Actors, especially when they’re young and hungry, will take any work they can get. But voice work isn’t something they seek out of desperation—it’s a nuanced performance that requires an actor to fully realize a character with their voice alone. And they love doing it, because they get paid without having to change out of their sweatpants. Here are some celebrities who did notable cartoon voices before they became household names.
1. Uncle Phil was Shredder.
James Avery is best known as Uncle Phil on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the gold standard of millennial nostalgia. And he was the voice of Shredder on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon in the ‘80s.
2. Michael Cera was a Berenstain Bear.
Before he was the most moralistic member of the Bluth family on Arrested Development (relatively speaking), Cera was a child actor and played Brother, one of those moralistic, sanctimonious Berenstain Bears.
3. Vin Diesel was a large robot.
A strong, shiny-headed monosyllabic thing? Why, the title role in The Iron Giant is the role Vin Diesel was born to play.
4. Urkel was Sega's version of Mario.
The only thing more quintessentially ‘90s than Steve Urkel is Sonic the Hedgehog. Jaleel White had a piece of both. He was Urkel, and he voiced Sonic the Hedgehog in the TV cartoon.
5. America had Brad Garrettmania!
Hulk Hogan was far too busy defending American values, ripping his shirt, and planning future sex tapes to voice himself on Rock n’ Wrestling, the 1980s Saturday morning cartoon about Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, and various other wrestlers. Naturally, they got young stand-up comedian and aspiring actor Brad Garrett to do it. People are always mixing up the Hulkster and the brother from Everybody Loves Raymond.
6. Haley Joel Osment sees people who have been turned into French anthropomorphic housewares.
11-year-old Haley Joel Osment was one of the youngest actors to ever receive an Oscar nomination, which he got for his role in The Sixth Sense. But two years earlier, he voiced Chip in Disney's straight-to-video Beauty and the Beast: the Enchanted Christmas.
7. Ferb, actually.
Speaking of child stars, the little kid who learned how to play the drums for a girl he liked in Love, Actually grew up to portray Jojen Reed on Game of Thrones (arguably the only thing as British as Love, Actually or the name “Thomas Brodie-Sangster”). In between, he voiced Ferb, the mostly quiet British one on the Disney Channel’s Phineas and Ferb.
8. Brian Stokes Mitchell had the right stuff.
In 1990, ABC aired a quickie New Kids on the Block cartoon on Saturday mornings to capitalize on that particular pop sensation. None of the New Kids could find the time to voice their characters, so ringers were hired. Among them was Broadway legend (and current costar of The Path) Brian Stokes Mitchell. He was Danny!
9. You may remember him from such TV shows as Dennis the Menace.
Phil Hartman came to acting relatively late in life. (Before that, he was a graphic designer.) In 1986, he landed a spot on Saturday Night Live, and he also started voicing Dennis the Menace’s ineffectual father and Dennis the Menace’s heart-attack-in-waiting neighbor Mr. Wilson on the Dennis the Menace cartoon.
10. Who ya gonna call? Some other guy.
The part of Winston in Ghostbusters was written for Eddie Murphy, but he backed out, the role was rewritten, and given to actor Ernie Hudson. When the TV adaptation The Real Ghostbusters aired in 1986, Hudson was forced to audition for the voiceover gig. He didn’t get it. Producers went with standup comedian and future talk show host Arsenio Hall, who, in real life, is Eddie Murphy’s best friend.
11. Patti Mayonnaise is in prison.
This one kind of goes the other way. You probably watched the first few episodes of Orange is the New Black and deeply recognized the voice of Yoga Jones, but just couldn’t place it. Then you got on IMDB and realized that Constance Shulman provided the voice of Patti Mayonnaise from Doug.