Trollhunters' Clancy Brown on voicing villains and realizing fantasies

Contributed by
Dec 29, 2017

Clancy Brown has had memorable roles in Starship Troopers, The Shawshank Redemption, Highlander, and Carnivale. But for many genre fans, he will be especially immortalized by his voice work on long-running animated series such as Clone Wars, Star Wars Rebels, Spongebob Squarepants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Superman, Justice League, and now Trollhunters.

Brown joined Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia in Season 2, which is now available to stream on Netflix. He plays the voice of the big villain, Gunmar, the father of last season's big bad guy, Bular. Gunmar looks to avenge what the Trollhunters did to his son as he attempts to leave the Dark Lands and wreak havoc on Earth's surface. Executive producer Marc Guggenheim gave us the lowdown on the season and now we get to catch up with the veteran of stage, screen, and studio.

How did the part of Gunmar come to you?

Clancy Brown: I was at Comic-Con and promoting Warcraft at the Legendary Studios block in Hall H and Guillermo del Toro's movie Crimson Peak was being presented before Warcraft. So he was up on stage and he comes down, and I'm a huge fan of his, and comes running up to me and gives me a big hug. He said, "I love you!" to me and I said, "I love you, too!" He said that "We have to work together, I'm doing this thing and you have to work with me." Then I think he just made Rodrigo Blaas hire me and that's what happened [Laughs].

What was the direction you got in developing Gunmar's voice?

You have to do something special when you have Ron Perlman being the everyday bad guy, so you have to separate yourself from Ron, because there's no one quite like him. I was really thrilled I was playing Ron's dad, isn't that sweet? I had to somehow be badder, eviler, darker, scarier and more menacing than Ron. That was all the direction I got or needed.

You convey so much power in your Gunmar performance. How much time was spent developing the pitch and voice you crafted?

Yeah. We worked on that a lot. That's the great thing about the process. They were always circling back and fine-tuning everything as it went (further). We settled on a voice initially and then we'd go back and do something (to it) again. Rodrigo would get to think about it some more. It was a real circular process until we settled into something. Once we were there though, we were there. You just need to hear it once and then you remember where it's supposed to be and who the character is. Then the writing is so good, too. The mythology is also big and wondrous and broadly referential to so many mythologies in that crazy way that those guys do it. It's quite a crew they got making Trollhunters. It was a lot of tun!

After working on animated series with established fan bases, like Star Wars Rebels, Justice League, what kind of sense do you get from Trollhunters fans, who are just gathering around the campfire?

It's got a Harry Potter kind of sweet spot, don't you think? It starts out really young and feels like a kiddie kind of show, and the trolls aren't too scary and the stories are kind of simple. Then it gets darker, more dangerous and more complex [laughs]. I like the way it kind of develops. I don't know, maybe I'm not supposed to mention Harry Potter, but I like that comparison, there's a maturing that goes on through the seasons, I hope it goes on for a long time. You could carry this on for a long time, although sadly, Anton (Yelchin) won't be doing the voice of Jim anymore.

When you recorded, were you with the cast or did you record alone?

I recorded alone, unfortunately. It was such a crazy talented cast that they were busy doing other stuff. The process itself isn't what I'd say is luxurious because I would say they wouldn't characterize it as luxurious, but it seemed luxurious to me because they were able to call people whenever they were available and do things over and over but we never got in a room. Some shows do, but this one didn't require it much, which is too bad, because I would've loved to. I would've loved to have been with Mark (Hamill) because I know Mark, but he was busy doing that other mythology that he's a part of, I guess.

This season has a lot of characters that we said goodbye to, making returns in some interesting ways. Gunmar is just starting his ascension though, season 2, is really just the start of his story, isn't it?

I don't really know what's going to happen until they call me into record. I get a script when I get there, and read through it. I'm always kind of thrilled and astounded by the next thing that has to happen and the way they pull in all the mythology and relationships. It's just kind of diabolically smart. My grasp of it is not as complete as Rodrigo or Guillermo, and once you get in a room with one of those guys and hear what they want you to do, I wish I could say I knew what was going on but I don't, ever, and then I get thrilled. They're great, and take suggestions.

Were you able to put something in Gunmar that you personally discovered or learned playing villains?

Yeeeeah… I think when Gunmar becomes a little goofier at times, a fish out of water as he ascends out of the Dark Lands. That's a tough line to walk. There's great comic bank in being that fish or troll out of water. But you have to keep the threat of it all, you got to keep the mission and focus in mind. That's where he stays scary. But they would indulge some of those humorous moments, those goofier moments to take the edge off, and then he would do something that was absolutely horrible [laughs] and then he'd go right back to being the mean and horrible creature that he is. I never knew what I was going to be allowed to do. They're very respectful if not completely indulgent on any ideas I had if it was good they would use it and if not, they'd move on.

Gunmar lets out some screams that are pretty epic, in fact, they sounded like they hurt. How taxing was Gunmar as compared to other roles you've done?

Oooh. Yeah. When you have to do stuff like that it's always taxing but the great thing to know is that there's always digital enhancement and they can change things around or add stuff or take stuff away. They were gentle with me. You want to give them 110 percent, so I tried to do that a couple of times. I'm glad you liked it though. [Laughs] I had to force it a bit, but not in any kind of brutal, blasting kind of way.

You've played in the comic book toy box this year, being able to reprise your role as Ray Schoonover in Daredevil and now The Punisher. You voiced Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok, and in playing all of these roles, have you become a fan of superhero comics or have you always been a fan?

I've always been a fan, it was always kind of forbidden when I was a kid. Now that geek culture has been embraced, you could argue that it's taken over a little too much. Something like Punisher (is a live action character) that kind of has to be solved, but I think they're doing a good job now of both Daredevil and Punisher. They hadn't really been done well until Netflix did them. Just like Trollhunters, they give the creators the freedom to do it. That said, I like doing stuff like Trollhunters because it's original, ya know? You're not trying to satisfy somebody else's expectation or some old guy my age, 'Colonel Schoonover would never do that!' [Laughs] What do I know? I get paid to do what they tell me to do. In Trollhunters, you get to make it the way you want to. Like in the first Star Wars trilogy, they were just making it fun, they were making the movie. There was no Star Wars universe at the time. Then over time it gets all big and full of rules. Back then there were no rules, it was just a hoot.

Is it liberating to not have those expectations then?

Oh, I love doing original work. But I have great respect for the advent of DC and Marvel. We're able to realize those comic books now and I love the old Batman '66, believe me, I love Adam West Batman. In fact, I'll enjoy that until the day I die. But they were solving a different problem, they're not actually telling the story, there's just saying we're doing this crazy version of a comic. Now you're able to do the comic like it's a real thing, like the comics intended it to be real. The comics made it hyper real, now with technology, we're able to make it hyper real. What they do in Marvel is just unbelievable with the universes they create. It's great fun to have this fantasy world, but all actors are now. It's just the way the business is done now.