Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
It may seem like a far out concept, but mimicking a person’s voice is a great way to hone one’s own. Yet this is what actor Eric Bauza has done since his youth – and continues to do best in his adulthood. His finely-tuned skill set got him in the door at Warner Brothers Animation to voice the wonderfully wacky cadre of characters who populate the world of Looney Tunes. Now, he’s lending his vocal talents to Mel Blanc’s creations: Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn and Elmer Fudd in SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY. And what he’s done is a slam dunk.
At the film’s recent virtual press day, I spoke with the affable actor about everything from what it was like to get into the mindset of these animated legends and rapping as the sensational stuttering pig.
Was voicing Marvin the Martin your entry point into the Looney Tunes universe? Did you have to show you can voice any and all of the Tunes when you’re up for that kind of gig?
“It’s a great question and a very interesting one for people that don’t know how the process is of how these characters get cast. We are now in the age of when a reboot, or a remake of a show used to be once every few years. But now we’re in this high demand for content, that they’re starting to overlap on one another. The creator of these voices was Mel Blanc in 1940 and pretty much, for me as fan, is the only person that can stake a claim over any of these characters. These characters are larger than life. Bugs Bunny is 81 years old. Of course someone’s gotta take over.
It’s a delight when we get to see them back on the big screen. As a fan, you know it’s not going to be the same as the original. But what I can appreciate of the people that take over – people like Jeff Bergman, who is playing Bugs in this feature film – you just know he’s a huge Looney Tunes fan as well. You can hear young Jeff, eating cereal in front of the TV on Saturday mornings, as did I, we all take that aspect of when and how we fell in love with these characters every time we step in front of that microphone in the booth. And we hope it resonates with the audience.
[Goes into Daffy Duck voice] Like when I do Daffy Duck’s voice, I see that you’re smiling. That’s how I know I’m doing my job right. [Returns to real voice] It’s like the audition process for any role. You get an email from your agent and they’re like, ‘Would you like to be Daffy Duck, or Marvin the Martian?’ Marvin was the first character I auditioned for and that was over 10 years ago now. It’s just one of those situations when you’re on show to show. Sometimes the roles switch. Sometimes they stay the same. But, again, it all depends on the storyteller and what they want out of the performance that any one of us can deliver.”
Where did start to find the essence of your Daffy Duck? Was it about tapping into your inner rage or frustrations? Same question about finding your Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn and Elmer Fudd.
“Again, I think why people love the Looney Tunes characters is because they’re so raw and unfiltered. They’re kind of like aspects of us. Bugs Bunny is that calm, cool collected person, who, until you mess with him, he will mess back with you. Daffy, of course, could represent [slips into Daffy voice] our greedy side, but also our crazy side – [Back to real voice] the part that we wanna go flying off the handle. Porky is the shy timid one. [Slips into Foghorn Leghorn voice] Foghorn’s the loud mouth. [Back to real voice] The reason why it’s easy to get into these characters is we’ve all experienced these moods and like characters you see on TV, we live through them. You get entertained by the rises and falls of these characters.”
Did the pandemic at all mess with the normal process of recording or was all your work already in the can when it hit?
“I think maybe 50% [was done] pre-pandemic and 50% during the pandemic, I was recording. I have a nice whisper room now. I have a booth here in the studio at home. Before that [Slips into Daffy Duck voice] I was recording Daffy Duck lines in my walk-in closet. [Returns to regular voice] So if you hear dogs barking, or lawnmowers, I apologize.”
There’s a scene Daffy and Porky share on a runaway train, did you just record that all in one shot with you switching back and forth between the two, or did you separate Daffy’s lines and Porky’s?
“We do it every way. The difference between feature film and TV is we have so much more time in the feature film world than we have in TV. TV’s gotta get done fast. But we tried to do it both ways: character by character and then they see what kind of chemistry we’ll have when I’m talking to myself, much like I do in Los Angeles traffic.”
I’m imagining how much flop sweat you’d have to wipe away if you’re recording them simultaneously for this scene.
“(laughs) I’d imagine it’s like game 7 in the finals. You’re your own teammates.”
One of the prevalent sentiments in this narrative is you can’t be great without working hard. How did you cultivate your skills? Were your family members supportive? Where were you when you first noticed you could make a career out of this?
“Well most of that realization comes when you’re sitting across from your family members at the dinner table and you start mimicking your family members. Or you’re in your high school making fun of your teachers with their own voices. Don’t do that kids. But it might lead to a career!
Support from family and friends is gonna always take you the longest way. The support from the amount of friends I’ve made here, the generosity and trust, when people believe in you and they see that you have a spark, or some crazy obsession with these guys, they know how obsessed and passionate I am about these characters. The support that you have from your family and the people you meet in the work field has taken me the furthest. I’m so thankful that.”
Daffy gets to coach the team in this. Did you have any coaches or mentors in this business that helped guide you?
“It all starts with Mel Blanc, the greatest of all time. He created these characters and developed their personalities over the span of 40 years. And then you have living legends like Jeff Bergman and Bob Bergen, Candi Milo, who plays Granny in this, and any other who’ve stepped into the shoes of Mel Blanc, I have them to thank as well.”
I can’t imagine it wasn’t an emotional experience for you, getting to say iconic lines from Daffy and Porky Pig for the first time. I don’t know if you thought about that in those terms. What was that like?
“Even talking with you now about it, it’s surreal. Watching it for the first time, it was like, ‘Oh yeah. I forgot. I’m in this.’ Again, these characters are larger than life. They were here before me and they’ll be here after I’m gone. It’s one of those passing of the torch – this is it right now. I’m just trying to preserve the characters for the next generation for the new legacy to come.”
What was your initial reaction hearing that you’d need to rap as Porky Pig? How did that come together?
“[Slips into Porky voice] Well, there’s of course the Notorious B.I.G. – Biggie Smalls. Murs is the person who ghostwrote the rap for Porky. [Returns to real voice] It was one of those moments in the film that pays homage to those Looney Tunes hip hop shirts in the 90’s. There’s something that’s so funny about how they fit into that world of hip-hop and rap. You just have to laugh. Was I intimidated? Sure. Anytime you have to say anything in these character voices, it’s always like walking a high-wire. Again, you have the support of the writers and the director right there with you. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
You’ve done a little bit of writing and a little bit of directing. Does any of that factor into your performance? Were you able to collaborate?
“Oh absolutely. Anytime you’re in the booth, Malcolm Lee was there. Spike Brandt, the animation director, was there early on. A writer or two, if we were lucky. And LeBron James. They all know what they need from the scene. Sometimes they don’t and that’s when they look to you and it’s like a dance and reciprocation. It’s about being open. You can have a plan in your head, but by the time you drive from your home to the studio, and you do the thing, it could get thrown out. You have to be malleable as a performer.”
Any pre-game rituals you do before going into the booth to record?
“A bag of chips, some root beer and hours of Looney Tunes. That’s all I need. That’s my version of the gym which is an awful example of the gym. [Slips into Bugs Bunny voice] But it sure is great for sounding like this guy.[Returns to real voice] If you have too much lip-smacking noise, or saliva, a green apple will take all that moisture out. And, of course, stay hydrated.”
What did you learn about yourself?
“I learned that anything’s possible. If I’m here talking to you about being in SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY, anything is possible, kids. Follow your dreams and don’t give up on yourself.”
SPACE JAM: A NEW LEGACY opens in theaters and begins streaming on HBOMax on July 16.