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Interview: Mark Ballou - "I am the Walrus"

3/08 - Conducted by Hayley Deakin

Mark BallouMark Ballou is a professional actor who has worked in television and film for nearly his entire life, having appeared on screen in television shows such as Roseanne and Fresh Prince of Bel Air, as well as feature films including Dreamers and The Wedding Toast. He has also lent his voice to numerous commercial spots and currently works in Hollywood as a make-up FX coordinator. Of course, that's not why you're here-- all of this would be for naught were it not for the fact that Mark also provided the original voice for Rotor Walrus in season 1 of Sonic the Hedgehog!

Hayley Deakin, Rotor fan extraordinaire and owner of Rotor the Walrus Fansite, recently had the opportunity to interview Mark via e-mail. Read on to find out what he had to say about his life, career, SatAM, and our favorite Walrus.


Hayley: Tell us a little about your childhood. Who are you?

Mark: 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 coordinator.


Hayley: What non-television-and-film-related jobs have you done?

Mark: 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 Iím the furthest youíll 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.


Hayley: You have played several lead parts in films now. Are people starting to recognise you in the street?

Mark: No. Itís been a looong time!


Hayley: If you ruled the world, what would you do?

Mark: Youíre kidding, right? Um, I canít handle that responsibility! I have a hard enough time not being late to work.


Hayley: If you were planning a dinner party and could bring 3 celebrities, who would you choose?

Mark: Off the top of my head: Frank Auerbach, Alex Guinness and um, Jim Morrison. No booze to be served.


Hayley: In your commercial parts you sound very exuberant. Does this reflect the real you or are you quieter than that?

Mark: I donít know. Once I figure out who the real me is Iíll let you know. If I sound like my commercial or promo demo on a regular basis, please shoot me.


Rotor WalrusHayley: How did you get the part for Sonic SatAM? Tell us about the audition.

Mark: 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 Iíd be clear on the read Iíd 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.


Hayley: What were the recording sessions like? Did you get to work directly with the other actors at all?

Mark: Aside what I mentioned above, they were great fun. Everybody really let loose, and Ginny created a supportive environment. I think each actorís 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.


Hayley: Did you enjoy working as a voice animator? How did SatAM make you feel, was it special or just an ordinary experience?

Mark: "Voice Animator"? Well, thatís a term Iíve 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-onset diabetes), but for the most part I really love doing VO. Itís a type of acting I really like; you donít have to look any particular way, or dress special. For the most part, as long as you donít smell particularly bad, you just show up and have fun! I find it really freeing.


Hayley: Do you know anything about the origin of the character himself?

Mark: Not really. I just knew he was the Ďfix-ití 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 gíjoob.


Hayley: 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!)?

Mark: News to me if there was. I guess you guys are gonna have to keep on suffering. Ask Cam.


Hayley: Did you leave the show by choice after the first season? Do you know the reason behind the character's season 2 redesign?

Mark: 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. Iíve made a lot of crappy choices in my life and Iím happy to live with them, but reflecting on it now, I regret that one.


Hayley: 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).

Mark: Iíve kept in touch with Ginny off and on over the years and read for her once on a video game, I think. Iíve seen some of the actors at auditions every now and then, but not kept in touch per se.


Rotor WalrusHayley: Any funny or interesting stories from the set you'd be willing to share?

Mark: Not really much to say, it was just good times. Ginny ran a good session.


Hayley: How do you see the community around the show, if you know it at all?

Mark: Honestly I donít know much about you guys. Iím pleased that you all still appreciate the show. Thatís great!


Hayley: Would you take back the role if in a future event SatAM ever comes back?

Mark: Absolutely.


Hayley: Have you seen much of the show? Do you like it? Do you have the box set?

Mark: I donít have any recordings and honestly donít think Iíve ever seen an episode. Yikes, thatís terrible!


Hayley: 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?

Mark: I would love to do more VO. I do a bit of commercial work every now and then. I voiced ĎPopí for the Rice Krispies commercials and a special DVD that came with the cereal for a while. I'm hoping to continue that.


Hayley: A DVD for a cereal? And I thought Britain was over-commercialized.

Mark: 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 coordinator 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 quality imaging for a radio station from under the covers of my hotel bed!


So there we have it: Mark Ballou. Fun, outgoing, optimistic and professional.

A very special thanks to Mark, as well as to to Hayley for conducting the interview and passing it along. Give Mark a visit at www.markballou.com, and don't forget to check out the Rotor the Walrus Fansite!

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