'90s 'X-Men' Animated Series Star on His Long Struggle to Let Go of Wolverine

Cal Dodd looks back on the painful end of the show ("It was like losing my right arm") and meeting Hugh Jackman shortly after the actor was cast to play the mutant on the big screen.
Courtesy of Photofest

Other than Hugh Jackman, no one can understand what it means to say goodbye to Wolverine better than Canadian actor Cal Dodd.

From 1992 to 1997, Dodd was the definitive Wolverine, voicing the character on the beloved X-Men animated series. For many Saturday morning cartoon viewers, this X-Men was their first experience with the Marvel characters. The series was praised for its engaging animation and its complex, serialized storytelling that saw classic comic book arcs like the Phoenix Saga stretch on for weeks.

And Dodd's Wolverine quickly became the breakout star. Grumpier than Jackman's (and sporting that yellow Spandex costume), he was the loner hero kids could relate to, the tough guy with an unwavering moral compass and cool claws to boot. When Dodd was cast, he had no idea who Wolverine was. When the series ended, it was incredibly painful to let go.

"It was like losing my right arm. I loved the guy," Dodd says. "He was like a brother."

In a conversation with Heat Vision, Dodd also recalls meeting Jackman (a fellow song and dance man) before the 2000 X-Men movie came out and shares the story of a young fan who credits the show with preventing him from committing suicide. 

What was the casting process like for Wolverine?

At that point, all I did was sing. I was the top jingle singer and top session singer in Canada. Commercials. McDonald's. Anything. I was not known as a voice person. I think I had done one for Karen Goora, who did the casting for X-Men. She phoned me out of the blue and said, "Would you be interested in going and reading for this thing?" I went over to the studio and these guys from New York were there. They had been casting for months. This was the last person they were trying to cast, Wolverine.

They gave me this script and a picture of Wolverine. I said, "Yikes! Who is this person? What is this?" I had not an inkling of what I was about to get into. So they gave me this script to read. I said, "What do you hear him sounding like? They just said: "Steve McQueen, because he's very introspective and very quiet and kind of a loner." And Ward Bond, who is from the '30s and '40s and stuff, from Wagon Train, and they said Clint Eastwood. I said, "Yeah, I get I can see that."

And who did you draw upon?

I had grown up in a small town with many fights. I had seen these kind of guys, so I threw in a bit of Wolfman Jack. And I read the script and one of the particular lines I will never forget: "You like picking on people smaller than you. Well pick on me pal, I'm smaller than you!" I loved his attitude. I'm looking through the glass at these people and they all in unison stood up and started clapping and said, "Bingo! They were so exited. "Jesus. We got him. Finally."

What did you think when you first saw Hugh Jackman as the character?

I love Hugh Jackman. I met him before he was going to shoot the first movie. They were in town at some function, and I was there because we were the animated cast and he just came up to me and he joked, "I'm really tired of listening to your voice!" Because he had no other reference for a Wolverine but the animated series. So he had to listen to the voice to try to emulate that, or that sort of feel of him and the character. He said, "It's a great voice. I don't know if I'll be able to nail it or not but, I'll give it whirl." When I saw the very first movie, I thought, "This guy's huge!" Wolverine was 5'3" or something. I quickly got used to it and there were lines he would say, and I was itching in my seat. "Exactly, that's what he would have said." I loved Hugh—17 years he's been doing it. Good lord. He'll never forget the role. You can't. That's a huge a part of his life.

What was a typical day at work on X-Men like?

When we first started, after everyone got their parts we met at a studio where we were going to be recording it. I remember sitting there for eight hours waiting to go in. They were just working on everyone's character. I went home that day without even going into the studio. I came back the next day and spent about three hours in the studio. "What is your Wolverine going to sound like when he's not fighting or angry at someone?" We had to go through that whole process.

Did the whole cast record together at this point?

When we first started, everyone was in the studio together. But we were getting leakage so you couldn't really react immediately to what the other guy said. For instance, if Cyclops was beside me, I'd have to give two beats before I'd come back with mine when they should actually be able to overlap. After doing that after about half a year they learned and we'd do one at a time.

So it was a lot more efficient.

It's better for the studio time. I'll never forget one day with Norm Spencer, who was Cyclops. Norm and I decided that when you could get an extra part in an episode, it was great, because when you can get another line as another character, you got an extra half of what they paid for Wolverine. So there was always competition. There's an episode where Wolverine is playing pool and a bunch of punks came in. For one of the voices, the director said, "Does anyone do Jack Nicholson?" Of course Norm puts his hand up right away. And I just looked at him and said, "Really?" So they let him read. Then I said, "Can I read this line, too?" I don't remember the line, but it was like, [doing a Nicholson voice], "I wonder if this is as good as it gets." Norm just went, "bugger off!" I do a great Jack Nicholson and no one knew that. I got the line.

What was it like saying goodbye to this show?

I hated the fact that it was gone. Then I heard they started a new production in L.A. [X-Men: Evolution] and I wondered, "Why wouldn't I do that?" It was a younger version, younger X-Men. It was a huge gap in my life. I was doing it for five years and I became him. I created this guy, I created this voice. It was so a part of me that it was unbelievable. I just bought the whole five-year series and I started to watch it bit by bit. It's so good. It was like losing my right arm. I loved the guy. Because it was like me. He was like a brother. 

What comes to mind when you think of the show's legacy?

[Executive story editor] Eric [Lewald] has this great story in his book he just got finished about the making of X-Men. A fan of the show, who was now maybe in his 30s, sent in this letter explaining his life and what the show meant at the time. He was overweight and was being picked on and he was considering suicide, but he was so in love with the X-Men Saturday morning cartoon and Wolverine. They were mutants and they were picked on and not liked by the general public. He identified totally with that. He was about to jump off this roof, but then he said, "I can't do this, I'm going to miss the Saturday morning X-Men episode." That's the kind of impact it had on kids.

How often do you still think of your time as Wolverine?

I think about it all the time. I belong to a golf course and if I'm in football pools, where my name is of course Wolverine. At the golf club, this one boy would come up and he'd pull on the back of my shirt. "Mr. Dodd, can you do the wolverine voice for me?" And I'd do it.

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