Welcome to ‘Voices from the Screen’. In this new section of HeadStuff’s animation coverage, our writer Joseph Learoyd will celebrate the careers of famous voice actors.
From featured cast member of Mad TV to voicing some of the most beloved characters from our childhood, Phil LaMarr has proven himself to be one of the greatest and most diverse voice actors of all time.
LaMarr was born in 1967 in Los Angeles. He went on to found an improv comedy group called Purple Crayon while at Yale University. After his 1989 graduation, he became a member of The Groundlings sketch comedy troupe; it was here the actor truly honed his craft, and it wasn’t long until TV execs took notice. Ending up on Mad TV in 1995, with notable impressions including Chris Tucker and Don King, it was clear LaMarr had what it took to inhabit a wide range of colourful characters.
Although often seen in live-action roles – who could forget Marvin from Pulp Fiction – LaMarr is better known for his work on the smaller screen. As the voice of John Stewart’s alter ego Green Lantern in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, LaMarr brought a quiet stoicism to the role. While in Static Shock he employed a more playful tone, which highlighted the learning curve of the young protagonist. Whether it’s the pseudo-Patois sound of Futurama’s Hermes Conrad or the cool and calm tones of the titular character in Samurai Jack, LaMarr has a real knack for letting his characters’ personalities shine through.
Going forward, LeMarr would give his voice to a host of recognisable TV favourites – Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ Kit Fisto; Wilt from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends; and Aquaman in Young Justice. And if that wasn’t enough, he even lent his talents to the video game world, featuring in iconic franchises such as Saints Row, Kingdom Hearts, Metal Gear and Mortal Kombat, bringing his unique flavour to each role.
LaMarr is one of the most recognisable voice actors working today, having appeared in countless roles over the last couple of decades. Still, his legacy has led to notable live action performances, with cameo parts in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 and Step Brothers, just to name a couple.
I once came across an interview with LaMarr where he discussed his love for voice acting and, referring to a clip of John Stewart’s Green Lantern and Virgil Hawkins’ Static Shock, expressed what a joy it is to play vastly different roles within the same scene. From The Powepuff Girls and The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy to lesser known shows, such as Class of 3000 and The Life and Times of Juniper Lee, LaMarr has always sought to challenge himself by working across a variety of parts, championing diversity at every turn.
Voice actors are often overlooked in the world of animation. Yet, Phil LaMarr, whose vocal ability allows us to hang on to every word, manages to overcome any industry prejudice simply by breathing life into his characters.