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Exclusive Interview: Hoon Lee Talks 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' TV Show

Hoon Lee, the voice of Splinter, talks about the classic franchise's stellar new TV show.

The heroes in a half shell have returned to TV and thankfully the show is rather awesome so far! We're only a few episodes in and the Nick show has already been renewed for a second season. The reboot provides a familiar yet fun take on Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird's creation while paying respect to the source and bringing back quite a few familiar faces.

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What's especially surprising are the big laughs Splinter can deliver and we had the chance to chat with Hoon Lee, Splinter's voice, about the show and why it's worth watching.

Comic Vine: How did you prepare for the role?

Hoon Lee: The key thing that I was told early on in the process was that they had a different visual for Splinter than what had come before. They wanted him to kind of be younger, more vigorous; opening that door to different kinds of interactions he can have with the Turtles. That took a lot of pressure off because I didn’t have to do a ton of historical research to figure out an angle! (laughs)

In reading some of the scripts, it became clear to me he had a sense of authority, a sense of power about him, but also a great sense of humor which I thought was really key and allows him to kind of fit in with the rest. So in terms of preparation, I would really just say it was about trying to pay attention to what the overall dynamic was of all the characters.

CV: Have you watched any of the previous Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoons?

HL: I have! Actually, my first recollections are from the original comics which I grew up reading. I saw the original cartoon more than any of the other series so it was a huge thrill to come work on this one. I have to say that I've been so, so pleased with how its turned out. They've done an amazing bringing it to life.

== TEASER ==

CV: How would you say the new show differs from the previous ones?

HL: The action is really spectacular in our show. The way the action sequences are animated is incredibly exciting. I told Ciro [Nieli] the greatest compliment I can pay him is that I'd want to watch the show now. Even if I wasn't involved I would watch the show. And the inclusions of different animation styles and cultural references I think is really key in giving it a more modern feel without having to do too much to the characters.

I think a lot of the time when people do reboots or try to reinvigorate a franchise they look to change core components of the characters; things that are actually what makes them successful in the first place. I think Ciro's held onto what was key about all these great characters and he also used the technical execution of the show as a way to bring in a new perspective.

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CV: What would you say to the people still on the fence about the show or think it's made just for kids?

HL: The only thing you can really ask them to do is try it. I'm not gonna tell anybody that they have an incorrect position but I think it's unfair to judge something unless you've actually seen it. If they see it and still believe so, there's really nothing that can be done. I will say, though, if you speak to the creative team behind it and you speak to the cast... Greg Cipes was a total Ninja Turtles disciple, Rob Paulsen was the voice of the original Raphael, and Ciro grew up loving this franchise. I can't imagine a group of people that would have more interest of the core characters at heart. I think they're very careful about their responsibility.

I would say the things that are changed are changed in a way to enhance the stuff that's already a part of the whole story line. I think that if you are really, really worried about it being geared towards young kids, I'd say you just have to watch it. There's a layer where young kids will enjoy certain aspects of it and I think there's a layer where young adults will enjoy different aspects of it. I think that's a really hard thing to do, but when that happens it's extremely powerful. It makes the story and the show resonate.

CV: Like you said, this new take on Splinter definitely has a lot more humor to him, especially when it comes to his words of wisdom. Do you have a favorite line from Splinter so far?

HL: To be honest, it's the simple "yes and no" which happens in the pilot. Not to get all crazy Zen and stuff, It's really powerful. It's a powerful because it shows Splinter has no problem holding two opinions at once. Not being wishy-washy, but understanding there's not necessarily a contradiction in holding opposing positions. I love the fact that Splinter doesn't necessarily give you the answer. That to me makes him more of a father and less of a teacher. I think a father's responsibility is to help their children grow up to make their own decisions. A teacher's mentality is to simply equip you with skills or equip you with knowledge. So we made a very strong push to emphasis it's family connection between Splinter and the Turtles and I think that's a key component. So "yes and no" is really simple but it's really powerful in a way.

CV: Is there anything you can tease about the show's future?

HL: All I can say is first seasons, if anything, are huge learning processes. I think that the second season, from what I've seen thus far, is gearing up to be even better. The first season is laying a lot of groundwork, and the second really lets the characters breathe and move into the space. I really can't tell you some of the stuff that's coming down the pipes but it's really awesome. I will tell you that the team is not resting on their laurels at all. If anything, they're working harder and I think the great wealth the show has had is invigorating. I think it has given them a huge push to make sure the second season is even better.

CV: If you could describe Splinter in one word, what would it be?

HL: (laughs) Oh man, that's not fair! One word... man, I think I'd have to go with... daddy (laughs). Daddy takes care of things. Who's your daddy?

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CV: Is there anywhere you'd like to see them go with Splinter as the show progresses?

HL: Well, some of they stuff they've laid out in season one which gets into the origin story -- the relationship between Splinter and Shredder -- I think is really amazing and I think there's even further to go with that. There was always this tension before where Splinter was older and frailer... it was a little like Episode 4 in Star Wars where you have old Ben Kenobi and then you have Darth Vader which just looks like the Terminator. You kind of go "he's not gonna win this one!" I think setting up the history between these two characters is hugely rich and something I'd like to explore more and see how they can play it out. There's a question to be asked when Splinter is more physically capable, which is why doesn't he go out with the Turtles? Why doesn't he go up to the surface as much as they do? I think that question is really intriguing for the character. Before, that question was less of an issue because he was less capable.

CV: If you had to pick a favorite Turtle, who would it be and why?

HL: (laughs) Man, you know, it's kind of a cliche answer at this point but I think I gotta go with Michelangelo. He's a blast to watch on the show. Greg's work is fantastic. I think there's something great about Greg's take on Michelangelo. The fun loving quality is still there, the wild quality is still there; but there's a real purity to him. There's this kind of real freedom to the character that I enjoy. For me, that's mostly because Splinter's always manifesting so much more control, but I really dig how great, how funny, how loose that character is.

CV: Yeah, he's really stolen the spotlight in the previous two episodes.

HL: It makes perfect sense. He's given a lot of comedy in the show, which is always helpful to bring a character forward. I think Greg's work on him is great. I do think that he's one of those characters that a lot of people identify with. They're either like him, they know somebody that's like him or they want to be like him -- that kind of wild, fun loving, crazy quality. When it comes to Turtles people identify with, I'd probably identify the most strongly with Donatello. I think a lot of people who grew up with comics and sci-fi do.

CV: Is there anything else you'd like to say about the show?

HL: As an actor, sometimes you get good projects, sometimes you get projects that are a little more questionable and sometimes you get ones that are downright bad and you don't tell your friends you're in them. I can say I have rarely been more proud about a project in my career. Partially because of my history with comics, this franchise and these characters. But it's also because of the high level of execution and the obvious care and passion that gets put into it. I just really hope that when people, if they come from the history of it, that they'll approach it with an open mind. I just think it's an amazing show and it makes me really happy that I can be a part of it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles airs every Saturday morning at 11am on Nickelodeon.