As some of you may know, I’m a big fan of Transformers, and one of my favorite things to come out of the franchise over the last few years has been the new animated series TRANSFORMERS: ROBOTS IN DISGUISE. The Cartoon Network series was recently renewed for a second season, and we were lucky enough to chit chat with Mitchell Whitfield, the voice of the beloved Minicon Fixit!
Were you a fan of the franchise before getting involved with Robots In Disguise?
Oh my gosh, of course! How could you not be? I mean it’s one of those iconic franchises that you grow up watching the shows, you grow up playing with the toys and fortunately for myself I never outgrew playing with the toys, which is why my wife kinda gives me the stink eye whenever we go to Target and Toys-R-Us and I start wandering down looking at new Transformer toys, and like “yeah hun, it’s just kinda the way things is, it’s never gone away.” So, oh my God, to be a part of something like that, that you grew up being like, you know watching and loving, you know, it’s a thrill, it’s a blast!
Do you have a favorite character, aside from Fixit?
Um, gosh, that’s like asking us to pick your favorite babies! As we’ve talked about before, I always am laughing at Grimlock. There’s just something about that character, I mean he’s this huge strong Autobot (well, technically he’s a Decepticon, but we don’t need to go into that now) but at the same time he’s got this childlike innocence and sense of humor. And of course Khary Payton who voices Grimlock is absolutely brilliant and we crack each other up I the studio all the time, so I’m used to laughing at him in the studio, then when I’m watching the show I’m laughing at him, and of course Will also makes me laugh and I enjoy his Bumblebee, but Grimlock holds a special place in my heart.
He’s always a lot of fun to watch! So, being a Transformers fan, what was it like when you heard you were going to be a part of the new series?
It was pretty amazing. As I said, I know people throw around the word “iconic” but with Transformers it really is. It transcends different generations and all sorts of platforms and what people think of as “geek culture”. I mean, everyone has loved or at least has been touched by that show and that series in some way. Of course I thought to myself, if I’m going to be in studio with Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus Prime, I just hope I conduct myself in a semi-adult way, which of course I didn’t, I was giggling like a school boy, and I think all of us were. So it was one of those “Holy cow, am I really doing this?” [moments], then when we got in the studio for the first time to actually record, we all looked at each other and said “Holy cow, are we still really doing this?”. It’s exciting and it still is every time we go in the studio together, and I think that’s one of the advantages of doing an ensemble show. For people who don’t know, sometimes when you’re doing an animated show you’re in the studio by yourself, which is ok, it kind of happens that way in a vacuum sometimes, but having the whole cast together, and having Peter in the episodes that he’s in, it really is kind of magical, and I still have that huge childish smile on my face, the same one I have walking down the toy aisle at Toys-R-Us or Target, so that seems to be a common theme with me.
Now, since you have such a great cast to work with, we know that you’ve done lots of live action work in addition to voice acting that you do, do you find that it’s a difficult transition to switch gears from one to the other?
Not at all, they’re so completely different and different in a way that people wouldn’t necessarily think. The thing about voice work is when you’re doing on-camera, or any kind of live-action, or any kind of movie and TV work, you have the luxury of being able to tell stories with your physical presence, with your face, with your gestures, people can see what you’re doing even if you’re saying nothing, you can convey emotion, you can convey lots of things. With voice work, you have the challenge of being able to, yes you still have the picture, the images of the animation, but when we’re in the studio, we’re having to convey everything before the animation is done. Everything has to be in the words, so everything has to be heightened a little bit because you’re telling a story with your voice. That becomes a whole different dynamic and it’s really a blast when you realize sort of the subtly that goes into shading a certain line here or a certain line there, and again, yes you do have the visuals of the animation, but when we’re recording we don’t. So it really enhances that skill set of being able to communicate verbally, having the emotion, having the character come out through your voice entirely until it actually is married to the image. Plus, you have the advantage when you’re doing voice work, I still play teenagers, and you’ve seen me in person, I’m no teenager! So it’s really nice to be able to do parts that you would never be able to do in live-action, because the second you walk in the room, it’s “No, too old, too young, too tall, too short, too ethnic, not ethnic enough…”. What you’re used to hearing all the time in voice work [is] “if you can sound it, you can do it.” For an actor, that’s incredibly liberating.
I know it’s hard to pick, but what were your overall favorite moments from season 1?
Oh boy, I had a lot of favorite moments. You know Darren Criss who plays Sideswipe, he’s also brilliant on the show, but as you know he was on Glee for a long time, he’s on Broadway, he shoots movies all over the world, so we don’t always get to see him in studio. So sometimes the only time I get to see his performance is when I actually watch the show. Do you remember the episode where Sideswipe actually becomes a disembodied head for a portion of the show? And you know we’re carrying him around, basically carrying around his head, and I just thought his performance was so (and even Will touched on this when we were in studio) his performance was so good! And it was so amazing, and it was something we didn’t get a chance to see as an ensemble because he wasn’t there, he was on location. So some of the stuff I get to see with Darren, when I’m watching his stuff is very fresh to me because we weren’t in the studio a lot together. So the headless episode for me is especially one of my favorites, I just thought his performance was so good, and it’s really nice to see. I don’t think people really take that into account, they don’t think about acting when they’re watching animation, because it really is, the visuals are so stunning, and the voice work is good, but you don’t think “Oh that acting is so good!” in an animated show, but I really do think we have some actors on the show that give some great acting performances on an animated series, so I’m always excited when I turn on the TV and I’m able to see that.
I think that’s a real testament to your guy’s performances, is when people don’t think of it as acting; they only see the character and the situation.
Absolutely! And that’s good! You know, I was waiting for you to ask “Do you stay in character as Fixit when you go home to maintain the integrity?” I was waiting for that for the next one. No, it’s good and it’s really fun, and I think you’ve seen this with us too when people are able to turn on and off the different characters, it still impresses me. I work with our cast, I work with the casts of a lot of different shows, but what people are able to do in terms of performance with their voice, I’m pretty blown away, again not just with doing voices that don’t necessarily sound like them, but the attitude, the intent, the different types of characters, and our cast really has a lot of versatility in terms of what we can do, because as you know we will sometimes voice two or three different characters on different episodes or a couple of different characters and we get all excited when we see them in the show. It’s like “hey look I’m that Guy #3 that’s in the museum!” We forget that we did these things so we hear them and we get excited all over again. “Oh, that me as the museum curator, oh that’s so much fun!” So I’m really lucky to be working with a cast that’s incredibly talented and versatile and as I said earlier, most importantly, a whole lot of fun.
Speaking from a fan’s perspective, it never gets old for us either, when we see you guys do the voice and then immediately go back to normal, it’s always so much fun.
It’s fun for us too! Every once and a while, and again my wife always gives me that same look like “What is wrong with you?” and I’ll sit there and go, “Look! That’s Fixit, that’s me. But I don’t really sound exactly like that, but look! That’s my voice!” And she’s like, “I know honey, you’ve been an actor for a long time.” And I go “I know, but, look, isn’t that exciting? I get to do that voice [in character] and I get to sound like this during the day!” So it’s a blast!
Getting back to Fixit, his backstory is only given to us in pieces over the course of the first season. Were you disappointed we didn’t get the full story or do you like having a little mystery left to the character?
Oh come on, who doesn’t like having a little mystery? You’ve got to leave them wanting more, that’s the famous showbiz thing, right? Leave’em wanting more! So yeah, you know what, I was happy. Believe it or not, I was happy getting to see the back story that we did get of him. Even though, like you said it was limited, we go to learn about Fixit and maybe he isn’t exactly what we thought he was at the beginning of the show as the season goes on. And I like that, I kinda like the tease of it, and maybe there’s going to be more that you’re going to learn about Fixit in the future that they didn’t want you to know right now because it will affect plot points and all this stuff. So I don’t mind not being given everything. And listen, I’m in the dark like you guys are, we don’t know exactly what’s gonna happen until we’re in the studio, sometimes we’ll see the script a couple days in advance, so it isn’t like we’re privy to these great arcs that are gunna happen down the line, so it’s kind of exciting for us even though we have it sort of meated out in small portions in terms of plot points as our characters evolve down the line, I’m happy for what we’ve gotten and at least we know that Fixit has a little bit of a tough guy side to him, which is good! He’s got a little bit of an edge! I like that Fixit has an edge!
A little bit of a Terminator-side to him?
Oh, he was scary! He did the whole thing to Bumblebee, I told ya, I told people to look out. You don’t want to mess with Fixit when he gets all red eye. Fixit gets red eye, you don’t want to mess with him!
Not one bit! Looking forward to the future, the cast has grown substantially from Bee’s initial small team of misfits. With Drift, Windblade, and Optimus now permanent members of the cast, do you worry about how that will affect Fixit’s relationship with the rest of his team?
No, you know we have incredible writers on the show. You know we’ve talked about Adam Beechen being our head guy, and the head writer on the show, and our producer, and you know I don’t worry about that sort of stuff, I really don’t. I’m not concerned with storylines or how many more characters are in there because, regardless of the number of characters that we have on the show on any given week or on a weekly basis in general, the stories always manages to come together and everybody gets their moments in the show, I never feel slighted. There have been episodes where I’ve had50 lines and episodes where I’ve had five lines and, I’m being honest here, I don’t feel differently about either one. I don’t feel when I’ve had five lines on an episode like “Oh my gosh, Fixit’s storyline’s being held back!” No, because whatever I’m doing with the show, I’m having fun with. There usually is, you know we call Fixit “Expo-bot” because he’s so good at giving exposition for all the different bad guys on the show because he has access to the Alchemor and the whole list of what bad guys who were on the ship, so there’s always something in the episode that I have that gives me a little smile that I get to do. So I don’t worry about that, I know we’re in good hand with Adam, and with our writers in general. They manage to craft stories together that make sense, and everybody has their moment, if it’s a line here a line there, or if it’s thirty lines and the episode revolves around you, either way you know you’re gunna have you’re moment. Your story line will progress in some way.
A good portion of this season’s arc was devoted to developing Fixit’s relationship with Denny and Russell. How do you see that relationship progressing in the future?
[In character] Ah, Denny Clay. Ah yes, I love saying “Denny Clay”, especially in character. I like it; I don’t know how that relationship between me and the two humans, Russell and Denny is going to evolve. Like I said we’re not privy to that stuff. I do love the relationship, however, I kind of like how at first Denny and Fixit were used to being the guys in charge of their technology in their own worlds. So there was that little bit of friction at the beginning, with the two of them being used to being the one in charge of organizing and keeping everything. So I liked the adversarial relationship developing into a friendship, developing into a family kind of vibe. And I sort of like that Fixit fits in with them, plus, because Fixit’s a minicon, he’s just the right size, so visually it works out that you don’t have to have the larger bots squatting down with them all the time. I’m actually their size, maybe a little bigger. I love that relationship, I love the dynamic that’s developed between the three of them, and especially with Denny because first of all, Ted McGinley who voices Denny is amazing, as we’ve told you ad nauseum. He’s as sweet as he is talented, a great guy who makes us laugh every time he says a line. It doesn’t matter, he could read the phone book and make us laugh! He’s really talented and really fun, so I’m happy that Fixit has sort of become tied in with the humans a little bit, and I’m curious to see myself where it goes because I genuinely don’t know. But I hope that that trio, that that relationship with the humans continues to be a big part of it!
I hope so too! So Transformers as a franchise has a very passionate fan base, and you and your fellow cast members are really great about interacting with your fans. What’s been your favorite fan moment so far being a part of Robots in Disguise?
You know, the funny thing is that we really do read the stuff that the fans say. I know the classic actor thing is “Don’t read anything, don’t read reviews, don’t read this,” but we do feel a connection a connection to the franchise and I know we have such a passionate fan base that they feel connected to both the show and to us as the voices of the characters. So we read these tweets and I sometimes read the tweets that people send out, either directly to me or just in general about how much they love the character, or how much they relate to the character. Somebody said that Fixit was their spirit animal, and it made me smile. I’m very proud, although of course I’m just a small part of the team, because we have the people that created the look, the animation, designing Fixit, and I’m just giving him a voice, but you know, I’m very proud that I was able to give a voice to your spirit animal! So we read these things on Twitter, we interact, we do actually answer the fans when they ask us stuff or when they send us artwork. That’s another thing that blows my mind. Have you seen some of the fan art that comes out of either Twitter, Facebook, I mean all over the place? Some of this fan art, I’m surprised Hasbro hasn’t started recruiting based on fan art! It’s brilliant! This fan base really is into it, they’re really communicative, and because they’re really cool, we don’t get a lot of bashing. I know you’ll always read things online that are negative, but for the most part, the stuff that gets to us or that we’re able to see, it’s all positive stuff, and we love that! We love hearing that people enjoy it, and I think we love interacting with the fans because they’re so passionate, and they’re so hungry for more, it makes happy that we’re giving them something that they love, so we love interacting! Thank goodness for social media! I used to hate it, like “Oh, it’s too much access!” But now, as a performer, you also get direct contact with your audience and with your fans, and for us that’s really a lot of fun!
We had a lot of really crazy stuff go down at the end of the last season. What would you like to see from season 2, both for Fixit and from the rest of the Autobot crew?
Well, I love the variety of Decepticons that we have, and I’ll tell you a little trick that I’ve learned just looking at the manifest, you know as they scroll through the silhouettes of all the different Decepticons on there. It’s like [in character] “Oh, which one is going to be coming next?” So I look forward to whatever new crew of Decepticons that we have. Like I said, the relationships that we’ve established in the first season, I’d like to see them blossom but also stay that same, if that makes sense. I like the group dynamic that we have, me with the humans, and the team in general. I know that when we add new characters in the dynamic naturally changes, but I’d like to see the relationships among all the bots sort of evolve and get those stories, because even though they’re “robots in disguise”, what people relate to is that human element of them. They do have very human elements, they have affection for us, affection for each other, senses of humor, and I’d like to see those human elements evolve as well. Those personalities that they display allows the fans and allows the viewers to say, “Oh yeah, I relate to that!” They’re not just relating to the humans on the show, they’re relating to the bots and to the different personalities, so I want to see those personalities continue to grow and the relationships that we’ve established continue to grow.
Still rooting for Strongarm and Sideswipe to get together?
You know, I am rooting for them because I think Windblade and Fixit would be the better couple. So yes, Strongarm and Sideswipe should definitely get together. Leave Windblade to me because the idea of that powerful plane being with that tiny bot is just too funny for me.