Eugene Byrd has been a fan of “Star Wars” since he was a child. He rattles off toys he played with while growing up, including a Han Solo action figure in Hoth gear and the Millennium Falcon.
His love of the franchise made it both incredibly exciting and a little exasperating when he was cast as the voice of Zander Freemaker in the new Disney XD series “LEGO Star Wars: Freemaker Adventures.” He loves being part of the “Star Wars” universe, but this one launched in a shroud of mystery. Byrd couldn’t tell anyone he had been cast.
“When you are 5 years old and you don’t think that years from then you are going to have your own character in the ‘Star Wars’ universe – even if it is a LEGO,” Byrd says.
As with all parts of the “Star Wars” galaxy, the project was treated with super secrecy. When Byrd was sent a few pages to read as an audition there were no character names and the situations were far removed from “Star Wars.” Instead of talking about spaceships, the descriptions were about fast cars.
Despite the cryptic approach taken during the voice auditions, The Force was strong with Byrd and he felt like what he was reading had a definite “Star Wars” feel. The one time he saw the abbreviation “LSW” he thought the project had to do with little “Star Wars” characters.
He would eventually find out the “L” stood for LEGO. He was right about the “Star Wars” part.
The new series takes place between the events of “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” It’s a time of great battles, which works out for the Freemaker siblings – Zander (Byrd), Cordi (Vanessa Lengies) and Rowan (Nicholas Cantu) – as they scavenge for debris left by space battles throughout the galaxy. Rowan, who discovers he has a natural connection with The Force, finds an ancient artifact that changes things.
Zander, the oldest brother, is an ace pilot and charming rogue. He’s also a self-taught starship builder who rarely follows instructions.
Joining the “Star Wars” universe is just the latest big pop culture franchise of which Byrd has been a part. After appearing on “Heroes” and “American Horror Story,” Byrd made a leap into the comic book world with his role on “Arrow.”
He says all of the time he spent playing with action figures helped fan his interest in acting.
“Anytime a child plays with LEGOs, you are making things out of nothing, putting words in characters’ mouths. Anytime you play in a make-believe universe, in a weird way you want to be those characters,” Byrd says.
The Philadelphia native has been acting since he was 7, including a long-running stint on “Bones.” The new LEGO series will give him his first opportunity to see a character grow and change over a short period of time.
Being the voice of Zander also puts him in the recording studio, so the public will only hear his voice.
“Working in a recording booth forced me to learn a new acting muscle,” Byrd says. “At the time I was doing the recordings, I didn’t even know what Zander was going to look like.”
Lucky for him all those days playing with action figures gave him a rich imagination.
LEGO Star Wars: The Freemaker Adventures
- 10 a.m. Monday, June 20, Disney XD