Dee Bradley Baker on Voices, Clones, Show Ending

[The following story contains spoilers from the third and final season of The Bad Batch.]

If The Bad Batch were a live-action series, it’d most certainly be considered an ensemble show. But given that one actor voiced 22 (!) characters in the final season of the animated series, that term might not quite fit in this case. It’s a point that the voice actor himself, Dee Bradley Baker, humbly acknowledges.

The Bad Batch is a very different creative ask of an actor, to bring all of these full-fledged, full-bodied characters together in a scene as an ensemble, not as disconnected or one-offs,” says Baker. “This is an ensemble story in the same way that The Clone Wars was originally an ensemble story. It’s just in this particular ensemble, I’m most of the ensemble,” he adds, laughing.

The Disney+ series, which ended its three-season run on May 1, follows Clone Force 99, a special forces squad comprising clone solders who were enhanced with special abilities, in the aftermath of Order 66 (whereby Emperor Palpatine ordered the clones to kill all Jedi). The group is led by stellar tracker Hunter and includes the abnormally strong Wrecker, brilliant Tech and uber marksman Crosshair. The quintet is rounded out with Echo, a regular clone who, after cybernetic modifications, joined up with the Bad Batch. All five of those characters are voiced by Baker, who is an Emmy contender this awards season for his role as Crosshair.

But the actor — who in conversation is, yes, animated and shows real enthusiasm for his job, but also remains humble about the work he does and recognition he receives — is quick to note that it takes a village the size of a sarlacc pit to put a show like this together. 

“I see this as a collaboration,” he adds. “As much as I am involved in vocally creating these [characters], this is a collaboration with Lucasfilm Animation and all of the brilliant people that make these shows and light them and block them and create the imagery that is so mind-blowing and cinematic.”

During a lively conversation, during which Baker delightfully slipped in and out of his Bad Batch character voices, he opened up about the process behind his work, his favorite character to voice (and why that’s not the same as his favorite character) and the final moments of the series.

A couple of years ago, Disney+ posted a video of you talking about your work on The Bad Batch, where you switch back and forth between the voices without missing a beat. As someone who doesn’t do this kind of thing for a living, that seems incredibly hard, but also very impressive.

It’s really kind of the challenge of my career, and it’s the great joy of working on this show, is what it asks of me because initially when we started The Clone Wars, it wasn’t clear that this would work or, even for me, that I could do this, that I could make these guys sound alike but also distinctly different. And that’s really for me the key to the appeal of these stories, is that these soldiers are individuals. They’ve got to feel different: Each has a different age, different weight, different authority, different attitude. And so at first it was a little bit more effort to kind of lock that in. But once we got going, I saw that this is something that I could do and that it works beautifully in conjunction with what is provided by the writers as well as the visuals that are provided, so that these all feel like different soldiers and different individual people. And the fans really respond to that. 

[Voicing these multiple roles is] like how it used to be with switching between channels on a TV, where there’s a click and a click and a click, and you’re still watching TV. But each is a very different channel, and that’s how I see them in my mind’s eye as an actor, is that they are individuals that I just switch to — or another metaphor I use is like jumping from rock to rock in a stream to stay above the water. But it’s a different rock, and I’m just jumping to a different rock.

With the Bad Batch soldiers, obviously their personalities are more distinctive than most of the other clones that viewers saw throughout The Clone Wars [another animated series in which Baker voiced numerous roles]. Did you work with the writers to help craft those personalities from the start?

We originally fleshed out the idea of The Bad Batch, which was, of course, George Lucas’ idea back at the end of The Clone Wars, and then that sort of became its own little escape pod from that series into The Bad Batch [the soldiers were first introduced in a four-episode story arc in The Clone Wars’ seventh and final season]. He [suggested] the idea and kind of said, “Well, what do you think?” And so we rather quickly just kind of blocked out the differences between these characters. There’s a different attitude to each, and I kind of come up with a different image for each of those that I can lock into. And very quickly Dave [Filoni, chief creative officer at Lucasfilm] and I arrived at something that felt right and that he liked, and we tried it and and once it was put on its feet and fully animated and everything, everyone said, “Yeah, that was great.” And eventually, happily, they said, “Yeah, let’s do some more of that. In fact, let’s make a whole show around it,” which I think worked out really beautifully. 

I’m really gratified that this is kind of the fulfillment of George Lucas’ vision and legacy in Star Wars in a way that’s just really satisfying. And that really hits in a beautiful way and I think really points to his genius, as well as Dave and [executive producer/supervising director] Brad Rau and [executive producer/head writer] Jennifer Corbett, that it’s this great collaborative effort of really good storytelling. It’s a unique challenge for me. But ultimately, when I’m performing it, I don’t want anyone to think about me. I want to be invisible to the characters that we’re creating and to the story that we’re telling; that’s what’s important, and that’s the most gratifying part of what I see from fans at the conventions, is that they love this story and they love these characters. 

Speaking of fans, what is the voice you get asked to do most often?

[In Wrecker’s voice] They want to hear Wrecker all the time. I always say Wrecker wrecks my voice, but I’ll talk like Wrecker anyway. [Switching to Crosshair’s voice] Also, Crosshair because he meant a lot to many of the fans. He was probably the most interesting character of all of the Bad Batch [switching back to his real voice] because Crosshair really had the arc, the transformational redemption arc, that was his story, and what started out to seem to be sort of an adversarial counter-character ends up being the character that you’re rooting for. And that is finally redeemed with that hug that he gets from Omega. It’s a really beautiful story, it’s an inspiring story, and people are really locked into that. But it’s a lot of fun [in Hunter’s voice] just to switch from character to character [in Tech’s voice] because each one is very different from the other [back to his real voice], and they’re all just different people, and they’re here within me.

Tech is my personal favorite.

Many people really lock into Tech, and I certainly do. His loss at the end of Season 2 was deeply felt [the character sacrificed himself to save the others]. It was like a year or so of grief counseling as I traveled around at conventions. But the beautiful thing about his character is not just how many people, how many demographics even relate to Tech, but that his final farewell was a meaningful sacrifice and a successful sacrifice and memorable because of that. People just can’t let him go. But to me, it’s really a  tribute to the boldness and to the courage of the storytelling that the Bad Batch team allowed a story where where the stakes are real, that these are human beings, and that things happen.  

Obviously, there was no mention of Echo in that last scene of the last episode. What are your thoughts on where Echo might have been at that point in time?

Well, it’s tantalizing, isn’t it? Because a number of the clones are still in play, including Echo, and his is a really remarkable story. He’s had a uniquely challenging story to overcome with how he’s been put through the wringer when he was captured and then kind of reassembled as part machine. And yet he comes out of this with this attitude of, “Let’s get back in there and let’s make things better,” and people really love that. So I’m encouraged that these threads are still open for storytelling. Like what happens to [clone Commander] Cody? Where does Echo go? How do [clones] Rex and Wolffe and Gregor end up getting together and then eventually end up in a fishing spaceship on a [remote planet] at some point? How do these things happen? Everybody wants to know because they love these clones.

From left: Crosshair, Hunter, Wrecker and Omega (who is voiced by Michelle Ang) in The Bad Batch.

Courtesy of Disney

When you come up with a voice for a character, how do you workshop that? And secondary to that, is Crosshair’s voice a nod to Clint Eastwood?

Ultimately, it all starts with the script and the vision that the writer and the creative director have for these characters. And then we take a look at that. If there’s any visuals, we take a look at the visuals. And then for me as an actor, I’m going to be looking for an adjective or two to pull out of that to set who this character is, to define the tone and and the pace and the sound and the movement, the behavior, how this character relates to everyone. 

And we set that down, for instance, with someone like Crosshair. That’s interesting that you mention the Clint Eastwood nature because I could certainly see that that’s dialed in with him. But for me, his image is like that of a coiled snake that’s just ready to strike. There’s not this fully present thing. It’s quieter; it’s lurking. There’s an expectant calculating tone to what he’s going for and that I just kind of lock into because I can see the imagery of that, it’s like I can taste it. It’s not just a visual.

For someone like Tech, he’s technical, and everything for him is easy-breezy. Nothing gets too dramatic. He doesn’t get emotionally engaged or involved. He kind of processes things differently, which is, one of the things that a lot of fans I really love about him, like, “I process things differently as well. This is my guy. I feel seen because tech is a guy who processes the world differently. He’s part of the team, he’s really competent, he’s vital, but he’s different and I feel that way.” 

Hunter has a dark, kind of a smokiness to him. He’s closer to the regular clone voice, which, kind of the center clone voice for me has always been Captain Rex, of The Clone Wars. But there’s something about Hunter where he’s hunting, he’s listening, he’s smelling, he’s hearing. So there’s more of a darker, smokier tone to his voice. 

Wrecker, he’s just a big boy and he’s positive, and he doesn’t care about things being hard. He just wants to pick things up; he wants to blow things up; he wants to get it done. There’s this great can-do optimism that makes Wrecker the fixed point that he is, and that makes him so lovable. 

It’s locking in to the specifics of the imagery of a three-dimensional snapshot of who these guys are that’s not just visual, but it’s all of the senses together. I kind of fashion that together at the beginning of the performance process with the director and the writer, and then once we’ve got that set, then I have within me, this kind of collection. It’s almost a museum of these characters who are all different people to me, so that when they come out, they feel like different people in my performance.

That’s fascinating. Thank you for going through that process.

It’s really fun. I’ve never been asked to do anything like this and I don’t think I ever will again unless they do more of these shows. It’s a kind of a ball that comes over the plate that a voice actor rarely, if ever, sees, where so much is asked of you, and you rise to it and you find it within yourself. That’s what’s so beautiful and fun for me is that this came over the plate and I was able to connect with it, in collaboration with the rest of the team. We were able to knock it out of the park so beautifully.

This may be a dumb question, but how do you keep track of all the voices?

When we start a script, we’re map out who’s who, and sometimes it’s a familiar character that’s in a particular situation, and I can see the situation, I can see the character, and if we need to, we can go back and replace some reference. But usually it’s clear who this character is. And, like I said, a lot of the clones may look the same, although a lot of them, they get tattoos; they mod their hair; they mod their uniforms. So they’re trying to express themselves to show that they are individuals. And so it’s like a family reunion at Thanksgiving where I step into the room and there’s 10, 12, 15 people, but I know all these people and I know their relationships just instinctively because I’m very familiar with them. I’ve grown up with them and so I can just kind of jump into these characters. They’re like people that I know, that I’ve seen, and that are here and available with me at any time. It’s a very unique project.

I want to talk about the final season because obviously the stakes were higher. It was more of an overarching story versus, for example, the first season, where we saw the Bad Batch going on these one-off missions. How does that play into your performances?

Ultimately, as a performer, you want to be a part of a story that plays out beautifully as it does with season three of The Bad Batch, where you have a number of stories that are playing out in parallel that have very high stakes and that are personal and exciting. And so what Jennifer Corbett and the writing team did was to arrange all of these elements that have been playing out to come together in this really beautiful kind of dramatic operatic fashion where Omega has really been shown the ropes, like her piloting with Tech. And so she’s found her competency and her capacity and her confidence as a problem-solving, full-fledged member of this team of improvisational soldiers. And this is the season where that is going to fulfill itself. She is the one who drives it, who says, “We’re going back in, we’re going to get the kids and we’re going to get those soldiers out. We’re leaving no soldiers behind.” And the other soldiers in her team say, “Well, you’ve got a point there, and we’re absolutely going to do it,” but she drives that. It’s wonderful to see the storyline where the kid comes online and becomes her own force to be reckoned with in the universe. And then as a parent, you know, the “parents” have to say, “Farewell and good luck and go for it, kid” at the very end [of the series, when an older Omega decides to set off to fight the Empire, leaving Hunter, Crosshair and Wrecker behind], which is both heartbreaking and a beautiful thing. But then you also have this story of this diabolical plot that Hemlock has been overseeing that’s an important part of the tyrannical emperor’s plan that needs to be at least foiled for now. And so that’s also this larger context of the whole story that’s also playing out. And both of these stories weave very beautifully into the same thing. So in a sense, it’s still the same story that’s playing out.

And so all of these things are coming together, and my job as always is just to be the support and to be part of the elements that move this machinery towards the spectacular fulfillment that we find with the adversarial Hemlock being dispatched and the child coming back to the parents. And then we have the other element, which is the redemption of Crosshair, the fallen angel, the fallen warrior who has made bad choices, and he’s suffered for it greatly. And now he has to find his footing again, in life and within the Bad Batch and within the universe and with the relationship with this child [Omega]. It’s so beautiful how this is all woven together into a single story that pays off so beautifully.

Omega (left) and Crosshair in The Bad Batch.

Courtesy of Disney

Who is your favorite member of the Bad Batch?

My favorite, because of his story arc, is going to have to be Crosshair. It’s his story of falling away, of being taken to the brink and then finding his way back to the light. It’s a really moving and a beautiful story. And for him that makes me my favorite as far as that goes. But who would I want to be? I’d want to be Wrecker — he’s a big, strong, confident, fun-loving boy who’s warmhearted, who’s supportive and who just kind of knocks around and has a great time. He’s such an appealing, bright spirit.

What are you working on now?

I’m still doing American Dad. I’m still doing SpongeBob shows, which is a very different thing. SpongeBob is such beautifully wacky fun, kind of a modern-day vaudeville, and that’s a gas. There’s a new Star Wars video game that’s coming out [Star Wars Outlaws]. I play a creature in that. When I originally saw Star Wars, I loved it so much, and part of it was that cantina scene [featuring] all the aliens and creatures and monsters, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but one day I would be helping make Star Wars stories, and I would actually be voicing creatures and monsters. And so here I am in a video game coming out, where I’m essentially the sidekick creature of the lead character.

All episodes of Bad Batch and The Clone Wars are streaming on Disney+. Star Wars Outlaws launches Aug. 30.

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