Tonight, Nickelodeon will premiere a new take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles unlike anything you’ve seen before. This new series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is kinetic, hyper-colorful, and downright hilarious even while amping up the martial arts action fans have come to know and love from the franchise. Make no mistake though, this version of the Heroes in a Half-Shell are more light-hearted and fun-focused than ever before, which isn’t a bad thing; even the original comics themselves were a satire of other grim-dark comics stories of their time. So if you’re open to a new take on an iconic property, I think you’ll have a blast with Rise.
But it’s not just the Turtles who are new and improved this time around; Master Splinter also gets an interesting makeover. Be prepared for a very different take on the Turtles teacher and father figure, voiced exceptionally (and hilariously) well by voice-acting veteran Eric Bauza. I had a chance to chat with Bauza (over virtual pizza) about his new TMNT character, what has impressed him about the series so far, and taking direction from living legend Rob Paulsen. Be sure to read to the end to find out what other iconic characters Bauza voices!
Before we got into the conversation about Rise of the TMNT, Bauza—in his Splinter voice, of course—revealed that the iconic character’s go-to pizza order is “California roll and chocolate Rocky Road ice cream, on the same slice. He’s very time conscientious, so if you could jam in the meal—the entrée and the dessert all in one—that’s the kind of Master Splinter we’re dealing with here.”
What was your first introduction to ‘TMNT’?
Eric Bauza: The very first character I ever played on any version of the show was a bad guy by the name of Tiger Claw. He was an original character in the 2012 run of the Ninja Turtles. I don’t think he was supposed to be on for more than an episode, and they just kind of kept him on as one of Shredder’s go-to henchmen. He was pretty popular with the fans.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the next wave of the Ninja Turtles and I get to play a good guy for a change. My first exposure to this version of Splinter was an image, from Andy Suriano–one of the executive producers and showrunners of this show–showed me, and I was just taken by this new, rather pudgy, kind of cute gerbil-looking kind of rat. I was up for the challenge of creating something new.
What did you like about Splinter from the way he was written and what did you add to the character?
Bauza: He’s definitely back to a smaller rat. The last version we saw a very tall, stoic, kind of statuesque kind of Splinter, but now he’s back down to size. The Turtles are definitely bigger than their dad. In this version, he’s kind of more whimsical, more of a “drunken master” type approach to this character, as opposed to stern and serious. Before he was very stoic and every now and then he’d drop a joke or “make a funny”; this time around, he’s all laughs. When he’s more serious is when he catches you off guard.
Were you a fan of the original comics or the 80s cartoon at all?
Bauza: Yeah, my brother actually was into the comics, so I wuld have those lying around the house in the late 80s and early 90s. And, of course, the animated show, who didn’t love that theme song? Having grown up with it at such an early age and getting to see it as an adult, and to be a part of it is just a dream come true for me.
What can you tease about Splinter’s part in the story as the series continues?
Bauza: I feel like he’s definitely trying to protect them every step of the way, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s 100% there. Also, as much as we’re looking at the Turtles, we’re also looking back t the characters who surround them, like Splinter, his past. I don’t want to spoil anything so you’ll just have to see how he ends up.
Were there any references you pulled from for Splinter?
Bauza: I would say he’s a mixture of Mr. Miyagi and Danny DeVito. ::laughs:: And if that rat were to exist, he went to college with Yoda. He’s like that weird, aloof teacher who teaches you the clues, and then later on you discover what he was trying to get across. I believe that’s what we’re trying to get across with this Splinter. I think fans of the sci-fi genre and action-comedy will grow to appreciate this guy.
What stood out to you as being different with this series during production?
Bauza: All throughout I was just so taken by the look of the show. I knew that Ant Ward and Andy Suriano had something good cooking. Ant has been a part of the TMNT series since 2012, and Andy is also a comic book artist, and we all know TMNT originated as a comic book first. It’s kind of looking like a comic book that moves. I used to do character layout art for animation, so I really appreciate strong, solid poses in cartoons, and this delivers on all pistons.
Do you have a favorite Turtle from the show?
Bauza: (In Splinter’s voice) Whoever brings me food first is my favorite.
How about a favorite villain?
Bauza: From the past, Rocksteady and Bebop were always fun in the original run of the series. Villains of the present, Baron Draxum is definitely someone you do not want to mess with. He’s also … for someone who is so villainous but still has a comedic side; there are some pretty funny moments that he gets to have as a bad guy in the very first episode.