Chris Diamantopoulos has one of those faces that bring about that guessing game fans like to do when they are certain they recognize an actor but aren’t quite sure where from—which A) Never seems to stop them from shooting off a litany of titles at said actor while he/she awkwardly, patiently, and gamely obliges and B) Must be a whole lot of fun for the actor on Opposite Day. Just throw some of your all-time favorite shows at the wall and see what sticks, chances are Diamantopoulos appeared in one of them—be it The Sopranos, The Office, Nip/Tuck, Arrested Development or Silicon Valley (and the list goes on…)
The notable trivia they might have a harder time arriving at; however, is that the Greek actor (in case the name didn’t give it away) from Toronto has been the voice of Mickey Mouse for nearly a decade, due in part to his uncanny ability to match Walt Disney’s voice and pitch.
Walt himself was the voice actor for both Mickey and Minnie since their creation in 1928 and would remain the source of Mickey’s voice through 1946 for theatrical cartoons, a task in which he took great personal pride. Could the great tycoon and one our history’s most proficient creators have foreseen a Greek Canadian taking over the gig some day? Needless to say, it is one Diamantopoulos does not take for granted.
Gratitude and hard work seem to be a recurring theme in the actor’s varied career. As is with all of his undertakings—broadcast radio, voice work for Family Guy, Green Arrow, and every single, really fantastic animated series you can think of, or portraying three of America’s greatest icons—Robin Williams (in a “salacious” behind-the-scenes TV film about the making of Mork & Mindy), Frank Sinatra (in the Reelz series The Kennedys), or The Stooges’ Moe in the Farrelly Brothers’ take on everyone’s favorite vaudevillian comedy team.
Next up, he leans into the role of Red Notice’s villain—the record shattering Netflix action comedy heist starring three of the world’s biggest movie stars Dwayne Johnson, Gal Gadon, and Ryan Reynolds.
We spoke with the father of three about once in a lifetime experiences, meeting his wife—the actress Becki Newton—on the subway, and how hard work and a little mouse opened up a whole lot of doors.
LEO: What drew you to your role in Red Notice?
CHRIS DIAMANTOPOULOS: What drew me to this role is kind of what draws me to every role—the opportunity to try something new, and something that I might not have done before. Before Red Notice, I think the most villainous, or arch character that I had done was an episode of Hannibal, where I played this rather sociopathic figure. But I was excited after having done so much comedy recently, to try my hand at something more in the action genre. Growing up, I loved movies like Red Notice, you know what I mean? Sort of big blockbuster hits, and the notion of playing an Alan Rickman-esque or Claude Rains-esque villain was very exciting.
What do you find most appealing about playing the villain?
It’s the freedom there. I think when you know people are meant to hate you, you really kind of can let go of [laughs] any of this vanity or all of that insecurity or neediness that actors can typically have in a role. ‘Is the audience gonna like me, or are they gonna relate…?’ It’s like, wow, it doesn’t really matter. The point here is to pose a threat and be an antagonist to these three leads. So I love that, I love that I could just be free and really just let the character shine.
What was your favorite part of working on the movie?
I mean, truthfully, just from the standpoint of being a fan of Dwayne Johnson’s and Gal Gadot’s and Ryan Reynolds’, it was really the opportunity to work with these three, and see how they are as individuals and how they interact with each other and with the rest of the cast and crew. Truly, as a student of history and as an active member in the business, it was a real chance for me to sort of see how three masters of their craft, basically titans of their industry, make it happen. And I was so pleasantly surprised by all three of them.
What was the most challenging part of working on Red Notice?
I think it was that we had to stop midway through the pandemic and then start again. That was pretty challenging. It was just the notion that we had the ball rolling and all cylinders firing and then out of nowhere, abruptly, midway through, we just had to stop. I think that the bigger challenge, within that challenge, was the notion of not knowing if and when we would ever get back up and running. To think that all these people put so much time and effort, and money of course, into this project. To Netflix’s credit, the thought never crossed their minds of just scrapping it. They knew it was going to come back, and they made every effort to make it come back.
Did you have to learn any new skills for the movie?
I had to learn how to properly load and discharge an assault rifle and a 1945 Russian Army Colt revolver and to make it look like it was second nature to fire accurately, to understand the mechanisms behind it, and to be able to do that safely and organically.
Ok, let’s rewind a little bit. How does a Greek/Canadian actor end up as the voice of Mickey Mouse?
That’s a good question [laughs]. Certainly, one of the highlights of my career, and one of the highlights of my life, really. I am a child of the ’80s, so I spent a great deal of time in front of the TV, and cartoons were my best friend for many, many years.
My Mickey Mouse tenure is a combination of happenstance, karma, luck and bravado. I grew up obsessed with The Three Stooges, and I love The Stooges more than anything. It was sort of a strange, full-circle moment that I ended up playing Moe in The Three Stooges movie the Farrelly brothers did, [around the same time they were] casting for a new Mickey, which is to say, that they really wanted an old Mickey. They wanted to go back to sort of the original Walt [Disney]. They wanted to find somebody that could do that prototypical 1930’s-esque vernacular as Mickey, with that same level of verve and rapscallion quality. And I’d just come off The Stooges and got to show some sort of facility and proficiency within that sort of world.
I tried my hand at it, I got to re-animate one of Walt’s old shorts, Brave Little Tailor, and it went great. But the higher-ups were reticent to cast a new voice as Mickey because the mandate had always been there’s one voice for Mickey and they [already] had a voice. That fellow was voicing the Mickey Mouse Club House shorts. It’s quite a different sound from what Walt originally had, and Mickey did change slightly over the years from what Walt originally had done. And so to the filmmaker’s credit, Paul Rudish who created this new Walt Mickey, he fought for me and even took my re-voiced Brave Little Tailor to one of the big meetings. As legend has it, he pled his final case and sort of said, “Look, I really want you guys to listen to this.” And they listened and said, “Well, that’s Walt, we can’t have him.” He said, “No, that’s not Walt, that’s Chris.” And so, they said, “Alright, lets try him in our first season.” And now, almost 10 years later, here I am still happily voicing Mickey, very proudly.
How did you get into voice over work, and when did you realize you had a voice for animation—is it an acquired skill, or were you born with it?
I think that there is something of a predetermined notion with regard to a facility for or an ear or a pitch, tone, dialect, accents… I’m not sure how much of that can be learned. I don’t know, but I do believe—much like if somebody’s tone deaf, it’s exceptionally difficult to teach them to sing on key, not that it can’t happen—but in general, you’re either kind of born with an ear or you can vaguely acquire one that’s passable. But I think that anyone who displays any kind of mastery over that sort of thing is born with it. My eight-year-old daughter has an ear. She has perfect pitch. Ask her what an A-sharp is, and she’ll hum it for you. So I do believe that I was born with an ear. I can determine the pitch of dialogue or a sound or a word or speech cadence from a character on TV or on stage.
The voice was more challenging when I was a child, because my voice hadn’t broken—but I still understood where the pitch was. I just couldn’t present it because I didn’t have any base to my voice. But once my voice dropped, I had a firm understanding of where other voices and other sounds lie. That gave me an ability to really pursue the notion of mimicry and imitation. So that, paired with the fact that I started singing in my teens and got into musical theater and the whole Broadway of it all. Singing sort of helped the voice and then the voice sort of engaged the singing and the singing did do better.
It was actually on Broadway that my mentor and dear friend Nick Wyman—I did Les Miserables with him, he played Thénardier brilliantly and has a prolific stage and screen career—he was really a mentor for me as a voice artist because it was while I was playing poker with him in between shows on matinee days on Les Mis that he said, “You know, enough clowning around. You do all these voices, you’re doing Bugs Bunny, and you’re doing all the cartoon stuff, and you’re imitating everyone in the cast. You should do something with this.” And he actually took the initiative, amazingly enough—I was 20 years old, and he introduced me to his voiceover agent in New York. Now, this wasn’t animation. This was broadcast voiceover, and it was commercial work, radio work, pharmaceutical ads, car commercials and stuff like this on TV. But what that did was it got me working in front of a microphone and really learning how to hone that craft for several years, before I moved to Los Angeles and lost all of that work because none of that work was happening out of LA.
When I was in LA struggling to become a screen actor, that’s where animation sort of first reared its head. I realized, while I had never really done any animation, that I had been preparing for it my entire life by virtue of just doing voices, and Broadway, and then all of that microphone work for broadcast. I started to slowly cobble together work, and it was bringing me full circle back to Mickey Mouse. It was Mickey that really sort of opened the rest of the doors for me, because once an agent or casting director could say, “Well, this guy voices Mickey Mouse,” the next thing was, “Oh, well let’s meet that guy.”
You also played Robin Williams in a film about the making of Mork & Mindy. Looking back, what stands out to you about that experience?
So I’ll tell you this: just as a curiosity, like 11 o’clock, when there’s nothing to watch and you want to look something up, check it out. It’s called Behind the Camera, The Unauthorized Story of Mork & Mindy. The reason I suggest you check it out is because I don’t think anything like that will be made ever again, the way that was done. It was meant to sort of be this burn-off, NBC salacious movie of the week. They did them about Three’s Company or Charlie’s Angels or all of these shows, right? And this one was meant to be just like that. It was made for, like, 175 grand, and it was going to be aired opposite the NCAA Championship finals. No one was meant to watch it. But here’s what’s great about that. For me, as a 25-year-old actor, it was everything I’d been looking for my entire life. As funny as that may sound.
I was looking for a chance to define myself as a character actor at a point in time where none of those scripts were getting anywhere near me. And at a point in time where I didn’t really look like what a prototypical character actor would be defined as. I was kind of in this nebulous place. Was I a quasi-leading man? Maybe character-y, but nobody really was interested in anything I had to say at that time.
And so here’s this role that most actors that were established didn’t want to touch. And most actors that weren’t established didn’t know how to touch. And so when the audition came to me, at first I thought, “Oh, my gosh, my agents don’t know me. They don’t understand. Why are they sending me this? Gosh, I’m never gonna get a break.” It was my wife who said, “What are you, an idiot? This is the break.” I said, “How is this the break? I don’t look like Robin Williams, I don’t sound like Robin Williams. Why would I do… ” Then she said, “Well, who would you cast? You’re always talking about how you want to change and morph and be a chameleon. Well, here’s your chance.” And it was like a lightbulb went off. I just I studied him. I’ve been a massive Robin Williams fan my entire life. I watched his stand-up when I was way too young to be watching it, because I had an older brother. But I loved it. I loved it. And I thought, “God, what a chance to pay homage to one of my heroes.” And I went full tilt on this. I’m not normally any sort of method actor or anything like that. But in this instance, I dressed up as him, I got a wig made, I had contact lenses, the whole nine yards. I rode The New York City subway in character, and I got there in character. It was really just this moment for me where it didn’t matter if I booked the part. What mattered was that I was honoring that part of me, as a kid that just wanted to have fun doing this, and I was having such a ball—and I got the part.
For three and a half weeks in Vancouver, I entertained the cast and crew in the vein of Williams. I didn’t break character. I was exhausted when it was done. I got horribly sick after the three and half week shoot. I didn’t sleep, I didn’t eat much, I was just in the zone and it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing. Now, nobody saw it. I think the audience for that was in the tens of thousands, but what it did for me was it fully established what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, which was to transform—and it showed me that it’s possible. You know, you don’t have to be of the stature of Daniel Day-Lewis or Philip Seymour Hoffman, rest his soul, to get the opportunity to stretch as an actor. You can do it; you just have to find it. You know, maybe it’s not a multi-million dollar production, maybe it’s not written by a Pulitzer Prize winner and directed by an Oscar winner, but it’s still an opportunity to flex and do something that’s different and, I keep looking for things like that ever since.
On the subject of American icons, and as you mentioned earlier, you played Moe! As a lover of comedy, how did that experience change you?
That was also a full-circle moment for me. I grew up obsessed with The Stooges, and actually, you know, Moe was my guy growing up. I loved Moe. I was on Broadway, before I’d ever done anything on the screen, reading in Variety that the Farrelly Brothers were trying to make a Stooges movie. I actually remember thinking at the time, I don’t know that’s such a great idea. You know, It’s The Stooges. You can’t redo The Stooges.
10 years later, a friend of mine called me and said, “Hey, you love The Stooges, don’t you?” And I was like, “Yeah, why?” And he said, “I’m going to The Three Stooges audition.” So I called my agent, and she said, “No, I can’t get you an audition. They’re looking for comedians and celebrities.” And I wasn’t; I was neither, I was just a working actor. I said, “Yeah, but you don’t understand, I’m like a Stooges encyclopedia.” She said, “Yeah, I don’t know what to tell you.” And so I crashed the audition. I called my friend, and I said, “Yeah, I’m going”, and he was like, “Oh, Great, I’ll see you there.” I was like, “Yeah, see you there… What’s the address again?” [Laughs].
I went to a Hasidic Jewish wig shop and got a wig. I’m not kidding. My next door neighbor was a big guy, and I borrowed a suit of his and went to a latex foam store and padded the suit and raised my shoulders ‘cause my frame is very, very different than Moe’s. I drove to the audition in character, when I got there, there was a big fucking sign in the entry way that said, “Please do not come in character.” And all these actors were there dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and there I was looking like a fucking lunatic [laughs]. But I will say—who the fuck is gonna go audition for Moe, Larry and Curly in jeans and a T-shirt?
So, I’m here, I signed in, and when I went into the room I heard an audible groan ’cause I walked in in character. They were like, “Alright, just do the material”… and I did. And look, it took me six months, 14 auditions, then they offered it to Johnny Knoxville; and that didn’t work out because he didn’t want to do an impression. And then they offered it to Hank Azaria; he wanted too much money—and God, because he actually would’ve been good—and then they offered it to me and I did it. And, you know, it wasn’t a perfect movie, but it was a perfect confluence of energy, aspiration, and dreams—and it was a reminder that you can have it all, you just can’t have it all at the same time.
You have had an incredibly varied career doing animation, comedy, sitcoms, crime dramas, thrillers, Broadway. How do you think your upbringing made that possible?
I mean, truthfully, my mother and father weren’t your prototypical Greek parents. Sure, they were very traditional, and they wanted us to know Greek and, actually, they really wanted us to marry Greek people [laughs], since they were just so much into the Greek of it all. But it’s really where this sort of tradition stopped. When my parents saw that I had a penchant for performance, they nurtured that in whatever way they could.
When I was nine years old, and I was doing impressions for them and making their friends laugh, my mom saw something in me. There was an ad in the local paper. It was like, “Do your kids like to entertain? Sign them up to this acting class.” It was some podunk acting class in Toronto, and she signed me up and I got an agent and I started doing commercials as a kiddie. My dad would drive me to those commercials, and then when I started hitting puberty and was really looking awkward and stopped getting called by the agent, I would look through the local paper and try and find a community theater doing some production of some Gilbert & Sullivan operetta two and a half hours away. My dad would pack me a lunch and pull me out of school and drive me there because he knew I wanted to do it.
They didn’t understand the notion of being a stage parent because they weren’t doing it for them, they were doing it because they saw how much I loved it. And when I wanted to be the only child in the family that wasn’t gonna go to school because I got offered a professional gig when I was 17 years old across the country, they said, “Good luck”, and they let me go. Those are not normal occurrences, so what allowed me to do what I did and what I’m doing was the love and support of my mother and father, I have to say, truly. And then I was just lucky enough to find that same love and support when I became an adult and found my partner, and it’s my wife that sort of keeps reminding me what’s important in all of this, and to take the work seriously, but not to take myself seriously.
You met your wife [the actress Becki Newton] on the subway. How does that go down? Feel free to share any and all pointers with other subway romantics.
Yeah, well, I’ll tell you, one of the things that helped is that was that it was pre-cell phones. So all of you subway romantics, put your phones down, get your heads out of your laps and look up, because your partner, the person that you’ve been waiting for your entire life, may be right across the aisle and you’re just not paying attention because you’re so busy trying to fucking post the perfect picture of yourself on your feed or whatever the hell it is. Put the phones down and look up, you might meet someone.
No. Look, I lived in New York for years and years, and I would see beautiful women on the street all the time. I think New York has the most beautiful girls in the world, and you’d walk by and sort of smile, and there is that flash moment of… Who was that? Should I have said something? Should I… It always goes by. I never, ever once did anything or made a move or anything like that. But there was something about March 5th, 2002; I was in Times Square going from the 1 to the A-C-E, and she was going in the other direction. It was the middle of rush hour, a sea of people. We walked by each other, and I smiled at her… She was absolutely stunning. She smiled at me, and I was like, “Well, that was interesting.” And I turned around to just see that I wasn’t seeing things, and she turned around at the same time, and we caught each other; she turned back around and kept walking, and I kept walking, and I thought, “No, no, this is ridiculous, I gotta go and say something.” It was ridiculous, corny, and cheesy; I had nothing to say, but I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around with this look of ‘This better be good.’ [Laughs]
I think I mumbled something maybe about her looking lost, and she was like, “I’m not lost, I know where I’m going.” And then I tried to sort of cobble together… “Well… Can I ride the subway with you because I’m… Where are you headed to?” She was like, “Going up to 72nd Street,” and I was like, “Oh yeah, that’s where I’m going too.” I was totally going in the opposite direction; I missed my appointment. And then I just scrambled for anything that I could to try and engage her with; I was doing The Full Monty on Broadway at the time, and I said, “Hey, do you do like Broadway shows? Come see my show.” And she came, and we’ve been together ever since.
That’s a great story! As a father of three, what’s the first of your films or projects you’ve shown to your kids?
Aah. Well, I think the first one that I remember watching all together was my Mickey Mouse special, which is called Duck the Halls. And it’s just this beautiful, irreverent take on a Christmas special where Mickey does everything he can to give Donald a Christmas because Donald, as a duck of course, flies south for the winter and has never experienced Christmas. And it’s very funny, very poignant, and there are some beautiful musical moments that allowed me to use my actual singing voice—the opener is me doing a Bing Crosby take. So that was the first one that I showed them, and then actually it’s become a family tradition, we watch it every Christmas. Silly as that may sound, it’s fun to watch it with them, and it still kinda kills me that we’re watching that and that I was involved in it. It really is something I’m very, very proud of.
CHECK OUT CHRIS
As Savvas in Netflix’s True Story
As Pope in Craig Silverstein’s Pantheon
As Moe in Untitled Three Stooges sequel
As the voice of Frank Heffley in Diary of a Wimpy Kid
As Sotto Voce in Red Notice
As the voice of Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Mickey Mouse
As Moe in The Three Stooges
As Russ Hanneman in HBO’s Silicon Valley
As Finn in Amazon Prime’s Good Girls Revolt