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Interview with Adventure Time’s Jeremy Shada (Finn the Human)

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At 9am on Monday 30th May, Cartoon Network will air ‘Bad Jubies’; a special stop-motion episode of Adventure Time, guest directed by Kirsten Lepore (of Bottle and Move Mountain fame). I know you’re excited – we are too – but try to contain yourselves for long enough to read a quick interview with the voice of Finn the Human; Jeremy Shada.

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Jeremy Shada, you’ve voiced Finn in Adventure Time for all 8 seasons, but it was actually your brother Zack who initiated the role on the pilot. Could you tell us a bit about this family affair?

Yeah, he took the role initially, and then when Cartoon Network picked it up about 3 years later I picked up the mantle and I’ve been doing it ever since for the past 7 years now

And is it difficult to keep your voice at the same sort of age, as you’ve grown up in that time?

Luckily for me they’ve aged the character throughout the show which definitely helps – if you go back and listen to season 1 Finn and season 8 Finn, it’s definitely different. It’s the same character, for sure,  but there’s some voice change somewhere along the line in there. After season 1 – because that season my voice was changing – so I think season 3 on, it’s much more steady. It doesn’t sound like my normal low speaking voice now, but it’s very easy to do it up in the higher pitch *does Finn voice. Interviewer giggles like nerdy schoolgirl*

And when you were doing acting at the start of your career, did you always know you wanted to go in to voice acting or was it just a chance?

I think it was mostly just chance – I think with acting and voice acting, and entertainment in general, you go in to one avenue and just other opportunities sometimes come up. I don’t think that I even thought it was a thing – I just though ‘oh that’s that cartoon’ and didn’t necessarily know there was someone behind the cartoon in a booth doing a voice, so when that possibility came up it was obviously awesome and I very much enjoy doing it

And you obviously come from quite a strong acting family, so were your parents supportive of you taking the role?

Yeah yeah – there’s a lot of times when you’ll have kids in the industry and there’s obviously parents pushing them and going ‘you will be famous’! For us, that wasn’t the way at all – my parents have always been very supportive of us, but it was ultimately – if you want to do it ‘awesome’, we’ll help and support you in that, but if you wanna do it then do it 100%. Or, if you don’t want to then do something else 100% – so we just loved movies and TV shows and we live in LA so it was a possible thing to do, so they were kind enough to humour us and take us to an agent and see what happened. I think my dad just thought it would be ‘oh ok thanks for coming’ and nothing would come of it, but after that we went out and started booking jobs and we’ve been working ever since and it just went from there.

And an episode of Adventure Time – how long do they take to make?

We usually do one episode a week, so it’ll take us about 3 hours to record an episode from start to finish with all the voices. So the recording process is pretty short for the most part – the bit that takes forever is the animation process which takes about 9 months!

Yeah, we’re nerds, it’s what we do. And at what point in Adventure Time‘s run did you realise that it was going to be the hit that it is?

I think that the biggest time that you realise that – because even when you hear the numbers coming in for when it airs and they’re big numbers, that’s one thing – but it’s when you see the fan response and get to actually go to a comic con – the first one I went to was San Diego comic con and you get to go the panels with the whole cast and autograph signings and stuff – that’s when you really get the scope of ‘wow, there’s a whole family here that made their own costumes from scratch at home and they’re all dressed up as different characters from the show.’ And that’s generally when you know that something’s huge, when you see that response and you’re ‘ok that’s pretty cool’

It must’ve been pretty weird as a, what, 14 year old?

Yeah, the first time I was at comic con I was about 13, yeah – so I was very nervous the first time. But I guess once you get out there and you see it you’re so overwhelmed by it and you just take it in. Now I’m so used to seeing a Finn in a cosplay, or any other weird cosplay concoction now it’s just ‘oh yeah’. But it’s fun bringing new people and they’re seeing it through a different lens of like ‘this is so bizarre’

So you’re a fan of the show?

Yeah of course! It’s nice being on a show that you’re excited about and enjoy. And Adventure Time in particular is even beyond being a cartoon or a “kids show” and is just a good show, and it’s exciting to watch – hard to keep up with – but I like to keep up with it at least so if people ask me questions I kind of know what’s happening. The last thing I saw I think was the Marcelline mini series “Stakes” – we got to do a private screening with the cast and crew and watch them all back to back.

So it’s normally about 9 months between you recording and seeing it?

No we actually record on kind of a year round schedule, for the most part we just record one episode a week every single week and then have like a small month break in between seasons – and then sometimes we have an off week when the writers just need a bit of a break like every 4 – 5 records, but it’s a nice steady, almost year round gig for the most part. And then if I have to travel somewhere like this for a week or two I’ll just make up my work when I get back. So yeah it’s been like week in, week out for about 7 years.

Are you usually in the booth on your own or is it a sort of back and forth with the other characters?

We usually like to do ensemble if we can – at the very least there’s normally me and John DiMaggio who plays Jake or Hynden Walch who plays Bubblegum, or Tom Kenny who plays Ice King – for the most part we like to have everyone who’s in the episode they’re recording in there together – the only time they’re not is when there’s like a scheduling conflict. Or they don’t live in the area so they have to ISDN in from somewhere or something. But yeah we usually do ensemble records if we can.

You’ve done a lot of other voice acting, including ParaNorman, so is that the way you like to work best? Everyone in the booth?

Yeah, if you can. I think it’s definitely more fun – but  definitely for movies and stuff, and even for some shows you have to record separate. And that’s fine, you still get good stuff, it’s fine either way. I think I like ensembles better because you get to know the cast obviously and you get to hear them do their record with you and so when you have like scenes where the dialogue goes very back and forth it seems much more natural because then it’s actually a conversation as opposed to you doing your half and them doing their half and then plugging it in – cos sometimes it’ll be like ‘that’s a weird response to that line there’

And that’s a pretty impressive cast you’ve got there, it must’ve been pretty intimidating when you first started…

Yeah, especially John DiMaggio – because he’s a big guy, he’s really tall, when I first started I was pretty short and was looking up at him and I knew them all from previous works of theirs because I’d grown up watching cartoons and shows that they voiced, so it was cool getting to meet them and being their peer.

Adventure Time has a lot of different Directors, and some special guest Directors such as Kirsten Lepore – do they get involved in the voice process or do they come in once the track is recorded?

Yeah usually if someone guest directs an episode they’ll be there for the recording of it, which is a huge part of it, because they usually have a very specific vision in mind for how they kind of want that stuff – so they’re usually there. Like for instance we had an anime episode, so Masaaki Yuasa came in and I think we had a translator for him and we had another guy from Ireland, but I don’t think he came in to the studio I think that was over the phone.

And did you have a translator for him?

Haha yeah (see that everyone, Finn from Adventure Time laughed at my joke. Could’ve cut it out to save typing, but I didn’t) he had a great thick Irish accent. We had to change around a couple of lines, because just certain things things – with how you would say them being an Irish person – just didn’t really translate with us, just didn’t really sound quite right – so we had to change a couple of things but it turned out really funny. But usually for the most part our main voice director for the majority of the show is Kent Osbourne, who also does a lot of the story aspect of it as well. So at this point in the show, we’re so used to the characters now that it’s a breeze going through it and the only time we’re really getting a note is when they had something more specific in mind and we’ll go with that, but it’s a very symbiotic relationship.

So the script doesn’t change very much once you’re in the booth?

Not a whole lot, no, it’s pretty on point with what you hear. There’s a couple of times we’ll have an ad lib or small tweaks, but usually it’s pretty much what the script is

Having worked with so many directors, could you give the Skwigly audience any advice for how you as a voice actor like to be directed?

Don’t yell at me! Tell me everything I’m doing is awesome – no I’m kidding. I think the best thing is just – if you have something specific in mind then you need to find a good analogy to explain it. I guess it’s not the most difficult thing in the world, it’s just you really have to be able to convey to someone what you’re thinking in a way that makes sense – that’s the biggest thing, because if you can’t do that there’s no form of direction going on. And if you can just convey it to someone in a genuine way, with a scenario or explain why it is what it is, that’s the most helpful thing. But you also have to give some kind of creative freedom to the people who are doing the voices and doing those roles – because if they got the job and they know the characters well they’re gonna do well. So a lot of that is just having a good cast and then facilitating it, let them be creative and then if something has to be tweaked, just be very helpful with how it needs to be tweaked. Just “more melancholy” or “more aggro” not “umm… do it more orange” or something, that’s not helpful to anyone.

Is there anything you can tell us about the upcoming seasons?

Ummm… no. Partly because I’m not really sure where you guys are at, but also because I think it’s more fun to come to a show without know a whole lot about what’s coming up!

Ok, Finn Jeremy Shada, really nice to meet you, enjoy the rest of Comic Con!

So set your alarms, get up early and settle yourself down in front of the TV. Maybe with some milk and a cookie or something. You know, treat yourself, you deserve it, you work hard. And watch what happens when one of the most imaginative young directors works on one of the most imaginative shows. 9am – Cartoon Network – Monday 30th.

‘Bad Jubies’ director Kirsten Lepore has previously been interviewed by Skwigly, listen to what she – as well as fellow Adventure Time actor John DiMaggio – had to say on the Podcast in the meantime:

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