American voice actor William Dufris was born in Houlton,
a small town in Maine. While in high school he discovered
he had a passion for mimicry and vocal characterisation. He
moved to London in 1986, where he found an outlet for his
career choices. Voice work afforded him many opportunities;
language tapes, film/cartoon dubbing, commercials, audiobooks,
and BBC radio plays. Darren Rea recently spoke to the man
who has portrayed numerous characters including Peter Parker
(AKA Spider-Man), Bob the Builder and a flatulent Penguin...
Rea: What was behind your original decision to move to the
UK in the mid-'80s?
Dufris: I got married - I've since remarried. I was doing
a lot of theatre in Maine and I met a girl who had come over
on an exchange to the University that I was attending at that
time. She was from King Alfred's College in Winchester - where
Dirk [Maggs] hails from. I had already spent a semester at
King Alfred's College and so I had already developed a love
of the UK, so it was no upheaval on my part to move there.
I found myself doing the odd bit of theatre.
a North American community in the UK and a North American
friend of mine contacted me and told me that there was a job
going doing language tapes. I went and did that gig, and then
an acquaintance from that job put me in touch with someone
who was casting for cartoons.
there I went to the Royal National Institute for the Blind
to narrate audio books and then from there it was a natural
progression to getting heard with the BBC for audio plays.
Before I'd met Dirk, my agent had previously called me up
and told me that I was being asked to play a part in the BBC
audio production of Batman: Knightfall as one of the
lesser roles - one of the villains. I was over the moon about
being asked to do something like that, but it then transpired
that someone else had been promised the parts and had to back
out and then found themselves able to accept the roles after
all. And, because Dirk is extremely loyal, he had to back
down on his offer to me. But he then promised my agent that
the next show he did he would cast me in it. He hadn't even
met me, that's just the way he is. And the next play he produced
So you went from being offered bit part roles, to the main
character? That's pretty impressive.
I know. That's what I thought. From being cast as one of the
anybodies in Batman, to being the lead in Spider-Man,
I was like: "Okay. I can handle this". That sort
of rejection - absolutely. But that's the sort of person he
is though. I'm a big fan of Dirk's. He is one of the finest
directors I've ever had the opportunity to work with. As an
actor you really feel that you have the chance to try anything,
and if it doesn't work he'll let you know, and if it does
he's over the moon. They're always such fun sessions.
all the other BBC radio plays that I've done you'll sit around
and just read the script. With Dirk, he pretty much just goes
for it. You'll find yourself just standing in front of the
mic and you'll just go for a reading. If it works then great,
but if it doesn't he'll make a few suggestions. He loves to
have the actors move about.
was one point in Judge Dredd [The Day the Law Died]
where I was playing Judge Cal and a couple of his cohorts.
I had to do three different voices, one of which only had
one line which was great, but the other two were having a
mini conversation. I had this suit on, because the play needed
to convey to the audience that I was wearing this heavy chainmail
suit, and every time I moved it would clink and rattle. Dirk
had me bobbing and weaving from side to side in front of the
in Spider-Man, whenever there was a fight we would
be weaving in front of the microphone - I was literally throwing
myself around the room, so that there was always a sense of
movement in his productions.
actually divulged to me at one point that he... Sorry, this
is turning out to be an interview on Dirk... but I learned
so much from him. He explained to me that when he was recording
Independence Day UK he'd have a pilot in a cockpit.
And while he had the sound of the engines and the wind rushing
outside, he'd also insert these tiny little clicks, because
the pilot would be manipulating controls and pressing buttons.
So he has that real aural sense of creating this complete
world in which the characters reside. Even if it's not picked
up consciously by the listener, it is subliminally there.
Judge Dredd came around and we did that with just five
actors playing all the roles. And we did American Werewolf
in London, and Dirk touched base with John Landis himself
and we had Jenny Agutter, Brian Glover and John Woodvine from
the film involved in that. And then we did Voyage which
was far more serious and realistic. Dirk was just blown away
by the book and was so pleased about doing it. I am one of
Dirk's greatest fans because I myself have such a passion
for radio theatre since being in the UK. Since I moved back
to North America I've not had the opportunity to do anything
for other companies.
since started up my own radio theatre company and we've done
a number of productions. Our last one was a nod and a wink
to the Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds,
where we had flesh eating zombies overrunning the city near
where I reside - live on the air. That was a lot of good fun
and I'm hoping to make something of that as well.
How do radio productions differ in America compared to the
First of all there is very little of it. We have National
Public Radio, which can find itself being a forum for radio
theatre, but there is so little of it being produced at the
moment. LA Theater Works is the most notable and successful
company, but I think the success that they've had is really
due to the stars that they've been able to get involved. They
are live productions, with an audience in LA and I've heard
that they do two live recordings and then one in the studio,
and use the best bits from each recording to create their
With other mediums, like TV and theatre, you have props and
costumes to help get you into character. How do you get into
character when all you have is a microphone in front of you?
Pure imagination and finding yourself in the same mindset
as the director. With Dirk's productions a lot of it is pretty
much over the top - they're not particularly realistic situations.
There is much more of a cartoon element. So, you can have
more fun. Having done a lot of voices for cartoons, that allowed
me to go full tilt - which is something Dirk encourages.
You played Peter Parker in Spider-Man and then the
crazed Judge Cal in Judge Dredd - you couldn't get
any more contrast between roles. It sounded like you had a
lot of fun playing Judge Cal. Did you have more freedom in
that role? And where did you get the inspiration for the character?
There was an actor, whose name escapes me for the moment,
who played a Roman Emperor in one of those movies from the
'50s/'60s and I just remember this crazed ending to the film
where this Emperor is screaming at our departing hero. I just
remember how crazed he was and that, pretty much, was the
character of Cal for me - this cunning narcissistic character
who had bouts of insanity. That character was so much fun.
scene with Cal in the bathtub with his little rubber duckie,
I actually had that in hand. Dirk would allow us to ad lib
and if he liked it, he'd keep it in the finished recording.
In that scene I just threw in a few lines, talking to the
duckie and Dirk allowed that - he gives his actors a lot of
freedom to explore their characters. But, yes. From Peter
Parker to Judge Cal, that's a complete contrast.
That seems to be one of the benefits of audio productions
- you don't get typecast like movie actors.
No. Which is great. I'm this grey haired, bespectacled guy
who is a good 20lbs overweight. I would never be cast in a
lot of these roles that I can portray for the radio if they
were made for TV. Also you get the chance to play more than
one character on most productions - and that's also a thing
that I do on the audio productions that I do as well. Because
you are the single voice, you have to do all the voices of
all the characters.
Which of the mediums you've worked in do you prefer?
Radio plays, by far - closely followed by cartoons. It's just
the overall sense of fun. With audio books there is a lot
of concentration and focus that has to be contained - having
to read every single word as written and ensuring that one's
annunciation is clear. With radio, you have music and sound
effects that can mask a number of ills.
cartoons you will either be reading from a script that you
are developing the character for, or you are revoicing - and
it is the creating of a character that is more appealing to
me. I do Bob the Builder, but I am revoicing Neil Morrissey
for the North American market and so I have to stay with his
cadence that he's already set and as the animation has already
been created around his voice - so I'm restricted in that
sense. Whereas sitting in front of a microphone with the script
and just creating a character from scratch is definitely the
far more appealing. But radio plays are definitely my passion.
Will you be working with Dirk again on the Hitchhiker's
I won't be unfortunately. He wrote to me to tell me that he
was doing that, and it is just so exciting. He's working with
a number of the original cast members. I'm sure that with
his touch on it it will be fantastic. I have to confess that
I was never particularly enamoured with the original series.
I loved the books, but I was rather disappointed by the BBC
productions. I felt that they were a little flat. With Dirk
at the helm, I'm sure he'll have so much fun with them.
You didn't appear in Dirk's Gemini Apes series, but
he managed to slip you in as "Dufris" the incompetent
security guard who gets fired...
[Laughs] He did that as a tribute to me because I was over
here in the States visiting my sister when he did that series.
I wanted to be a part of it, but I had to turn it down because
there was no way I could fly over to the UK just to do that
series. And so as a result he had a "little surprise"
for me - as he put it. I absolutely adored that when I heard
done a similar thing with the productions I've done here.
I'm at a hotel lobby desk and in the background, very low
we'll have: "Yes Mr Dufris, we do have a room for you."
But, for Dirk to have done that... I was very pleased and
What was the reason behind starting your own audio production
Simply because there is nothing here. I did help to establish
a company in England with a couple of very good friends of
mine - Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross - called The Story Circle.
With that we got in touch with Scholastic regarding their
Point Horror series and we would take the books and adapt
them into radio plays. Based on that experience, when I came
here and found there was nothing remotely like this I just
started it up myself.
I got in contact with old acquaintances and old friends and
put together a live performance, which we then had broadcast
on our local public radio station. This is the closest thing
to the BBC in that it is funded, to a large extent by the
listeners and those funds are then matched by the Federal
Which work in your career to date are you most proud of?
There are a couple. I did a cartoon series called Rocky
and the Dodos in which I played a rather flatulent penguin
called Elvis. Playing in that series was a lot of fun. And
anything with Dirk is always great. I'd say doing Spider-Man
and An American Werewolf in London was a lot of fun.
Judge Dredd was a lot of work - I never sweated so
much. It was constant movement.
and Dirk Maggs take a break during the recording of
Are there any animated characters that you wish you'd been
instrumental in creating.
I love Bugs Bunny [laughs.] Daffy Duck is one of my favourite
all time characters. Anything that Jonathan Winters would
do. He was a masterful voice artist. He and Mel Blanc and
Paul Frees - who did all the Rocky and Bullwinkle stuff
- were responsible for all of those wonderful American cartoons
which are still loved by children and adults today. Daffy
Duck is probably my favourite character though.
If an audio production was to be made of your life who would
play you and who would direct it?
[laughs] Robert Downey Jr. and Dirk would have to direct it.
Thank you for your time.
selection of William's work is available to buy by clicking