Amazon’s all-new take on the classic cartoon series The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle makes its anticipated debut today! To celebrate that fact, I got to speak with the new voice of Rocket J. Squirrel, the one and only Tara Strong. If you count Twilight Sparkle, Raven, Harley Quinn, Timmy Turner, Ben Tennyson, Bubbles, or any of a huge number of cartoon characters among your childhood favorites, you already know Strong’s voices. I’m happy to say that, though stepping into the shoes of the late June Foray for this role was no small feat, Strong absolutely nails it.
We talked about how she got the role of Rocky (which was a little more dramatic than you might have guessed) and how she eventually found the character’s voice. Strong tells a great story that should be a source of inspiration for aspiring actors out there to keep at it since you never know where an opportunity is going to come up. The veteran voice actor also talks about how the storytelling arcs of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, which are broken down into three mini-movies rather than an episodic series, impacted her approach to the performance. It’s a great read for fans of both Strong and Rocky and Bullwinkle, which you can check out on Amazon now!
What’s your first memory of Rocky and Bullwinkle?
Tara Strong: First of all, I loved Saturday morning cartoons and Rocky cartoons as a kid, but I remember seeing reruns as young as five, six years old. Just loving it and it making me laugh. It definitely brings back a lot of childhood memories.
Was that one of the cartoons that made you interested in pursuing this career?
Strong: I actually didn’t know that I wanted to do cartoons as a kid. I knew I wanted to be an actress and a singer and a dancer, and I didn’t realize that animation was its own career. Certainly, I appreciated good voice-over work once I realized what that was, and I thought it’d be fun to do it. I loved Rocky & Bullwinkle, The Flintstones, The Smurfs, all that stuff. It certainly gave me a good appreciation for voice-acting.
When did you first find out they were bringing ‘Rocky & Bullwinkle’ back?
Strong: The auditions came out and I remember thinking that would be incredibly cool and exciting. I always do my first auditions in my home, so I laid down a few examples in the house. I paid attention to the original; I would watch the original a few more times just to refresh my memory of how it should all sound. And then I didn’t get it. I didn’t get a callback. So I sort of kissed it goodbye as one of those things. Sometimes you really want a job and you just don’t get it, and you’ve really got to let it go.
And then a few months later, I had to re-audition again; I didn’t really know the story. Then [executive producer] Scott Fellows later told me that it had had some issues in the beginning where people were not sure about certain writers or certain performers, and one of the things they thought was that the girl who did Rocky was great, it just wasn’t meshing that well with Bullwinkle, and they wanted to try something else. They had played a bunch of auditions for Scott, who I had met on The Fairly OddParents and he also brought me in to play Ms. Collins, a teacher on his on-camera show Big Time Rush, and he said in the room, “Where’s Tara Strong?” I guess they all kind of looked at each other and went, “Oh, okay.”
That’s not really their fault. It sort of happens in the business where someone goes, “Oh, that person’s on every show. Let’s bring in new meat.” The truth is, the people who work a lot work a lot because they’re versatile. It’s kind of a silly mentality to take, but as soon as they brought in my audition, everyone kind of looked at each other and went, “Okay!” I really have to thank Scott Fellows for that one.
What was your thought process like when you realized you’d be following up on the late, great June Foray’s iconic performance?
Strong: Oh my gosh, there was a huge connection. Very daunting. And those are some pretty big shoes to fill for such a little lady. It’s such a beloved character, she’s such a beloved icon, you don’t want to just jump in the booth and phone it in, which neither I nor my cohorts would do anyway, but I knew right away how daunting it would be to get a new generation to accept me as Rocky. The nice thing is, even before hearing my version online, a lot of the fans were like, “June would be proud.” That kinda makes my heart happy. I did meet her and she was so lovely to me, and so I’m aware and I hope that the general public appreciates my version, which is sort of a mix between here and I, although three or four episodes in, it sort of becomes all her.