John DiMaggio on returning for Futurama Season 11: ‘It’s like riding a bike, you know? Bender is in my DNA’
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“When I first started Futurama, I had a lot of Bender-like tendencies,” says John DiMaggio, speaking about his return as the voice of Bender in Futurama’s 11th season, nearly twenty-five years since the show first began. “Now, I feel like I’m the dad of that guy. It’s been such a long, wonderful trip with this character, and I love it.”
In this interview (conducted prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike), John DiMaggio discussed how it felt to return for a new season of Futurama, explaining how the series has evolved over the past 24 years – and how it’s stayed exactly the same, too. DiMaggio goes on to detail the challenges that came with recording new episodes during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as revealing what it was like to get back into character again after a decade away as Bender.
So: a new series of Futurama. How does it feel to be back?
It’s been 24 years since we started Futurama and it feels wild to still be doing the show and to see the fanbase grow. It’s incredible. There are new people finding out about this show constantly, which is just a trip. When something comes back to life like this so many times, you learn to never say never. Over the years, Futurama has come back in so many different ways, including straight-to-DVD movies and an audio book/podcast project. We’ve done it all and it’s been lovely. It’s incredible to come back and do more because I love it and it’s very dear to me.
What were you thinking when the first scripts started to come through for Season 11?
I thought, ‘We haven’t missed a step.’ It’s like putting on your favourite pair of jeans. It’s really something. I thought, ‘Oh, man. We are back in it and it’s going to be funny. It’s going to be great and I’m excited.’
What is it about the show that people respond to, do you think? Why does it keep coming back?
I think it is because there’s something in it for everyone. It’s fully inclusive. Plus, the writing is fantastic and there are so many great characters in it. I think the love story – not only between Fry and Leela, but also between Fry and Bender – has got so much to offer. It is also a parody of one of the greatest cities in the world, New York. Every good show has a place where it resides that eventually becomes a character within the show itself. Well, New New York is that. I think people love the show for all these reasons.
What should people expect from Series 11 – has the show changed at all in the decade since it was last on?
You can expect a lot of laughs. The show is as funny as hell and your favourite characters are back, including your favourite side characters. When you look at Batman in 1966, you know how you’d get excited when you saw Batgirl show up in the story? Well, every episode of Futurama is like that. We have all sorts of characters coming in and saying hi from the Futurama universe. This is 10 all-new episodes, and it’s crazy and it’s fun. I’m really excited because we haven’t lost our step. This is up there. It’s as funny as hell and that’s why we all keep coming back.
The writers always manage to somehow be on the cutting edge, much like The Simpsons. You often read news stories about The Simpsons where they say, “The Simpsons predicted this happening many years ago.” Well, we have the same pedigree of writers, so they’re right on top of everything, too. It is incredible how timely they can be. It’s amazing. They are always right on it. They are all over the zeitgeist and they include it in the show.
In terms of your performance, what was it like coming back to the role – was it easy to get back into character again?
It’s very easy. It comes right back. It’s something that I’ve cultivated over the years. Even before Futurama, it was a voice that I had in my back pocket that I always played with. I always cracked up my friends with it. It needed a little tweaking for the role, but it was there already because I’ve been doing it for a long time. Sometimes it’s like riding a bike, you know? With Bender, it’s in my DNA.
What’s the recording process like for Futurama?
We used to record our lines together as a cast in a studio all day. We’d go in from 9am to 1pm and from 2pm to 6pm, with a lunch break in the middle. We’d have as much of an ensemble record as we could. We’d switch people out depending on the cast for each particular show and the line load for everybody. And depending on everyone’s schedule, some people would read their lines solo. For example, if Katey Sagal [Leela] was working on other shows, she would come in and record her lines solo – but we’d try to record as a group whenever we could.
Presumably the recording for Season 11 was a little different, though?
We recorded Season 11 during the COVID scare, so we had pandemic rules and some of the shows had to be recorded at home. Well, it depended on your setup at home. My setup wasn’t good enough for Futurama, so I had to go in and record separately. The good thing is the fact that we’ve recorded together as a group for so many years that we all know how to anticipate what the other person is going to do with their lines. We know what it’s going to sound like. Even if the other person isn’t there, you can imagine it and you can hear them saying it.
At a certain point, we started to record together again – but in separate areas of the studio. We would all be in the building, but we’d be divvied up in different sections. You could have two people in the main room completely social distanced from each other and then have three other people in separate recording booths with the door shut. I guess you could call them isolation booths, but everybody would be there. It was a little different, but we had all sorts of scenarios as far as that was concerned. When it comes to recording, the ensemble recordings are the best because that’s when the magical stuff happens. We’ll all be laughing and joking in between takes. It’s always brilliant.
Finally, then: what’s it like for you to be back as Bender for Season 11?
It’s amazing to be around this family of people that I’ve gotten to know for 24 years. We started in 1999, although production even started before that. Bender has been my best friend and my greatest gift. We share a lot. When I first started Futurama, I had a lot of Bender-like tendencies, but now I feel like I’m the dad of that guy. It’s been such a long, wonderful trip with this character and I love it. It’s honestly been the greatest gift to do this and people really love it, so it’s a joy to bring it back to people. It’s going be so sweet.
Futurama Season 11 is available now on Disney+, with new episodes airing each week. You can read more of our coverage of Futurama here.
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