Thursday, March 17, 2022

Big Nate | Cast & Crew Interviews | Nickelodeon

Nickelodeon's brand new CG-animated series Big Nate is now available to stream on Paramount+! To celebrate, below is a hand-picked selection of interviews with the cast and crew of Nick's all new show! To find out more about Big Nate, click here, and for a FREE trial of Paramount+, visit ParamountPlus.com!


From CBR.com:

Big Nate: Ben Giroux Describes Bringing the Charming Comic Character to Life

Big Nate's Ben Giroux dives into bringing the classic comic character to life for the brand new animated adaptation on Paramount+.

Coming to Paramount+ from Nickelodeon Animation Studio, Big Nate brings Nate Wright into animation. Starring Ben Giroux in the title role, Big Nate focuses on the comic strip character during his life at P.S. 38. This isn't the first time Giroux has worked with Nickelodeon. However, the new animated series gives him the chance to dive into an iconic childhood figure who's been entertaining audiences for over thirty years.

Ahead of Big Nate's premiere on Paramout+ on Feb. 17, Ben Giroux sat down for an exclusive interview with CBR. Giroux reflected on his time working with Nickelodeon and what it means to step into the title role of Big Nate. Giroux also detailed what he thinks makes the character of Nate Wright stand out in comics and now in the world of animated television.

CBR: There's a lot of love for Nate Wright. There have been attempts to get this character on screens for decades. What is it like to step into those shoes?

Ben Giroux: It's a huge responsibility. There's a global fan base for Nate and his friends from the comic strip and the really successful book series. It's been fun for me to retroactively educate myself on the massive fan base that already exists. Certainly, there's a responsibility there as the title character to honor the source material. On the same ticket, there's a responsibility to elevate the source material and invite in a whole new generation of Big Nate fans with the television show.

I think the thing that's so cool is while we are using the relationships and the same characters and locations -- P.S. 38, Francis, Dee, and Teddy, all of the characters that people know and love -- all of the new episodes for the television series are original stories. And so, the analogy I've been using is it's like a house. We're using the comic strip and the book series as the foundation, and then the television show is building floors and levels on top of that. Hopefully, it takes the story and the characters in the Big Nate universe into very new and exciting territory.

I think what is so unique, and as impartially as possible, I can say [Big Nate] is the most gorgeous thing I've ever seen in terms of animation because we mix so many different formats. We have a CG/3D animated show. But Nate is an artist and he doodles, so his 2D doodles come to life in 2D animated segments. We mix in Claymation and stop-motion animation. So there's a real melding of styles. I think the other thing that really makes our show visually stunning is that while most CG animated shows are going to light the entire scene and it's big, bright, and polished, P.S. 38 is this underfunded public school, so it's dingy. It's grimy. There's an edge to it. Our animation lights the scenes practically, meaning a scene might be lit by sunlight streaming through a window or a lamp on a desk. I think it allows us to see the texture of our characters' faces in a way that you don't typically see, certainly in television animation. It really adds to a level of sophistication in the look. I think that the character's grounded performances all add to it too.

One of the things I really like about Nate as a character is that he's part of this line of characters -- like Charlie Brown, like Calvin -- who's a well-meaning troublemaker. But there's a vulnerability to his confidence that's really sweet. Why is it important for kids to get to see this kind of character, especially now when things have been so freaky lately? It's going to be very weird for kids right now to go back to school and to be friendly like Nate can.

I think the two things that I want people to glean from this show, whether they're a kid or otherwise, is Nate has this just incredible charm with his confidence. His whole quest in life is to be awesome. He really is the one that defines what awesome is in his own life. I think kids can take that as a lesson and say, "Hey, define what awesome is in your own life. Be that version of awesome. Be unique, and don't care what other people think." Nate and his group of friends are not really the cool kids in school but they think they are. They act like it. That's what's so charming about them. There are significantly cooler people in P.S. 38, and in Jefferson Middle School, which is the rich charter school, which is quite literally across the street.

I think if I were a kid in 2022, I would aspire to have Nate's level of confidence. But the other thing sort of on a bird's eye view scale, what I hope people are able to get from this show is that this show provides twenty-two minutes of levity and laughter to kids and parents alike during a really difficult time in our collective human experience. That's ultimately my goal for this. These are some of the funniest scripts I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of. I give our writer staff a lot of credit because they let us riff and improvise. So, so much is between the lines. I think the big achievement on this show has been we've recorded it exclusively in a pandemic.

None of us have ever been in the same room. Yet you'll watch a show, and you'll never know it. We still record as an ensemble over Zoom, which to me, is an incredible achievement. It's the first of its kind, as far as I know, of an animated show, where no one's ever been in the same room and yet we're still able to improvise and riff with each other. The actors are able to react off of each other in a Zoom setting once a week for the past two years. You'll see those little improvisational moments actually make it to the end result, and it makes the performances feel grounded and authentic. You really get a sense of who these characters are. I don't think that would've been possible if we were recording in isolation. I feel so grateful that everyone at Nickelodeon was able to figure out how to, despite COVID, find a way for us to all still record as a group, because it's, in my opinion, the thing that's made the show so magical.

That actually is really impressive. I believe you're one of the only animated shows I've spoken to who can say that.

I think it's incredibly original. Obviously, I'm talking to you right now from my home voiceover studio which is a converted closet. We've all got these super high-tech broadcast studios in our homes now. One other thing I would touch on that makes our show unique is I had the pleasure of already having real-life friendships with the other series regulars, quite coincidentally. My writing partner Arnie Pantoja plays Teddy Ortiz, Nate's co-conspirator in all of his pranks and adventures. He's my real-life writing partner who plays Teddy. So the improvisational nature that we take into all of our writing pitch meetings and all of our sketch comedy really comes to life with Nate and Teddy.

Bryce Charles plays Dee Holloway on the show. Dee is the theater nerd. Bryce and I met doing a play, doing theater two months prior to getting cast in Big Nate together. So we're all sort of playing elevated versions of ourselves. I think that those real-life friendships translate really well to the screen. It's unbelievable. It's not just for the talent either. The animators, the writing staff, our showrunner, nobody's been really back at the office in any kind of capacity. It's a real testament to the creative spirit of figuring out how to put something together. But the comradery we have... The biggest through-line in the world of Nate Wright is friendship. The comradery of the cast and the crew is real. That is evident in the friendships in P.S. 38 as well.

Big Nate is produced by Nickelodeon Animation, and this isn't your first experience with the network. What it does mean to you to have a genuine library of work associated with Nick?

It's a great question and one that I think about often. I've been lucky enough to work with Nickelodeon for the past decade with Henry Danger, Danger Force, The Adventures of Kid Danger. That's been a blast on-camera. Obviously, the animation studio and I have had a great relationship with Bunsen is a Beast a few years ago. I've been on The Loud House and Blaze and the Monster Machines and so many different Nick properties. I remember growing up, I watched all the original Nicktoons and on-camera shows.

I grew up watching Doug and Rugrats and Ren and Stimpy, Keenan and Kel, and All That. You know that "where it started, how it's going" meme? I posted a photo of my sister and I on a Nickelodeon bench at Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida when I was ten years old. That's how it started -- and then I posted the Deadline article of the announcement of me starring on a new animated franchise from Nick and Paramount Plus. It's a very full-circle moment for me because Nickelodeon in many ways defined my childhood.

I take that very seriously because hopefully Big Nate and Henry Danger and all these cool Nickelodeon properties I've been able to be a part of, are helping to define the childhoods of kids in 2022. So that's been a really rewarding experience. That's what I love about social media. I've got about four and a half million followers on TikTok, and it's a very young audience that follows my Nickelodeon work. I get to hear from kids on a daily basis about their level of enjoyment of this Nickelodeon stuff. So it's a really full-circle moment, and I'm just so grateful.

Catch Big Nate's animated debut on Paramount+ on Feb. 17.

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‘Henry Danger’ Star Ben Giroux Talks New Nickelodeon Series ‘Big Nate’ | J-14 Magazine


Henry Danger star (Toddler), Ben Giroux talks starring as ‘Nate’ in Nickelodeon’s new animated series ‘Big Nate,’ the dynamic behind the incredible cast, launching himself to TikTok stardom & more!

#Nickelodeon #BigNate #BenGiroux

From Collider:

Exclusive: 'Big Nate' Theme Song Is All About Rocking Your Way Through Middle School

Executive producers John Cohen and Mitch Watson also discuss how they adapted the long-running series for Paramount+.

The upcoming Paramount+ series Big Nate (adapted from the long-running comic and book franchise by author Lincoln Peirce) follows the antics and the misadventures of the titular protagonist Nate Wright (voiced by Ben Giroux), a mischievous and creative sixth-grader who would rather be hanging out with his friends, drawing cartoons, and playing drums instead of going to school (who can't relate, am I right?). He's also a notorious prankster who frequently ends up in the crosshairs of his social studies teacher Mrs. Godfrey (Carolyn Hennesy) for various shenanigans, and usually spends more than a little time in detention as a result. The show, which is executive produced by Mitch Watson and John Cohen, also stars the voices of Dove Cameron, Rob Delaney, Arnie Pantoja, Charlie Schlatter, Kevin Michael Richardson, Daniel MK Cohen, and Bryce Charles, and includes a special guest appearance from Jack Black. Collider is exclusively debuting the Big Nate theme song ahead of the show's February 17 premiere on Paramount+, and you can check it out in the player [here].

Earlier this week, we also had the chance to briefly sit down with Watson and Cohen to discuss this adaptation's long road to release, what they decided to take from the original Big Nate stories for the TV series, and what type of sound they were always looking for with the theme song, as well as whether there were any other versions that existed before they settled on the finished product.

Collider: In terms of this show, and adapting these books that are so beloved, there's been a long road to this point. How did you both become involved with turning Big Nate into a show, and when did the pieces fall into place in terms of finally making this happen?

JOHN COHEN: Well, I'll jump in. I've been a huge fan of Lincoln Peirce's comic strip and his books for years and had reached out to him a while back. We always knew from the very beginning that Big Nate should be an animated series. That was very important. We also wanted to make sure that we found the right home and the right partners to do it.

What we found with some of the people that we talked to is that they could only envision it as live-action. They were very excited about it, but they said, "Well, it should be like Diary of a Wimpy Kid," which those movies were done in live-action. But we felt strongly that these are cartoon characters, like The Simpsons or Peanuts. And our characters don't age. Nate is always in sixth grade and they have designs in a cartoon physicality. So it was when we got together with the team at Nickelodeon, Ramsey Naito, Nathan Schram, Claudia Spinelli, and all the fantastic people over there who introduced us to Mitch, we knew that we had found the perfect collaborators and the right home to do it.

MITCH WATSON: And I got involved when, just like John was saying, Ramsey Naito, who runs Nickelodeon, I've known her for many, many, many years. She reached out to me because she thought that the character of Nate reminded her of me. So I said, "Okay." She introduced me to John, and John and I hit it off. I think then they introduced me to Lincoln and heard what Lincoln's intentions were and everything like that.

I think the big linchpin was the problem that people had had in the past with adapting this character was a lot of people read it on the surface as Nate's a jerk. Who wants to watch a show about a jerk? And I didn't read it that way. I read him basically as a slightly insecure kid who dreams of being something better than he is, and his way of achieving that is basically to be the class clown. He's pulling pranks and making his friends laugh and doing things and trying to achieve this level of awesomeness that's a fantasy in his head of where he needs to be. When we meet him in the pilot and then throughout the rest of series, he's not there yet, but he's moving in that direction. So that's really his arc for the series. Maybe it's because I identified with the character, and I was a bit like that in middle school that it made perfect sense to me. So when I chatted with Lincoln and John, and they heard my take on it, we just clicked.

Then it really became, how do we show that to an audience? In the pilot, that was achieved by creating the character of Bentley Carter, who is truly an awful person. So when you really see somebody who's truly awful against Nate, you realize, "Oh, Nate's not that bad. Nate's not even close to being that insane." So that allowed us to show Nate's more vulnerable sides. Then we created the character of Brad Gunter, who's played by Jack Black, who's Nate's weird spirit guy. Nate's sitting on the toilet, and he's talking to what may or may not be a fantasy about who he wants to be and how he didn't think it was going to be this hard, and his spirit guy basically tells him not to keep his head down and just go for it. I think any kid in that age range, or even above, even adults, you want to root for that kid. You want to root, regardless of the fact that he's a troublemaker. You want to root for a kid who dreams of being something better than who he is, and that was the key, that was the engine that we found and helped us do the series.

How many of the episodes are pulled from existing stories? Or did you want to use some of those familiar stories as a springboard to maybe introduce new things that fans don't know?

WATSON: Except for one episode that's down the line a little ways, we didn't really pull any of the episodes from the books. My goal, in adapting IP, is not so much to make a carbon copy of the books, but to somehow take the tone and the vibe and the patina or whatever you want to call it of the books and translate that into a television show so that when you're watching the show, they may be different stories, but it still feels like the books. That's a tricky balancing act, but that's the goal. So the way that we achieve that is we didn't really change the characters a whole lot. We added to them, but their general personalities are the same as they are in the books. By doing that, we could just stick them in other stories that are much, much bigger.

Lincoln's been a total partner in this thing from day one, and he said to me one time that the books... you don't see the world in the books, you see little pictures. So he gave us this little template, it was our job to fill it all in. It was our job to color it between the lines and stuff like that, which is, that's a pretty good way of looking at it. Because it allowed us the freedom to create our own stories, but still maintain the integrity of his books.

COHEN: We really wanted to stay very true to his creation, and those characters that have lived for 31 years now from the comic strips have been so well-defined and so fleshed out that we looked at all of Lincoln's work and spent hours and hours studying it as the foundation for everything that was built upon it for the series. What's been exciting is that Lincoln himself has been a part of the creation of all of the episodes. He's written on every single episode. So having him as a collaborator in the show is something that we hoped to have, and we're so lucky and grateful that we did.

WATSON: From the get-go, it was our intention. We didn't want it to be one of those things where you're like, "Oh yeah, you created the books, now go away. We don't want to deal with you anymore." Our attitude was, "We want you as involved as you can be involved." Lincoln came to our writing rooms. Our art director, David Skelly, went to the ends of the earth to make sure that even though it's a CG show, it was representative of what Lincoln had done. So he was as much a part of the show as every other member of the team.

Since we're debuting the theme song, I wanted to ask you guys about it specifically. Were there ever any other versions of the song that were considered or was it always a case of hearing this one and going, "No, this is the one"?

WATSON: There were three different versions of the theme song that were written. One was completely different. The one that actually made it, I wrote with our composer, Fred Wiedmann. And then there was a different version which I wrote with another composer that was a little bit more rap or hip hop. It wasn't exactly right. When Freddy and I sat down to talk about the music for the show, I said, "It's got to have a heavy garage band feel." I mean, I used comps like MC5 or those older punk bands. So skater punk is a good comp. Green Day, obviously. But all those, that was the template, and then that's pretty much reflected in the theme song. If you listen to the music of the show itself, it's more of that meets Ennio Morricone, those two kinds of things. Because I wanted the music in the show to have a more, very heroic vibe, but still be mean and dirty. The theme song itself is heavily influenced by MC5, Green Day, The Clash, early Iggy Pop, that kind of stuff.

COHEN: I think also with Jack Black's involvement in our show, there's a little Jack Black in it and Tenacious D. It is also a song that will stick in my head for days and days at a time, and I absolutely love. That, I think, is always a good sign of a great theme song. It's one that's memorable and I find myself humming and singing it all the time.

WATSON: We wrote a lot of original — somebody showed me the count, 22 original songs just for the first season. So there's a lot of songs. There's also a lot of music within the show itself of '80s and '90s stuff, needle drops that specifically, we chose to give this weird nostalgia, but to add to the vibe. And we were fortunate enough to get some pretty well-known songs, which I think people will be shocked by when they actually hear them. There's one in the pilot, obviously. But yeah, music was a big part of the show.

Big Nate premieres February 17 on Paramount+.

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From CBR.com:

Big Nate Creator Knows Why Sixth-Grade Sucks & How to Make it Funny

Big Nate creator Lincoln Pierce explores the history of the titular character and what it's like to see him finally become animated.

Big Nate focuses on the life of Nate Wright, a goofy and creative sixth-grader who finds himself juggling his creative confidence and his frequent attempts to stay ahead of his school's antics. Created by Lincoln Pierce in 1991, Big Nate had its start as a comic strip and book series. Now, after multiple attempts to bring the character to either film or television, Nickelodeon Animation and Paramount+ are adapting Nate and his world in a new animated series. Played by Ben Giroux, Nate is a sweet-natured, occasionally over-confident and frequently panicked character. The brightly animated adaptation, which translates the spirit of the original comics and novels, is a fun new addition to the streaming service's library.

During an exclusive interview with CBR ahead of Big Nate's Feb. 17 premiere on Paramount+, Lincoln Pierce reflected on what has surprised him the most about the series after 30 years, why now is the perfect time to bring Nate Wright to screens and what it means to him to see the animated character finally come to life.

CBR: You've been with this character for so long -- writing Nate, working on his friends and family, crafting so much about Nate Wright's world for over 30 years at this point. What is it like to see him finally make the leap to animation?

Lincoln Peirce: It's amazing. I have to say that over the years, we had a few offers to turn Nate into a movie or a show. Most of those offers were for live-action projects and I always said, "Nate's a cartoon character." Whatever Big Nate show or movie there is, it's going to be a cartoon. In my mind, I was thinking it would be a 2D cartoon because I work in two dimensions and I've always drawn Nate that way. Although I loved the look of 3D animation, I was never quite sure how that would translate. Then when I started seeing the character designs that Nickelodeon was coming up with, I was blown away.

One of the most exciting moments of my professional life was when they sent me some little test animation and I saw Nate. They sent me this little thing where Nate sort of got pushed back onto a desk and then sort of teetered on the edge of the desk and fell off. I thought, "That looks incredible." I was delighted. So to see Nate and all the characters come to life and then to hear the voices too --the phenomenal acting talent that these performers just imbue the characters with is just phenomenal. It's been great.

Nate is a unique version of that classic "troublemaker" archetype. You look at somebody like Charlie Brown from Peanuts or Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes -- this is a character type, an American cartooning tradition with this kind of character. But Nate has a really fun vulnerability. He's confident but quick to almost panic. What is the thing that you would say makes Nate really stand out?

I think you sort of hit on it. He walks this super-thin line between this unshakable self-confidence, which I think a lot of people have at certain points in their lives, and then it kind of disappears when you get into a new situation. I think his age and his time in life, which is sixth grade, is really central to who he is. I see sixth grade... I don't know how it was where you went to school, but where I went to school fifth grade was the final year of elementary school and then the sixth grade is the first year of middle school -- and they are like night and day. I think of Nate as being this kid who is in this transition, where you can just picture that a year ago, as a fifth-grader, he was the king of the world. He was one of the big kids in school.

Now he's in sixth grade. All of a sudden, you still have this confidence. You still sort of think of yourself in this way and yet no, because you're in the school with seventh and eighth-graders. You're 11 years old and some of these 13-year-olds look like they're in high school. You're playing that self-confidence on one side with the doubt that you have at that stage of life. Who am I? How do other people see me? He's kind of neurotic and insanely self-confident at the same time. I think [Ben Giroux] really... He gets it. He can embody just the sort of over-the-top self-confidence and then he can embody the really sort of deep  misgivings and doubts that you have as a sixth-grader.

Nickelodeon and Paramount+ seem like a perfect fit for this show, considering Nate as a character. There have been other attempts to bring Big Nate to screens -- what convinced you that Nickelodeon Animation and Paramount+ were the right people?

I think it was a combination that started actually with John Cohen, who is our producer and is a guy that I made a handshake deal with a number of years ago. He wrote me a letter about Big Nate. I don't know quite how Big Nate got on his radar, but he wrote me a letter and said, "Here's why I love Big Nate and here's why I think it would make a tremendous project, whether it's a movie or a TV show." He checked all my boxes and that really showed me that he understood the character. So I already knew that the character was sort of being pitched, it was being shepherded by someone who I felt 100% comfortable with and confident in.

Then at Nickelodeon, he talked to Ramsey Naito, who knew the character. I think her kids were into the character. They had a meeting of the minds and then Ramsey had Mitch Watson in mind as Head Writer, Showrunner, Executive Producer. He's someone who... Even though I had not yet seen any treatments, I hadn't seen any animation, but the way everyone was talking about what they liked about Big Nate, my comfort level was really, really high. I remember, we had a Zoom meeting and I just wanted to make sure. I asked in the Zoom meeting where Mitch was there, Ramsey was there, John was there, and I said, "I just want to make sure that we all are on the same page."

Big Nate, it doesn't have necessarily the sexiest name. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, that spells it right out. It's very descriptive. It's very evocative. Big Nate is sort of maybe not so many bells and whistles. Nate's world, it's really sort of contained within this small town, in this sort of crumbling underfunded school. I said, "There maybe aren't quite so many bells and whistles in terms of where we can go story-wise. Are we all okay with that?" They were like, "That's what we love. These are the things that we like. These are the things we think kids will respond to, in terms of Nate's relationship with his classmates, his relationship with the teachers." I'm so glad that this is the deal that's being made with Nickelodeon and then eventually with Paramount+ and not some other deal that I might have had the chance at a few years back, because this is in a spot with people who really respond to the same things that I respond to when I'm writing the strip or writing the novels.

Did anybody go to a good middle school? I remember my friends and I found in the gym one day in maybe eighth grade, we spotted a lot of bats in our gym. P.S. 38 really ended up striking a chord with me.

That's funny, because that's a good example of something that the show is really amplifying, where that's not... The fact that P.S. 38 is literally falling apart and is underfunded, it really isn't a part of the original comic strip. It's a storyline that became part of one of the novels that I wrote, one of the Big Nate novels. Then part of the development process and the world-building process for the show is, let's really play this up. Part of Nate's identity is tied up in the school that he goes to and the school is sort of unacceptable in a lot of ways. By the way, it's right across the street from this amazing charter school, so there are going to be so many possibilities for really funny stories around this kind of rivalry, this dynamic between P.S. 38 and then Jefferson Middle School and the kind of different states they're in.

After spending so much time with Nate Wright and his world, is there anything that's really caught you by surprise about the character?

Well, I can think of two things. One dates from years ago, before TV was even a glimmer in my eye, and the other is about TV. So the first one was that when I started the strip, I thought the strip was going to be about Nate's family. I thought it was going to be sort of a domestic humor strip. There were a lot of strips around back then that sort of trafficked in that: Calvin and Hobbes, of course, and For Better Or For Worse, this sort of traditional family dynamic. I found after working on the strip for a year, what I realized is that what I really like are all the school gags. School is where it's at. I'm a former school teacher myself. Schools are hilarious places. I realized the jokes I really like and the stories I really like telling are all about Nate's school and his classmate and teachers, so that caught me by a surprise. I was happy to sort of adjust my thinking around that.

Then as far as TV goes, it's just been a surprise to me to see how much you can create, how creative you can be in this animated world in ways that you can't necessarily be in four little panels in a comic strip. I knew that we were going to be able to tell bigger stories than I can tell in the comic strip, but in terms of the style, that's really been a really happy surprise. The way that the animators sort of play with different styles --there's Nate's notebook world, which is a part of the animation, and they're creating this almost sort of Monty Python-esque sort of little bits of animation, too, that correspond and correlate with the way characters are thinking or imagining things. So that was great because I didn't expect any of that. That was a huge, huge surprise and a really, really good creative surprise.

Catch Big Nate's animated debut on Paramount+ on Feb. 17.

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From CBR.com:

Big Nate EPs Spotlight Shortchanged Public School System With Stunning Animation

Big Nate executive producers Mitch Watson and John Cohen explain the series’ unique art styles and what makes the main character approachable

Over 30 years after the title character debuted, Big Nate is finally making his way to the small screen. The Nickelodeon Animation Studios series focuses on Nate, his friends and his family as he tries to navigate the crumbling PS 38 while letting his imagination go wild. The character, who has previously starred in novels, activity books and even a musical, is finally making his animation debut. While the show creators are infusing the art design with a surprising amount of stylistic variety, the heart of the series remains Nate Wright, who carries over the same energetic-but-panicked energy he's always embodied.

During an exclusive interview with CBR ahead of Big Nate's Feb. 17 premiere on Paramount+, Big Nate Executive Producers Mitch Watson and John Cohen spoke about finding the perfect vulnerability for Nate, the origins of the show's mixed animation styles and the importance of highlighting just how grimy PS 38 really is.

CBR: Big Nate has been a fixture for over 30 years. There are generations of fans of this character and people have been trying to get Nate on screens pretty much since his inception. What does it mean to you guys, as creators, to get to shepherd that process?

John Cohen: I will tell you, it is such a thrill. We've loved this comic strip and these books for so long and what Lincoln created has this wide breadth of world-building, of characters and backstories. When you have characters who have existed for 31 years, that's a big chunk of my life, so they've got a lot of backstories and a lot of experiences. The chance to get to work in this world and, as Mitch and the team have been doing, to take it and to build upon it has been a dream.

Mitch Watson: Yeah, I have two daughters so I was sort of aware of Big Nate, but it wasn't until I came on board that they sent me the books and I really got into it. What I discovered, and what is nice when you're making a show, is that I don't have to resell it or anything. All I do is have to mention, "Hey, I'm working on this thing called Big Nate." I remember, I think the first time it happened, I was going for a tooth extraction and the woman at the desk asked me what I did and I told her. She said, "Oh, what are you working on?," and I said, "Big Nate." She goes, "Really?!" I mean, she just flipped.

That's been the consistent response all the way through. I have a 10-year-old daughter, and when she tells especially the little boys, the little girls in her school, they're just like, "What?!" No one can believe this thing is going to become a show. That has been extremely satisfying. I tell you, it raises the bar, too, for us not wanting to screw it up.

Nate Wright is a part of a long tradition of cartoon/comic characters but comes with an open level of vulnerability that really makes him stand out. Why is it important to highlight a character like Nate, especially in an era where younger audiences are growing up in unprecedented times?

Watson: The tricky thing about the character of Nate, as popular as he is... I think John and I talked about this at our very first meeting. You can read that character in a particular way and just think he's a jerk. He just does stuff to his teachers. He's always causing trouble. He's in detention. You can read him on the surface as that kind of character. What we tried to do in the pilot was to show that yeah, he's a kid who likes to cause a lot of trouble, but beneath that is this vulnerability and this insecurity. He just really wants people to like him. He wants people to see him in a particular way that maybe he really isn't, but in his mind he ultimately wants to be. We achieved that in the pilot by juxtaposing Nate against a kid who really is [that bad].

There's that one scene when Nate really sort of expresses himself, when he's sitting on the toilet, that you see a kid who like all kids just wants to fit in, you know? That's a key component, I think, whenever you're doing something like this. The insecurity and the vulnerability that goes along with being a kid, especially at that age... You don't know who you are yet. You haven't found your place in the world yet. You have an idea of what you want but you're not exactly sure how to achieve it. So I think that's the great thing, to me, about his character. That was sort of what we found. I don't think he's a jerk at all. Everybody who thought he was a jerk was only looking at his surface. I see a kid who just really wants to be accepted. He's just chosen a particularly different way of doing that.

Cohen: One thing that I connect to so much with [Nate], and with a number of the characters, is that they're all characters with artistic dreams, with pursuits that they have. In Nate's case, it's his drawing and his comics, and also his music, playing in a band. With DeeDee, it's performing arts. That for me is something that I can just relate to and I think a lot of us can relate to, because here you see these kids who really, really aspire to do these things that they're doing at this age. That's when most of us, when everyone really, is finding their personas and their artistic sensibilities and even just discovering a sense of who they want to be in life and where they want to head in their lives.

That's what I find fascinating. I think there is -- and this is based on Lincoln's creation and it's based on what Mitch and the entire team of writers and our design team have created -- there is such sophistication to the show, to these characters. The comedy lands for me in such a genuine way, where a lot of times when I read books and all kinds of material that are targeted to kids, I sometimes can appreciate it but I don't genuinely find it funny. In this case, Big Nate I find hysterically funny. The fact that I enjoy it as much as I do, and my eight-year-old and four-year-old do, is I think very promising.

I'd agree. There are a lot of layers of comedy sprinkled throughout the show, especially in terms of just how run-down the school itself is around Nate and the rest of the cast.

Watson: That was always one of the intentions, right from the get-go. When we talked about the show, wanting it to have a feeling of nostalgia... Which is sort of why it has that kind of Rankin/Bass look, which was really the one that I went to because those were the shows I loved as a kid. I loved the stop-motion feel of it. The school itself -- a lot of the shows that I've done in the past, I always try to find one thing to hook into that I can really sort of sink my teeth into in terms of commentary or whatever you want to call it, and [with Big Nate] it was the public school system because I was dealing with it at the time with my own daughters. Lincoln hit upon it in his books and I said, "I don't want to gloss over that. I want to take that on and run with it."

So when we designed PS 38, I mean if you look, just freeze-frame on anything, it looks like it's just falling apart. It's decaying. We designed the school, if you ever look at a straight-on master shot of the school, the middle is this sort of beautiful brick building that's about a hundred years old, and that was the original school. Then as more people moved into the area, more kids started coming to school, they began to build out. As they built out, they have less and less and less money. So if you look at it, it's pretty in the middle and as it goes out, it just gets crappier and crappier. In the back, when we show the playground, everything is broken. There are storage containers, wires everywhere. It was us wanting to say, "Look what we've done in the public school system. We've really, really shortchanged it."

We didn't want it to be like a lot of other shows you see in this kind of setting, which is glossy and they're pretty and they're all really bright and lit. We wanted to really dirty it up. That was one of my favorite notes to always give, as they would show me designs: "Yeah, that's really good, but it's too clean. I going to stick some mold in a corner or some water damage on the ceiling." That to me was more realistic, especially from what I was experiencing with my own kids in public school.

When I spoke with Big Nate creator Lincoln Peirce, one of the things he loved about the show was the way the animation can meld different mediums for different effects. It's typically CGI, but there are flights of fancy where it'll shift into 2D animation and times where it'll turn almost Monty Python-esque, like paper art. Where did that come from? When did that become a part of the show?

Watson: It was specifically so that we could just set parameters. We said, "Okay, the normal show will be CG," but we're shooting it on what they refer to as twos as opposed to one so it has that kind of stop-motion feel to it. David Skelly, our director, designed the characters and if you look closely at their skin textures, they almost looked like puppets. So there was that that we did. That was the first style, then we say, "Well, we have to have a style for when Nate goes into his own imagination. We'll actually use Lincoln's style for that stuff." So we use that 2D style whenever we go into Nate's imagination. Then we thought, "Okay, but if that's the parameter then for Nate, then nobody else can really go into that style on their own." So we thought, "Well, we have to have a third style then."

We actually have more than three, but we have the three main styles. We found this guy, his name is Sam Koji Hale and he is a master with this cut and paste art style. The way it works is very similar, if you know Monty Python, to the way they used to work with Terry Gilliam. We write it, we storyboard it and then we give the storyboards to Sam. Then Sam literally disappears for a couple of weeks and then comes back with this crazy animated sequence that goes with it and then we make our tweaks or whatnot.

Cohen: It is done first and foremost from a stylistic perspective. I will just add to that that this look of the show was entirely created and originated by Mitch. Mitch had the idea to do this and from the very beginning said, "Let's do something very different. Let's do something that feels tactile and distinct." Mitch working with David Skelly, our Art Director, and Sam Koji, our Associate Art Director, have created something that is unlike any animated show I've ever seen or that is even out there right now. The mixed media, all kinds of animation styles -- it's extraordinary. It's something that I think is striking. It adds so much to the unique qualities of the show but it also adds so much to the comedy of the show.

Catch Big Nate's animated debut on Paramount+ on Feb. 17.

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'Big Nate' Stars Reveal How They Are Connected to Their Characters (Exclusive)


Big Nate, a new animated series based on the comic strip, is now streaming on Paramount+. The series is all about 11-year-old kids surviving the sixth grade, and the voice actors who play the characters know exactly what they're going through. PopCulture.com recently caught up with Big Nate stars Bryce Charles, Daniel MK Cohen and Arnie Pantoja, who explained how they are connected to their characters. 

"I've always wanted to voice an animated character," Charles, who voices the role of Dee Dee Holloway, exclusively told PopCulture. "I've always wanted to be on an animated series. And so it's just sort of been a dream come true in that sense. And also, as a kid, watching cartoons and seeing a character that looked like me, that I could relate to, and that had such a positive impact on me. And so now I get to play a character that looks like me and that I can relate to, and that is really cool that I can be that for those who are watching this show. Representation is just really important, and I am very happy to be in a position where I can do that."

Cohen voices the role of Francis Pope and knew the character was right for him. "Outside of just having a love of cartoons and animation, once I saw the audition and I saw the description and role of Francis, I was like, 'Yep, no, that one. That's the one I have to audition for,'" he told PopCulture. "I just felt so strongly connected to the character. The rule follower, the one who's like, "Guys, maybe a safer option." And so it's just really what drew me to him."

Pantoja, who voices the role of Teddy Ortiz, is happy to play a character that has a similar background. "I don't get to play a ton of Hispanic characters even though I'm Hispanic," he told PopCulture. "But with this, I'm so happy I get to express my Hispanic heritage, and I'm even using a voice that was inspired from my childhood, from my dad. We'd always play fight and he'd be like, 'No me peguen, no me pegue!'. And it just feels great to get to represent a part of me that I see myself always as and I guess just to have fun with friends."

Big Nate also stars Ben Giroux as Nate Wright and Dove Cameron as Ellen Wright. The first eight episodes are currently available to stream on Paramount+.

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'Big Nate' Star Ben Giroux Describes Why Series Is an 'Extra Special Project' (Exclusive)


Big Nate is the newest show for Paramount+. The animated series produced by Nickelodeon Studios is now streaming and is about an 11-year-old boy named Nate and his best friends trying to get through sixth grade. PopCulture.com recently caught up with Ben Giroux who voices the lead character Nate Wright, and he explained why he loves the series. 

"I see a lot of myself in Nate, which obviously makes this an extra special project," Giroux told PopCulture. " And I think if you spoke to any actor on our show, they would say we're all basically playing elevated versions of ourselves. I had the privilege of already having friendships with all of the other series regulars before we were cast. And I think that real-life friendship that we have in our dynamic really comes through in the show.

"My real-life writing partner and improv partner is Arnie Pantoja, who plays Teddy Ortiz. And so Arnie and I have been riffing together for years. And for that to come through as Nate and Teddy, it's just made this project extra special." Big Nate is based on the comic strip and the book series of the same name by Lincoln Pierce. The comic strip debuted in 1991 and the success led to multiple books before the animated series was produced. 

"I'm 37, so I missed the initial Big Nate surge," Giroux explained. "So it's actually been really fun for me to retroactively dive into the incredible Big Nate fan base that exists. I think that's one of the responsibilities I feel as the voice of the title character is to honor the source material of this iconic book series and comic strip franchise. And in the same vein, finding ways to elevate it and invite in a whole new generation of Big Nate fans that might not be aware of the decades of amazing Big Nate characters and stories that already exist."

Big Nate uses the same principles seen in an animated series today. However, the series stays true to the comic strip as it also uses 2D animation to tell the story. "This one for me really stands out because I see so much of myself in Nate," Giroux revealed. "I grew up in sixth-grade drawing and doodling, and Nate literally is an artist. He draws on the show. One of the coolest parts about the animation on our show is that we're a CGI show, but Nate's doodles on the show come to life as 2D representations. So we're mixing mediums in animation."

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'Big Nate' Star Dove Cameron Explains Why She Was 'Really Excited' to Join Series (Exclusive)


Dove Cameron stars in a new animated series Big Nate, which is now streaming on Paramount+. In the series, Cameron voices the role of Ellen Wright, the older sister of the main character Nate Wright. PopCulture.com caught up with Cameron who explained why she was interested in the series. 

"Our wonderful creators came to me at the top of 2020, and they said, 'Do you know about this property? Do you know how beloved it is? Would you look into it? And if you respond to it, would you be interested in playing Ellen?'" Cameron exclusively told PopCulture. "And I hadn't heard of it. Until suddenly, it was like under my bed. And it was like on the top of my ceiling, I was like, 'Oh, has this always been here?'

"Big Nate is everywhere and people love it. And it's got such a following and such a devotion that I was kind of shocked that I hadn't heard of it, but also not really because I'm very, very off the grid and unplugged in a bad way. But I was so excited because in my opinion, these days there's so much being created that the best stuff is only ever the fan chosen things. It's never what you are constantly hearing about being publicized. It's always grassroots. It's like it Springs out of nowhere to you. And like suddenly it's been around for forever. So I was really, really excited to be a part of something that has such a passionate fan base."

Cameron is no stranger to animated series as she has voiced the role of Mal in Descendants: Wicked World, Ghost-Spider in and Spider-Gwen/Gwen Stacy in multiple Marvel series on Disney and Ella in The Angry Birds Movie 2. The 26-year-old actress explained why Big Nate is different from other animated series being shown today. 

"The things that feel special to me about Big Nate, other than the fact that it's like, it does feel very reminiscent of and like a love letter to that kind of classic style of writing and animation," Cameron said. "I also think that what is really kind of arresting about it are the visuals. Because I didn't get to see the visuals until much later. ...They light it, not with that artificial cartoon lighting where everything has the same light everywhere, but they light it from real light sources, which sounds like maybe it would make such a big impact."

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Little Kids, Big Visuals: The Scoop on ‘Big Nate’s Toon Debut

***This article was written for the April ’22 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 319)***

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over 31 years since cartoonist and author Lincoln Peirce introduced the world to his charming sixth grader Nate Wright and his best friends in his popular comic strip, which went on to inspire a series of successful books. This year, the precocious 11-year old and his friends star in their own CG-animated series Big Nate, which premieres on Paramount+ today (February 17).

The show, which features the voices of Ben Giroux, Dove Cameron, Rob Delaney, Bryce Charles, Arnie Pantoja and Kevin Michael Richardson, among others, is executive produced by Mitch Watson (All Hail King Julien) and John Cohen (The Angry Birds Movie) and produced by Amy McKenna (Beware the Batman), with Peirce serving as consultant throughout development and production.

“I have been a huge fan of Lincoln’s work for years, and when we started to talk about bringing Big Nate to animation, it was clear that it was very important for him for the property to have a great animated look,” says Cohen. “Many people had approached him to develop it into a live-action property, but he kept saying no, because these characters were designed for comic strips. I mean, you wouldn’t want to make Peanuts into a live-action show. These characters don’t age. Nate’s always in sixth grade and we wanted to honor and respect that and stay true to that cartoon physicality. So, once we talked to [Nickelodeon and Paramount president] Ramsey Naito and some of our other friends at Nick about three years ago, they introduced me to Mitch. We knew we had the perfect home and group of people to collaborate with on this show.”

Watson says the show had a quick development period. “I was hired in October of 2019, and the show was greenlit by that December,” he notes. “We had our supervising director Jim Mortensen and art director Dave Skelly, and a couple of other key people. Then, we had one day of casting, and then everything got shut down because of the pandemic. Overall, we have about 70 people here in our group at Nickelodeon, and then there’s the production team at Xentrix Studios in India.”

Watson adds, “I met very few people in person. Everything has been done remotely. I mean, animation is an extremely collaborative process, so it has definitely been an interesting experience! We also have the amazing Sam Koji Hale, who is our associate art director. I call him our Terry Gilliam, because he can turn things around two weeks later. He has a stop-motion background, so he shoots a lot of the stuff in his own studio and then animates it all in After Effects.”

The visual look of the show was conceived by Watson in partnership with David Skelly. “Our show looks unlike anything I’ve seen before in an animated series,” says Cohen. “He had the idea from the very beginning to do something that had never been done before. We had all these great chances to explore mixed media and the different styles on the show, all of which led to both creative and comedic opportunities for us.”

Watson says he really wanted the show to reflect the cartoonist’s original style as well as evoking a certain sense of nostalgia which he associates with the Big Nate books. “I wanted to somehow translate that nostalgia into the show itself,” says the exec producer. “I am a huge fan of the old Rankin-Bass Christmas stop-motion specials. I was very lucky to find David Skelly, who has worked on Henson productions and has a great background in puppetry. Even the tools that they use and the buttons on their shirts are oversized on purpose so that they look more like puppets.”

Watson also mentions that he and his team played a lot with shadow and lighting as well to evoke what we usually see in stop-motion projects. “It drives me insane when I see CG-animated shows that are just really brightly lit. We wanted to avoid that in our show. We also hired a talented woman named Becky Finn who learned how to draw like Lincoln. She has been our soldier throughout the whole process. She does it all in 2D, and then we comp it later.”

The addition of art director Skelly was a big boon to the series. “Just like Mitch and John, I have a sincere love and appreciation for Lincoln’s work,” says Skelly. “I was already a fan of his work long before I joined the show. On a personal level, I could really relate to the material, because I was kind of like Nate in middle school. I thought I was awesome, despite the fact that everybody else disagreed with me. But joking aside, I was also an aspiring comic-strip artist in middle school, just like Nate. I had my own comic strip published in my local paper in Michigan, so it was very easy for me to invest myself in this character and this subject!”

Skelly points out that it was important for him and the rest of the team to create a unique look for the show. “We were given free rein to do something really special which evoked a sense of nostalgia. That’s why we decided to animate on twos to add to that stop-motion feeling to the movement of the characters. We looked at a lot of the classic Rankin-Bass specials for inspiration. We hope that we’ve achieved something that looks just a little bit different.”

Nostalgic Fun

For that same reason, viewers will be hard pressed to find shots of the classrooms or the school that look pristine and brightly lit. As Watson recalls, “They would show me a scene and I would ask them to make it a little bit more dirty, so we’d bust out the wall or put some water stains on the ceiling. We wanted to show a typical public school. The master shot of the public school is this beautiful brick building, but then as the years go on, it gets crappier and crappier. Just like in real life.”

Cohen, Watson and Skelly are proud of the fact that they’ve created a show that looks great and is also quite entertaining. “I find the show to be genuinely funny,” says Cohen. “The show plays just as well to me as it does to my eight-year-old and four-year-old kids. They laugh constantly through all the episodes, so I hope everyone enjoys it and that they understand that this was made with a lot of love and passion by a group of people working remotely from their homes over the past two years!”

“That’s right!” says Watson. “We were all at home and this show kept us from losing our minds. We really wanted to make a very funny show that also features lots of music and well-known songs from the ’80s and ’90s. One of the best compliments we got was from Dove Cameron, who plays Ellen on Big Nate. She said our show reminded her of the cartoons she used to watch on Nickelodeon years ago. I mean, some of those shows were just crazy.”

“We want to make kids laugh, and hope that adults will want to watch them and that nostalgic element will resonate with them,” Watson continues. “I have kids myself, and watching some cartoons with them makes me want to jab my eyes out. I’m always attempting to make shows that parents will also want to watch with their kids. I think with Big Nate there’s plenty for everybody that they are going to really enjoy watching it together.”

The first eight episodes of Big Nate are now available to stream on Paramount+.

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From The Beat:

INTERVIEW: Ben Giroux brings Nickelodeon nostalgia to BIG NATE

The actor, director, and producer talks about his role on Nick's latest hit cartoon.

For a certain demographic of television viewers, the mention of Nick Toons conjures memories of a simpler era. The Nickelodeon of the 1990s was representative of a different sort of family programming, one that was bit messier and less wholesome than that of Disney. There’s a certain energy contained in those early ’90s cartoon programs  that is indicative of a creative expression that trusted kids rather than pandered to them. Certainly, the generation of kids that grew up watching those early Nickelodeon shows (this writer amongst that milieu) have strong memories of those shows but also a distance from them. The culture has changed so much, that the content of those shows is separated from their context.

Over the last several years, however, Nickelodeon has returned to their roots with programs that inhabit the spirit of the early NickToons. Their most recent addition to the NickToons canon is Big Nate (Paramount+), a rollicking and peppy animated show based on the long-running, highly-successful comic strip created by Lincoln Peirce. The main character, the titular Nate, is a sixth-grade kid with a “never-ending need to prove his awesomeness to the world.” Nickelodeon needed someone who could provide that energic, anarchic spirit to Nate, and they found their main man in Ben Giroux.

Giroux, an actor and director, is no stranger to Nickelodeon. He’s previously acted on both animated and live-action shows and brings a child-like sense of spontaneity to his roles. I recently caught up with Ben to ask about the influence of the early Nickelodeon cartoons, recording his role during the depths of the pandemic, and how he got the role in the first place.

AJ Frost: Hi Ben. So nice to chat with you. I wanted to start off by asking about your new show Big Nate. How did you learn about the role? Did you audition for it with Nickelodeon, or did they come to you? And were you familiar with the comic before you heard about the television show?

Ben Giroux: Great question! I’m 37, so I think I missed the initial Big Nate surge, even though I grew up in a comic book store with my family literally selling Big Nate books. So, it’s been fun for me, and it’s been exciting to retroactively educate myself on the global fan base for an already-beloved character.

As far as this specific show, I’m no stranger to Nickelodeon. I’ve been playing The Toddler on Henry Danger and Danger Force–with those roles on camera–for almost the last 10 years. And certainly, I’ve done lots of Nickelodeon animated projects. I was Mikey on Bunsen is a Beast a handful of years ago. I’ve done some tons of stuff on The Loud House, Blaze and the Monster Machines, etc.; I’ve had a great relationship with both Nickelodeon on the on-camera side and the animation studio for a number of years.

As far as Big Nate was concerned, I first auditioned for it in December 2019. And, you know, Nickelodeon certainly has their shortlist of people that they go to, especially adult men who they know want to play kids. There’s not a ton of us [in Nate’s voice]: That can kind of like authentically sound like a kid! I’ve been grateful to be part of that shortlist for a long time. But look, I went through the same audition process as anybody else. And it was grueling. Nickelodeon auditioned hundreds of people for this role, because I know that Big Nate was a priority for the network. Ramsey Naito, who’s the president of the [Nickelodeon Animation] studio, has been a longtime fan of Big Nate. The studio really took their time and did their due diligence; I’m so grateful to have been cast.

You know what’s so exciting is that I, quite coincidentally, had great friendships with the other leads on the show. Bryce Charles—who plays Dee Dee Holloway on the show and who is a theater nerd in the Big Nate canon—and I met doing a play a handful of months prior to getting cast in the show together. Arnie Pantoja, who plays Teddy Ortiz on the show, is my real life writing and improv partner. There are just all these great parallels. And, you know, certainly the existing relationship with Nickelodeon was helpful, particularly because we’ve done this whole thing through the pandemic. We had our existing relationships and friendships to lean on in a remote setting.

Frost: You just brought up my next point. Can you talk about the recording process that you did? Because, from what I understand, all the actors were separated by the pandemic yet somehow recorded together?

Giroux: Up until March 2020, all my experience with Nickelodeon Animation was going into this colorful state-of-the-art studio recording, sometimes as an ensemble, or with a handful of other actors. Fast forward to March 2020, and I literally booked the role the first week of the pandemic. The last in-person memory I have prior to the pandemic hitting is sitting in the lobby of Nick Animation for my third or fourth callback for Big Nate. 

We immediately started recording the show remotely.

Where our show differs, and where I think it’s the first of its kind, is that we still found a way to record as an ensemble. Most animated series immediately went to 1:1 voice sessions from an actor’s home studio to a director to an engineer. And then they would cut the performances together. But on our show, we sometimes get 1-2 actors together on a Zoom. What that afforded us was the ability to react to and off each other.

I give our showrunner Mitch Watson a lot of credit. He’s a theater guy like me. I grew up in Phoenix, AZ doing tons of theater around town. I’m an improviser. And so, Mitch gives us the freedom to really play and react and riff and improvise and write outlines in the script. I think those little unscripted moments are magic and have really elevated the comedy of our show. And that could only have been possible with ensemble recording. I’m grateful to the network for figuring out a way for us to still do it, even though we’re all in our home voiceover studios.

Frost: As a kid of the ‘90s, did you look back at older Nickelodeon shows to inform the way you perform the voice for Nate? How did you approach the role?

Giroux: As you so eloquently noted, I am a product of the 90s. I grew up watching Doug, Rugrats, and Ren and Stimpy with my sister. I think the thing that is most special about this show is there’s been a real emphasis at Nickelodeon over the last couple of years with the new leadership in getting back to Nickelodeon’s roots: which are equal parts hearts, smarts, and farts. Which all those old school shows had! What I appreciated most about those old Nickelodeon shows—the Nicktoons of our childhoods—was that there was an edge to the humor, there’s a bite to the comedy. Adults and kids alike could really enjoy the shows.

One of the trends over animation over the last fifteen years or so has been super high and crazy cartoony… like really like over-the-top high speed. And our show harkens back to those old school Nickelodeon cartoons. The reason I bring that up is because my approach to the voice is indicative of the vibe of the show, which is a grounded performance. I think you’ll find that a lot of the performances on the show are grounded. [In Nate’s Voice] You know, doing Nate’s voice, it’s not so much changing my voice much, but just finding my inner confidence. And like, I think it’s about cadence and about vibe as opposed to like doing anything crazy with my vocal cords. Whereas, you know, seven or eight years ago in doing Nickelodeon shows, I was doing a voice like this, [voice of Mikey from Bunsen is a Beast] You know, it was like, super over the top. Both are awesome, but I’m really enjoying the grounded nature of our performances, particularly as the central character on the show. It gives a little relatability to it, a little bit of more authenticity to it, a sophistication to the show.

One other thing that I would note is that our show is a twenty-two-minute series. It’s that traditional sitcom structure. A lot of kids’ shows right now are eleven-minute chunks. We have the freedom to pace the comedy, to let jokes breathe, to have moments of silence. I think that really helps add to, again, the level of sophistication of the show and the grounded nature of it.

Frost: Did you go back to read the comics during the production of the show to find some inspiration about how you would approach the character of Nate?

Giroux: Yes, certainly. Leaning on the source material has been key in making sure that we reflect that edge that creator Lincoln Peirce gave Nate over the years, turning him into a likable prankster. And I think the real challenge, the real task for me, and for the writers really, is to make sure that Nate, while he is a troublemaker, while he is overwhelmingly confident and fearless in his choices, doesn’t come off as a jerk. He’s still a good kid.

That’s always been the fine line that Lincoln has walked with the character in the book series and the comic strip. Nate has unearned confidence. He has no right being this confident because he’s not as cool as he thinks he is. What is cool in the show is that deep down, you get to see his insecurities, you get to see that a lot of what he puts on is a fa├žade. And he leans on these really dedicated loyal friendships with his co-conspirator Francis in pranks. My challenge has been showing both sides to the character to ensure that despite an insane level of confidence and rule-breaking tendencies, he still is, ultimately, a likable kid.

Frost: Where do you feel that this show fits within a socioeconomic context (stay with me here…)? As I watched the first episode, I noticed that the kids are in a school that’s not really in good repair. How does that display the values of the show as a reflection for the audience?

Giroux: I mean, look, we both grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I went to okay schools, but like, not the bougiest schools in the world either. What I love so much about our show is like you said, the kids go to PS-38, which is a totally underfunded public school; everything in the classroom is run down. It is quite literally in the shadow of Jefferson Middle School, which is the nice charter school across the street with Roman columns and water fountains [laughs]. Yet, that adds to the character of the show. And I think that PS-38 is one of the characters on the show. There’s a real nostalgic quality to our show which is emblematic of a big push with Nickelodeon to expand their existing franchises or existing IP.

It all harkens back to a simpler time. I’m obsessed with nostalgia as can be seen in my “Back to the ‘90s” music video. I direct commercials largely around nostalgia and so nostalgia has been a big piece of my career. It’s been so great to work for a network that seems to be fueled by nostalgia right now.

The reason I bring this up is that in our show, you’re much more likely to see a rotary phone than an iPhone. You’re much more likely to see a broken lamp in the corner that is lighting the scene. You know, like, I think literally, I remember in one episode, we’ve got like, the kids are watching something on a screen in a classroom. And they literally wheel in one of those little TV consoles that we grew up with in the 90s rather than any kind of slick projector. I appreciate the analog quality to PS-38, as I think it’s reflective of the nostalgic tendencies of the whole network.

Frost: What do you hope viewers get out of this experience of watching Big Nate? And what do you hope happens in the show’s future?

Giroux: As an actor, I have had the privilege of having so many incredible projects. But I’ve also been part of some projects where you’re happy to have a job, but not necessarily proud of the result. I am the proudest of this more than anything I’ve ever done in my career because the characters are so rich and dynamic. The writers’ room is so talented, we’ve had the freedom to play. It’s also been a unique experience recording this from the pandemic, as we’ve created every episode of this show—animators, writers, directors, cast—without ever being in the same room together. And I think that’s a real achievement and a testament to the human ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances in our crazy world.

This show has been the biggest, brightest light for me over the last two years, which have had some dark times. My hope is, as people watch the show, that it gives them a brief respite from the chaos of the world. Because for me, what I can provide is levity and laughter. I can provide comedy. That’s why I do what I do. Certainly, I’m able to see that vision through by playing Big Nate. I hope it makes people laugh. And I hope people really enjoy it; there’s a lot of heart behind these characters.

Thinking of the long term, I hope you may see a Big Nate movie at some point. I hope that we just keep getting season after season because when you have a property like this, there’s just so much source material to mine, and so many more storylines to build. The task is twofold: It’s honoring the source material, but it’s also inviting in a whole new generation of Big Nate fans. I hope we just keep expanding the universe as much as they let us.

Frost: Thank you so much for chatting with me, Ben.

Giroux: Thank you!

The animated Big Nate series is available to steam now on Paramount+. Follow Ben on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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Stream full episodes of Big Nate, exclusively on Paramount+. Click HERE for more info about the show and visit ParamountPlus.com for a free trial!


Originally published: February 08, 2022.

Additional source: ASF /@LinusFan303.

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