Saturday, April 30, 2022

Meet Chris Phillips, The Voice Behind Nick Jr.'s Original 'Face'

Nineties kids spent a lot of couch time hearing Nick Jr.’s Face sing and laugh. So, of course E! News recently caught up with Chris Phillips, the voice behind Face and more of your favorite childhood shows.

Chris Phillips

Hi there, Face here!

Chances are, if you're a ‘90s kid who grew up on Nick Jr., you didn't just read that sentence, but you also heard it. Because, whether you were a preschooler or sick at home and curled up on the couch, it was that voice of Nickelodeon's animated host who announced your favorite shows like Blue's Clues, Gullah Gullah Island, Little Bear, Allegra's Window and Eureeka's Castle.

But did you ever stop and think about putting a name to, well, the Face? E! News did. And they found Chris Phillips, who has been lending his voice to Nickelodeon since 1994. (Though the network recently announced that for its upcoming show Face's Music Party, Cedric Williams will be taking over as the reimagined character.)

And now, brr-brr-brr-, Phillips telling all to E! News. The 64-year-old, er, showed his face in a recent Zoom chat for a rare look into this life then and now.

E! News: Let's start from the beginning. How did you get involved in voice acting?

Chris Phillips: When I was a kid, my grandfather gave me a tape recorder and I would make a lot of tapes at home. As I got a little older, I would get together with friends, we'd write a ghost story and I'd put sound in it. I was also the kid that would be watching TV and my mom would say, "Go to bed," and I was like, "One more commercial!" She'd think I was an idiot, "What do you mean one more commercial?" Later on I said, "Remember that? It paid off."

E!: Heading into the audition for Face, what did you know about the role?

CP: Not very much. They showed me a test of Face and they had a British voice on there. He was very quiet and it was frightening, which was appealing to me. It was like, oh, that's creepy and weird. But I wasn't going to go that route...

E!: So, what route did you take?

CP: The voice I originally auditioned with was not the Face voice. It was a little goofier. After that audition, Nickelodeon brought me back and I would do a voice and people on one side of the table would like it, the other side would go, "Nah, what else you got?" I'd do something else. They'd go, "Oh, that's good." The other side would go, "Eh, what else?" They started to wrap up and I'm watching the gig go away. And I literally went, "Well, what about this voice?" Everybody went, "Hey!" And that was it. I couldn't believe it. It was the skin of the teeth.

E!: How much of a say did you have in the creative process?

CP: Well, I didn't write any of the scripts. I would've liked to, actually. But every time there was a song, I made up the melody and sometimes the lyrics, like peanut butter and banana or I'm waiting, I'm waiting or blue, blue, blue. I was aware it was going out to a young crowd and I'm young at heart, so I had a lot of fun and kept it light.

E!: How many of the shows that you introduced did you actually watch?

CP: A few. Let's see, Blues Clues. I knew Steve [Burns]. We would see each other at auditions and chit-chat about work. I actually went out to Universal Studios to the set of Gullah Gullah and they had a giant Face and people were posing in front of it. I wanted to go, "Hey, that's me."

E!: You should have!

CP: Well, imagine some guard taking me away and I'm going, "But I am Face. Really, that's me!"

E!: What's the oddest fan request you get?

CP: I have been asked to do a number of phone messages or birthday wishes. Occasionally, a friend would call me and go, "My daughter is giving me a hard time. Could you do Face for her?" And I would say, "Be nice to daddy." And the kid would be speechless. They couldn't believe it was Face. And then the father or mother would say, "OK, I'll take the phone back." And suddenly they're like, "No! Wait, wait, wait!"

E!: What about any unexpected Face merch?

CP: My sister is a teacher and whenever I'd visit, she'd make me come in for show and tell. I was also doing a few other cartoons at the time, like Doug. I would bring in storyboards and explain how cartoons are done. The kids would have things for me to sign, like a tray. I'm like, "Where did this come from? I want one!" So, I'm fighting a little kid for the tray.

E!: You were Roger on Doug. What was it like going from happy Face to school bully?

CP: It was very freeing. I was actually imitating [actor] Billy West. He moved to California and so, I ended up doing Roger. And when you read reviews online, they're not always the kindest if it's a new person doing the voice. But for some reason I got very lucky. When I was a kid and they changed the Fred Flintstone voice, I remember being outraged!

E!: In addition to Doug, you were also on Bubble Guppies, PB&J Otter, Cartoon Network, the Trix Yogurt commercials. How many voices are in your arsenal?

CP: A whole lot! I think I frighten my neighbors when I'm practicing voices. I keep wondering if somebody's walking by the apartment and thinking how many people live there?

E!: Of all the projects you've worked on, which is the most special?

CP: Face, definitely. I mean, that really was very impactful to a lot of people. When I meet folks in their 20s and 30s, whey they find out I'm Face, I can see how much it means to them. And that's the greatest feeling. It makes me feel like I really did a great job and you don't get a chance to do that very often.

E!: If you could give Face a, well, facelift, what would it look like today?

CP: Maybe a little stubble. You've seen Face with a mustache at times with a little disguise. I also think Face would probably like a pair of hands in case he has an itch. Although the full body might be a little frightening.

E!: What are you up to now?

CP: I work with a friend of mine Denis Leary. I write music for him and I directed a one-man show of his. It's the total opposite of Nickelodeon because we have a song called "A**hole" and it's a toe tapper. And I'm still doing voiceovers. We just wrapped Bubble Guppies. So, hoping for something new. If anybody's out there, now I'm available!

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