Looking at his affable face, one probably wouldn’t link the voice of Dee Bradley Baker to Turner, the grouchy flat-head screwdriver character he plays on the Disney Channel’s animated series “Handy Manny.”
Manny is the neighborhood handy man, and throughout the show, he and his box of colorful tools with huge round eyes help people with projects around their houses.
“Turner is grumpy and a little selfish and not as much a team player as the others, but he comes around by the end of each episode,” Baker said. “They band together and fix the problem as a team. That’s one of the great things about the show, is the theme of teamwork, and it’s really great how they break down a problem and come up with a plan to fix it.”
Baker is great at keeping the character’s gruffness subtle, said the show’s executive producer, Rick Gitelson.
“We don’t want him to come across as angry or mean,” Gitelson said. “He’s brilliant at giving it just enough subtlety in the voice and performance. It’s taking the attitude of the character and bringing it down a couple notches so it’s not too sharp or abrasive.”
Another unique aspect about the Playhouse Disney show is its interspersing of English and Spanish dialogue.
“They also expanded that with Flicker, the flashlight, bringing in more Spanish/English translations,” he said. “Kids can learn another language along the way.”
The mix of the two languages throughout the dialogue evolved as the show was developed, and it wasn’t part of the original concept, said Nancy Kanter, senior vice president, Playhouse Disney Worldwide.
“It’s something that is interesting and helpful, both for kids who speak Spanish and those who don’t,” she said. “We don’t stop to translate every Spanish word, but they hear and understand it as it is part of the dialogue. It’s a natural flow from the conversation among the characters.”
Baker likes to watch the shows he does voice-acting for with his children, he said.
“It’s fun to watch their reactions,” the Burbank resident said.
One of the other shows he works on is “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
“I do a lot of voices on that, so we try to see if they can figure out which ones are me, and they are getting pretty good at it, too,” he said.
Baker has been performing since he was 9.
“The school I was going to was producing the musical ‘Oliver,’” he said. “I auditioned, I’d never done a play before, and they gave me the role of Oliver.”
He’s done a show almost every year since, if not on a stage, then in a theme park or other venues.
“I have always performed because I liked doing it so much,” he said.
His penchant for monster movies helps when he’s doing voices for films, TV or interactive games with animals, aliens or monsters, he said.
Baker provides the voices for an entire troop of clones on Cartoon Network’s “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”
“That’s a terrific show,” he said. “I’m very proud of that show, too.”
Being a voice actor allows him to play many characters, as opposed to doing on-camera work, he said.
“If you get on a show that’s a big hit, that might be the last show you ever do, or at least the only show you’ll do while it’s up and running,” he said.
“Off camera as a voice actor, I can do something for Disney or monsters for a game for teenagers. It offers great flexibility.”
But the trade-off is anonymity, which isn’t a bad thing, he added.
“Anonymity is a valuable asset of the career; you can go buy a rutabaga and not be mobbed at the grocery store,” he said.