An interview with Matt Lanter and Ashley Eckstein, the voices behind Anakin and Ahsoka in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
This interview featured in Star Wars Insider #108 (US and Canada) / #84 (UK and Ireland)
How did you get you end up appearing in The Clone Wars?
It was a normal everyday audition for a job. My voiceover agent told me there was a casting call for a Star Wars animated series and they said they couldn’t tell me anything about it. Being a new Star Wars production, there was a lot of secrecy, so I went in not really knowing what to expect. I was supposedly reading for a character called Deak Starkiller, which I researched to try to get some information. I couldn’t find anything, so I was kind of in the dark as to what I should do.
Dave Filoni [the director] and Catherine Winder [the producer] told me to play a combination of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, and I had a small script to read. A couple of days later I got the call to say that I got the job, and also that I was Anakin Skywalker—one of the leads of the series. So it was quite a twist!
I was actually called in to audition for the role of Padmé. I showed up, but I didn’t have high hopes because I’d worked really hard to sound like Natalie Portman and wasn’t quite mastering her voice. I told my agent that I didn’t think I was quite right for the role, but she advised me to go anyway.
As I said the first line, they cut me off and told me that I sounded too young. So it was exactly what I had thought. However, they said that they wanted me to audition for a different role. They didn’t tell me who it was, but they did say it was a new character. They wanted me to toy around with some different accents and put my own spin on it. Everything I was coming up with wasn’t what they wanted and I was getting really frustrated, but somehow I managed to get a call-back. I went to a dialect coach and I practiced the accent that they wanted me to come back with. But it still wasn’t what they wanted! Usually I am pretty composed in auditions—if I’m struggling or if I mess up I try not to let it show—but for some reason I let my guard down and my frustration showed through. They saw that I was really disappointed in myself and I was trying to be perfect for them. I walked out of the call-back and told my husband that I didn’t think that I had been able to give them the accent they wanted.
Somehow, though, I got the part! I still didn’t know what part I was going to be playing.
I showed up to the first recording session and they told me who the character was and then said, “We don’t want you to use an accent, we want you to use your own voice, because your expressions, body movements, and the inflection of your real voice is what we had pictured for the character of Ahsoka! Let’s toy around with it and bring some of your natural attitude to the character and let’s try to find Ahsoka.” It was a collaboration; we worked on it for a couple of months, and finally found the character.
Dave Filoni, Catherine Winder, and [writer] Henry Gilroy knew what they wanted. They did such an amazing job creating the character of Ahsoka. I just took their direction and gave them a bunch of options. And they would say, “We like that reading, we like that inflection, we like that tone of your voice.” I was just grateful that they let me toy around with it and bring a little bit of myself to the character; they were such an awesome team to work with [as we began] to create Ahsoka.
Are you both Star Wars fans?
I wasn’t a fan like I am now, that’s for sure! I’d seen the films, but I’d never really paid attention to the detail and everything that goes into the whole Star Wars saga. I researched everything, and now I’m fascinated.
I was a Star Wars fan, but what I’ve learned is there are varying degrees of Star Wars fans! I had watched all of the movies, but it really stopped there. When I was a kid, I would play Star Wars around the house with my older brother. We would play different characters: he would be C-3P0 and I would be R2-D2, or he would be Luke Skywalker and I would be Princess Leia. We were definitely fans of the movies back then. Of course I saw the prequels as well, but my knowledge really stopped there. I want to be a fan and know all the bits and pieces of trivia. I joke that I’m Dave Filoni’s Padawan! I really try to pick his brain, because when fans ask me trivia questions, I want to have the answers! I’m fascinated by the Star Wars universe. I look forward to learning more about it.
Matt, did you study Hayden Christensen’s performance?
I went back and watched it again, and took note of some of the important features of the character, but for the most part we’re trying to do something new with this Anakin in The Clone Wars. He’s a hero and a mentor. He’s this great warrior that we always heard about. In the films, Hayden did something that was very necessary to portray that spiral down to the dark side within two films. He did what he had to do in those films but now we’re seeing Anakin in a different time period where we actually get to relax a little and expand on his character during that time. And during The Clone Wars, you’ll see some flashes and tones of the dark side here and there, but for the most part he’s a happy-go-lucky guy.
Ashley, did they have a detailed back-story for Ahsoka?
I know Dave Filoni does! He gives me bits and pieces of details, but I actually don’t know Ahsoka’s full story yet. We haven’t gotten into it. It’s all locked in his brain and I think it’s going to come out eventually. I’m looking forward to learning more about her. I truly feel like one of the fans because I don’t really find out about Ahsoka until I walk in to record an episode!
Dave has told me everything I need to know to be able to give the performance up to this point. I can’t say enough about Dave as a director. He knows how to get the best performance out of each actor. His patience and his knowledge are amazing. I’ve learned so much from him.
Dave Filoni told us that a lot of Ahsoka was based on Carrie Fisher’s mannerisms. Were you aware of that?
Definitely. When we were recording the sessions for each episode, Dave Filoni gave me notes and thoughts on how he wanted me to read a certain line with a certain level of spunk to try and make it reminiscent of what Carrie Fisher did. We wanted to bring some of the spirit of Princess Leia into Ahsoka. We liked how funny and independent she was.
You’ve got an obvious rapport with Matt. Is this something you’ve consciously worked on?
In the voiceover world you don’t always have the luxury of recording together. Something Dave stressed from the beginning with us is that he really wanted to get the cast together when we record episodes. I’m so glad, because I don’t think we would have formed the chemistry that we have if we hadn’t been in the same room standing next to each other saying these lines.
Matt and I are definitely like brother and sister—we give each other a hard time! When we were up at Skywalker Ranch doing the press junket, we got to test out the Nintendo game, Star Wars: The Clone Wars Lightsaber Duels. Of course he beat me! I’ve challenged him to a rematch at some point and my husband [baseball star David Eckstein], who’s very good at videogames, is going to train me. Matt better watch out, because I’m going to come back with a vengeance!
Baseball players definitely have similarities to Jedi! Kids really look up to them, and with the baseball bat they kind of look a little like Jedi!
And you both get to be on a trading card!
That was a little weird to see! I never in a million years thought I would have my own Topps card!
How does the recording process work?
The recording process is a lot of fun for all of us! We usually try to record an episode with other actors. We get the script a day or two before and we’ll record for about four hours at a time, to get a 22 minute episode. It’s easier and better to play off each other, especially, for example, scenes with Obi-Wan and Anakin and also Ahsoka and Anakin. We have that banter back and forth that’s fun and witty, much like Han Solo and Princess Leia had. It’s nice to have James Arnold Taylor [Obi-Wan] and Ashley Eckstein in the booth next to me so I can bounce that energy back and forth. Dave Filoni is always there, and before we record the episode he explains what’s going on in this installment and how things might look. It’s a lot of fun. We get in there and we laugh a lot and we finally get the work done!
By this point, we’re well into the second season so I think all of us know our characters pretty well. I’ll go over it and I have my interpretation of how it should be done and Dave will say if he was thinking of something different and let us know how it should be. For the most part he is pretty hands off, and lets us do our thing. He’s a really cool director and fun to work with.
Given how far in advance you record the show, is there a lot of secrecy?
We don’t get to keep any of our scripts. We get them 24 hours before we record an episode and then we have to turn them in before we leave the studio. It really is tough because I don’t remember some of the stories in terms of details—we recorded them around three years ago! It’s kind of tough if a fan asks me what my favorite line is, because I don’t have the luxury of going back to the script. When they watch it on Friday nights on Cartoon Network that’s the first time I’m watching it too!
When you see the completed episodes are they always as you imagined?
I can’t think of a specific example, but there have been several times when I’ve seen it and thought, “Oh! That’s what he was talking about, that’s what it looks like!” It’s so hard, especially in the Star Wars world, because anything goes. You can be on any number of planets that look like any number of environments. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine, so when you see it, it’s a special treat. I’m a huge fan of the show and I watch it every Friday with everybody else!
I’ll take it back to the first experience, which was the movie. I really had no idea about Ahsoka’s fighting style or lightsaber techniques. I had no idea how tough she was until I actually saw her fighting Ventress. There was a deleted scene from the movie, when Ahsoka fights a giant rancor. I had no idea what that would look like. Of course, Dave explained it’s this giant monster, but I had no idea how big this monster was and how little Ahsoka was, and how agile. I didn’t realize how cat-like she was, and how good she was with her body movements. She’s like a little gymnast! She can go anywhere and flip anywhere. I had pictured it in my mind, but the animation blew me away. I was really excited to see how tough she was, and that continues with the episodes in season one. In Cloak of Darkness, Luminara and Ahsoka fight Ventress and I had no idea what she could do with a lightsaber! Every session we go in to, I tell Dave, “Thank you for making me so tough! This is awesome!”
How far in advance do you actually record it?
Right now [December 2008] we’re about halfway into the second season. We were working on the project around two years before it was even announced. We had to be real secretive about it. I was anxious to get it off my chest, because I couldn’t even tell my own mom what I was working on, so it was nice to be able to talk about it!
Do you have any favorite scenes as Anakin?
I really love the witty banter. It’s really fun to get in there and bounce that sarcasm back and forth with Ashley or James. It’s all about getting that timing and that fun tone—that’s what I like the best.
Do you have a favorite episode from season one?
There’s one episode that hasn’t aired yet, in which Ahsoka learns a huge lesson. She’s given a bit of independence, and she learns from it. She learns what it’s like to make a mistake and what it’s like to pick up the pieces and fix your mistake. It is a huge growing experience for her. I ask fans to be patient with her and to watch her grow. Ahsoka is very young, very raw, and very green in the movie and at the start of the series. That’s the fun part because we get to watch Ahsoka grow throughout The Clone Wars series. In my opinion, she’s definitely moving in the direction that I think fans want her to go in.
I also really like Cloak of Darkness which was all female Jedi power! With Luminara Unduli and Asajj Ventress, it just showed that the women could kick some butt, too. I don’t get to see the action when we record because we record our voices before they do the animation. I’m always surprised with how tough these female characters look because all I can do is envision it in my head when I’m recording. Everything Dave and the animators do blows my mind! The episodes are even bigger and grander than I imagined.
Is it pleasing to be a character who young girls can relate to?
Yes. I was a huge tomboy growing up. While I loved dressing up for the movie premiere, I have this inner tomboy who likes to get down and dirty on the baseball field! When my husband has batting practice you’ll see me in the outfield throwing baseballs for him.
I feel that I was like Ahsoka when I was younger. I was the only girl on the baseball team. I had an older brother and I wanted to hang out with the boys! I wore my hat backwards, I wouldn’t brush my hair, and I wore a Karate Kid outfit for my school pictures. I’m glad that young girls today who watch Ahsoka realize they can hang with the boys. I wish I had a character to look to like Ahsoka when I was young, because she proves girls can do the same things that boys can. I think she shows that if you’re mentally and physically fit, there’s nothing you can’t do. Girls can be just as tough as the boys!
What it’s like being an action figure?
It’s like the Topps card. Never in a million years did I think I was going to have an action figure! It’s so cool. I wasn’t into Barbie growing up—I played G.I. Joe and He-Man with my brother, so to be able to have an action figure for a character that I play is a dream come true! I couldn’t find my action figure anywhere. I went around to all the stores looking for it! As actors, we’re not given our toys. Finally I was at a fan convention in Dallas, and I bought it from one of the vendors there, because I wanted it so bad!
I’ve got nieces and nephews who enjoy playing with their Ahsoka action figures!
So I guess you are their favorite aunt!
They definitely ask me to say certain lines from the show. I think they just find it all too strange because they hear me talk every day and mostly my voice is Ahsoka’s voice, I don’t really change it that much. When I talk to my nephew and say, “Hey Skyguy, how you doin’?” he sometimes does a double-take like, “That’s a little strange.” It’s definitely a family bonding experience and I’m just enjoying every bit of it.
And you’re back for season two...
Yes! The outlook for Ahsoka is locked away in Dave’s and George Lucas’ minds. If they know what her future is, they haven’t told me yet. I read each script on the edge of my seat because if I see Ahsoka’s in danger,
I don’t know what her future holds. I’m really looking forward to finding that out one day!
Where would you like to see Anakin go as The Clone Wars progresses?
I think we all know where he eventually goes! He’s like the Titanic — we know he’s a sinking ship. I don’t know what the timeline is as far as how much we’re going to see him travel to the dark side. We haven’t talked about the span. I know we’re seeing flashes of the dark side here and there, and we’re going to discover a little more why he has a huge fall at some point in the series, but I don’t know when.
Category: Interviews | Posted on: 6 August 2010