LRM Exclusive Interview: David Graham for Amazon’s THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO

– by Gig Patta

The Thunderbirds are back.

Season Two of the revived Amazon’s THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO continues the adventures of the family of heroes, International Rescue. The series highlights the five brave Tracy brothers and their covert operative Kayo and how they pilot their remarkable, cutting-edge Thunderbird vehicles to perform near-impossible rescue mission, from the depths of the oceans to the highest reaches of space.

Produced by ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures with Weta Workshop, the series is made with a mixture of CGI animation and live-action model sets—paying tribute to the old fans of the shows and attracting a new generation to the Thunderbirds.

LRM had a phone interview earlier this month with voice actor David Graham, who is reprising his role as Agent Parker from the original series. We had an extensive talk over the show—both the original and the new show. It was also fun to reminisce about his experiences on the original show.

Both seasons of THUNDERBIRDS A GO is currently available on Amazon Prime. It is also available as part of Amazon Free Time Unlimited, the all-you-can-watch subscription service designed for kids. It is available exclusively on Amazon devices including on Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets.

Read the interview transcript below.

David Graham: Hello! I’m in cold London in a warm sitting room. Where are you? Are you in California?

LRM: I am in California. That is an excellent guess!

David Graham: I was there in the spring when I was promoting Amazon Prime with the new series.

LRM: At WonderCon! How was that?

David Graham: Yes. It was great! They made a big fuss of me. They treated me very well. They took me around in nice cars and placed me in a nice hotel. No complaints as we say.

LRM: How did it feel to be a rock star again in front of fans?

David Graham: [Laughter] We weren’t in a fan situation. We were in a room mainly with media outlets. We were giving interviews for mostly for the day.

LRM: Oh, I see. This THUNDERBIRDS show is pretty exciting for you. How does it feel to return to something like this after many, many decades?

David Graham: Well, it just feels wonderful. In wasn’t in my wildest dreams that it would come back after all these years. I got a call from ITV, a big production company in London. Two executives came up to meet me where I live. They were checking me out to see if I was still in one piece. They said that they love to have me aboard. Of course, I was thrilled.

I had no difficulty in recreating this voice that became very well known over the years. This is a lovable old rogue of Parker.

LRM: That is a very good question. It had been a while since you voiced Parker. How did you manage to recreate the voice or are we going to notice slight changes?

David Graham: The character is in my DNA. He is part of me. My voice had slightly changed over the years since obviously I’m decades older. My voice still maintained a good quality. It hadn’t aged like voices usually do. I had no difficulty in getting back to what I did fifty years ago. The basis of the character is with comedy and villainy with rather tortuous accent is still the same.

LRM: Has it really been fifty years? Wow!

David Graham: Yeah, yeah! It was in the early 1960s. I worked for Gerry Anderson for many years on other series. They are different series with space crafts. THUNDERBIRDS was the fifth series I’ve done for him.

So it was a long time ago. In each series, the technology got better and better. Especially with THUNDERBIRDS, it was brilliant. It had spacewalks before NASA did spacewalks. It had high-speed cameras. They had a wonderful special effects guy named Derek Meddings, who went on to work on STAR WARS.

LRM: You must’ve been thrilled to revisit this Parker character then.

David Graham: Oh, yeah! An actor likes working. Although I got a lot of work in television, theater and stage work with well-known people, in my latter years, it was my voicework that I had a gift for. It seems that it had taken over. That’s fine with me.

I was even in a famous series roundabout before THUNDERBIRDS with DR. WHO, you see. I created the Dalek voices.

LRM: Oh, yeah. I think I did read something about that.

David Graham: It was another iconic series. It’s still very famous in Britain, but also in the United States as well.

Now why THUNDERBIRDS have wonderful appeal—it’s a family show. The basic premise of the series is the same as it was before. The technology had improved. The space vehicles had improved. Tracy Island is still there. Although there is a lot of “bang-banging,” there is no gratuitous violence.

There is so much violence in the world today. It’s nice to translate it into the world of fantasy with humor and suspense. These are with good scripts, of course. Actors are nowhere without a good script.

LRM: Tell me why Parker, as a character, is such a lovable character.

David Graham: I wish I knew. I think a lovable old rogue is very appealing. The basic voice is based on a guy when Gerry Anderson took me to lunch in a pub/restaurant near the studio. This old character came up to the table. [Changes to an older voice] “Would you like to see the wine list, sir?” That was indeed the basis of Parker.

So I don’t really know the answer. But, it is a formula that works. It’s like Einstein’s formula—then it works—it is great!

LRM: Did you ever get to meet your waiter again? [Laughter] Did you have a chance to inform him that you based your voice on him?

David Graham: No. I don’t think he realized it. I think he is no longer with us. I don’t think he realized he became the basis of a very popular piece of family entertainment. I am indebted to him. He is Gerry Anderson’s favorite character. I did four series before THUNDERBIRDS. They all had these vehicles, rescues, heroes and villains. Of course, the ultimate was with the THUNDERBIRDS.

The technology was amazing for its time. It was definitely revolutionary.

LRM: It had been several decades since the original THUNDERBIRDS came out. Do you believe the new generation of children will enjoy this new version of THUNDERBIRDS now?

David Graham: Well, I think so since it’s been proven by the viewing figures. In the new series, we just finished the second season. Now we’re looking at a third season. Amazon Prime had picked it up. I’ve done so many video interviews in America recently. I think it had become very popular in America. It’s great all around. It’s proof that you have good quality entertainment—it lasts.

LRM: Tell me about the storyline that made it so popular. So the adventures, rescues and technologies are pretty much the same?

David Graham: It’s exactly the same with the sons, space vehicles, Tracy Island and all the launches. Then there’s the music, although it had changed. [Changes his voice] “Five…..four…..three…..two…..one!” It still has that repeated voice, which still is the same. There is still the humor with Parker. There is that relationship with Lady Penelope, who is now voiced by the lovely Rosamund Pike. It has this certain chemistry that had appealed to so many people, which is very gratifying.

LRM: When you were in the studio, were you there with Rosamund Pike at the time? Or were you voicing everything on your own?

David Graham: She’s always very, very busy filming. She was in New Mexico recently and then off to Africa. She was in the studio about a few weeks ago. We record everything as a play. We gather together in a studio in Central London. Then they record our voices and dubbed them into these puppets later on.

She is a professional and very delightful to work with. There is no star nonsense with her. She is such a true good professional.

LRM: Sounds like you folks mainly stuck by the script. There’s not too much improv, am I correct?

David Graham: No, no. We don’t improvise. We might change a line. I might translate something into more Parker for a more thematic speech. The scripts are usually not set in stone, but they are very well constructed. Plots are very, very good.

They are all basically about international rescues and getting emergency calls. Their aircraft will take off and the baddies will get it in the end. Then the emergency is resolved. The scripts take place in outer space or other parts of the world that has an emergency.

They e-mail me the scripts. I will go through them and study them. Sometimes I have a lot to do. Sometimes I don’t have so much to do. And sometimes they write in another character, which may appear in another script. It may be in American accent, because I trained in America. In fact, it was New York as an actor. I have a good ear for accents. They may need an American baddie or an America-type character. Sometimes a British character or a different foreign character. I’m up for anything that is thrown at me.

LRM: If I read your biography correctly, you did voice dozens of characters on the old TV series.

David Graham: Literally, dozens. I always had this gift. It doesn’t make you a good actor, but I have a good ear for accents. Sometimes I had a page of script with three different characters. I had to change my vocal range or accent with a pause between each character. You’ll get used to that. It’s part of the actor’s job.

LRM: How do you keep it all organized and straight with all these different characters? We’re talking about dozens of these characters.

David Graham: It’s a technique. It takes years and years of experience. I used to do radio plays for the BBC for all sorts of parts. It grows with you out of the long years of experience. I don’t want to talk myself up. I’m just lucky I have this gift for a range of voices and accents. It had really held me in good stead as well as in my career of theater and television over the years.

LRM: With this new series, did you also have to voice more characters? Or Parker was the only one they needed you for?

David Graham: Parker is the main one. Sometimes they’ll ask me to do a guest character in the series. My American is quite good. I play American parts now and again. Mainly, I do the voice of Parker. In the original series, I did the voice of Gordon and Brains. They’re played by different actors now.

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LRM: Do you miss working with the original cast members of THUNDERBIRDS?

David Graham: I have very fond memories. They brought back Sylvia Anderson to reprise a character from the original series. And also one of the original sons was brought back.

The current voice actors are very good. As an actor, you’re always switching from one cast to the next. You just simply adapt. They’re all very nice to work with.

I’m still in touch with several members of the original series after all these years. I saw one of them for lunch a couple of months ago.

LRM: I remembered watching an episode a while back and the old shows used puppets. Now the new series are all CGI animation.

David Graham: That’s it. It does have its advantage. We’re talking about a difference of 55 years on. All the production techniques are much more sophisticated. The good thing about the new characters is that they could move. They could walk. They have more visual animation. The original screen puppets couldn’t walk. You have them leaving a shot and walking into another shot. They had its own charm.

The current series is more sophisticated and modern. The basic storyline is the same. A lot of the spacecraft is the same. The plotline of the adventures is the same. It’s the reason for the everlasting appeal.

LRM: I want your opinion on this. I thought the lure of THUNDERBIRDS were the puppets. Will animation still be a good attraction?

David Graham: It did have a huge following, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The new series is aimed at a new generation. The proof of the pudding is in the ratings now. We’re doing a second season now and quite possibly a third season. It has become very popular in America.

I’m not sure if the early string puppet series were ever shown in America. We only did do thirty-two episodes. We have already done over fifty episodes in the new series.

LRM: I’m just curious. How did you get your career started in acting? Was it with theater acting or with something else entirely?

David Graham: I was originally trained in a famous theater school called the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre. A famous actor, now sadly dead, Leslie Nielsen was in the class above me. This was in New York. I spent two happy years there.

Of course, I came back to London. When I first started, there were very little television. BBC had one channel. There was no commercial television. I did a lot of theater work outside of London. We called it repertory theater. You would go from one play to another. You’ll learn a new play a week or every other fortnight.

Then I started doing voicework for DR. WHO. I was fortunate enough to meet Gerry Anderson. And now the rest is history.

LRM: Out of all these acting experiences like theater, live acting, voice acting—which do you appreciate the most?

David Graham: I love every aspect of this business whether its stage, TV or film. It’s almost all the same. Although in voice acting, you’re in front of a mic. You just have to be committed, energized and real as if you were on the stage talking to a thousand people.

Every different medium of the business is a challenge. I managed to face these challenges and come out on the right side. I want all this to continue.

LRM: How long has been for your career? It’s obviously more than 50 years.

David Graham: Sixty years.

LRM: Over sixty years? Wow.

David Graham: I’m very lucky. I never smoked when I was young. I don’t think my voice would sound like it is today. Everyone smoked when I was a young person. My voice has been my fortune in many ways in theater and certainly on the voice side. I’ve been gifted by having a good ear for voices and accents.

There are many good actors who could do many good accents. I have the affinity to do that too. It’s been wonderful that I was able to continue. It’s just another string to my bow.

LRM: Absolutely. How do you keep this passion and endurance up? I don’t think Sean Connery was able to do that?

David Graham: I know. There are lots of problems in the world. There are too much violence. You are in the business in entertaining people, making people laugh, and taking their minds off their worries. It’s a wonderful profession to be in when you are giving people pleasure. There’s nothing better.

That’s what keeping me energized about the business. It keeps me going. It wouldn’t last forever, but life doesn’t last forever anyways. I intend to enjoy all of this as long as I can.

LRM: Do you by chance going to do anything for DR. WHO again? Or was that it?

David Graham: No, no. I did two live series. I did two series on screen. And one famous story called, “City of Death.” It was written by a well-known actor who moved to California. And even in one western series.

If I was invited back to do a part in an episode, then I’ll be more than willing. It hasn’t happened so far.

LRM: Could you talk about any other projects or future projects you may be involved with? You’re quite a busy man.

David Graham: I’m busy. There are some resting periods now and then. I do another famous series called PEPPA PIG. I’m a regular character in that series, which is very well known. It is shown in America and worldwide.

I still do some odd voicework. I’m about to do the CRUCIBLE story for the National Institute for the Blind. I’ll be reading for them.

I keep doing a varied amount of work. Not as much as I used to, but at my time of life—I’m privileged to be doing anything.

LRM: I do have one last questions for you. I’m just curious. Did you ever get to keep any of the old puppets from the original THUNDERBIRDS as a souvenir?

David Graham: Gig, I wished I had. I would be a rich man today. Gerry had a few, I think.

In fact, a fan made me a model in full uniform. It’s on my bookcase. I’m looking at it right now of Parker. He presented it to me. I was overwhelmed. It’s like the original Parker puppet in the old series.

I wished when the series ended that I’ve gone to the studio to acquire a couple of puppets. They’re very valuable now. There’s not many in existence.

LRM: This had been a pleasurable conversation. I wish for you to have a more enduring career for yourself.

David Graham: That’s very kind of you. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you. You’ve made this very painless.

LRM: [Laughter] You’re welcome. Thank you.

Both seasons of THUNDERBIRDS A GO is currently available on Amazon Prime. It is also available as part of Amazon Free Time Unlimited, the all-you-can-watch subscription service designed for kids. It is available exclusively on Amazon devices including on Amazon Fire TV and Fire tablets.

Source: Exclusive to LR

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