Niko and the Sword of Light: SpongeBob Actor Talks New Series

The Amazon show depicts a “rank amateur evil fighter” who must save the world.

Although Tom Kenny describes himself as a journeyman actor, he’s had considerable success doing voice work in Rocko’s Modern Life, Adventure Time, The Powerpuff Girls, CatDog, Spyro the Dragon, and as his signature character, SpongeBob Squarepants. Now, Kenny has another animated series to add to his resume: Niko and the Sword of Light. Niko and the Sword of Light recently made its official debut on Amazon two years after the pilot episode was released.

It’s based on the motion comic of the same name, and follows the 10-year-old title character as he awakens in a strange post-apocalyptic world with a mission to defeat the darkness that has overtaken the land. Kenny plays Mandok, one of Niko’s closest companions.

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We recently had the opportunity to speak with Kenny about his role on Niko and the Sword of Light, and he shared his very enthusiastic take on the series while teasing the journey ahead for Mandok in the first and second seasons of the show. IGN: Tell us about your character, Mandok.

Tom Kenny: Mandok on Niko and the Sword of Light is a part of Nico’s company, his fellowship of fellow adventurers that are joining Niko, the rank amateur evil fighter, as he tries to get his learning curve up to speed and fight this evil that has been unleashed in the world. Mandok is one of the people he comes across. A small mammal ([aughs], a little weird critter who’s had to live by his wits and is very self-serving and selfish and out for himself and winds up having to join this adventure and learn how to not be so much like that.

He learns how to be part of a collective effort and do things for other people like to keep the world from succumbing to total evil. He’s a con man. He’s sort of a guy who’s always trying to wheel and deal and then save his own skin and throwing other people under the bus.

But that changes as the series goes on. IGN: How did you settle upon the voice of Mandok? TK: Like any role that we do, it’s all about auditioning.

Everything that I do is the result of an audition; which means that it is the result of research and puzzle solving. So you know as an actor, you get a picture of the character and you get a little paragraph of what their personality is. You maybe get a script or a partial script at least, and you just kind of use that almost like an FBI profiler or something to try and figure out what this character would sound like, and what would they talk like.

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What it really comes down to is “how can I achieve this illusion – that little magic trick – of making this voice seem like it’s really coming out of this character, this series of moving drawings.” You know, that’s how it is.

A lot of the times it’s a mashup where you go “he’s a little bit this and a little bit that. He’s maybe a skosh of this other thing,” And you mash those up together. For me, just looking at his personality and the dialogue, I wound up pitching something that was kind of … wisecracking like a Henry Youngman/Shecky Greene sort of comedian, but also with a little bit of my friend Richard Kind in there.

Character actor Richard Kind, who has this big wide mouth and he speaks very exactly. And he speaks very intensely and slowly. But that’s not going to work at a cartoon with a two to four age group.

You just sort of speed him up. You get Richard Kind 90 cups of coffee and you put him in the Borscht Belt, you put him on the stage of a comedy club and you’re like “what’s going on with this guy?” Luckily for me, that got me the gig.

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Actor Tom Kenny from ‘Niko and the Sword of Light’ at Amazon’s KIDS PRESS ROOM Panel during Comic-Con International 2017 on July 23, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Getty Images for Amazon Studios) IGN: What attracted you to the role?

TK: You know, I loved that process that I just described. I really love auditioning. I like to look at all that stuff and try to figure it out.

It’s as close as I come to doing a Rubik’s Cube or whatever. [laughs] That’s a part of a process that I really enjoy. So I just audition for stuff all the time just because I like it. In a lot of it it’s a numbers game, being a journeyman voice actor.

Some of it you hope to book and most of it you don’t get. But you just line up and take your swings and hope some of them connect. With Niko, I really liked the material and I really like the genre that it was inhabiting: a very larger than life fairy tale legend.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings meets He-Man and the Masters of the Universe meets Jonny Quest meets a whole bunch of other things. I made a really long list of elements that this show contains, like little things that I like that are in this show.

I think a lot of it is just the creators of the show and the comic book that the show is based on, and just figuring out the million things that they like and they have enjoyed throughout their lives and putting them in the cartoon Cuisinart and coming up with a fabulous smoothie.

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IGN: Was it unusual for it to take two and a half years to go from the pilot to the series? TK. Yeah. Not unprecedented, but probably a little unusual.

I mean the gestation period… let me think. With SpongeBob, we did the seven-minute pilot film in 1997. It went to series in 1999.

So, it’s not unprecedented, but I think with Niko, you had that source material of the motion comic. And then a pilot was made for Amazon that won a Daytime Emmy. Then when the show got picked up, they decided to kind of go back and rejigger some aspects of the pilot in a way that you usually don’t get in the fast moving factory world of television entertainment.

A lot of times, you’re just like Lucy on the conveyor belt. You know the chocolates are going by and you’re trying to wrap them. And there’s a lot of stuff that you know you’ll never get to revisit it again.

That happens to me all the time where after you finish a performance, or sometimes I’m watching the finished show on TV a year later, and I just go, “Oh, I would have read that line totally different. I would’ve gotten a bigger laugh from that line if I’d emphasized this word or that syllable. What the hell was I thinking?

What a knucklehead.” And I think the nature of the beast is that a lot of times you just have to “let it go, let it go…” Feature films are a little more forgiving in terms of going with them. But I think part of that was [why] it took so long and I think that the care shows. [Executive producer] Rob Hoegee and his collaborators were able to maintain their enthusiasm.

I think they really believed in the project and really believed that this was the show that kids would like. And I would say kids kind of need. You know, an adventure that kids can actually watch.

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It’s kind of funny that stuff that used to be for kids has been co-opted by mouth-breathing adults.

Comic books and superhero movies and stuff like that used to be the domain of kids. It used to be that kids owned it. Now adults co-opted it, and because they want to feel better about watching this stuff from their childhood and not feel immature or whatever, there’s kind of like a level of violence and sadism that occasionally sneaks in.

And kids really want to see this stuff. You know kids love Batman. But they can’t go see Christopher Nolan’s Batman movie because the Joker sticks a pencil through a guy’s eye.

So that six-year-old who wants to see that Batman movie everybody’s talking about can’t do it. But there are iterations of these characters that they can see. There’s Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series.

Kids can watch that version of Batman. And in terms of Niko and the Sword of Light, I love the balance that it strikes between being exciting, being visceral, having monsters and beasts and danger which all kids love. I loved monsters as a kid, everything from Godzilla to those Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies to Jonny Quest and space cartoons.

That stuff all kind of warped my brain in a way that continues into my 50s. This has that for kids, but it’s still something that kids and families can watch without getting overly horrible. But it’s not namby-pamby or milquetoast either.

That’s a really tough thing to pull off in the writing, and I’m just so thrilled that the creators of the show have managed to pull it off. IGN: Can you tell us more about Mandok’s relationship with Nico and Lyra? TK: Like I said, Mandok is a little bit of an out for himself kind of guy.

His eyes are always darting around looking for the exit. And if he’s the only one that can make it to the exit in time, he’ll go. [laughs] But his relationship with Niko, he’s actually the one who first discovers Niko and comes across Niko in the first episode of the series. And then he kind of is thrust into this unfamiliar role for him as a caretaker and almost a parental role – teacher and tutor.

And then later on as Niko assembles his teammates for his quest along the way. As Arthurian quests go, you kind of pick up different people along the way that become part of your team. And Mandok has to become part of this collective.

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He’s always been just out for himself and suddenly he has to be a team player and really care about other people, which he’s never had to do because he’s always this physically small character who’s at the mercy of bigger, more powerful, stronger, more ferocious creatures in this world.

So he’s always kind of looking over his shoulder and trying to figure out the angles. And now as the quest goes on, he has to get onboard and help Niko and his “family” defeat this hideous evil that’s been unleashed upon the world. IGN: Have you started recording for season 2 yet?

TK: We actually recorded one right before Comic-Con. So it’s on. It’s beginning.

Niko and the Sword of Light Season 1 is available now on Amazon[1] .

References

  1. ^ available now on Amazon (www.amazon.com)

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