Actress Deborah Kennedy is one of the most recognizable faces in Australia, with a career that spans over 40 years in film, stage and television. But it was her role as nosy town gossip Doris Collins in the sprawling, six-season Australian drama A Place To Call Home that caught the attention of Wonkybot Studios founders Stewart St John, Todd Fisher and Michael Plahuta.
“We were obsessed with the show,” said St John, creator, writer and director of Tara Tremendous. “Deborah played Doris Collins with such brilliant precision that when it came time to write the new season of Tara Tremendous — Tara Tremendous: The Egyptian Curse — I was inspired to create a character specifically for her.”
But how to convince a veteran actress on the other side of the pond to voice a character in a Los Angeles-based superhero podcast series?
“We sent an email to Deborah’s agent in Australia and introduced them to Tara Tremendous — a girl who becomes the most powerful tween on the planet after she accidentally acquires the powers of every superhero on Earth — and shared what huge fans we were of Deborah’s work on her series, and basically pleaded for her to join our cast,” laughed Michael Plahuta, who had introduced his Wonkybot Studios partners to A Place To Call Home after relocating from Australia to the US.
“A few days later Deborah’s agent responded and asked for more details about the project, a few sample scenes from the script, a short biography of the character, and said she would send it over to Deborah and gauge her interest.”
“Mind you, we didn’t get much sleep that night,” said Todd Fisher. “We were all so anxious because we knew she’d be perfect for the role Stewart had written.”
The role, Ms. Fernsby, is a persnickity task-mistress who returns to Power University (a secret island where kids with extraordinary abilities are trained for a superhero future) as the Professor of Physical Combat And Strategic Training and immediately clashes with headmaster Mr. Barrington as well as the title character, Tara Callahan (aka Tara Tremendous).
“Stewart created such a juicy character for me to play I had to say yes,” confessed Kennedy, who was so impressed with the series that she signed on immediately. “I listened to the entire series and I loved it! And I absolutely love Dr. Epic – he’s outrageous!”
Deborah added: “And as for Ms. Fernsby — she’s just hilarious. I absolutely relish all the delicious words in the script.”
After the Wonkybots learned that Kennedy was on board, a phone call was arranged to discuss the character in further detail.
“She asked for as much information as I could give her,” said St John. “As a writer, it’s wonderfully refreshing when an actress takes that sort of initiative and interest. She was so thorough and respectful of the material and asked amazing questions about Ms. Fernsby’s backstory and motivations, until she really found a way into the character.”
And find it she did.
“Deborah is riveting in the part,” said Fisher, who has already listened to all twelve episodes of The Egyptian Curse. “From the moment she arrives on the Power U campus, to the dramatic faculty scene in Hero Hall, Deborah Kennedy is a force. And its so wonderful to hear Stewart’s words performed by such a masterful actress.”
“When I was thinking about what the pleasure is of playing a character, just with the voice alone, I remembered when I was a little girl hiding under my bed, under the bed spread, and doing a Punch and Judy show,” said Kennedy. “And I would find the voices for all my toys, and inflict little shows on my sisters, and my mom and dad. And there’s something about only being responsible for the voice that gives you an incredible freedom to act in a way that when your image is on the screen you can pull back from that, but you can be so outrageous when no one is looking.”
The first episode of Tara Tremendous: The Egyptian Curse is already available to listen to at wonkybot.com, and also at pinna.fm where the entire series can be streamed as part of an exclusive co-production venture between Wonkybot Studios and Pinna, the creator of the first and only on-demand audio entertainment service developed and curated exclusively for kids.
With over forty voice actors recorded in seven studios across three continents, and with an original score and top-level sound design, Tara Tremendous: The Egyptian Curse pushes the boundaries of audio storytelling for kids and demonstrates Wonkybot Studios’ groundbreaking production work.
“It’s very much geared for just not the 11-year-old, but whoever’s looking after the 11-year-old, and younger or older,” added Kennedy. “Some of the references for the older audience are beautifully placed. I’d say Stewart’s writing is what Roald Dahl does… they make it possible for the entire audience to lap it up on different levels, without it going over the tops of their heads.”