Josh Keaton’s career has included television, video game and film work, with a mixture of live acting and voice work for animations. He was in the 1990s boy band “No Authority” and was signed to MJJ Music and later RCA Records as a solo artist. He played Harry Osborn in the video games Spider-Man: The Movie, Spider-Man 2, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe. He was formally the voice of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the new The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series airing in 2008 on the CW and producing music. Keaton also voiced Jules Brown, Verne’s older brother in Back to the Future: The Animated Series, the 1991/1992 cartoon show. Keaton voiced the Ultimate Spider-Man in the video game Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions with fellow animated Spider-Man voice actor Neil Patrick Harris.
Josh’s latest project is Green Lantern: The Animated Series, where he plays the title character (and his alter ego Hal Jordan). I had the pleasure of chatting with him for a few minutes in August 2011 about some of his past and present work…
GS: Is it true you were on “Baywatch” with The Hoff?
JK: Yes, yes, oh God yes. That was before I knew what a gym was and I had to be in a Speedo. I still cringe when I think of the memories. But, on the up side, I didn’t have a driver’s license yet and I got to drive a convertible Beemer and peel it out. I got to pretend I actually knew how to drive and be daring, so that was kind of neat. I don’t think that makes up for the Speedo, though. That is one thing that someone going through puberty just doesn’t want to do.
GS: Now you’re in voice acting, and you’re everywhere… you’re Spider-Man, you’re Green Lantern, you were involved with Leisure Suit Larry…
JK: Yes, which is funny because I grew up playing the original games and got a chance to voice his nephew in the new series. It has the dubious distinction of being considered one of the worst games of all time. So, I wear that as a badge of honor, like a Razzie. How many people can say they were in one of the worst games of all time? That’s pretty awesome. And in all fairness, it wasn’t the fault of the game. So many structural changes were happening with the company, and there was a merger… it switched hands so many times that creative teams got jumbled and things came out half-released. It really didn’t get the fair shake it should have gotten, but that was just politics. On the bright side, had it been done right, we wouldn’t be discussing it. Silver linings!
GS: So, I have to know… when you’re hanging out with your friends playing Marvel Vs. Capcom, are you obligated to play as Spider-Man?
JK: Well, here’s the funny thing about that. I grew up playing Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. As anyone who has played these games know, when someone starts losing they begin to say, “Oh, man, that’s so cheap. You’re fighting so cheap.” That’s the last refuge of someone who’s getting their ass handed to them. So I really wanted to put in taunts that would infuriate people. I wanted even the taunts to be cheap. So, yeah, of course I play as Spider-Man because I don’t even have to trash talk — the game does it for me in my own voice. They can be complaining all they want and I don’t have to say a thing, but Spidey’s going, “Web swing! Web swing! Web swing!” It pisses them off, and I’m not saying anything.
GS: You totally read comics as a kid… what character did you like that only comic geeks have heard of?
JK: Let’s see… the Walrus. He was in, I think, a Web of Spider-Man issue… and he has the proportionate strength and speed of a walrus. He’s smaller than a walrus, though, so he’s slower and weaker than a walrus. I wish we would have had more episodes, because I would have loved to see what choreographers would have done with The Spot. He’s more of an obscure villain, but we had some great fight choreography on that show, and it would have been amazing. We had Tombstone on the show — we weren’t allowed to use Kingpin, so Tombstone got developed into the mob boss. So he went from being a low-level henchman to being a formidable opponent. He has, in my opinion, surpassed what he was in the comics. It stays true but develops the character in a way that the comics never did.
GS: Maybe this is personal, but what is voice-acting attire?
JK: It depends where I’m at. I actually have a studio at home. I don’t do animation here, though, because then you’re usually in a room with everybody. When I’m at home, I’ve recorded in my underwear. Just so I can say, “Yeah, I work in my underwear.” But when I’m there, there is no requisite attire. My standard attire is jeans, t-shirt and tennis shoes.
GS: Does Lacey Chabert come in wearing sweat pants?
JK: I have to say no. Lacey showed up looking fabulous at every recording session. I wouldn’t say she got dolled up just for the session, but she never looked anything less than great. The only real requisite for voice acting attire is that you have to de-jangle yourself — no keys, jewelry or stuff that makes noise. You can’t be dressed head to toe in corduroy, because you’re going to hear it. I also don’t know why you’d want to be dressed head to toe in corduroy… unless you’re Leisure Suit Larry. But otherwise, there’s no uniform.
GS: So your next big thing, right now, as we speak, is Green Lantern.
JK: Yep. We showed some clips at Comic Con, some previews…
GS: So, I have to ask, as a comics fan, is this old school Hal Jordan or revamped for today’s audience?
JK: I’d say it’s closer to the old school Hal Jordan, or at least that’s what I see in my portrayal. Yes, he’s kind of a wisecracker. But I made a very conscious choice not to play him as jokey as Spider-Man. He’s a military guy, he grew up in a military family, so even his wisecracks are going to be more wry, a little drier. And it’s more about the timing than the delivery. I wouldn’t say it’s a revamp.
GS: Are we going to be seeing other incarnations of Green Lantern, like Guy Gardner?
JK: I can’t really confirm or deny that. [Note: Kilowog has been confirmed.] There’s a lot of stuff I can’t give away, but it’s definitely going to focus on the Lanterns. People have asked me if there’s going to be other heroes, like the Justice League. I don’t know, but it hasn’t been in any of the stuff we’ve done so far. It really is focusing on the Lanterns, with the color of the spectrum there’s so much to explore, and it really needs its own show to explore. If you want to go into the mythos, there’s no time for other people to come in. There’s a lot on the table already.
GS: As a fan of the Green Lantern, I did not want them to make a movie, as contradictory as that might sound. I just don’t think you can explain the character in one film. But I can see it being done in an ongoing series.
JK: I agree with you. The problem that a lot of comic book movies run into is that they are trying to appeal to demographics, they are made for everybody. And so, you end up getting certain elements that don’t jive. When you think about the comics, these stories have been developed for decades. In many cases, they’re more developed than classic movies that we respect, and we have had countless writers trying to serve the same storyline. There’s really no need to mess with that. I will hold up “X-Men: First Class” as an example of a well-made comic movie. It’s about showing characters that the audience will care about, even more than special effects and spectacle. It’s about characters we care about. That’s what makes a good movie, whether it’s a comics movie or not.
GS: Thanks, Josh. It’s always a pleasure to have a laid-back discussion about comics and video games.
JK: Totally. I enjoyed it. Thanks, Gavin.