THOMAS & FRIENDS
VOICE ACTOR (2010-2012)
SiFansite Contributor Elliot Killick-Ward Interviews Former Thomas & Friends Voice Actor, Rupert Degas!
~ with Elliot Killick-Ward, July 2015
DISCLAIMER: All answers and opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of Rupert Degas, and in no way purport to represent those of HiT Entertainment
Prior to auditioning for the roles on 'Thomas & Friends,' how familiar were you with the history of the series? Did you ever grow up with 'The Railway Series' books or the television series at all?
All I knew of Thomas was that Ringo Starr was involved. I'm a huge Beatles fan.
What inspired you to become an actor and where did you gain your earliest experience?
I come from a showbiz family, so I used to go to the theatre a lot when was a child because my parents normally knew someone in the cast. We'd always go backstage and it was like magic for me. I was in heaven, and knew that was the world I wanted to be in.
Which characters did you voice on Thomas?
Bertie, Butch, Dart, Flynn, Diesel 10 (for about a week) and several others whose names escape me.
We've heard rumours that you auditioned for the role of 'Diesel 10' starting with Misty Island Rescue, is this true?
Absolutely. Not only auditioned, but the part was mine and we recorded Misty Island Rescue, but someone felt my voice was a bit too scary, and someone else thought it was too camp, and someone else thought it was too theatrical. You can't please everyone I guess - but that's showbiz, baby!
Which other characters did you originally audition for?
All the ones I ended up playing I think.
How did you become involved as a voice artist for the 'United Kingdom' and 'United States' dubs for the Thomas Series?
Well, I'd been doing Bob the Builder for several years (both UK and US versions) as well as other animated series, and because of my half British half American parents, I guess it was inevitable that I should end up on Thomas. It's a small industry in London and everyone knows everyone, so we all tend to work together on many shows, and enjoy working together, so it's like a big family. And you always want to work with your family right?
Could you describe what a typical day is like while recording your lines for one or two episodes in the studio? Did you ever see the footage from each episode during each session?
We never saw any footage for the original recording as they animate afterwards, but we did voice the US version to the UK pictures, so we got to see it then - which was nice.
Did you ever meet any of the other voice artists while recording at the Sound Company?
Constantly. We were in and out all day, some of us were there for an hour or two, others for a whole day, so there were plenty of 'water-cooler' moments catching up with all the gossip and whatnot.
Were any of the voices, you did during your time on Thomas & Friends, based on people or film actors you know?
All my voices are based on someone from somewhere, so yes it's a possibility. I seem to remember Diesel 10 went from Christopher Lee to Kenneth Williams and everything in between. Also, if memory serves, Bertie was a kind of hybrid of Alan Bennett and David Hockney. Generally speaking, for me anyway, if I base a voice on someone who exists, then I can use that as a 'hook' to find the voice really quickly.
You have also previously worked with Kerry Shale and Teresa Gallagher on The Amazing World of Gumball and with Togo Igawa on Robotboy and Mr. Bean - the Animated Series, how did it feel to work with them on projects outside of Thomas?
I've known Kerry and Teresa for years. We are all prolific audiobook narrators, so we became chummy in that arena well before Gumball. But ironically, on Gumball we recorded solo, so the three of us never had the opportunity to work together on that particular show. As for Togo, we had such a laugh on Robotboy. He is a perfect gentleman, with a velvety voice, and I was off on a trip to Japan, so we became friends after that. He is in a beautiful French movie called The Hedgehog - try and see it, it's divine - and Togo (speaking French by the way) is amazing in it.
I noticed in the credits for the video game adaptations of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and II, you provided the voices of Lord Voldemort, Rubeus Hagrid and Severus Snape, rather than by Ralph Fiennes, Robbie Coltrane and Alan Rickman respectively. Can you tell us about your involvement on the video game adaptations?
Being an impressionist, I am constantly being asked to impersonate celebrities who, for one reason or another, can't do a job, whether it's availability issues or budget constraints, or they simply can't be bothered. So 'stunt' voices like me are called in. I had to audition knowing that Messrs Fiennes, Rickman and Coltrane would have approval. The fact that I ended up playing all three characters is awesome. I guess I must have been on good form that day! Anyway, I realise for fans of Harry Potter it's probably disappointing not to have the original actors in the games, so I hope I did a passable job. Check out Book of Spells though, the Harry Potter spin-off for the PS3. That Scottish professor - that's me that is.
You have also worked in front of a camera on shows like EastEnders, A Touch of Frost and Holby City, can you tell us about your involvement on soap opera and drama shows like these?
Working in front of the camera was fun, but ultimately I couldn't crack the big-time, and I wasn't feeling it. It's a different discipline and it's important to try everything you can when you're young to see what you like and what you don't like. I guess I just couldn't take it seriously enough to do what I had to do to make it. With so many people chasing after so few jobs, and with so many hoops to jump through just to get seen by a casting director for a soap, there's a certain level of commitment you have to have and I realised my heart wasn't in it. It was a pretty cool (and somewhat surreal) feeling getting recognised in the street and in shops or on the tube and the bus the day after my bits had been on the telly, but ultimately it's all just make believe isn't it?
Do you prefer voice acting work or feel comfortable working and appearing in front of a camera?
I am at home with a microphone - utterly at home. No need to shave. No need to learn lines. No need to get out of bed at an ungodly hour. I'm comfortable in front of the camera, of course I am, but with all the lighting and sets and costumes to worry about, there's just so much more to be thinking about and to be honest it's boring as all hell. Voice work on the other hand - bish, bash, bosh, done, next. My brain goes at a million miles an hour, so I find voice work suits my pace much better than camera work. Believe me tough, when voice work is slow, I start to get conniptions.
Have you ever done stage work? If not, would you have liked to work on the stage?
Ah the theatre - daahlings, luvvies and all that jazz. It's how I started out in this crazy business. A did all the school plays and local Christmas pantos in my area, and that began my journey to becoming a professional actor. I saw my first play in the West End when I was five and apparently told my mother that I wanted to be on the stage. It's a cliche I realise, but some 25 years later, having performed in comedies and dramas in fringe theatres and dark rooms above pubs, I finally achieved my childhood dream and starred in the West End for nearly two years in a play called 'Stones in his Pockets'. It was the best time of my life. Then in 2006 I landed a role in the original London cast of 'The 39 Steps' for which we won an Olivier Award. Will I go back to theatre one day? You betcha!
Were you nervous about auditioning for the roles on 'Thomas & Friends' and how did you feel when you landed the roles you played during Day of the Diesels, Series 15 and Series 16?
Nervous? What of? I just wanted the gig. A paying job is a paying job whichever way you look at it.
Given your time with the series - is there a character you would have like to voice, but didn't get the chance?
To be honest I just showed up and read my lines, but having said that, I would love to have been the narrator - since the very beginning. That would have been a nice regular gig wouldn't it?
There have been rumours of a Live-Action/CGI World War II Thomas movie going round since 2009, were you ever approached about the possibility of participating in the project? Would you have been keen to have worked on such a big project like this?
First I've heard of it - sounds dreadful!
Do you have any favourites from the Thomas & Friends episodes or specials you recorded for?
This might sound odd, but as soon as I leave the studio I forget about what I've just done and am thinking about getting to my next booking. I honestly can't remember one single scene I recorded, so it's hard to pick a favourite.
Out of the characters you played for the series, who would you say is your favourite character to voice?
My Diesel 10 was awesome! Shame it never saw the light of day.
You were involved in Series 16, but you did not voice Butch the Sodor Recovery Unit, can you tell us what happened during this change?
I didn't know I wasn't Butch in Series 16 - news to me. I'm sure there's a good reason. Maybe I was rubbish or something.
After recording for just two series, you left your roles after Series 16 due to residing in Australia - how did you end up in Australia?
Life's short, and when an opportunity presents itself, you've got to go for it, or it may never come around again. The option of having an adventure in Australia was suddenly there one day, (my ex-wife is Australian), and we both packed our lives into a 40 foot container and left the UK. Best thing I ever did. The weather's fabulous, the people are super friendly and there's plenty of voice work for me. I'm recording an exciting new animated series here which I'm not allowed to talk about, suffice to say you haven't heard the last of me just because I'm living Down Under.
Sadly, 'Welcome Stafford' marked your final involvement with Thomas & Friends - how did you fell about moving on after working on the series for two years? Would you have liked to continue on the series?
I really felt a part of the Thomas family and when I told them I was moving to Australia, it was as if I was moving to the moon. I could still have recorded Thomas from Sydney - very easily as it happens, but someone decided it was too complicated - which it isn't by the way, and I was replaced. Here today, gone the next. I'd have loved to continue working on Thomas, but alas someone just wasn't prepared to take a leap of faith with technology and the internet. Daft and short-sighted if you ask me. So apologies to the fans, but it wasn't my fault.
Would you say that your involvement with Thomas & Friends has had a positive impact upon your career as an actor?
It has a positive impact on children when I do the voices. It's amazing how children respond with total awareness, but at the same time there's a bewildered look on their faces that a voice they know and love is coming from a strange man they've never clapped eyes on before ordering a coffee. I think doing Thomas has opened a few doors, but only because they are parents of children who watch the show and there's a certain amount of kudos attached I suppose. But I'm glad I did it, of course I am.
Are you working on any projects at the moment, or in the future?
I'm constantly working. It never stops. I'm very lucky.
And finally, do you have anything you'd like to say to the Thomas fans who enjoyed your work?
Thank you for your support over the years, and please petition the producers to have me back. I have a studio and I'm 10 hours ahead. I may be in Australia, but I'm not dead! Well not yet anyway...