One of the most talked-about movies of the year so far is Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (check out our own positive review here). And one of the most talked-about scenes in the hit comedy involves a talking crab. He says his name is Morgan Freemond. With a D. But he sounds an awful lot like Morgan Freeman, the eighty-three-year-old Oscar-winning actor who has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet. Even when he’s not on-screen, whether he’s narrating a penguin documentary, portraying a character in an animated Lego movie, or speaking on behalf of Visa in a commercial, you can always tell it’s him. But, here’s the thing: he did not have a voice cameo in Barb and Star.
Well, not really. Yes, the crab is meant to have the voice of Morgan Freeman, and you can tell because the scene-stealing crustacean talks about having spent time in prison and driving an old lady around — references to his roles in the movies The Shawshank Redemption and Driving Miss Daisy. But despite what all the reviews of Barb and Star would have you believe, Freeman did not provide his own vocals for the part. Rather, it’s Josh Robert Thompson, a forty-five-year-old white guy who, for some reason, was not credited on the movie’s IMDb page in time for critics to get the facts right in their coverage (however, he is credited in the movie’s press notes). Fortunately, he is named on the site now, and it’s time for him to get the recognition he deserves.
Thompson is actually the go-to guy for the voice of Morgan Freeman when you can’t or don’t employ the real deal. The comic performer has portrayed Freeman a number of times on the animated sitcom Family Guy, where he’s also been the voice of Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Christoph Waltz, Aziz Ansari, John Mayer, and fellow Shawshank star Tim Robbins. He’s also impersonated Freeman for other gigs, including one where the role is “Morgan Freemont,” and he even did voice work for Freeman’s Lego Movie character for the Lego Movie video game. He’s known for other impressions as well, including the fake Arnold Schwarzenegger for The Howard Stern Show. And he does a mean George Lucas.
Upon learning that Morgan Freeman was not the actual voice of Morgan Freemond, I got ahold of the true cameo performer and had a chat about the gag and his other work as a voice actor and celebrity voice impersonator. Here’s a quick interview with Josh Robert Thompson:
How long have you been impersonating the voice of Morgan Freeman?
I was playing a character named Geoff Peterson on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Craig Ferguson had this sidekick that was a talking robot skeleton. I did that for years. I puppeteered and voiced this character. And the idea was that Geoff could also mimic a lot of other voices because he’s a robot. That’s part of his programming. One day, Morgan Freeman was a guest on our show, and Craig asked if Morgan Freeman if he’d like to hear Geoff talk like him. [In Morgan Freeman’s voice] So I started talking like Morgan Freeman to Morgan Freeman. And that just blew his mind. That’s how I first met Morgan Freeman.
Then I ended up in later years doing a lot of dialogue replacement for him on films. I did a series of commercials in the UK for an insurance company called More Than Insurance, and I was “More Than Freeman.” Morgan got paid a huge sum of money to basically let me do his voice. That’s how badass he is.
And then you voiced him for Family Guy.
On Family Guy, a lot of times it’s just the writers who just pop in the booth and do some approximation of the character, but I’ve been doing Family Guy for about ten years, maybe over ten years now, and just do a lot of the other random character voices and started doing my Morgan Freeman for them just jokingly, and they said, “Hey, we gotta work that in somehow.” So that’s how that started.
And did you really do the voice of his Lego Movie character for the Lego Movie video game?
I did, yeah. That one was funny because I did a lot of his effort sounds. He’s like, “[Morgan Freeman voice] I’m not doing my grunts and groans and effort noises.” So I did a lot of “huhhhh” and “uhhhhh” and all that stuff. But yeah, it all came out of The Late Late Show. And as a voice actor, especially with The Late Late Show, that was the thing I’ve contended with, what I’ve dealt with for years is convincing people that it’s me doing the voice. Because you remain largely hidden during these things. Geoff Peterson the talking robot is a puppet, and the crab in Barb and Star is also a puppet. I voiced both of them, and convincing people you do is the hard part.
And I saw you also have a Morgan Freeman puppet.
Yeah, and the Morgan Freeman puppet was custom made for me for a TV pilot — my TV pilot that I made years ago — and it’s made by a guy named Scott Land, who also worked on Team America: World Police years ago. He’s an incredibly talented puppet builder and marionette maker. And that was to get around the obvious racial implications. Of course, I can’t make myself look like Morgan Freeman, but I can certainly have a puppet and do it that way. And maybe that’s where I was on the fence about should I let everyone know that I’m doing this voice? Are they going to say, “Hey, that’s not right. It’s a white guy.” But Morgan Freeman’s cool with it, so I don’t see it being a problem.
How does this movie find you? Are you known as the guy to get to be a fake Morgan Freeman?
Yeah, and I’ve been doing it for so long. I think a lot of people watched The Late Late Show back in the day — our version of the show has been off for like six years now — and I’ve done it on so many different projects that it just came to me through my agents. They said, “Hey, they want to record you.” Then when I worked with the director. It was just a great experience. It was very fast. Basically, he was on the set directing a scene. He was actually on set doing the movie and phoned in during the recording session and said, “I think you got it. Just do a couple of takes and I think you’re fine. Thanks, man.”
But the movie was supposed to come out last year. It was delayed for obvious reasons, and then they were really hoping to have it out this year and have a premiere and everything, but we didn’t get to do that. So I didn’t know what was going to happen with that movie. It just kind of went away for a while.
Was the crab written as it is in the movie, as a crab named Morgan Freemond?
Yeah, It was Morgan FreeMOND. I don’t remember if my improv got in there but there was something about [Morgan Freeman voice] “that’s with a D for legal reasons.” They wrote this whole beautiful soliloquy that the crab gives before he ventures off. I just read it a couple of different ways, but yeah, it was as written.
So you didn’t improv the lines about him driving an old lady around? That was scripted?
I think so. It’s been a while so I don’t remember. I know that largely a lot of the stuff that I’ll do with that voice is improvised, and I think they were open to letting me add a few things. I haven’t seen it all the way through, is there a musical number at the end?
There is a musical number at the end and then if I remember correctly the crab comes back in a post-credits scene.
Yeah, so we did that months later and we recorded that from my house. They said, “We really want to have this one line, we think it’d be great if the crab sings a line or says something in this song.” And I was like, “This movie sounds amazing.” Of course, it turned out to be a wild experience. It’s a very cool movie.
And it’s getting a lot of praise.
It is, and it’s nice to be a part of something that’s got positive reviews. It’s good to be a part of that, and especially with everyone who’s involved. My only regret is that we didn’t have the premiere and I didn’t get to meet everybody. It was still really cool to be a part of that.
So how does the IMDb thing usually work? Are you supposed to put your own credit on there?
IMDb’s like, you do the job, you record it or whatever, and then you just hope they put your name up there. I did another movie for Hulu recently called The Binge. A very funny comedy, and Vince Vaughn is in that. And I narrate the film in a Morgan Freeman-esque voice. And I was uncredited on that, but I didn’t realize that I was going to be uncredited. So again it was a lot of people tweeting, “Man, I can’t believe they got Morgan Freeman.” And I just go, “No, it’s me!” “Yeah, okay.”
What happens if you’re too good at your job and you don’t get credit and he gets all the credit? If it’s too much of a lampoon, can that be negative for him?
I think it depends on what it is. I’ve tried to maintain this relationship he and I have. Obviously, from a distance. But yeah I try to pick things that aren’t going to be offensive or piss him off. I don’t think he really cares. I don’t think Morgan Freeman is sitting there at home online going, “[Morgan Freeman voice] Now who’s this guy being me? I want credit.” I don’t think Morgan Freeman cares at this point.
Or what if he’s thinking, “I don’t want people thinking I’m this silly crab.”
Well, I will tell you that years ago I did the Yogi Bear movie, and they had me come in and narrate the beginning of the film, again, in a Morgan Freeman type voice. The voice was too good, they said, so I had to go back for a second recording session to “dial back the Freeman,” they told me. Sometimes, to your point I think, they get kind of concerned that they’re skirting some legal issue or are on thin ice with that. I’ve never had a problem with that. I think that’s kind of maybe what it is where it’s like, “Let’s just not say who it is.”
Like if you come in and narrate a documentary about penguins.
I think it’s more like if I was saying slanderous stuff. But I do think it doesn’t help because then people won’t know it’s you.
So, is this a bad look for film critics as fact-checking journalists?
I do think that when you’re doing a film review, most journalists, film critics, do get the film ahead of time. So I do know that at the time that most of these things were written, I did not have an IMDb credit. You know, things slip through the cracks. And then maybe somebody saw one article and said, “Okay, well, they said it’s Morgan Freeman, so I guess it’s Morgan Freeman.” I totally understand that. We were just having a laugh about it today because for me it’s like oh here we go again. It’s the running gag with me. Honestly, I’m just happy to be a part of the film.
Now I’m also wondering if the press notes credit you. I should have looked first.
Yeah, and they might have been trying to keep it a secret. Obviously, the film’s out now, but I think there was some talk about, like, “Oh yeah, let’s keep it under wraps.” And I’m like cool, but I want them to know I’m in it as well. Maybe there was an element of surprise.
But hey, man, if people think it’s Morgan Freeman, I think that’s a hell of a compliment. It’s a nice testament to what we did on that. So I feel good about that.
Well, hopefully, this interview can shine a light on your work as well.
I appreciate it. It means a lot for all actors, especially in the voiceover world. It’s the most important thing, even above getting paid or whatever. We just want people to know that we did it.
So what’s next for Morgan Freeman?
[Morgan Freeman voice] Well, I’ll find out, I’ll give him a call. No, I’m still doing Family Guy, and the nice thing about what I do for a living is I do it from home, so now I’ve got a booth set up at home, and thankfully I’ve been able to continue working on a lot of different projects. I have a new episode of Robot Chicken coming up this year. And I just voiced former Raiders owner Al Davis in ESPN’s Al Davis vs the NFL. That’s it. I swear!So I have a bunch of different things coming up, but yeah, Family Guy is definitely the big one right now.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is now available to rent at your favorite PVOD outlet.