Movies & TV / Columns TV Interviews: Samurai Jack Star Phil LaMarr

March 13, 2017 | Posted by Jeffrey Harris

411mania recently caught up with actor, comedian and the voice of the one and only Samurai Jack, Phil LaMarr. LaMarr has been a regular fixture and voice-over actor for some of our favorite animated shows for years now. Fans will best remember Phil as the voice of Hermes Conrad in Futurama. He also was the voice of Jack in the smash hit series Samurai Jack. Currently, you can also hear him as the voice of Baxter Stockman in Nickelodeon’s current Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. He’s also reprising the role of Aquaman for WB Interactive’s Injustice 2, which is due out later this year. For now, Samurai Jack is finally back with a long-awaited group of new episodes that will finally give the show its proper conclusion that it never received over 10 years ago. The last new Samurai Jack episode aired on Cartoon Network in 2004, so fans have been waiting quite a while for more of this epic series. Phil LaMarr sat down with 411mania to discuss returning to this character, working with creator Genndy Tartakovsky once again and more.

411mania: Can you believe we’re sitting here in 2017 and we’re talking about new Samurai Jack. I can. I still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. What do you think?

Phil LaMarr: No — I’m very happy and very excited. One, I’m always happy to work. Two, this is a show that I’ve always loved and been proud to be a part of. So, to get more to work on is just a joy.

411mania: The last new episode of Samurai Jack aired over 12 and a half years ago. I mean isn’t that nuts that we had to wait that long? But, better late than never.

Phil LaMarr: Fuller House. Ever heard of Arrested Development? Shows coming back from the dead is the new vogue. We’re all zombies now, didn’t you hear?

411mania: Yeah, I mean Twin Peaks took 25 years. I mean I mean those Twin Peaks fans have probably been waiting twice as long. But, we finally got a new season, and we’re finally here. I’m glad for you that you’re back as this character because you you do such a good job. So thank you to you, Genndy Tartakovsky and Cartoon Network. Just to watch the premiere and see the art style again, it’s amazing. This show is not animation. It’s art. It’s pure art.

Phil LaMarr: Yeah. I love it. I think Genndy has done something that I don’t know that people will really appreciate the degree of difficulty because I mean it was hard enough to make the show as good as it was the first time around. The only thing harder would be to come back to that same show with another decade plus of people’s expectations built into it and still make it just as good — maybe even better. By my estimation, these episodes are fantastic. He’s just taken the show and the character to a whole other level.

411mania: When you got the call about this, what was your reaction? Was there any skepticism it was really going to happen?

Phil LaMarr: No. I got the call from Genndy [Tartakovsky]. So no, there was no skepticism. I mean the guy’s a genius. … I was just excited about it. I mean I hadn’t seen anything in terms of the scripts or the story, but I had complete faith in him. And the fact that he brought back Bryan Andrews and Darrick Bachman and so many of the other original people involved in the creation of the series to me just upped the fun factor.

411mania: When the audience meets Jack again int he first episode, he’s in a very rough place. It’s been fifty years, and while his body may not have aged, his mind definitely has. So, what was it like to kind of in the show goes to some really dark places? Because Jack’s mind goes to some really dark places.

Phil LaMarr: It was a really great challenge. It was tough, not just because the script asked a lot of me and the character, but also knowing that so many people are so invested in that character. So the real trick was balancing the idea of the original character — making sure it still felt like Jack, but Jack in a whole other place. So, trying to keep a line connected to who he was so that people would recognize him in this new circumstance — in this new headspace because it would have been very easy for it to feel like a different guy. He has been through so much and going through so much. That to me was the really big challenge: Bringing this to life, but also we still saw the hero that we love.

411mania: Jack gets put to the very edge at some point has some inner dialogue within his mind. He has arguments with himself in his mind. So, what is your reaction when you get to see those moments of Jack in those very cornered and dark moments and get to perform those scenes as well for Jack?

Phil LaMarr: It’s funny because ego-wise you want to be able to play that scene in real time. ‘Alright! I’ll do Angry Jack, and I’ll do Sad Jack and just switch back and forth!” But, I thought it was more important to make sure that emotionally it all really rang true. So, what we did is we recorded the lines as each of those identities separate, so there wouldn’t be any blurring of the lines.

411mania: Do you consider this season or miniseries your goodbye to Jack, or do you want to maybe leave it open?

Phil LaMarr: Well, I mean the truth of the matter is the character does not belong to me. I am one part of the collaboration that brings the character and the show to life. So, it is not for me to say whether it ends or begins again. It’s like you know if I were to say, “I will never do Samurai Jack again!” The people who own it could say, “Well. Someone else will.” But it is a character and show that I am so proud of and enjoy so much. My hope is that if it were to ever the come back in some other iteration, I would hope to be a part of it. Definitely.

411mania: I think my favorite episode is probably Scotsman’s saves Jack, when Jack’s mind has gone weird and his voice has changed. So, do you like those times where where you get to play around with Jack a little bit, and he goes outside of his comfort zone?

Phil LaMarr: I mean truthfully, I get to do a lot of comedy in other aspects. I don’t need it for him. I love the action. I love the fighting. I love when he is pushed to his limits. That’s actually my favorite stuff.

411mania: This season definitely shows the psychological scars of what he’s been through and weigh heavy on his mind.

Phil LaMarr: Yes. He’s a warrior. He’s been through war. Right. And, as much as we like to pretend that being a hero and doing these extraordinary does not have a cost, in the real world, we know that’s not true. I think in these episodes we get to see that, even in this not real world, there is a cost to heroism.

411mania: Other than getting to return and play Jack again, what’s been your favorite part of this experience?

Phil LaMarr: Well, without giving any spoilers, my favorite part has been these new scripts have taken Jack to places he’s never gotten to go before. As a performer, that’s always a joy — is to take something familiar and figure out how to take it to a new place. And there are some really great, fun, cool, exciting new places for Jack in this series.

411mania: Phil, thank you so much for your time. If I have any regret, it’s just that I wish had a few more hours to pick your brain about this show. Thanks for your work and the return of Samurai Jack.

Phil LaMarr: *Laughs* Thank you. I hope you really love it.

Thank you to Phil LaMarr for taking time out of his schedule to speak with us. New episodes for Samurai Jack are now airing on Adult Swim.