Hollywood Notebook: April Winchell gives voice to talking horse

FresnoSeptember 14, 2013 

Because I'm an animation fan, one of the great joys of this job is getting to talk with the creative people behind cartoons. Voice actors are particularly interesting because they are like utility players on a baseball team: They may sign for one specific job, but they have to be ready to take on additional duties.

April Winchell has been working as a voice actor for more than 40 years, getting her start as a child on the TV show "Kid Power." Her father, Paul Winchell, is a legend in the voice actor world. You probably know his voice best as Tigger.

As a child, Winchell loved to impersonate actors like Edgar G. Robinson and Mae West. She was with her father one day when his agent heard the youngster's mimicry and suggested she audition for a cartoon voice. Since then, she's been talking in animated works from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" to her current series, Disney Channel's "Wander Over Yonder." In "Wander," which launched Friday, Winchell voices Sylvia, Wander's faithful steed.

Every job is different for Winchell. Sometimes she's given details about the character she's to voice; other times there is nothing to use to decide how a character would speak.

"Sometimes you don't see the artwork. Sometimes they don't know what they want. I did 'The Mighty Ducks' and they had no idea. They told me 'just do something.' The dialogue was really smart. For some reason I thought about how she would sound if she always had a cold. That's what I did and it worked."

Mario Lopez

Mario Lopez had some help making the transition from a muscle-bound actor on "Saved By the Bell" to host for the news magazine "Extra" and the reality music competition "The X Factor."

When the third season of "The X Factor" launched Wednesday on FOX, Lopez handled the hosting duties all by himself. The man who helped Lopez get ready for such on-screen duties was the king of such jobs, Dick Clark. Lopez is grateful that he was able to call Dick Clark a friend.

Among all the tips Clark gave him: A good host has to like people and like hosting.

"I like hosting whether it's barbecues at my house, game night, national TV shows or radio shows. I just like people, and you have to move things along. You have to be a good listener. And I just wanted to be and much like you're hosting a dinner party. You want everyone to have a good time. You want everyone to feel welcome, and you want to make it about them," Lopez says. "In this show, and I think everyone's on the same page, is about the talent. This is about finding the next star and trying to nurture that.

"And I think, personally, there's no better platform than to do that because, given the broad spectrum of categories that we have and the wonderful talent that we have in search of that, it makes me proud to be a part of it."

Clark also told Lopez to be himself. Lopez is using those tips to chase his ultimate goal. He wants to be the "Latino Dick Clark" and have a career that lasts as long as Clark's.

Nicole Beharie

It's always nice to talk to actors when they're having a good year.

This would already be considered a great year for Nicole Beharie, who received praise for her portrayal of Mrs. Jackie Robinson in the movie "42." While the accolades are still resonating, Beharie has a starring role in one of the more eagerly awaited shows of the new TV season, "Sleepy Hollow."

She plays a police officer who comes to the assistance of Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison) when he wakes up in the modern world. They team to battle the Headless Horseman (Richard Cetrone), who continues his killing ways in the 21st Century. "Sleepy Hollow," a modern twist on the Washington Irving classic, debuts at tonight on FOX.

Having two projects that are so different created an acting whirlwind for the young actress.

"It was crazy because they're two drastically different worlds. '42' is a '40s movie, civil rights kind of situation, and this is a fantasy piece where I'm covered in dirt and carrying a gun," Beharie says. "I think that during that time, I was just kind of amazed by the drastic difference in the material."

She was so amazed by the way the show's creators — Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Len Wiseman, Phillip Iscove — were bringing the story to life, she had little time to think about the premiere of "42."

"Even now, you're like, 'Okay, perhaps. This is kind of ridiculous. It would work if …,' and then all the 'ifs' fall into place," Beharie says.

The challenge was to find the balance for her character of being skeptical about a guy running from a man without a head and accepting what she sees. It was that element of the role that pulled Beharie into the series.


TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, rbentley@fresnobee.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.

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