Michel Sadur beams with pride when she talks about her son Daniel Ross and his connection to “the Donald.”
“I don’t have my son the doctor. I have my son the duck!” the Frederick resident said.
And not just any duck. Ross is the voice of Donald Duck in the new Disney Junior computer-animated TV series “Mickey and the Roadster Racers.” The series debuted on Disney Junior (and Disney Channel) on Jan. 15. It’s Ross’ first voice acting role for an animated series with a worldwide audience.
“She was the one who taught me the voice (of Donald Duck),” Ross said of his mother in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles. When he was a kid, his mother would tuck him in at night and, in her best Donald Duck voice, tell him “I love you.” He would respond, in his best Donald Duck voice, “I love you, too, Mom.” Donald Duck was the first voice he learned to imitate.
Ross, 36, was born in D.C., grew up in Silver Spring and moved to Frederick to help care for his mother who was recovering from breast cancer and a double mastectomy. Living with his mother and working at Target allowed Ross, who by then had his sights set on moving to L.A. to pursue voice acting, to help her and save money to make the move with a little financial security.
One of his first voice acting gigs came in 2006, when he “campaigned to get a role in ‘Transformers: The Movie’ video game, which was unheard of from Maryland. I got a lucky break,” he said. He landed the voice of Starscream. Veteran voice actor David Sobolov was the voice of Brawl.
That same year Sobolov, invited Ross to the E3 Gaming Expo in L.A. to get a glimpse of the business, Ross said. Through later years and the success of “Transformers,” he was invited to participate and travel to fan conventions where he continued to meet voiceover talent and network with them to build contacts. Many of them remain friends today.
“I always knew that I would one day move to New York or L.A. to pursue acting,” Ross said, adding that he loves the magic of movies. He and friends/business partners Justin Timpane and Eduardo Sanchez (“Blair Witch Project”) produced films including a Ninja trilogy on a micro-budget: “Ninjas vs. Zombies,” “Ninjas vs. Vampires” (which premiered at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in 2010) and “Ninjas vs. Monsters” (the only one of the trilogy Sanchez was involved in).
Three years ago, Ross packed up his car and drove across the country to California. “I wanted to get here and get started,” he said, though he didn’t have any work lined up, except a job transfer with Target working a night shift.
“I was going to focus on everything — film, theater — but I decided to just focus on voice-over and see how far it goes. I practiced different voices and learned so much about my voice and capabilities. As you develop your craft, you become familiar with your instrument, your capabilities. This is important to know,” he said. “Then you can look at the business side and know where you can compete. It’s a discovery process.”
In 2015, his agent sent him an audition notice for the voice of Donald Duck in the new series. “I thought, ‘Oh boy! I’ve got this!’ but I’m competing with the best in the world,” he said.
The script included many multi-syllable words to be spoken a la Donald Duck. His mother advised him to, at the end of his audition, to do a Donald Duck sneeze. Ross, however, decided to add one more multi-syllable word to his audition: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. “They all stopped, and that was it!” said Sadur.
A couple of months later he got his first callback. “Then within a short period of time, a second callback and meeting with the creators of the show, the casting people at Disney Television Animation and, low and behold, in August 2015, I got the call from my agent I booked the show as Donald Duck!” Ross said.
The cast also includes Mickey Mouse (Bret Iwan), Minnie Mouse (Russi Taylor), Goofy and Pluto (Bill Farmer) and Daisy Duck (Tress MacNeille). The series takes the gang and their unique transforming vehicles on humorous high-spirited races around the globe as well as hometown capers in Hot Dog Hills. Off the racetrack, Minnie and Daisy run a successful problem-sovling business for anyone in need.
The first episode featured race car driver Jiminy Johnson (NASCAR’s seven-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson) returning to his hometown to be honored by the mayor. Mickey helped Jiminy build his first race car and wants to honor him with a special award, too: a wheel from that first car. Mayhem and racing ensue as Pete the tow truck driver, feeling his handmade toy race car for Jiminy is not as nice, seeks to steal the tire and present it to Jiminy as his gift.
Johnson, along with NASCAR’s Jeff Gordon (Gordon Gear) and Danica Patrick (Danni Sue) will have recurring roles in the series, too, along with Jay Leno (Billy Beagle), Tim Gunn (Robbie Roberts), Gordon Ramsay (Chef Oxley) and Hector Elizondo (Grandpa Beagle).
Cast members record individually, Ross said, and often without the visual of the character animation. Ross credits voice coach Kelly Ward with guiding him through the recording process.
He preps by poring over the script, looking at what the other characters’ lines are and practicing Donald’s lines and how to best make the character come to life. Donald Duck will be 83 years old in 2017, and he has a lot of fans so getting the little nuances down, including his sneaky laugh, are so important.
“I rehearse over and over and do warmups,” Ross said, such as saying the alphabet in Donald Duck’s voice, and stretching his tongue and cheeks. Some words, particularly those with a hard “g” or other hard consonant sounds can be challenging, he said.
As a child of the ‘80s, Ross said he grew up watching all the classics (including Donald Duck), Transformers, G.I. Joe and Inspector Gadget. “I loved all those shows. They were all very rich with voice actors, like Frank Welker, who is huge in voice-over.”
As a youngster, he imitated characters, teachers, the principal — and “got in all kinds of trouble.” His first acting role was in middle school in the role of Harold Hill in “The Music Man.” As a 16-year-old, Ross said he found himself living on the streets and it was acting that saved him. “It was an epiphany, and hopefully one day I can be a beam of light for someone else.”
His motto is if you dream it, you can make it happen.
But, he adds, you have to be honest with yourself. “Voice acting is not for everybody. You have to hit it hard and make it your priority. You can’t just dabble in it.”