episode on Lady Diana Spencer. So from Speedy Gonzales to Lady Di - all in the same day! The only downside to this business is all the driving. L.A. is a very tough city to drive in. There are times when I feel as though once this is over, I'll never want to drive a car again!
You do not only voice animation but commercials and trailers as well, for example. What makes each of those jobs unique and which one is your favourite?
The unique thing about animation is that the voicing is one of the first steps in the process. It's done right after the script is written. The animators draw to the sound of the voices. (I guess it's the same with games.) In all other forms of voiceover, commercials, promos, narration, the voiceover is one of the last things that happens. You're always working to an already created and edited picture and you have to fit in. With animation (and games) you get to create the performance first and the other stuff has to fit in around you. I guess my true love is narration. I love to tell a story. Animation and games would come in second. It's the closest I'll ever get to radio acting. Truth is to me it is radio acting. If somebody wants to draw a picture to it later, that's their business.
I remember that in March of 2003 you were co-announcer on the 75th Annual Academy Awards telecast. What was that like?
About as much pressure as I've ever been under. I had control of my own mic switch and it occurred to me that it was the only time I'd ever had my finger on a button that could put me on the air live worldwide. If the idea of possibly screwing up in front of millions of people around the world as well as the cream of Hollywood, gives you the willies - well, you get the idea of how it felt. Marvelous fun though!
What has been your most memorable job so far?
Well the Oscars was a biggie. But it was an incredible experience to get to work with my idol Jonathan Winters on 'Little Dracula,' a show that only aired very briefly in this country. I'm told it did well in England. Winters is a genius. He was throwing out brilliant comedy bits nonstop. He's always on and it's always hilarious. I'll never forget that experience. Also, quite proud of playing 'Honest John' in An American Tail. The success of that film led to the rebirth of feature animation which continues to this day.
When you think back can you remember a voice-over job in your career you're particularly proud/ashamed of?
Well I'm not too proud of having been the spokesman for The Manson Family (he seemed like such a nice little guy!!?!). Only kidding. Not really ashamed of anything I can think of. My critics might disagree! I guess the 'proud' stuff would include the Oscars, An American Tail and some of the A&E; Biographies and E! True Hollywood Stories I've narrated as well as the Novas I narrated for PBS. Especially the one about the Mars rovers.
Is there anything special about working for LucasArts or was it a voice-over job like many others?
Their stuff is usually extremely well written and thought out and I enjoyed working with producer Darragh O'Farrell.
What was the best part about doing the voice of Wally and what was the hardest one?
It was one of those characters that came to me very quickly and was very easy to do. I never had to think about how he would say something - I just knew. There really wasn't any downside to it.
Wally's role in Curse of Monkey Island is rather small. How long did this job take you from the first audition to the final session?
As I recall, Darragh came down from the Bay area and was doing auditions. He asked me to come in and said he thought Wally would be "right up my alley." He was right. I stumbled into the voice almost immediately. I assume Darragh auditioned a few other people, made his recommendations and sent the material up north. The job itself took about an hour as I recall. Wally didn't have that many lines. Darragh and I had so much fun we kept asking "aren't there any more lines?" We didn't want to stop.
Wally is a character that already appeared in The Secret of Monkey Island 2: Lechuck's Revenge. The game was released in 1991 and thus the characters didn't have a voice-over. Do you think a voiceless character can be just as authentic as a voiced one?
You're asking a voice actor about voiceless characters? What do you suppose my answer will be? Hmmmm. I wonder? Actually, I believe that when it comes to animated characters you can use the analogy of a car. The visual is the body of the car. Very pretty, but it ain't going anywhere without its engine - and that's the voice. The voice is the engine which drives the character. Sometimes you don't need much (remember the dog Muttley of "Dick Dastardly and Muttley" fame? All the late Don Messick did for Muttley was give him a laugh that sounded more like a wheeze every time Dastardly screwed up. Just a tiny little sound but funny as hell) but in my opinion, you gotta have something.
Did you have to do any particular preparations for the voice-acting on Wally? Did you play The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge in order to get to know him as a character?
No special preparations. Darragh sort of explained the situation to me, but I'd never seen the game. The key was that Darragh and I were both familiar with the old BBC radio comedy series "The Goon Show" which featured Peter Sellers. Very influential show. No Goon show - no Monty Python. Those Python guys grew up listening to that show. Anyway, Wally is very loosely inspired by the character "Bluebottle' from that show. They sound different, but they have a similar attitude.
Who's your favourite Monkey Island main character: Guybrush Threepwood or Lechuck? Why?
Probably LeChuck. I love over the top villains. And Earl Boen is an old voiceover comrade of mine.
While working on the voice of Wally did you notice any parallels between your character and the one of Wally?
No. I don't work like that. I'm like a painter. A painter looks at a subject and tries to portray that person with brushes and paint. He/she doesn't have to have anything in common with the subject to do that. I make up a character in my mind and try to portray that person with my voice. To go further with the artist analogy, a stage or on-camera performance would be more like a formal representational painted portrait. Animation voice acting is more like a caricature or a sketch.
What's the funniest story you can tell about the time you worked for LucasArts?
Honestly can't recall anything that funny ever happening. Not that it was dreary or anything. Just no funny stories. Sorry.
Did you get a chance to meet some of the other voice-actors while working on Curse of Monkey Island? And if so, what was it like?
One of the downsides to game acting is that you always work alone, so I met no one.
I'm sure LucasArts gave you a copy of Curse of Monkey Island once it was completed. Did you play it and if so, how did you like it?
Yes they did and I didn't play it but my daughter did. She enjoyed it immensely and since she had missed the bulk of my animation years having not been born back then, this was one of the first times she connected in a big way with one of her old man's characters. She kept going back to Wally long after she'd figured out how to progress past him just to hear it. She had great fun with the game. I don't play these games at all. I lack the patience. (Or maybe the intelligence.)
What would chairs look like if we didn't have knees?
Chaise lounges, I imagine.
Finally please tell us a little bit about the projects you're currently working on.
I just worked on 'Metal Gear Solid 3 - Snake Eater.' Recently worked on two other games called 'Bard's Tale' and 'Vampire.' I also did the voice of 'Sarge' in the soon to be released "Doom 3.'
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, Mr.Ross. Anything left you would like to tell the visitors of LegendOfMI.com?
Just thanks for your interest and best wishes.