‘The Legend of Korra’ Voice Actor P.J. Byrne Talks Bending It Like Bolin [Inverview]
The Legend of Korra has rocked a significant first season on Nickelodeon. Not only has the show succeeded in winning over longtime Avatar: The Last Airbender fans, it’s built new interest in the latest chapter of the Avatar saga by establishing a strong new hero, a dynamic supporting cast and an evolved setting. Young protagonist Korra has grown significantly over the course of the season, honing her bending abilities, competing as an athlete, building friendships and romances and combating the anti-bender movement lead by the totalitarian Amon. In honor of The Legend of Korra two-episode season finale block this Saturday, June 23 at 11 a.m., ComicsAlliance got in touch with Bolin voice actor P.J. Byrne to get a feel for his approach to playing an Earthbender, Bolin’s unrequited Korra crush and some insight into what the show’s second season might have in store. Read the full interview after the jump.CA: Can you tell us a little bit about how you got the role of Bolin? Did you get super method and send in an audition tape featuring you moving rocks around or was it a more conventional process?
P.J. Byrne: I was extremely method but, unfortunately, I am not as strong as Bolin so I was bending empty water bottles and sheets of paper. And I think a little bit had to do with great agents and cool as heck casting directors …and I think if Mike, Bryan and I would have grown up together, we would have rocked the same posse. Also, if they are reading this right now, they are making fun of me in their heads for saying “rocked the same posse”.
CA: I’ve seen you mention that you and Bolin share a similar temperament and positive outlook on life. Where are some areas in your life where you think you and Bolin diverge a little more?
PJB: Let’s start with my physical appearance – I think my parents forgot to add calf muscles to my body when I was born. If you want the quintessential human version of chicken legs… look no further than me. That being said, somehow I played three varsity sports at my high school in Old Tappan, NJ (NVOT). Looks can be deceiving and I used it to my advantage. Bolin is infinitely more athletic and would have played 30 sports. But as far as personality traits, I’d like to think I have a few more street smarts than Bolin. Maybe that’s part of growing up in New Jersey — we are a pretty urban state with a hugely diverse population. I went to college in Boston and grad school in Chicago. That adds up to meeting lots of people, mostly good, but essentially lots of street smarts! Or maybe it’s genetics. My mother has a great “people sense” and I think she passed some of that onto me. I think Bolin doesn’t quite have that down yet, he’s getting there but he’s still just a touch naïve. But he and I are back on the same page when it comes to one of the most important things my mother and father taught me: be ethical and honest and you can’t lose.
CA: Before The Legend of Korra, your acting work was mostly on-camera. What’s your experience been like voicing an animated character and how has it compared with your on-camera roles?
PJB: I am usually a very physical actor and I am also very informed by the clothing and shoes of the characters I play in TV or film. Well these “props”, if you will, that help me transition into characters in film and TV are not an option in VO work. So you really have to rely on your primary goal of connecting with the other actors and letting your imagination run wild. It was a big deal that Janet, David, Mindy, JK, Dee Bradley, Steve and rest of the cast were all in the same room when we were working. It was also incredibly helpful to have a table read beforehand. Having them there for the first couple of episodes was an enormous help in making the transition from on camera to off camera. And, of course, our stud creators Mike and Bryan were great resources and guides as well. And I have to give a lot of credit to Andrea Romano, the Korra voice director. She has to be the best in the biz! I owe all of them a lot. Now I am in a place where my imagination has become so vivid, so when I am recording… I really feel like I leave that sound booth and find myself living, breathing, and fighting in the land of KORRA! It’s an awesome thing — cartoons — because you can go from thought to mouth without worrying about anything else, e.g. – hitting your mark, making sure eye-line is correct, dealing with the continuity of the props you might be using. Does that sound as hokey as I think it does?
CA: David Faustino voices Bolin’s brother Mako on the show. Did the two of you “bro-down” at all to set the tone for your dynamic on the show?
PJB: We “bro diddity dapped down” and still do. What a treat to go to work with someone you not only respect as an actor, but also genuinely like because he is a good guy. It also helps that we find similar things funny. We can crack each other up pretty easily and that makes for a fun work environment.
CA: Speaking of brothers, do you have any siblings or similarly familial relationships that you draw from when voicing Bolin’s scenes with Mako?
PJB: I have an older sister, Courtney, who I am very close with and when we were younger, just like Mako, she ran the show and on some level still does. But I also had my older cousin, Frankie, who lived across the street and who I am still close with as well. I was lucky to have them… after my parents, they were the ones that taught me how to interact with the world… to treat people the way you would want to be treated. Also, a big part of our childhood was filled with laughter. And there were never grudges. I honestly can’t remember if we had any mean spirited arguments and I know I have never felt slighted by them. Ever. Also, I have some terrific buddies who would drop anything at a moment’s notice to help me out and have… I’m lucky to have some pretty loyal and classy guys for friends. I also think having an older sister, a great wife and cool girlfriends makes my relationship with Korra/Janet come across as genuine and super respectful. I guess on some level she is like a sister to me. It’s very easy to like Janet as well… not only is she a great actress but a great gal! As an extra note… I have a lot of good, strong, powerful women in my life, so it never seemed odd to me that the AVATAR was a girl.
CA: One of The Legend of Korra‘s most noted additions to Avatar lore has been the introduction of pro-bending and the adventures of Bolin, Mako and Korra’s team, the Fire Ferrets. You dealt with sports on The Game, but are you a sports fan offscreen?
PJB: Monster sports fan!!!!!!! I have season tickets to the Los Angeles Clippers! Go Clips! I am a big NY Giants fan (Super Bowl…aahhhh) and was lucky enough to be asked to the attend their NFC Championship Game in San Francisco (my top 5 sports moments). But what I really am, is a HUGE college sports fan! I did my undergrad at Boston College and received my MFA in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University. I also grew up watching Seton Hall basketball (my Dad still has season tix) and my wife was captain of the cheerleading team at Villanova University. If any one of those teams are on TV, I am not leaving my couch unless I am actually at the game. I also have two buddies who are coaches… so whatever institution they blow their whistle at… I am all in. Coach LaMere at Stanford and Coach Miller at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. And, full disclosure here….when I was in grad school I used to coach basketball camp at Duke… there is something magical about Cameron Indoor Stadium and watching Coach K teach young people. I guess I will always have a soft spot for the Blue Devils except if they are playing my BC Eagles in the ACC.
CA: Perhaps the biggest source of drama on the show is the Fire Ferrets love triangle. Right now Mako’s got the advantage, but nice guys don’t always finish last in the Avatar universe. Do you think Bolin will have a chance for some romance — with Korra or perhaps someone new — next season?
PJB: Ohhhhh dip…..Ohhhh dip…..that’s my answer….take from it what you will.
CA: There’s not a lot of Korra merchandise at retail just yet, but have you given any thought to what kind of dream Bolin merchandise you’d like to own someday (a Bolin action figure, a playable character in a Korra video game, etc.)
PJB: Ahhhhh yes to all your suggestions….I would flip out if I heard my voice coming out of a mini-Bolin… or my voice fighting with fans at home in a video game!!! But, my dream toy would be something like a scooter with an element to it that can lift and move around dirt and rocks and would be able to fire disks from its handle bars… I would call it The Earth Mover. Maybe it comes as a Big Wheel style contraption but big enough for me to ride it… because I want one…and I think adults need to get back to their Big Wheel days. I think it would be hysterical to see adults commuting to work on pimped out big wheels and if road rage occurs…people can fire foam disks at one another… and no one gets hurt. Let me talk to marketing and get back to you. Earth Bender out!