For those of you who are familiar with Marvel’s Hulking protagonist Bruce Banner or are looking forward to seeing “The Incredible Hulk”, I’ve got a treat for you!
I had the opportunity to speak with J.D. Hall yesterday afternoon just days before the cinematic premiere of The Incredible Hulk, due out Friday June 13, 2008.
Join me in this interview with J.D. Hall, veteran member of SAG and voice of the groaning, growling, grunting Hulk!
Interview with J.D. Hall, Voice of The Incredible Hulk
VOX: Congratulations on landing the role to voice The Hulk!Â It must be exciting to be the vocal force behind one of Marvel’s most explosive heroes.Â How did you get the gig?
J.D. HALL: I went and auditioned for Ed Norton and some sound editors. They were looking for someone to do the growls, grunts and groans. They saw a lot of people and hired 2 at first to provide a voice for the Hulk and we worked, just the two of us, for 2 sessions. After that, they hired 2 other guys to also do some voice over for the Hulk. We all did our recording sessions individually but were present to hear each other.
VOX: What was your reaction when you first learned that you would be the voice of The Hulk for the movie?
J.D. HALL: I’ve been doing voice over for a long time. I was happy to get the job and of course, as an actor am always glad to work. It was a really big challenge to do the work, though! We had to create all kinds of sounds for the crew to work with. By the final cut, the editors digitally processed our raw material.
VOX: Grunting, growling and groaning is pretty hard on the vocal folds.Â What kind of precautions did you take for your voice during the sessions and how did you take care of your voice in between sessions to keep it in optimum health?
J.D. HALL: I drank a lot tea and tried to protect my voice as much as I could. It’s difficult to make those sounds even when you’re supporting with your diaphragm. We had tea, throat lozenges and throat sprays, too. At the end of the day, none of those really prevented the sore throats.
VOX: If you don’t mind me asking, what kind of tea and remedies were at the studio?
J.D. HALL: I drank Lipton tea with honey and lemon, there was chamomile tea, some of the guys used Ricola throat lozenges, Fisherman’s Friend; I had some Halls Mentho-Lyptus. Of course, there was lots of water to drink that helped to keep our throats lubricated.
I grew up on tea and honey when studying in LA. I also use tabasco sauce to help clear mucus. The main thing though is to have good technique. When you’re doing vocals and speaking that stuff usually works, but when you’re growling, groaning and making unearthly sounds, you have to give it your all and then you’ve got to let it heal for three to four days.
VOX: Which studio did you record at and how long did it take to do the voice overs?
J.D. HALL: The sessions were in late March through early April 2008 at a Los Angeles recording studio called Wildfire. There were four sessions in total for voice over for The Hulk and I was personally involved in three of those four sessions.
VOX: What was the most challenging aspect of the performance?
J.D. HALL: It was very strenuous on my voice. I’ve done monsters before but this character was the most intense. I’d work 1 to 2 hours at a time. Always, it was the individual actor working, never as a whole group. I’ve done voice over for Pirates of the Caribbean, Cutthroat Island ADR (afterward we jokingly called it “Sore Throat Island”).
Whenever you’re doing ADR for movies that have wars, concerts, sports, and so on, you have a group of 12, 14 or 15 people there with you who are also doing the work so you don’t have to push your voice as hard. In this movie (The Incredible Hulk) we were recording in pairs, and when there are just two of you, you can’t hold anything back. The challenge as an actor is that you want to give your client what they are looking for without injurying yourself and do your best to deliver on what you were hired for. There’s a fine balance.
VOX: You’ve done voice over for many exciting venues. Can you tell me a little bit about those?
J.D. HALL: I’ve been credited for voice over work in Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Supremacy and am also the narrator for The Scorpion King. I’ve voiced and narrated two very important national treasures, The Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and The Hall of Presidents at Disney World Orlando. Also, I have recorded narration for Undercover Brother.
VOX: How did you get into acting? I believe you met your wife Euguenia at a class, right?
J.D. HALL: I’m originally from Baltimore, MD. Yes, I met my then future wife Eugenia Wright at LA City College while studying theater. Before studying theater, I was working in the desert for the space program. I was stationed in the Mohave Desert and was hired to track satellites. That got old, and since I was already out in California, I decided to quit my job and move to LA to study theater. I met Eugenia about 6-7 months later while studying theater at the school.
VOX: Were there any techniques that you used to help you deliver your lines (growls, groans, etc.)?
J.D. HALL: Knowing your limits and not pushing. You don’t want to do permanent damage to your voice. As I said before, you want to please the client without causing injury to your voice which is a hard compromise to make because you need your voice for other roles that may come up shortly after the job you’re presently recording. You have to be wise and know your limits. Most importantly, know when to speak up if you’re uncomfortable.
Ask the director to tell you what you want and have them say it early on in your experimentation. If they can catch you a couple of seconds in to a growl and it’s not the right sound, they can cut you off early and help you to save your energy for the sound they are looking for. Be aware of your voice, limitations and be in communication with people you are working with. I have the experience of having done it before and had worked with those editors before during past voice over jobs so it was comfortable for me as a voice actor.
VOX: You mentioned earlier that Ed Norton was there. Did he help cast or attend any of the sessions?
J.D. HALL: I auditioned for Ed Norton. Ed ran the first session as the director was away at the time. He gave me some direction. Since you only see bits and pieces of the film as a voice actor, you need someone in the sessions who knows what’s going on to piece it all together for you and make you feel the story. Ed helped out with a lot. After that, the director took over for the remaining sessions.
VOX: Creating a number of distinctive grunts and a variety of vocal utterances for a character that has limited use of language must have been quite the work out and mental exercise.Â Can you tell me about the process you went through to develop the persona and voice for The Hulk?
J.D. HALL: The bigger growls and more combative sounds were the ones I was hired to do. Others had more intimate things. The arc of emotions the Hulk goes through gave us each the opportunity to present one aspect of his personality. We didn’t have to match each other.
VOX: Judging by what you’ve just said, I’m assuming your voice got the biggest workout!
J.D. HALL: The casting for Hulk’s voice was emotion-specific. Each actor represented a different part of his personality. The growls for the Hulk were created by using my imagination. We all had our voices processed so you wouldn’t be able to necessarily identify my voice as my voice. At the end, everyone was happy and satisfied with how things went. I brought my skills to the table and did my best to make the Hulk sound fierce, frightening, and dangerous. I heard that the team had experimented with the sound of lions roaring, but I don’t know if they mixed anything in with our voices.
VOX: Is your voice featured in the videogame?
J.D. HALL: No, not that I know of, and I haven’t been paid for any work if it has. My voice will be featured in the Dark Void game which hasn’t been released yet. I’ve also done voice over work in The Bourne Conspiracy recording for enemy soldier voices. I’m given credit for that work, however, I didn’t get any credit for my work in The Incredible Hulk or The Scorpion King, a movie I provided the opening narration for.
VOX: Will you be at opening night?
J.D. HALL: No, I won’t was not invited. For some reason vo artists are stuck out of the way and kept anonymous.
VOX: One of my friends, Bob Bergen (a voice for Porky Pig and Tweety), told me a similar story about how the voice actors from the movie Space Jam also were not invited to the premiere, even though they played prominent roles in the film with their voices. They had to watch the film down the street from where the real party was.
J.D. HALL: That’s pretty rare, usually you (voice actors) don’t get to go to anything on opening night. Sometimes if you have a nice director, they’ll invite you and a group of family and friends to attend a pre-screening before the premiere. Unless you are Eddie Murphy or Mike Myers in Shrek, you don’t get to go to the premiere.
VOX: For someone who plays such an integral role in the success and action of the film, I’m shocked to hear that not only are you not credited but that you, along with your colleagues, were not invited to come. Why do you think that is?
J.D. HALL: I think they like to keep the process secret. There are many stories over the years of people who have created voices behind the scenes who are not acknowledged. The lady who sang for Snow White in the original Disney animated film wasn’t allowed to say that she did, for instance.
There are lots of stories like that. You get used to it and there are some things you can take credit for. Not many people know this, but if there aren’t enough on-camera credited people in the film and the list looks too short, they flesh out the credits by adding the voice actors – if the cast list is long enough, they don’t credit the voice actors. If you’re looping, there’s no credit at all.
Will you be seeing The Incredible Hulk? Be Sure to Listen For J.D.’s voice!