by Tim Eldred
Eddie Allen, voice of Desslok
Derek Wildstar and his arch rival Emperor Desslok returned in April 2003 for a brief appearance on Planet Earth.
For the first time in over 20 years, actors Ken Meseroll and Eddie Allen reprised their roles as the all-time fan favorite Star Blazers characters Wildstar and Desslok in a special project for Voyager Entertainment. It was my distinct pleasure to help orchestrate this event, and it was the first chance I’d gotten to visit with these two gentlemen since conducting the interviews in 2001 that appeared on the DVDs for The Comet Empire.
When Voyager asked me to participate in a special project that would get me in the same room with Ken and Eddie again, I naturally jumped at the chance. Like so many others, I spent a good chunk of my adolescence watching, listening, and digesting Star Blazers and ruminating on the show long after turning off the TV. When the picture vanishes, you’re left with impressions, and the spoken word can echo very loudly. It’s the sign of a good performance indeed when the words can be remembered as fondly as the pictures. The thought that I might one day be in a position to continue the experience in person didn’t even enter my head, but here I am with this little story to tell.
This project required both Ken and Eddie to recapture the roles that made them famous, at least among Star Blazers fans, by recording all-new lines of dialogue that would be used as greetings for Star Blazers prepaid phone cards. (Now mostly replaced by mobile phones, they would allow you to pay for calls made on public phones.) It was my responsibility to write those greetings and supervise the recording process. I spent a happy weekend scanning through DVDs and building up mini-audio archives onto cassette tapes that would serve as a guide for both scriptwriting and voice inflection. This gave me a chance to skim the first two Star Blazers series again, and pick out lines that defined each characters’ range. Once again, I was reminded of the exceptional craftsmanship that went into the show.
I also have a regular job in TV animation (as a storyboard artist and director) and I’ve had some first-hand experience with the ins and outs of casting and voice acting. It isn’t as easy as it looks or sounds. A good casting agent works hand in hand with a good producer to find and identify exactly the right people for the role. This isn’t just based on a quick impression or a gut feeling, there’s also a lot to watch out for on the technical side.
Someone who delivers a good audition may not turn out to have the range or professionalism you were looking for. A very experienced actor who has done well in other mediums may be completely lost when all the performance energy has to go into the voice. You also need to make sure the voices that end up in the show don’t end up sounding like each other. A mistake can cost you dearly once a production gets underway and you find out too late that someone wasn’t right for the role. Not having been there for the casting of Star Blazers, I can only guess what it was like in 1979, but the demands haven’t changed that much, so we can all continue to be amazed at how perfect the choices were and how well they still hold up.
Ken Meseroll, voice of Wildstar
Ken and Eddie may disagree; good actors tend to be humble and to understate their past work. Plus, when that work goes back far enough, re-experiencing it can be like opening up a high school yearbook. This seemed to be the case, at least with Ken. We had gathered in a little recording studio in Hollywood one spring evening with the mission of recording a few minutes of new material, all within the space of an hour. The first step was to review the cassette recordings I had made in order to get back into the old groove. It was the first time Ken had heard himself as Wildstar in quite a while, and he was rather amazed at how much younger he sounded. He and Eddie also had a good time remembering little things about the way Star Blazers was recorded, and the unusual demands of lip-synching to a foreign film. By the time Ken took his place behind the microphone, all the geezer jokes had been exhausted, and he was ready to go.
It took a few trial runs to find the right range and pitch, which oddly turned out to be lower than we all expected. When I scripted the lines for Ken to read, I chose a lot of key phrases and specific words that came up often in Wildstar’s dialogue. They turned out to be good choices, because when the pitch was finally found, no doubt remained that this was the hero we all wanted to be 20-odd years ago. While voice-directing, it’s often a good idea to keep your eyes closed so you aren’t distracted by your surroundings, and it reminded me an awful lot of that rumination I described earlier. It was wonderful to hear two decades dissolve away.
Eddie was next up, and he was visibly eager to sink his teeth back into Desslok. It came out in our 2001 interview that this was a singular role for Eddie, and the only over-the-top villain he has ever been asked to play. If this was meant to be the case, then he could hardly have found a better villain. Just as Darth Vader is the most popular character from that other “Star” series, Desslok can’t help but emerge time and again as the fan favorite in Star Blazers. Eddie’s take on the voice was so unusual and brilliant (and it came out of a whim, which is even more loveable) that he added an entirely new dimension that even the original Japanese voice didn’t capture. I suspect Desslok’s elegant arrogance and genre-defying lilt will fascinate viewers for years to come.
It didn’t hurt our project at all that in the years since Star Blazers, Eddie has occasionally done the Desslok thing for fun. On more than one occasion, someone or other has spotted “Desslok” on Eddie’s resume and looked at him with their mouth in the shape of a perfect O. This is usually all the prodding it takes to get a Desslok line out of Eddie for one basic reason: he likes doing it. And who wouldn’t, for gosh sakes? We all had a blast listening to him, especially Ken, and it was evident afterward that Eddie would like nothing more than to revive this role again in some future time. I sure hope he gets the chance.
Listen to the phone card greetings recorded by Ken and Eddie as Derek Wildstar and Desslok (MP3 format):
Derek Wildstar greeting
Special thanks to Chris Buckmister