SOMETIME after the release of Space Jam, I foolishly admitted to my friends that I had a crush on Lola Bunny. They weren’t laughing because I’d admitted fancying a girl (my eight year old peers weren’t that judgemental, and besides, I’d been trying to convince them I was male for years), they were laughing because she was a two-dimensional rabbit. Which, come to think of it, doesn’t exactly make her girlfriend material. But cartoons all around may no longer fear for their sex symbol status – Buzz Lightyear has come to the rescue. In Spanish mode. This guy has more Facebook likes than George Clooney.
Nick-named ‘the voice of Spain’, Javier Fernández-Peña is the voice actor behind Buzz’s newfound charm. For those fans who want to hear more, you can also hear him, among other places, as Fernando Alonso in the new Fiat advert, or on the Spanish audio guides in the British Museum or the National Gallery. Talking to him, his voice is so low and warm I start to wonder what it would be like to have my inner monologue over-dubbed like that. My eight-year-old self would’ve been delighted.
This guy has more Facebook likes than George Clooney.
What was it like to work on the third Toy Story?
Spanish Buzz is a real character. He takes people by surprise – you don’t expect Buzz to be speaking like this. The movements are very clever. The recording was done here in London last year in January on a Sunday at eight o’clock in the morning. Pixar kept it very secretive. You don’t want to spill the beans. I had to sign a lot of confidentiality forms. It was very strange not to know what was happening. But it was a great experience. Maybe the highlight of my career.
Was it difficult to work without knowing the rest of the script?
I had no idea what was happening. You are at the hands of the director. Sometimes you do the voice and they create the animation to fit – adjust the movement and synchronisation according to the time of your recording. But this time it was already done. I had to adjust my lines to the timeline of the film. You have to adapt. It was a very difficult director to read. But I heard an ‘awesome’ here and there and thought I must be doing all right.
JWere you surprised when you finally saw the film?
I didn’t have a sense of how long or relevant or important my part was going to be. It has been done very well. On one hand you have this stereotype of Spaniards but on the other hand, people fall in love with Spanish Buzz. There is a massive following on the internet for the guy. He is a deep down romantic. He is genuine. I think that was very important. You have to believe your character. You have to believe that you are in love with Jessie. It is not a joke. You are a bit over the top but that is the way the character is. He is in love with her – he wants to conquer her! It is funny because it is serious, the acting is serious. When he falls for Jessie and tells her she must come with him to travel the galaxies, you have to believe that.
Can you do a lot of different characters with your voice?
Yes, yes. I do younger voices, older voices – they talk very deep. Cartoon voices. I had to learn how to do that because in the year 2000 there was a video games boom here in London. In video games they use a lot of voice-overs. Being a voice actor, you end up working in the video game industry. It happened that I was here and they were putting the games into different languages and needed Spanish voices. I did a lot of characters in games like Half Life. Now it is a cult video game. I had to do Grigori, this crazy priest, different mobsters.
How did you learn to do this?
I’ve always been good with voices. I played pranks on my friends when I was younger on the phone. I was always good at making my closest friends believe I was a complete stranger. I started out being a translator and doing straight narration. Then the video games. I was a self-taught actor – I did a few courses about projection and breathing but mainly I learnt on the go.
Do you ever change your voice when you’re not working, to sound more endearing or something?
Not really. What I do sometimes, if I have a job or an audition, I find myself rehearsing some of the voices, talking to myself in a loud voice, and people walk past and think this man is completely crazy. That happened to me a few times. People around me look at me and think ‘this is a loony’. I have to always make myself aware when I am around people not to get too wrapped up.
Do you ever meet people and think: I’m going to steal that voice?
I listen to people. I listen to the way people talk. But I am not an impersonator so I don’t want to imitate the sound or the style of somebody else. I listen to the way people talk in a professional and analytic way but really it is about exploring different voices. I am 51, but sometimes I have to sound like I am in my early twenties, or a teenager. It’s much easier to sound older – to do a 70 or 80-year-old.
Who are your other favourite characters you’ve played?
I did a series called The Incredible Adrenalini Brothers. It is fantastic but not many people know about it. I had to do all the characters. These Adrenalini brothers are crazy. They get into a lot of surreal situations.