A conversation with veteran voice-actor Rob Paulsen includes happy interruptions by Pinky, Ninja Turtles and even a touch of David Tennant.

Paulsen's creativity and fluid ability to shift pitch, cadence and accents have earned him steady work since he decided to put animated roles ahead of on-screen performance.

"What one finds pretty quickly is there are a million average-looking white kids with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) cards," Paulsen said, recalling his early years as a Hollywood industry job-seeker.

In the decades since, he's enlivened more than 2500 episodes of animated TV series, including Animaniacs (voicing Pinky, Yakko Warner and Dr Otto Scratchansniff), spinoff Pinky and the Brain and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Raphael in the 1980s, Donatello in Nickelodeon's recent series).


Paulsen has won an Emmy and multiple Annie Awards, which recognise achievement in animation. He faced his biggest hurdle in 2016: Throat cancer that required radiation and chemotherapy left him nearly 23kg lighter.

But he's back in full voice — squeals, shouts and singing included — and, in a shift, is voice director of another TV incarnation of Ninja Turtles, coming next year.

The Detroit native spoke with The Associated Press.

Associated Press: Was it difficult to focus on voice-over on-screen roles when you were getting both?

Paulsen: I was doing a lot of on-camera work and (fellow voice and screen actor) Alan Oppenheimer said, "Young man, you're going to have to make a decision about what you want to do. If I were you, I would really look at this voice-acting thing" ... I'm so grateful I chose to jump with both feet into the voice talent pool. Here I am at 60, I just finished five solid years of the latest iteration of Ninja Turtles on Nickelodeon ... and not one person gave a damn about how old I am.

AP: Do you ever resent yielding turf to actors who get TV and film voice-acting jobs, such as Alec Baldwin in The Boss Baby?

Paulsen: If you're a producer and you feel that having Brad Pitt be the talking chicken in your next movie (is right), hey man, it's your dime. I totally get it. I don't get bent out of shape over celebrity talent doing it.

AP: What skills does voice-acting require?

Paulsen: For me, it's about not being self-conscious, in the literal sense. I found the best voice actors are like that. One of my heroes, Jonathan Winters, seemed to be like that from birth. Part of his genius, also Robin Williams to be sure, was their madness. But it was their utter disregard for whether or not people thought they were weird or nutty or odd. That is precisely what is necessary to be a good voice actor.

AP: How did you face the cancer crisis that so directly threatened your work?

Paulsen: I never once had a moment where I said, "Oh, no, I'm a voice actor. Why me?" It's not because I'm super brave. It's because I've had the incredible good fortune to speak to hundreds of children and their parents as the character that a little boy or girl is a fan of while they're going through treatment for illness.

I'm so grateful to have the opportunity.