Interview of Mark Ballou
by: Velvet D’ Coolette
Toward the end of 2007 Mark was kind enough to contact me regarding this site. I asked him if he would be prepared to take part in an email interview and he said yes. The following text is the result.
Tell us a little about your childhood. Who are you?
I was born in NYC, raised in NJ, the youngest of 3 boys. My mother was a dancer (later a talent manager) and my father was a Tony Nominated theatrical designer.
I started acting at 6 appearing in hundreds of commercials (including VO). At 15 I started working regularly in TV and film and later moved to LA after my high school graduation.
In 2004, through a series of fortuitous events, I got hired on the Special Make-up FX team for the first Narnia film in NZ, starting a whole new chapter in my life. I rose through the ranks and am now employed full time as a Make-up FX co-ordinator.
What non-television-and-film-related jobs have you done?
Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, I’ve mowed lawns, unlocked the doors of a gym in the wee hours of the morn, worked at a bakery (also in the wee hours, and I’m the furthest you’ll get from a morning person), worked a little while as a florist, waited tables for about 2 months, and ran my own computer consulting business for quite some time.
You have played several lead parts in films now. Are people starting to recognise you in the street?
No. It’s been a looong time!
If you ruled the world, what would you do?
You’re kidding, right? Um, I can’t handle that responsibility! I have a hard enough time not being late to work.
If you were planning a dinner party and could bring 3 celebrities, who would you choose?
Off the top of my head: Frank Auerbach, Alex Guinness and um, Jim Morrison. No booze to be served.
In your commercial parts you sound very exuberant. Does this reflect the real you or are you quieter than that?
I don’t know. Once I figure out who the real me is I’ll let you know. If I sound like my commercial or promo demo on a regular basis, please shoot me.
How did you get the part for Sonic SatAM? Tell us about the audition.
My agents at the time, CED, got me the audition at a studio with Ginny McSwain. She told me I got the role, sent me my audition tape so I’d be clear on the read I’d been given, and then put me to work. She also booth-directed us all at the studio recording sessions. We recorded once every two weeks. For the most part it was recorded old-school as a big group working in the round. Sessions were pretty linear, from the beginning of the script to the end, with Ginny interjecting direction and descriptions of the action we were involved in. The only cast member I recall rarely being present was Jaleel. I think during my season we recorded with him once.
What were the recording sessions like? Did you get to work directly with the other actors at all?
Aside what I mentioned above, they were great fun. Everybody really let loose, and Ginny created a supportive environment. I think each actor’s contract allowed at the time up to 3 characters, so there were often opportunities to bust out a supporting line or two for a different type of bit character.
Did you enjoy working as a voice animator? How did SatAM make you feel, was it special or just an ordinary experience?
“Voice Animator”? Well, that’s a term I’ve never heard. Makes it all sound so very important. I do love doing VO acting. There have been times that selling commercial products has left me feeling hollow (I used to get all worked up about selling Coca Cola or something when you come from a family prone to adult-offset diabetes), but for the most part I really love doing VO. It’s a type of acting I really like; you don’t have to look any particular way, or dress special. For the most part, as long as you don’t smell particularly bad, you just show up and have fun! I find it really freeing.
Do you know anything about the origin of the character himself?
Not really. I just knew he was the “fix-it” guy, one of the gang. I loved the fact that I was playing a walrus. How many people get to say “I am the walrus”?
Goo goo g’joob.
You do, it would seem! Please put the Rotor and Bunnie fandoms out of their misery. Was there ever meant to be a romantic involvement between the two (if you know, of course!)?
News to me if there was. I guess you guys are gonna have to keep on suffering. Ask Cam.
Did you leave the show by choice after the first season? Do you know the reason behind the character’s season 2 redesign?
I did leave by choice. I was asked back for Season 2, but opted out at the last minute due to personal reasons. It had nothing to do with the show, and was more about a young man trying to figure out what the heck he was doing with his life. I’ve made a lot of crappy choices in my life and I’m happy to live with them, but reflecting on it now, I regret that one.
Did you work with or hear at all from any of the production crew at DiC (such as the writers or the story editor, Len Janson).
I’ve kept in touch with Ginny off and on over the years and read for her once on a video game, I think. I’ve seen some of the actors at auditions every now and then, but not kept in touch per se.
Any funny or interesting stories from the set you’d be willing to share?
Not really much to say, it was just good times. Ginny ran a good season.
How do you see the community around the show, if you know it at all?
Honestly I don’t know much about you guys. I’m pleased that you all still appreciate the show. That’s great!
Would you take back the role if in a future event SatAM ever comes back?
Have you seen much of the show? Do you like it? Do you have the box set?
I don’t have any recordings and honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode. Yikes, that’s terrible!
Can we expect more animated characters to be voiced by you in the future or are you looking to carry on your trend with films?
I would love to do more VO. I do a bit of commercial work every now and then. I voiced “Pop” for the Rice Krispies commercials and a special DVD that came with the cereal for a while. I’m hoping to continue that.
A DVD for a cereal? And I thought Britain was over-commercialised.
Yeah, it was actually software that you loaded on your Windows PC. It was a voice recognition and skinning application that allowed you to interact with Snap, Crackle and Pop while doing things on your computer like surfing the internet, checking E-mail, etc.
Working as a co-ordinator and getting more into the production end of things makes it hard to find the time, but my employers are pretty accommodating when I get VO bookings and technology has made it so I can pretty much audition and record from almost anywhere. Shoot, I was recording Pop from an Aukland studio while on Narnia and broadcast imaging from from a radio station from under the covers of my hotel bed!
So there we have it: Mark Ballou. Fun, outgoing, optimistic and professional.