Richard Horvitz
Interviewed By: Gringo

Perhaps best known to many as the voice of Invader Zim in the cartoon of the same name, Richard Horvitz has already established himself as a versatile actor in movies and voice-overs. He agreed to be interviewed for this site - and perhaps even more remarkably he managed to tolerate my British accent which probably made most of the questions impossible to understand. After reading this interview, you should go and visit his website.

Gringo: For those people who might not be familiar with your work, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Richard:Who are these people who are not familiar with my work? TELL MEEEEE!!

I was born in Los Angeles and have been acting since I was 10 years old. I started out doing television commercials, then was cast in a play you might be familiar with, Oliver!. From there on I did spots on sitcoms like Different Stokes and lots of other things.

In the early 1980s I was cast in a sitcom for Ted Turner, an original called Safe At Home. I did that for three years, and during that left to do Summer School with Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley.

From there I continued to do some other films, How I Got Into College was one, then I discovered voice-over thanks to a Writer's Guild strike in 1988. We were all unemployed for about two years, and a friend said "you've got a very interesting voice" and had I ever considered voice-over. I said no, because at the time it was a very tight community, very small. I was a bit na´ve when I first tried voice-over. I'd been in the business for 20 years and never thought about cartoons, radio spots or anything like that.

When I first got started in voice-over I thought it was great - I hadn't worked in over a year, and I booked two commercials straight away. I thought I'd be getting about five a day, but it turned out those jobs are just as hard to book as on-camera work.

I got into animation from there, and it's been my best friend since..

Gringo: Can you remember some of the products you were plugging as a child?

Richard: One of them was something called Freshen Up bubble gum. It was an atrocious idea, which was gum that had a liquid in the middle. The catchphrase was "There's liquid inside this gum!" Not really catchy. I suppose they didn't want to confuse people.

I also did Chevy car commercials, and was a hand model for Mattel toys. All you saw was my hand pushing the toy into shot. I remember I was playing with Kent and his Cosmic Cruiser, but my hand was all that was shown.

Gringo: Was Summer School your first feature film? What was it about, who did you play and was it any good?

Richard: It was about juvenile delinquent kids, failing classes, who are stuck with Mark Harmon, who played the teacher. There was quite a good cast in the movie, like Mark, Kirstie, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Patrick Labyorteaux, Shawnee Smith - who's now on Becker - and Carl Reiner directed.

It was a great experience, and it's on cable every other week. I don't watch it anymore, I think I've watched myself enough. It was made in 1986, came out in 1987, but I still have people coming up to me and saying "that was my favourite movie".

Gringo: Can you explain your role as Young Energizer in How I Got Into College? I've never seen the movie and am bemused.

Richard: I've never understood why the IMDB has that as my role. It makes me sound like one of those Duracell rabbits. It was actually Young Entrepreneur, and my character was full of energy. Anthony Edwards and Lara Flynn Boyle were in that movie, and it was directed by a guy called Savage Steve Holland. I couldn't resist working for someone with that name.

I wanted to do the film because someone with a name like that had to be something I was involved with. The basic premise was a kid trying to get into college, and the way my character did it was by selling everything and anything to anyone.

Gringo: How did you get involved with the Invader Zim cartoon series?

Richard: At the time of Invader Zim I was doing another series for Nickelodeon called Angry Beavers. Jhonen Vasquez, who is one of the most talented people I've ever met, had seen the show and wanted me to do Zim's voice. Nickelodeon didn't want me doing two lead characters, which is what I thought I'd be doing up. About a year passed by, and Angry Beavers finished its run of 65 half-hour episodes.

I was suddenly facing unemployment, but then got a call from Invader Zim's executive producer Mary Harrington. She said "you're not doing Angry Beavers anymore, why not come now record for Zim and see if Nickelodeon go for it?"

Mary and Jhonen were my strongest champions for the role, and I dubbed or looped over other the voice they already had for the pilot. Thankfully, Nickelodeon said it was great and the series started from there.

Gringo: How do you pronounce the name of the show's creator?

Richard: Jo-nan Vas-kez.

Gringo: Were you familiar with his work before joining the cast?

Richard: Oh yes! I thought there would be quite a tumultuous relationship between Jhonen and the television station. Why would Nickelodeon buy a show from the creator of such comic as I Feel Sick, Squee, and Jhonny the Homicidal Maniac? It's an interesting fanbase and not Nickelodeon's usual demographic. What Invader Zim did was bring a lot more people between 12 or 13 and adulthood into the fold and they weren't even tracking that demographic before the show started.

Gringo: Like you say, the show's a bit different from others. Did you ever experience any censorship from Nickelodeon?

Richard: Oh yes, and first hand. When doing Angry Beavers we had to change "shut up" to "shush up", so you can imagine what we had to go through with Invader Zim. However, a lot more was allowed through than I thought would make it. Certain things weren't allowed. The censorship was mostly over language, never anything really offensive.

Gringo: More recently, you've done work for Tim Schafer's game Psychonauts. Do you know what the game's about?

Richard: Psychonauts is something I'm very proud of. When I went to San Francisco to do SketchFest 2003 with Fred Willard, I got to met Tim Schafer and went to where he works. He's a great guy and a friend of mine, although we only met through the project.

He's just amazing, and I've been so fortunate to work with so many creative people - including Jhonen and Tim, who did so much great work for LucasArts.

When I went to his offices, I met with the game's animators and computer graphic designers. This game's done quite well, and will hopefully get released in November. I don't know what name they're going with for my character yet.

The premise is that he's got the psychic ability to jump into other people's minds. People who can do this are called psychonauts. Anyone wanting to be one has to go to a camp to train, but in the game someone on camp is stealing people's brains.

My character jumps into people's minds to cure whatever psychosis they have. One of my favourites is a maniacal coach. You don't know what his problem is until you jump in his mind and see the dark problem causing him to be so angry is that he lost his cheerleader girlfriend to the football captain. It's a very funny game, and this time will be one I play.

Gringo: You also did a voice on King's Quest: The Mask Of Eternity. Did you ever play it? The game was awful!

Richard: I've never played it! I did that 10 years ago when I was pretty oblivious to the whole video games market. That series has a huge fanbase, people come up and ask about it all the time. I've never played it or even seen it.

Gringo: Tell me a bit about Race To Space and your role in it.

Richard: It's out now on video. It takes place in the early 1960s when NASA was sending the first chimpanzee into space. I did not play the chimpanzee contrary to what most people think.

Gringo: What is the best and worst thing about your work?

Richard: The worst is exactly like the old saying, "it's the most insecure business that attracts the most insecure people". The best thing, in animation in particular, is that I get to be as far out there as want to be. I've made some great friends and that's the best part.

Gringo: For stalking purposes, our readers would like to find out more about you - what do you do when you're not working?

Richard: I play a lot of golf and also do a lot of sketch comedy with Fred Willard. I'm very good friends with Fred and his wife Mary, and I love them a lot. They're great people. And being on stage in front of a live audience is great. Along with my wife Kristen we raise our three boys, which is probably the best thing I do.

Gringo: A crazy man is coming at you with a knife. How do you defend yourself?

Richard: Wait. Is this man blind, or can he see me? I run. Fast.

Gringo: Who should we interview next, and can you put us in touch with them?

Richard: You should try and get Jhonen Vasquez. He's got a huge fan base.

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