Friday, April 23, 2021

Kat Graham on Playing the First Black April O’Neil in Animated Reboot of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

Kat Graham of the television show ‘Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’ speaks during the Viacom segment of the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 27, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.
(Source: Phillip Faraone/Getty Images North America)

*Nickelodeon has ordered a 26-episode second season of “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and the announcement came ahead of the series premiere. The network made the announcement during Viacom’s presentation at TCA last month.

The animated series is set to debut September 17, 2018, but fans were treated with a sneak preview on July 20, when the first 5 episodes of the series were released online the same day.

Ant Ward and Andy Suriano serve as EP’s on this re-imagined series, which will have the Turtles go on new adventures as they seek to unlock the mystical secrets of New York City.

The cast includes Ben Schwartz, Omar Benson Miller, Josh Brener, Brandon Mychal Smith, Eric Bauza, John Cena and “Vampire Diaries” star Kat Graham voices April O’Neil — a human friend of the Ninja Turtles.

This series’ version of April will be the first-ever black depiction. Her early appearance in the comics is a Caucasian Irish-American red-haired woman.

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Kat Graham of the television show “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” speaks during the Viacom segment of the Summer 2018 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 27, 2018, in Beverly Hills, California.
(Source: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images North America)

“They decided to go with an African-American actress and African-American character. I knew that being part of Ninja Turtles was going to be a big deal, but I had no idea the weight of that decision and how important it would be because when I was growing up, there were no young Black cartoon characters — female, anyways — that were in this position,” said Graham during TCA.

Adding, “By the time there were, I was a little older; too much older to appreciate it. My take on this character and what I hope to bring to this character is not just what comes with being a young Black girl, but the fierceness, the being able to hang with the boys, the playfulness, the strength. I want young girls to see this and see that there’s a brown cartoon character that they can relate to, that they can say, “Well, April O’Neil did it, so I can do it too!” If you have a daughter, I want her to watch it and see that she relates to it. So that’s my dream for this character and that’s what I see for her.”

Voiceover actor Robert Paulsen, whose roles include Raphael and Donatello from the 1987 cartoon and 2012 cartoon respectively of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” serves as voice director for this TV series.

“He’s incredible,” Graham said. “He’s done so many iconic characters, but he has such a demeanor about him and he’s really coached us. When we were doing the
first couple episodes, we’re trying to figure out the character. We’re trying to figure out the groove, the rhythm of all that,” she explained.

“And he really — especially for me — he guided me into a really great place for this character. He’s just so humble and so — he’s just a really great person. I know that might sound a little vague but I think that he’s just — I can keep going on and on about Rob Paulsen,” she added.

Actress Kat Graham attends the SIMPLY LA Fashion & Beauty Conference Powered By WhoWhatWear at The Americana at Brand on August 11, 2018, in Glendale, California.
(Aug. 10, 2018 – Source: Vivien Killilea/Getty Images North America

Besides voice directing, Paulsen will also be providing voice work on the project, which Suriano described as “an exciting cartoon for today’s generation.”

“There’s certain inherent qualities of the Turtle franchise that have been so resilient and popular. I mean it’s 34 years old, from the ’80s comic books, to the cartoons, and all the iterations. So we — Ant and myself, we looked at it and we said what we liked about all of it, what we thought it worked from all of it. We kind of played with it like a chemistry set and distilled the elements that we thought would be, and an exciting cartoon for today’s generation.”

Ny MaGee
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.

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