- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Dana Snyder, like many struggling actors, put in his share of time on the boards. He did plays and musicals, comedy in New York and regional theater around the country. “That’s all I did,” he recalls, speaking by telephone. “That was all I wanted.”

Then he found fame as a trash-talking milkshake.

It was something he never expected. “I thought I’d be a turkey leg. Not a milkshake,” he deadpans.

The 33-year-old actor voices Master Shake on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” one of the most successful shows on the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim late-night animation block. The surreal series features the exploits of three New Jersey roommates who just happen to be fast-food items: Master Shake, Frylock and Meatwad. The series is making its big-screen debut today with the release of “Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters.”

Talking to Mr. Snyder feels like talking to Shake himself. His voice isn’t all that different from his character’s. The jokey actor sometimes talks in the same speech patterns, too — although one hopes he wouldn’t put his roommate in the microwave, as Shake has done to Meatwad.

It’s clear Mr. Snyder is more than just a pretty voice.

“I certainly do,” he responds when asked if he ad-libs some of Shake’s lines. “There certainly is always a very thorough script,” he says. “I’ll do one or two the way they write it. Then I’ll keep screwing around with it.”

Master Shake is a singular character, and Mr. Snyder reports some interesting influences. “Don Rickles and Phil Silvers, and all those dudes,” he says. “I like all that cheap showbizzy stuff, which I sometimes inject a little into it. I know a lot about Jewish comedians. It might not be what everybody knows about, but it makes it unique, I guess.”

Mr. Snyder was born in Allentown, Pa., but spent part of his childhood in Las Vegas. “As a 7-year-old, I remember being aware of who Rip Taylor was. All those weirdos.”

He offers up some serious analysis of the cartoon in which he stars. “The three of them sort of represent the id, ego, and superego,” he says, noting that although the episodes and the film have plots, they’re never resolved. “There are no tidy endings in life,” he declares.

The actor’s work as Shake has made him perhaps the network’s most popular voice. He appears on a number of other Adult Swim series: “Minoriteam,” “Squidbillies” and “Venture Brothers.”

“I’m greedy, and I have a house to pay for and a wife. She has a job of her own, but I bleed her dry,” he says. “She’s on her third shift right now.”

Mr. Snyder reports that he has an appearance on an upcoming episode of “ER.” It’s unclear whether that’s a joke or not — with Mr. Snyder, the delivery is the same. Turns out that it isn’t. “I’m ‘Paranoid Man,’ ” he clarifies. “It starts with characters with no names, just descriptions. I auditioned for ‘Snooty Historian’ the other day.”

With what one pictures as a wry smile, he adds: “Everything I’ve said is serious. My wife is on her third shift.”

Kon-toons

Fans of anime — or just high-quality international film — will want to check out the Smithsonian Institution’s fifth annual Cherry Blossom Anime Marathon tomorrow. Four Japanese animated films will be shown in the Meyer Auditorium of the Freer Gallery starting at 11 a.m. Tickets are available starting at 10:30 a.m.

Two of the films, 2003’s “Tokyo Godfathers” and the upcoming release “Paprika” (showing at 4 and 7 p.m., respectively), were directed by Satoshi Kon. Mr. Kon will introduce and discuss his films at the event.

Speaking through a translator by telephone soon after he touched down in this country, Mr. Kon reports this will be his first visit to Washington. “I’m always excited by events like this,” he says. “I know, logically, about the fact that there are fans of my work in America, but it’s hard for that feeling to sink in.”

His acclaimed films are known for their exploration of serious themes and their psychological complexity.

“There’s a presumed stereotype that live-action films carry more dramatic content or more depth than animated films, and that’s not an idea that I’ve ever shared,” he says. “My primary interest has always been about exploring the human psyche and humanity.”

Mr. Kon’s interest in the relationship between reality and dreams echoes that of an American who had an interest in Japanese culture, science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick. Mr. Kon says he has read a few of the writer’s works. “I was deeply moved by the film ‘Blade Runner,’ so I read the novel that it’s based on, ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ ” he reports. “In the works where he deals with the imagery of nightmares, that’s something I was definitely interested in.”

Asked if there are any American directors he admires, he names an interesting choice: the late George Roy Hill. Mr. Kon enjoyed his films “Slaughterhouse Five” (based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, who died Wednesday) and “The World According to Garp” — and also the hockey comedy “Slap Shot.”

“If I were to have a model to look up to as far as filmmaking goes, I would love to be like him and make films that are pure entertainment, as well as explore more sophisticated ideas and science-fiction ideas,” he says.

Anime, though admired around the world, is a distinctly Japanese art form. Mr. Kon thinks it developed out of the country’s love of manga — comic books — and a very practical concern.

“There were no large budgets for filmmakers to do very fantastic or imaginative things,” he says. “Nowadays, I think other cultures can mimic the style of Japanese animation, but they couldn’t make anime like Japan does because of its history.”

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