By Dakota Parks for Downtown Crowd
There is no character quite as nostalgic as Mickey Mouse. He is not only an American icon, but his voice is one that people of all ages recognize. The man behind that voice, Bret Iwan, has been a Disney fan since childhood. Coinciden- tally, Mickey was an influential part of Iwan’s life long before he assumed the role in 2009 after the predecessor, Wayne Allwine died. Iwan grew up drawing Mickey, which later inspired his career in illustration and graphic design. Iwan went to school at Ringling College of Art & Design in Sarasota, FL. After spend- ing five years with Hallmark as a graphic designer, Iwan stumbled upon the job posting for the Mickey voice understudy. Now, Iwan has focused his career on preserving the legacy of Mickey while upholding his career and passions in design and historic preservation.
What does the typical day in the life look-like for you? I can only imagine that you keep very busy from all of the TV shows, commercials, and Disney parks.
The fortunate thing about Mickey is that he works A LOT. So, with that, that means I have a lot of work to do. So, a typical week really can range from one to three recording sessions. It varies on the time of year and how many projects are going on. As big of a Disney fan that I was going into this, I had no idea the number of projects that I would be working on. It’s everything from a simple commercial to a video game, a holiday album, theme park shows or a TV show episode. With the increase in technology and apps, there are a lot of interactive stories and special features like the Google Home or Apple watch. In fact, I just put on my Apple watch last night to go for a run and clicked on the running app and all of a sudden Mickey [on the watch face] says, “it’s five o’clock!” I was like, “gosh! Leave me alone.”
So, what do you do to unwind from all of the work?
Well, free time is a funny term for me. I’m someone that rarely sits still. I just like doing things, creating, being active. I actually run my own design company called Bungalow Modern here in LA. I work on everything from historic home renovations to restaurant designs to individualized antique restorations. In terms of hobbies, I am a huge railroad aficionado. I still do art for fun, so I enjoy plein air landscape painting. I’m restoring an antique truck, so that keeps me very busy. They’re diverse, but they’re all very similar. At the core of it, I love anything that ties back to nostalgia and preserving history. Those are big passions of mine. Mickey kind of fits into those very nicely because he is such a beloved, historic and nostalgic character for so many of us.
Do you have any advice for someone going into the competitive industry of voice acting or advice for young, aspiring voice actors?
Sure. Not only is it competitive, but it has changed so much even in the 10 years that I've been a part of it. With the increasing technological advances, it’s really competitive. I give all credit to Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, for this quote. He will often say when teaching students, “it’s not voice acting, it’s voice acting.” Voice acting truly is acting. You’re not in front of the camera. You don’t have the benefit of emoting through expression or action—it's all in your voice. So, my first piece of advice to anyone pursuing any creative career is to take advantage of any class that is around you. It doesn’t have to be in New York or LA, it can be in your hometown. But if you want to be an artist, take art classes. If you want to be an actor, take acting classes. Immerse yourself in that world. So, I guess in summary: classes, workshops, demo reel, agent and then hopefully jobs.
Is it weird hearing your own voice in the parks?
Oh yeah, it’s totally weird. I have gotten a little bit used to it after ten years. Initially, I can remember the first time I went to Disneyland and the parade came by and it was my voice. I realized then that Mickey was never going to be the same for me. You know, now I’m so invested in that character in a way that I never imagined. I can’t help but hear myself in the character. When I hear the performances at the park or on TV, my memories are triggered by them. I can most often tell you what I was feeling that day, what the weather was like, were my allergies bad, what did I think about the project—all of these things come rushing back to me. I’m a fan, after all, so if I go to Disneyland, I'm going as a fan. I just want to get my churro and ride Big Thunder Mountain like anyone else. But then I see Mickey, and I’m like “oh! I’m a part of that now. It’s weird.”
Do you have any career highlights or memorable moments over the years?
I’m continually surprised when I get to meet people who have been so influential in my life and career path. Whether that’s Disney animators, Imagineers or anyone else involved in the process of Disney magic. Truly, some of the most impactful moments have been witnessing how powerful the character of Mickey is and how moved people are by him. People identify him as a friend and sometimes even more than that, essentially family, because he is such an ingrained part of our culture. I always knew what he meant to me and how impacted I was by the legacy of Walt, but now being a part of that and seeing it firsthand is incredible.