By Natalie Paterson
With the upcoming release of The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Lithium Magazine was offered the opportunity to talk to one of the stars of the film, Bill Fagerbakke, the voice of Patrick Star. The voice of the character since the cartoon’s beginning in 1999, Bill has had his fair share of experience within the role when it comes to embracing his inner child, getting along with his target audience, and being along for one long lasting ride.
We’re celebrating the release of the second SpongeBob SquarePants Movie: Sponge Out of Water. Did you think there was going to be a second movie, following the first one?
Oh, this job has just been constantly…not expecting anything. I really have tried to not lay anything on this job, and I’ve just been constantly delighted about what has happened down the road, and along the way. It’s very special, very unique, and it develops slowly over those first few years. It’s just become almost like a cultural touchstone, I think, for a lot of kids. It’s definitely a privilege to be a part of it.
On that note, how does it feel to know that your voice work has impacted so many childhoods?
I love it! It’s fun! (laughs) I love kids. I have two kids, they’re older now (21 and 23) but I love kids. I love being able to talk with kids about cartoons and seeing the things that they perceive and what’s amusing to them. It’s very rewarding. And also, to hear from the parents too. I noticed early on that parents would express gratitude that there was something they could enjoy watching with their kids, which is seldom the case, I think, with a lot of children’s entertainment. That’s something that is certainly not lost on me.
In the final act of the movie, we see the characters come to the real world. Is it weird seeing Patrick and SpongeBob and the gang out of water, as superheroes?
Well, the ongoing development of the cartoon has featured so many different ideas of that, so it’s just sort of a natural evolution to see them go to CGI now. One of the very charming things about the cartoon on television was when they would leave the water, they would become these… stick figures. Like, Patrick would just be a dried out starfish stuck on a popsicle stick with someone’s hand moving him around, and that’s so charming. It’s such a sense of play there. And then when we emerge from the water in the first film, it was more in the style of mixed media, where you have live, on-camera with animated characters rolled in, in a Roger Rabbit kind of style. So now, it was CGI characters. We’ve kind of done it all, in that way. I’ll be interested in seeing what the next version is.
It’s been a while since the first movie came out. How did it feel going from the older technology from that into the newer, CGI technology for the new film?
There was anxiety over how it would look, you know, “Is this going to clash so much with the traditional look of the cartoon, of the animation? Will it feel like it’s not really them?” That is, I think, the great achievement that the creative team was able to get to, was to sustain the authenticity of the characters in a completely different visual context. That’s really something special, and I don’t think you can overstate what a great achievement that was. It was really wonderful of them, to really bring the nuance of the characters in this different format.
Do you find that you are similar to Patrick at all? Have you helped to morph his character from where it began?
I suppose I am similar to Patrick in a lot of ways. I’m a pretty basic…creature. (laughs) I’m a pretty simple dude. I treasure my friends mightily. I can’t really speak to that, how much I’ve been able to affect the development of the character. When you’re involved with a long-term performance like this, which of course happens so rarely, over time the nature of the people inhabits the characters to some degree. When you’re performing these characters, the writers and showrunners are watching you perform and listening to that as they edit it and bring it into the final product. That influences their sense of the characters and where the characters can go. So I can only speculate there.
In the film, we see Patrick turn on SpongeBob, in his hunger and his need for Krabby Patties. This seems very different from the Patrick we know from the show, who would just about give his life for SpongeBob. What did you think of this change in character?
Well, that was certainly something that was a little jarring, but in the give and take of telling all these stories, it just occurred at a time where Patrick was more concerned with fulfilling his appetite than anything else. (laughs) You know, these things are going to happen on screen too. Say, if you’re doing a character on camera for years, inevitably there will be an occasion where the story will call on you to do something that seems like a violation of what you understand. So you just try to make it work within the context of the character. People are not always the same, and neither should, of course, animated characters always remain the same.
How do you prepare to voice Patrick?
Every day in my life, things happen where I just feel like a complete idiot. So I just go there. (laughs) I adopt my sense of a seven year old human being. That’s my preparation for Patrick. I just get into that headspace which, if you’ve ever been around seven year-olds, is just really magical. So that’s where I roll.
Do you have any favourite one-liners or quotes from the show?
There are some great lines from Patrick. “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.” That was a great line where Patrick really, kind of bursts his mental capacity in one line. That was a great moment. The episode where he’s freaking out over spiders in his sleep, even. “SPIDER SPIDER SPIDER!” It’s just a goofy, weird thing that I kind of love about Patrick. There are so many.
What advice would you offer to someone trying to get into the voice-acting industry?
It’s kind of a terminally vague approach, but at the same time you have to be totally committed. Just go for it. Move in, go for it. You have to go to where it’s happening. My primary advice would be just to not worry about it, to just do it. There’s a lot of anxiety about it, because you have no control, so what’s the point in worrying about it? That was my approach when I started my career back in ’83, just dive in and seek out whatever little opportunities are available, and hope that they lead somewhere else.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water is available on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital download on June 2.