By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
Garry Chalk is one of those actors who created the voice of many of my favourite characters in animation in the 1990’s. As the voice of Turbo and Slash in Mainframe Entertainment’s Reboot and later Optimus Primal in Transformers: Beast Wars / Machines, I really liked how he put his all into those characters. Back then, the Internet was not available and I had to depend on keeping an eagle eye and sharp ear to the credits to recognize what he appeared in. Little did I know he had a vast and rewarding career in film, television and theatre before coming onto the animation scene.
When I spoke to him about his more recent work, especially in O. Corbin Saleken‘s Patterson’s Wager (which is getting screenings in upcoming film festivals around North America and is on VOD), this performer said, “I’m not one of those kinds of method actors who look for characters in other people. I develop what’s within me and who I am and put me in that situation. I know myself better than anyone else. There’s a whole emotional gambit to consider, but in every one of them, there’s a facet of what you’re going to make the character be. So the core essence of any character [I play] is me with a bunch of additional circumstances to shape my response.”
Chalk further explained all the roles he’s done has to come from somewhere. Even all those animated characters he plays has to come from a real place. They have to be real so people care about them. If nobody cares, then you’re not doing your job. “What I’m saying about cartoons is basically that you have to be that real, feeling, thinking, person,” said this performer.
This rule also applies to his prior work. Whether that is in live theatre or CBC radio dramas (his work can be found in the archives dating from 1979-1982), his ethic is consistent. Not many people are aware of the fact that he was very active on these other fronts. Like many other artists, he’s done his fair share of Shakespeare. He’s performed throughout the Lower Mainland and the Interior of British Columbia, at Langara College and at Revelstoke, BC for example. But his work is not limited to this province. He’s toured with Joel Warden’s play Lute and The Greatest Little Travelling Supershow for young people and appeared in a play called Draft Baby. The list is extensive and he did not limit himself to just plays. He appeared in musical revues too, namely Pump Boys and Dinettes.
“I haven’t done theatre almost 25 years. I think the last play I ever did was in 1991 or 1990 and it was A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. But because of my schedule, particularly back then, I was working every day. [This was the] one thing I absolutely love and I had an opportunity a few years ago … but of course the series I was in got picked up and I couldn’t be in it. The play was called August: Osage County – I was going to be cast in that, but I got a [recurring] role in the series called The Killing,” revealed Chalk.
This performer had a lot of fun on stage, and he believes that’s where you truly pay your dues, earn your chops and develop your work ethic. He calls this set of duties “the foundation of the craft.” These days, he sees a lot more people bypassing those mediums and head directly to work in film and television because that’s the way to go. He’s noticed some people who get into movies right away do not have any real skill. For the producers, they don’t want to see that on set. Chalk believes the studios want well-rounded performers who can move in any medium. He still sees theatre and road shows are the way to go as far as getting into the movie industry. While some people don’t move that way because they don’t want to, he does not blame them. They stay there because it’s a wonderful place to be.
“I want to work in every medium I can, including playing music, singing, and appearing comedy drama – whatever. I wanted to try every medium and that’s what I did,” said Chalk.
Not many fans of this multi-talented performer even know he’s a part-time musician. He’s formed a new band a few months ago called the Kits Point All-Stars and played a handful of gigs already.
“It’s the start of a new career (for me). I used to play in a blues band in the early 70’s… and it just never went anywhere. I was a punk ass kid, so what I did I know?” recalled Chalk.
One search on YouTube can dig up his past and present work, and just to discover what he’s done prior to my notice of him on the small screen is nothing short of wonderful.
His new band is made of experienced musicians. He says Don Alder is the world’s greatest fingerstyle guitar player who plays drums in his band. Guitarist Eric Reed played gigs with Spirit of the West and Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts, and Bassist Antoine Champaux make up two other members and Chalk loves Ian ‘Stan’ Wardle on harmonica. Chalk, of course, is the lead vocalist and the music they play includes rock and the blues. To find out when they will play next, this group has a Facebook presence and fans can check into when the best time is to visit Vancouver, BC.
In a city that is the hub to many entertainment productions being developed — television or animation — Chalk has worked with an amazing group of people in radio, stage, television and film over the decades. In a heartbeat, he would love to work with any one of them again. When reflecting back on the voice-over work which earned him a special place in animation, he’s not as active.
“I’m not really in the animation game so much these days. I’m still voicing characters, but not nearly as much,” said Chalk. One product still to be released this year in North America is LEGO: Nexo Knights.
The 90’s was when his voice was nearly everywhere. “I came into the cartoon world when I was already a grown-up,” laughed Chalk, “I was in my ‘Prime’ back then, no pun intended. Today, the cartoons are more focused on the younger set. I’m afraid age is rearing its ugly head.”
This performer fondly remembers working with Scott McNeil, another notable talent. These days, he’s teaching. Chalk revealed that McNeil was one of the very first people he worked with in cartoons; they worked together in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. They have also performed in film and every time they reunite, a great time is guaranteed.
“He’s just the man of many voices. When he came up with the voice for Waspinator for Beast Wars, we all just cracked up and died laughing, ” recalled Chalk. “And Dinobot was just a tremendous character that he pulled together. It really was brilliant.”
When asked about why Beast Wars / Machines was so popular, this veteran said what you see and hear is what you get. That is, add on top performances that were from the heart and that is a winning formula. There was perhaps a little bit of audio engineering done in Generation One, but when you listen to Peter Cullen and Frank Welker voice Optimus Prime and Megatron, no audio compression is needed to make them (or even Chris Latta as Starscream) stand out. Just how these other talents croon their voice must also echo how Chalk developed his style, and it shows.