Interviews: Blu Mankuma (1/09)
Blu Mankuma is a Vancouver based actor who has had a long and diverse career. Most Transformers fans will know him as the voice of Tigatron, the Maximal warrior from "Beast Wars Transformers". However, his career spans music, live action and other animation. His live action credits include "MacGuyver", "M.A.N.T.I.S." and "Stargate" while his animation credits include "Reboot", "Mummies Alive" and various "G.I. Joe" cartoons. BWTF was fortunate enough to interview this talented actor in early 2009.
1. Can you tell us about your background? Where you were born and so on?
I was born in Seattle, Washington. I grew up as Michael George. I have a large extended family and along with two of my brothers, Richard and Stan, and a neighbor named Paul, we formed a singing group. My father taught us harmony for singing church music but when we went secular, we were on our own. That is my earliest experience of being a song writer. We performed a song I wrote called "The Shadows Of Love".
I studied acting in High School and College. I got into college by being chosen for a special program headed by Sargent Shriver called "Project Overcome". It was there that my consciousness began to grow and, along with becoming quite militant, I created an African name for myself, Nakimo Mankuma. I joined the Black Students Union and, along with my best friend Reg Butler, taught Black History for a brief stint at the school which caused a great deal of outrage from "The Man".I was also a war protester and when drafted, refused the invitation. I had planned to go to jail. I kept going to classes during the day and coming home at night with great trepidation. I just knew I would see one of those green or brown Government cars parked out side my house but they never showed up....For two months! I was a nervous wreck and when a friend told me it was stupid to go to jail because when you get out they can just draft you again , I went to pieces. The thought of enduring that much stress over again was too much for me. So, I took the five dollars I had on me, begged a ride from a friend, and headed north into my future. By the way, the authorities showed up a week later. Apparently they had been looking all over Seattle for me. All I can say is.......WHEW!!!!!
2. How did you get started in the entertainment industry? I understand you had some musical background?
I moved to Canada in 1968 and was immediately struck by the vibrant music scene in Vancouver. While in school I had been in orchestra and choir, and our little singing group had still been performing, as well. So, to make a living in Vancouver, I joined a band and created the name "King Blue" for the occasion. My band was called "King Blue, Lady Rose and The Exotics". No lie. The "King" thing made me cringe so I got rid of it and became "Blue Mankuma". Then I was invited to become the lead singer for The Epics, who were a more professional band. It was a lot of fun. I was then asked to join in the creation of a group which became "Smokin' Pocket" where I really got a chance to explore my song writing capabilities. When the band broke up my drummer, Dave Mackinnon, came to my house and asked me why I hadn't dropped the "e" from my name. I dropped it that night. (Thanx, Dave.) I currently write with my bassist, Alexander "A Train" Boynton and my brilliant producer "Dave Pickell". The concept is called "BluTrain" and my CD "Dreamwell" is for sale at radiocomedyshow.com. "The King Of Hoes".
3.On "Beast Wars" you voiced one of the more "earthy" and spiritual characters with Tigatron, what did you think of the role when you were first presented with it? How did you enjoy working with the cast?
Tigatron is such an unusual character I was surprised at his love for the planet and the beings that inhabit it and his utter disdain for the war and the war machine and it's effect on the local habitat. He's a classy guy and it was an honor to give him voice. My cast mates are the best in the business. Standing beside Scott Macneil as he did Rattrap and Dynobot[sic] and watching him argue with himself was priceless. He's truly one of the best I've ever seen. David Kay's[sic] Megatron was absolutely mesmerizing. In my opinion, it was a very special series with an exceptional cast.
4. Do you stay in touch with any of your fellow "Beast Wars" cast members?
Scotty and I just finished a new series called "L.O.S.E." League Of Super Evil. Look for it sometime this year. I see Richard (Rhinox) and My buddy Jim Byrnes fairly often. Gary[sic] Chalk and I cross paths frequently. And once in a while I bump into Pauline(Air Racer[sic]). The voice community in Vancouver is small but robust. I'd match these guys up with anyone in the world any day!
5. Did you have any inkling of the fan base that existed for "Transformers" before "Beast Wars"?
Are you kidding? I was a huge fan myself long before I became one of the voices. I'm still blown away by the movie! Wow! What a tour du force! This is one of the most brilliant concepts of all time. The fan base is world wide and still growing. It continues to mesmerize generation after generation. I'm very proud to be a part of it.
6. You have attended the Botcon conventions in the past, what was it like to have so many appreciative fans express their enjoyment of your work in person?
It was a truly humbling experience. One kid told me that he had to move from Chicago to a city somewhere down south and he wasn't happy about it. He had to leave behind all his friends, his school and everything familiar to go live in a place where he knew no one. He said for a very long time he just stayed in his room. Then he told me that watching Beast Wars and Tigatron in particular, had given him the courage to venture out of his room one day and take a look at his new surroundings. He's fine now and quite happy. Quite frankly, I was not expecting anything like that. I will always remember that experience because it taught me that you never know when you're making a difference in someone's life. And that's exactly why I do what I do. That was very cool. I hope he hears this and knows that he made a difference in my life.
7. It can be argued that acting and the entertainment industry in general is difficult to make a living off of and requires an element of risk taking. How do you feel about that statement?
In my opinion, life requires risk...if you wanna have any real fun. Just choosing a life in show biz is a major risk. That's true. But the rewards are staggering. Money, travel, hangin' with some of the coolest people in the universe, and doing something that many people would love to do but most will likely never get the chance. Conversely, you can get your heart broken into so many pieces you'll never find them all. In other words, if you think you've got what it takes then jump on in . It's juicy up in here. Or....you could suffer the worse ass whoopin' of all time.To be or not to be...your call.
8. Are there any actors or other entertainment figures that influenced your work over the years?
My Father, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Humphrey Bogart, The Three Degrees, Nat King Cole, James Earl Jones, Martin Sheen, Laurence Fishburn, Oprah, Richard Pryor, Lena Horne, Duke Ellington, Satchmo, Paul Robeson, Lou Gossett Jr., John Coltrane, James Garner, James Brown, Barry White, Earth, Wind and Fire, Henry Fonda, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Stewart, Glen Ford, Barac[sic] Hussein Obama........and many, many more.
9. You were recently on Scifi Channel's production of "Tin Man", an updated take on the "Wizard of Oz" story. Can you discuss your time on that show and working with such a great cast of actors?
It is the most interesting take on that time honored tradition I've yet seen. The director was a hoot. He was like a wonderful wise child as he led us through the magic in his head and on to the yellow brick road. Raoul, who played Raw, the Lion. is currently on a show called "True Blood" and it's easily one of my favorites. I love them all. Allen, Neil and Zoey were wonderful. Neil, The Tin Man, was awesome. He did stellar work on the show and I appreciated him very much. I hope everyone gets a chance to see that show. In my opinion, it's excellent entertainment.
10. What productions are you currently involved in?
Look for me in Roland Emmerich's "2012" This one will be mind bogglin'! They had a $300 Million dollar budget! It's based on the Mayan Calender and it's guaranteed to blow you away. I actually sing in this movie. I don't want to give too much away but George Segal and I are a jazz duo playing a gig aboard a cruise ship. it was a blast working with him.
The Last Rites Of Ransom Pride is a western and I have to say that this is the character I've enjoyed the most since Tigatron. Beautiful dialogue and you have to see my large behind on that motorcycle sidecar! Very cool stuff.
BWTF thanks Mr. Mankuma for his time.