If you love cartoons, you’ll recognize Lori Alan’s voice. Over the course of the past 20 years, she’s done the voices of characters as diverse as Susan Storm on Fantastic Four, Diane Simmons on Family Guy and Pearl on SpongeBob SquarePants. Before she started a career in voice-over work, she was a live-action actress who made her debut on the original Law And Order, and has continued to be seen on camera to this day, with recent appearances on shows like Disney XD’s Mighty Med and Nickelodeon’s Nicky, Ricky, Dicky and Dawn.
Ms. Alan is a very busy performer, but with the assistance of her PR man Danny Deraney, I was able to speak to her about a very diverse career.
It’s time to Flashback again, so say hello to Lori Alan!
Johnny: Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to speak to me.
Lori: My pleasure.
Johnny: What were your pop-cultural likes growing up, like favorite movies, music and TV?
Lori: My favorite television growing up, believe it or not, was The Partridge Family, Pee-Wee Herman and Soul Train, which may seem super-crazy, but those were my favorite television shows. What were my favorite movies growing up? Star Wars, for sure, and Poltergeist. There you go.
Johnny: Since you were doing commercials as a child, what were your high school days like?
Lori: They were filled with hanging out with a bunch of theater folks. I was hanging with the popular kids. I was hanging with the theater kids. My theater days were mostly filled with getting through school with a lot of cool classes. I could’ve graduated early, but they were looking at cool theater schools, and I knew that since I had been acting as a kid, I was excited. I had the best friends, and they’re my friends now still. My high school teachers were amazing. If it weren’t for my one show-choir teacher, named Ms. Marlene Baldwin, who told me when I said, “I’m so self-conscious when I sing”, that you can sing in the choir section if you want to…I did, and if it weren’t for her, I don’t know if I would have sung or spoke professionally. A big shout-out to Ms. Marlene Baldwin. The days were filled with being a happy, goofy, weird theater kid.
Johnny: According to the Internet Movie Database, your first TV credit was playing Martha in the 1990 Law And Order episode Kiss The Girls And Make Them Die. Since a lot of your later work would be comedic, what was it like to get started in a drama?
Lori: I still do a lot of drama on camera. I think a lot of people would think I’m just a crazy comedienne, but I have a theater background, so I love doing drama. I love chewing up the scenery. That first job that you’re speaking of, Law And Order…When I graduated NYU’s Tisch School Of The Arts, there wasn’t a whole lot of television going on in New York like there is now. There was The Cosby Show, and I was able to work on the Jane Curtin show Working It Out for a while. I met one of my idols there. That show Law And Order, as you know, is ripped from the headlines of the newspaper, so there was the Preppie Murder case. This guy would go to Central Park and do awful things. They needed a sassy waitress who had to testify, and that was my part. I had a couple of really good scenes. I worked with Chris Noth. He was so cool. This was before he was Mr. Big on Sex And The City. The scene where I’m on trial, I’ll never forget. I had just graduated NYU, and one of my professors was this amazing woman, Jackie Brooks. She was playing the judge, and I remember walking on set and saying “Oh, there’s my teacher”. I had to be nervous in the scene, so you naturally draw upon what’s going on in your body at the time. I was completely nervous, and there she was, saying “Well, you earned it, kid”. That was a very cool thing. In fact, another gig right out of college was another drama. It was a show called “Help”, and the premise of that show was that these paramedics, cops and firefighters were all under one roof, and I had to play a rookie cop with John Mahoney and this wonderful actor named James McDaniel. Both of my first on-camera jobs were very dramatic parts, so that was cool.
Johnny: Your first film credit was playing Cleopatra in the 1994 movie Holy Matrimony. What do you recall the most about working with the late Leonard Nimoy on what would be his final film as a director?
Lori: He was wonderful. He was very calm, and very actor-friendly. He also had a great laugh. He was very interested in what actors bought to the table. He was just so present. He really enjoyed watching actors do their thing. At the end of every scene, he would say “Thank you so much”. Just a gracious human being. I remember thinking after that I was surprised that some of the other directors were not like that. I got kind of spoiled. He was just a very lovely human being, and very grateful for the actor’s process, as he was one himself, and a terrific one at that.
Johnny: Your first voice-over credit was voicing Lt. Felina Feral on SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron. Hanna-Barbera was one of the biggest studios of the second half of the 20th century, so what was it like working for them?
Lori: Well, that was incredible. I had taken some animation classes, which I highly recommend, because you can’t just have a cool voice to get into voice-overs, right? To be a good voice actor, you must be a good actor and in animation, you’ve got to really hone your craft. The best way to do that is by taking some great improv classes, so you can be fast and flexible and have your crazy cavalcade of characters in your head so you can draw on them quite quickly. I had met Chris Zimmerman, who is one of my favorite human beings and directors, one of my favorite people just in general. I had met her, and she had called me in for that role, and Felina is kind of a tough fighter pilot, you know. I remember her saying, “Boy, you got a foul mouth, lady”, and she said “Just for fun, let’s do a take where you do it real blue”, and I said “I can say that?”. She said, “We’ll probably bleep it out later”, and sure enough, it shows that I could have that tough side, and not make it too PG of a character. Working at Hanna-Barbera was incredible. I mean, just pulling up and walking into the building itself was like, “This is incredible”. I knew it was incredible. I knew how lucky I was at the moment. The cast was amazing. Gary Owens, the late, great…One of the nicest people, the most generous people, like Leonard Nimoy. I knew him for many years. I’d worked with him since that time. He played my uncle on that show. In that cast and on that show was Charlie Adler and Barry Gordon and Frank Welker and Jim Cummings and Candi Milo. What a cast, and Mark Hamill, I think. I was training, voice-over training on the spot, and that was pretty incredible. I got some fine training as well as working. I feel like I learned so much very quickly. I was a very lucky girl, you know?
Johnny: Very much so. You voiced Susan Storm, the Invisible Woman, on the Fantastic Four. Had you read the comic books growing up, and did they influence your portrayal of the character?
Lori: I did read some of the comic books growing up. I think my Dad may have given me some. There’s something about the old-school style of Marvel Comics that just really appealed to me. Playing Sue Storm, who is a very tough, matriarchal kind of gal, but has a softer side, I so related to her. When we got to meet Stan Lee, that was just amazing, but that old-school style was something I could relate to. I can’t quite put my finger on why. That cast was incredible, too. Chuck McCann, Quintin Flynn and Beau Weaver are some of my favorite people. I still see Beau and Quintin and work with them and love them very, very much. I think I knew at the time that we were doing something very old-school and really kind of incredible. That was also a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I knew that we were going to be doing something so great. Some of the episodes were just so great, and again, I got on-the-job training. Every person that came in to do a guest role was incredible. I was like “Oh my gosh, I’m learning from this person and this person and that person”. I feel like in those early days, I should’ve paid them. I really should’ve paid some of the voice actors that were on the show.
Johnny: Your first collaboration with Seth MacFarlane was on the show Larry And Steve, starting a collaboration that would last for more than a decade. Had MacFarlane known of your work before you auditioned for the short?
Lori: I’ve never been asked that question. I don’t know. You’d have to ask him or Chris Zimmerman because she directed that, again one of my favorite people. I have no idea if he knew of my work before then. I honest-to-goodness have no idea of if he’d heard of me or if she recommended me, saying “she’s versatile. I’m going to have her do all the voices”. What a great question.
Johnny: Well, thank you very much. You voiced Sharon Stone in the Animaniacs episode “Hooray For North Hollywood, Part 2”. Would you rather have done voice-over work when talents like Tom Ruegger and Sherri Stoner were writing it, or did you like working on the show no matter what?
Lori: I liked working on the show no matter what. I’m so grateful to do any voices in general. I think that you can’t complain. I love being able to do different characters, and I come from a theater background, so to be able to do any kind of work…You know, what goes around comes around. You’re going to do a guest spot here or there, and then you’re going to be a regular on the next one, God willing. Sometimes those little cult-y, fun, one-off things like Sharon Stone or something are going to lead to something really cool. It’ll be something like “That’s great. Let’s have her do something else on the next one”, so it’s all good.
Johnny: In 1999, you were part of the original “Family Guy” cast. Was the rivalry between Family Guy and South Park amongst all the staff of both shows, or more between Seth MacFarlane and Trey Parker and Matt Stone alone?
Lori: I don’t know so much about the rivalry. I don’t think it set out to be a rivalry. I think because, coming from Larry And Steve, as you said, that Seth, that absolutely big, brilliant, genius mind, just set off to continue that story, and just continue those characters that had obviously been living in his head for a while. I think later on it became something that maybe we all, as a public, wanted to be “Oh, look at these cool dynamics. Seth versus The Simpsons or Seth versus the South Park guys”. I think they were all just brilliant unto themselves.
Johnny: Of all the episodes of Family Guy that you worked on, which was your favorite one, and conversely, which was your least favorite?
Lori: There’s two favorites, one where Tom and Diane are completely high doing the news. That’s hysterical, and especially the one where Diane is going off to do a community theater production of “The King And I”. That cracks me up. Honestly, I don’t think there is a least favorite episode. I don’t think I can think of a least favorite episode. Sorry to disappoint you on that one.
Johnny: No. I understand. Diane Simmons was killed off in the episode “And Then There Were Fewer”. Are you still friends with Seth MacFarlane? I mean, like if he offered you a guest role in the upcoming series he’s executive-producing for Starz, Blunt Talk, would you work with him?
Lori: Oh, absolutely. I couldn’t be closer to his sister. I loved his family and his parents. I wish his mom were around. She was just terrific. I think the absolute world of Seth, and his talent is like no other. He is the most amazing musical theater guy, so we have that in common. I remember when he first moved to L.A. We obviously knew other. I remember he got this big house, and he was like, “Oh my God, I don’t know what I’m doing here”. You know what I mean? I would go over there and sit and listen to him play the piano, just a huge-hearted and huge-talented lovely guy. He’s just so talented and so smart, and he just loves what he does. There’s something to be said for someone who is not jaded and just loves what they do. He loves what he does. He’s generous and loyal and I love the guy.
Johnny: Sounds good. Another role you’ve held for a long time has been that of Pearl on SpongeBob SquarePants.
Lori: Yes. I love her. I love Pearl. I think she’s like the craziest kid that won’t ever grow up. I love her so much.
Johnny: What’s been the most rewarding part of working on that show?
Lori: I think it’s that we still go in together. I just did SpongeBob last week. We go in together and we get to do it with each other, so every time we record, unless you do a pick-up, there’s rarely a time when we are not doing even a pick-up line together because you’ll always do a pick-up line when you’re in a session. That is absolutely the best part, that you come out of there like “WHEE!”, a dose of endorphin. You’re in there together, and there is literally nothing more fun or rewarding then just sitting and cracking up and working together all day. You get to play off each other, so that’s basically how we did “Fantastic Four”, too. You’re not just going in there and doing your lines one-off. You’re actually recording together the whole story, the whole episode together. You couldn’t ask for anything more fun.
Johnny: Definitely. SpongeBob SquarePants has been known for getting some interesting guest stars. Which of them was your favorite to work with?
Lori: Maybe Tim Conway.
Johnny: Did you do any episodes with Ernest Borgnine when he appeared as Mermaid Man?
Lori: I, personally, did not. I only heard just amazing things. I think I knew him from some of the SAG-AFTRA days when I was on the board. I met him that way a time or two. He was a very passionate, loyal to his performers kind of guy, and I just remember watching him growing up, too, so it was just nice to be mentioned in the same cast list sometimes. That’s pretty cool.
Johnny: Jumping back to live-action, in 2001, you played Harmony in the movie The Fluffer. What was your favorite part of working on that movie?
Lori: It was that they just let me improvise the entire thing, pretty much. I played a yoga instructor, and I’m a pretty healthy, yoga-practicing kind of gal. I got to sing this crazy meditative incantation to let my yoga students relax. They were like, “Man, those improv skills come in handy”. That was really fun. I got to sit in the lotus position and take everybody through this really ridiculous, but fun, and pretty real meditative thing. It was just a hippie-dippy groovy thing, and I remember the script supervisor. I was like, “I’m so sorry, I just totally messed up. I didn’t stick to the lines”, and he said, “No, we’re fine. We’re good. We’re just going to go with what you gave us because it was better than whatever we had”, so that was really fun.
Johnny: The late Taylor Negron played Tony Brooks in that movie. What was your favorite memory of him?
Lori: I didn’t get to work with him, which is such a bummer. I did not get to work with him. He is one of my comedic idols. I would’ve given anything to work with him.
Johnny: I actually did an interview with him five years ago. I was doing interviews through e-mail at the time, and even though I was doing them through e-mail, he was gracious enough with his time to answer my questions.
Lori: Oh, that’s so wonderful.
Johnny: He was a very cool guy.
Johnny: Although much of your voice-over work has been comedic, some of it has been serious, and one of the best examples of that is voicing The Boss in several of the Metal Gear Solid games.
Lori: Yeah, I loved that character.
Johnny: When voicing the character, did you experience any sadness or anger when playing her?
Lori: Oh, yeah. Because you’re in there by yourself for video games, it’s very intense. You’re in there for a long time and you’re in there without a partner to act off of, so in comes the ability to be a voice actor. It’s intense, so you experience this wide range of emotions in a concentrated period of time, especially that character. She had a love affair with Snake, so it’s very intense. I remember coming home, just being drained, incredibly drained, because she has a lot going on emotionally, as a soldier, as a lover, as an ex-lover. It’s very intense. She’s got a lot going on in her story as a woman and as a soldier. The actual session itself, the way the games are designed, just as a character…It’s very intense and you have to do the lines over and over again. With the battle scenes, your voice gets tired as well. That franchise, though, I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of.
Johnny: In 2005, you appeared as Valerie Esposito in the CSI episode “Still Life”. Three years later, you voiced several characters in the CSI: New York computer game. Did the CSI creative team remember you from your episode when casting the game?
Lori: Good question. I believe not. The on-camera world and the voice-over world, in regards to that game, are two very different worlds, in terms of the franchise of CSI. I could be wrong, but I doubt they’re the same. I think they were different enough characters that I played that I don’t think it was tied in to the character I played, if I recall correctly. Since I just did a guest-starring role, it wasn’t like I was a series regular. I don’t think that would’ve been a direct correlation.
Johnny: You originated the role of Mae in Reefer Madness: The Musical.
Lori: My favorite theater role ever. We just did a reunion show, 17 years later, last month at 54 Below, which was incredible, and it will probably head back to Broadway. My favorite thing ever.
Johnny: When you first came across the script, what thoughts came to mind?
Lori: There was the movie of it from 1936. I thought how brilliant of a script that my now dear friends Kevin Murphy and Dan Stedney had written. I love anything from that sort of era, the old school 30s, 40s, 50s. I love that throwback stuff and I was thinking how brilliant the script was in general, and just what a great statement they were making about how ludicrous William Randolph Hearst and others propagandized so much of what was going on at that time. It was so brilliant, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. I was like, “Man, I’ve got to get this part”. I worked on it and I coached, and I’m a firm believer in coaching. You’ve got to stay in acting class if you want to keep your instruments. I have a voice lesson on Friday. I remember being so excited at the thought of wanting to get that role because it was such a well-written script, and it’s now like “Rocky Horror”. It’s a hugely, insanely popular show that has a following all over the world. There’s been productions all over the world. We did a reunion concert just recently with the intentions of heading back to Broadway again. When they did it before, it happened around 9/11, so hopefully we’ll head back when times are not so challenging and things are a little better for the American public at large.
Johnny: What was your favorite song to sing from that musical?
Lori: My song. It’s called “The Stuff”. I love, love, love, love my solo. It’s probably one of the best things. There’s also a song from that show called The Orgy. That’s probably my second favorite song. It sounds strange out of context, but maybe it’ll make people go listen to the music.
Johnny: In 2008, you gained your first Pixar credit with the movie WALL-E. When working on the movie, did you have any idea it would become the modern classic it has?
Lori: When I stepped into the Pixar family, I knew that I had hit the jackpot. Knowing and viewing some of the Pixar films before then, I walked into the Disney sound stage with such gratitude, and I knew that whatever was going to happen was going to be incredible, as is every single film they’ve ever done. I knew that I was going to be a part of something great. I need to tell you that I have to hop off because I have to go into the booth in about ten minutes. I just wanted to make you aware of that.
Johnny: Okay, I’ll skip ahead a couple of questions. Soon you’ll be heard in Pixar’s Inside Out. With many critics saying this is the best Pixar picture since Toy Story 3, what would you consider to be the best?
Lori: One of my favorites is Finding Nemo. All the Toy Story films are gorgeous. Now this film could possibly be my favorite. I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Visually, to watch it is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The story is beautiful. The story of Riley, the young girl, taken out of her home and having to move to San Francisco and having to deal with her emotions, and the parents having to deal with THEIR emotions, and then as a family unit having to deal with their emotions…You just have to experience it when you see it and how all of us have to feel our emotions. All of our emotions are necessary, even the really bad ones. Not just sadness, which is for the kids in the movie, but as adults we can relate to grief and despair and anguish and denial and all those kind of things that are not in the movie, but I can relate to them as an adult, that are just necessary. I think a lot of kids can relate to that. I read an article somewhere that this one little boy, I’m not sure if he’d seen the movie yet, but he said I’m afraid to swim or dive into the pool, I can’t remember which, but he said “It’s just fear”, and he went ahead and he dove in. I think it will just be so helpful for kids and families in general to communicate better and have their feelings valid, and not only, but necessary.
Johnny: That’s fantastic. Just two more questions: You returned to the Law And Order franchise in the Law And Order: L.A episode “Benedict Canyon”, playing Robbi Nathan. The episode was based on the murder of publicist Ronni Chasen. With the projects you’ve worked on, had you ever crossed paths with Ms. Chasen before her untimely death?
Lori: No, I had not. My publicist is a man and he has a very different personality, but it was interesting because all those “Law And Order” shows really are ripped from the headlines, and just knowing we live in a world where some crazy stuff happens was kind of intense. In that episode, I got to work with Alfred Molina. My scenes with him were really awesome, and to come full-circle, of course, with Law And Order was incredible. That is such a timeless show. You know, all the Law And Order spin-offs, SVU, et cetera, are sort of like the Pixar of on-camera, so that was a real honor. I had not met her, but I certainly was well aware of who I was playing and what had been ripped from the headlines and the gravity of the story at hand.
Johnny: And now for my final question. This is the one I end every interview with: If you could go back to your youth with the knowledge that you have now, would you do anything differently?
Lori: Wow. I would tell myself to not care what other people think, and when little kids want to bully you and make fun of you, it’s because they’re insecure about something of their own selves. I would say to my younger self that whatever they’re thinking is their business. I would tell the young me not to worry so much. I would thank my parents even more, because they would always encourage me to be an actor. They were actors themselves, voice actors and on-stage actors, and I tell them now all the time, I would say “I love you” more often. I say that now all the time. I have such amazing support from my family and friends. I would just say to not be afraid so much, and I would say to myself, “To all the people who told me I couldn’t, to all the people who bullied and picked on me, that’s their problem, not mine”.
Johnny: Excellent advice. On that note, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It’s been an honor.
Lori: Thank you so much. You are so sweet. Would you like to pick one or two more questions that pop up real quick?
Johnny: Okay, one more: In 2010, you appeared in the Los Angeles production of The Pee-Wee Herman Show and the Funny Or Die promotional short “Pee-Wee Gets An iPad”, voicing Chairry in both. What was Paul Reubens like to work with?
Lori: He is still a dear friend. Working with Paul Reubens was absolutely astounding. First of all, when you asked me one of the first questions about the shows that I grew up watching, The Pee-Wee Herman Show was that. I remember my audition experience along because I recall that the part required being Miss Yvonne’s understudy. Lynne Marie Stewart is one of the kindest, most lovely people in the world, and she’s also a comedic icon and genius. I remember, when I walked into my audition, I was dressed like Miss Yvonne, you know, crazy crinoline and all that, and I did all these characters. Paul was just like “Thank you”. I said “Hello, Pee-Wee” and he said “Hello, Miss Yvonne”, and we were like fast friends. We had to go into rehearsal really quick, and I remember thinking I could barely concentrate, knowing I was in the same room with him, but he could not be more kind and animal-loving. I’m a big animal person, a big animal activist and advocate, and he could not have been kinder. My dog got attacked, right as we were about to open the show, and he was absolutely lovely. He’s just a genius and how he could kind of translate the show that he was trying to recreate from the 80s, the show that he did at the Roxy, and put in this larger venue…The tickets sold out so quickly that we had to do it at Club Nokia, which is downtown here in Los Angeles. People were freaking out, so to be part of a show that I grew up watching, and to have an opportunity to work with him was unbelievable. He is generous and wonderful, and talk about somebody who is a wonderful dramatic actor. He is so talented. He couldn’t be a nicer, terrific person, and I knew that I was being part of history. The show was so cool that we needed to let the audience have a moment to freak out, because if we’d opened the curtains and started the show in Pee-Wee’s playhouse that people would just freak out. Paul went out and he did the Pledge Of Allegiance, so that people could get their “AAAAAHHHHH”, just get their energy out. He would go out and do that first, and then come back, and we’d be like (Chairry voice) “Good morning, Pee-Wee”, and we would do the flowers and we would welcome him into the playhouse and start that way, because otherwise the people would not be able to concentrate.
Lori: It was incredible to be in a room with this genius. We were in a tight rehearsal space. He’s very meticulous, too, very meticulous about each and every thing, as you would if you had known those characters for over thirty years as he had. He had some of his friends who had been with him since the very beginning were in the cast, like Phil LaMarr, he’s a good friend of mine, and Drew Powell. He was wonderful enough to keep a cool head if we were trying to create what he had done in the past. That was one of my favorite experiences. Probably my other favorite experience besides…Actually, it goes hand-in-hand with Reefer Madness as my favorite theater experience.
Johnny: On that note, I know you have things to do, and let me say one more time that it’s been an honor to speak to you, and I look forward to more of your material. I’m actually going to be seeing Inside Out next week.
Lori: Oh, wonderful. Thank you.
Johnny: Absolutely, and I thank you. I hope you have a fantastic day.
Lori: You as well, and thank you so much for having me.
I would like to thank Lori Alan for taking the time to speak to me, and I would like to thank her publicist, Danny Deraney, for setting the interview up. For more on Lori Alan, visit her official website at LoriAlan.com and her official Facebook fan page.
There are more interviews coming soon, so keep your eyes on this page, and thanks for flashing back with me once more.