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For most kids of the 1980s, it was a big moment when they realized that the actor who played Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air also voiced Shredder on the popular cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And James Avery loved witnessing the lightbulb go on.
In an interview given years ago, the beloved sitcom and voice actor — who was born this day in 1945 — talked about seeing that reaction and also about how seriously he took the role of Shredder, making it a point to note the cartoon was not merely a gig.
“I did Fresh Prince for a long time, and whenever I would go somewhere and someone had done the research and found out I was the voice of Shredder … or if there were kids in the audience, and I would throw that voice on, [they’d respond] ‘Oh, Yeah!'” said Avery, recounting the wide-eyed reactions. “Of course, these kids were 19, 20 now.”
Avery took the role of the villainous Shredder as seriously as any other role he did and detailed how he won it through auditioning.
“Shredder was basically a straight-ahead villain, but within that, there were levels that were found between the interactions of Krang (Patrick Fraley and Townsend Coleman) and myself. And there were levels that I found as an actor to play him,” he said.
Explaining that he did not consider himself a voice actor, Avery noted that he felt “lucky” to have landed the popular cartoon role. He also said how much he enjoyed watching the whole cast at work.
“Everyone was just so smart and witty,” he said. “I can’t explain to you what fun it was. It was like the old days. It was like old radio theater. It was just a joy.”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ran from 1987 to 1996. It inspired a boatload of toys and other merchandise at the time, and later, several live-action films and other cartoon iterations.
Avery passed away in December 2013. He was 68.
Watch his full TMNT interview below.
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