FIVE QUESTIONS: MIKE HENRY
If you’ve been immersed in the world of Seth MacFarlane for the past 10-plus years, escaping the voice of Mike Henry is impossible. He voices the lovable Cleveland Brown, whom audiences fell for and followed from Quahog, R.I., to Stoolbend, Va., for his own spin-off. With the “The Cleveland Show” back for a second season Sunday, Hero Complex contributor Gerrick D. Kennedy caught up with Henry (who also voices foul-mouthed tyke Rallo on the show) for the latest round of five questions. Before the show’s weekend premiere, Henry and the rest of the cast and creative team will do a live table reading of the show and a Q&A session at The Paley Center for Media on Thursday in celebration of the release of the series’ Season 1 DVD, which hits stores Sept. 28.
GK: What do you have in store for fans for Season 2?
MH: We’re totally psyched. We have Barack Obama and Kanye West on our premiere. Kanye is such a great guy to have around, he totally gets all the jokes and appreciates the silly raps we write for him. Of course, Kevin Michael Richardson busting out the Barack is spot-on. It’s a fun episode. Then we have the live episode the next week, the first-ever live broadcast of an animated show. There will also be will.i.am, T-Pain and Justin Timberlake coming up later in the year [and an episode featuring an impressive roster of basketball superstars Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade]. We are pretty set with guest stars.
GK: We haven’t seen a lot of these special episodes on “The Cleveland Show,” which is something “Family Guy” is known for. From seeing the panel at Comic Con, we know there is an episode where the family heads to the famous convention. Can you give us a teaser for the episode?
MH: Well, “Family Guy” obviously did all the “Star Wars” parodies and the Stephen King episode and will often borrow from an existing movie. We wanted to do something a little different. In the same way it’s a departure. We did the live episode and the Comic Con episode, and it was great fun. Cleveland wants to go out there and premiere his somewhat idiotic comic book. When he’s out there we find out Donna was in a blaxploitation film 20 years ago called “Hot Cocoa Bang Bang.” Cleveland is terrified when he sees her take off her top on screen. Robert Rodriguez plays himself as the owner of the only copy of the movie, which he is going to put into distribution unless they can get it back from him.
GK: There is a funny scene in the pilot when Cleveland is saying goodbye to Quahog and Stewie questions why Cleveland is getting a spin-off. Why don’t you answer that for him, and maybe other fans that might have been curious?
MH: If you think about it, Cleveland is kind of the only decent person who’s ever graced the screen on “Family Guy.” Everyone else is hilarious, no question, but we didn’t want to make a carbon copy. We didn’t want to just do, as a lot of people joke, “Oh, its black ‘Family Guy.’” Cleveland is a sweet guy. He’s the kinda guy you can root for, and we wanted to make a show that was a little sweeter in tone. A little bit more of a family type show, a little funky show. We wanted to reach out and broaden the audience. Often the term “black show” gets thrown around when it’s an African American cast. It’s not really that because the Browns are the only African American family, thrown into the mix of a redneck family, hipster Holt and a family of bears. We wanted to make a sweeter, funkier show with a more diverse cast.
GK: Speaking of diversity, when the show premiered Entertainment Weekly swiftly pointed out what a lot of people were thinking: Cleveland would be the only minority character to head a new series that season, and of course, you’re not black. What was your take on that?
MH: I can only look at it from where I’m coming from. I realize I’m not African American, and I don’t pretend to be African American. I don’t play Cleveland over the top like any stereotypes or anything. I’m coming from a place where I’ve created a bunch of characters. This one happens to have developed to a point where he has his own show. From an industry standpoint – and I’ve often thought about this – I don’t know why there aren’t more shows with African American leads. All I can say is I’m sensitive to the fact that I’m a white guy playing a black guy.
GK: As a fan of the show, you get attached to the characters, and because it’s animated, the voices. I’ve always wanted to know what happened to Nia Long as Roberta. She seemed to have disappeared halfway through. What happened there?
MH: Yeah, I’ll tell you what. The first time I ever saw Nia Long on screen, I was – as we all were – in love. She came in to read for Donna [voiced by Sanaa Lathan] and Roberta [now voiced by Reagan Gomez-Preston] and she was great. I really liked her. I think it came down to, and this was not my decision or our decision on production, people with the checkbooks felt like she sounded too old. That’s the bottom line. After the first 13, we recast. To this day I love running into Nia, there is nothing but good feelings. It’s one of these things. When I’m a multimillionaire making my own projects I’m gonna keep whoever I want. But I absolutely love what Reagan is doing and she sounds like the teenage girl that we need. On “Family Guy” that’s not the first Meg … it’s part of the process. I’m extremely happy with Reagan and I’m privileged to have been able to work with Nia.
– Gerrick D. Kennedy
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ELSEWHERE: “The Cleveland Show” on Fox