LOS ANGELES-- Neil Fanning looks like the kind of fearsome tough guy who would make Scooby-Doo exclaim "Ruh-roh!" and scamper away.
But the Australian actor IS Scooby -- he voices the animated character in the new live-action movie, using a lively impression of the late actor Don Messick's original rendition of the fraidy-cat dog from the 1969 cartoon.
As the sequel "Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed" heads to theaters, Fanning, 37, talked with The Associated Press about how he got the job and the speech problems of a perpetually hungry and/or frightened canine.
AP: How did they pick you for Scooby?
Fanning: Fortunately, they shot the first film in my hometown along the Gold Coast in Australia, and they were looking for a voice reader. Just delivering the dialogue live, since obviously there is nothing there to shoot to. It was to help the actors, as well. They loved what I did and fortunately chose me for the final film.
AP: Have you always been a voice actor?
Fanning: I also do stunts (like in the films "Ghost Ship" and "Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course") and acting on the side. You've got to have lots of strings on your bow as a performer or else you don't eat.
AP: Has the studio kept you under wraps to enhance the mystique of the Scooby character?
Fanning: I'm happy to play it either way. I understand their reasoning for keeping it under wraps. But people are generally interested in how it all happens. How does an Australian get to voice an American icon?
AP: Do you have an exercise to get your normal voice into the high breathlessness of Scooby?
Fanning: It's something I've been doing for a long time, pretty much since my voice broke. ... I misspent my childhood watching a lot of cartoons. ... I warm up every day that I have to perform the voice. But it comes really naturally, and that's half the trick, keeping it natural. It's like -- 'hummmeeemmph!' -- pretty much do that and I'm in.
AP: Sounds like it comes right out of your nasal passages.
Fanning: That's just a range thing. I'm going from the bottom register right up to the top. Basically, there are three elements to Scooby: he's happy, he's hungry or he's scared. Pretty much, that warmup just covers the whole gamut of his emotions very quickly.
AP: The writers tend to keep Scooby's sentences short and have Shaggy repeat a lot of it so people will understand. Are there any words you get in the script and think, 'This is just not something Scooby can pronounce'?
Fanning: There are lots of words Scooby shouldn't be able to pronounce, but I can pretty much figure out how to Scooby-ize them. I did this interview in Australia and they tried to trip me up with all these names of Russian tennis players that I had to say as Scooby. I got them all. It's really hard, but you can convert them in your head.
AP: Are there any rules of thumb for a Scooby impression. He turns S into R ...
Fanning: He has a pretty bad speech impediment. He can't say Sh words or Ch. So 'Shaggy' becomes 'rrr-Raggy.' He can't say a lot of things, but if I'm doing a telephone interview or something, you've got to cheat it, because a lot of it can't be understood.
AP: Does voicing a cartoon score points with your kids?
Fanning: I've got three children and I can read them their bedtime stories and do all the voices. 'Peter Pan' is their favorite because I do Captain Hook and all of them. It brings it to life for them, and that's the fun part for me.
AP: Do you get tired of doing the Scooby voice for fans?
Fanning: I don't mind doing the voice at all. Any time anyone asks me to do the voice of Scooby-Doo, I'll do it. It's easy for me, and it makes people laugh, it makes people smile.
AP: People want you on their answering machines, right?
Fanning: Unfortunately I'm not able to due to copyright. ... I'll say it live, no problem at all. But I can't be recorded. I'd love to, I say 'I'll call your son, I'll call your nephew and do it for them on the phone,' but I can't be recorded.
AP: What do you usually say to people as Scooby?
Fanning: I've got a standard line that I always use that sort of encompasses a lot of his emotion. (Huffing breathlessly) 'R-r-r-Right? R-r-r-Raggy? A ronster! Hee-hee-hee-HEE ... Scooby-dooby-DOO!'
AP: You move around a lot when you say that.
Fanning: Physically, it's quite exhausting because his emotions are way out there. He's either really scared, really hungry, or really happy. To make that sound real, I can't do it without being physical in some way.