I’d like to begin by stating, for the record, that I am an unabashed Jem fan. I always had a great time coming along for the ride when Jem and the Holograms were performing, helping others and counterbalancing the snarky attempts to be knocked out of popularity by The Misfits. Also, as an existing fan of other Sunbow Entertainment-produced shows (The Transformers [Generation 1] and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero), Jem operated in a very familiar visual space for me.
Samantha Newark, who was Jem’s speaking voice—more on that later—has graced me with a few moments of time to answer some of my truly, truly outrageous questions. Here we go…
What type of voice work had you already done before you were you were hired to speak for Jem?
I had only just started to audition for voice-over work. I had a brand new agent that had a voice department and had never been in that world until I was signed with her. After auditioning for a few things, I booked a public service spot, which I don’t remember what it was but most likely playing a teenager and then I read for Jem and booked the lead, which was pretty amazing. Although I do consider that a lucky break I had been working in the industry since I was 7 years old professionally so it had already been many years of paying dues so to speak.
As many fans already know, you spoke Jem’s lines—and another performer, Britta Phillips, sang the songs in the show. Much like how Ming-Na Wen spoke and Lea Salonga sang the lead parts in Disney’s feature Mulan. Was there any interaction between you and Britta during the recordings for the show?
Yes you are right, there are two of us that brought Jem to life.
They matched the speaking voices to the singers that were already cast and recorded music and voice-overs on two different coasts. The music was all recorded written and produced in New York and Atlanta and the voice actors were cast and recorded in Burbank California. Britta and I never did get an opportunity to meet while doing the show. We finally did at Jemcon (a convention entirely dedicated to Jem and the Holograms) we were both invited as guests that year for our work on Jem and finally got to meet each other in person, it was pretty cool.
Here’s the obligatory question: What’s your favorite episode of the series—and why?
Oh goodness, I don’t know if I can even choose just one, there are favorites of mine for different reasons. I love some of the more emotional ones that were brave enough to delve into drug abuse and the death of Jerrica and Kimber’s Mom. For a cartoon, they really explored some heavy stuff and did it really beautifully. I loved the one where I got to play an imposter Jem that is totally out of control and misbehaves like Pizzaz. Then there are episodes that I really enjoy because of the other actor’s work like Patricia (Albrecht) as Pizzaz.
You were also on The Transformers a few times. Can you share you experiences of working on that other iconic Sunbow show?
Yes, it is pretty cool to be a part of the Transformers brand. I was invited to do three different roles on the original Gen 1 Transformers cartoon. I didn’t get to record ensemble with the other actors like we did on Jem, as the roles I did on Transformers were not anything as extensive as my work on the Jem series. If memory serves the recording was done maybe directly after a Jem session while they still had me in studio or when I came in to do Pick-ups on Jem they had me jump ship and it was basically just myself and director Wally Burr in the booth knocking it out together.
Dan Gilvezan’s book, Bumblebee & Me: Life as a G1 Transformer, shares interesting tales about recording under the direction of Wally Burr (voice director on both shows). How were your experiences with Mr. Burr—especially as the principal character?
I feel so blessed and honored to have worked so closely with Wally on Jem. It was an incredible opportunity as I was just getting my feet wet in the voice-over world. I’m really proud of the work I did with him. He was so clever and so warm and people say he was a bit of a taskmaster but I loved how he was involved in every way and amazed how he knew every line and never missed a thing, so good at what he does and continues to do to this day directing much animation still. I can’t thank him enough for believing in me as Jem and Jerrica.
It seems like we’re living in a live-action renaissance of ‘80s Hasbro properties. You’re going to be in the new, live-action, Jem feature film! I’m sure most of it is hush-hush, but is your appearance fanservice, like Stan Lee in the current Marvel films, or do you have a meaty scene or two?
Yes I am in the new movie and thank director Jon Chu for caring enough about the show and the wonderful fans to invite me to be a part of. It was a pretty surreal and special day on that movie set. I’m not allowed to say what I did in the movie; I just hope that everyone will support this new imagining of Jem and the awesome new cast.
How do you feel about Aubrey Peeples (who is awesome as a country singing ingénue with a dash of All About Eve, on ABC’s Nashville) inheriting Jem’s big star-shaped earrings for the upcoming film?
I’m actually a fan of hers from the show Nashville and when we met on the set, I told her that and she said “Oh my goodness, you probably hate me” and of course I reassured her that I didn’t–and that it was super cool that she was not being typecast. It’s great that she can go from her mean girl role on Nashville to the sweetest role ever of Jem and Jerrica. I think she is precious, and so talented, and beautiful–as are the other girls–and I’m genuinely rooting for her.
I really enjoyed your vocals on that techno-poppy cover of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That.” What other musical endeavors of yours can fans load up their iPods with?
Yes, that was really fun to do those dance remakes of classic Hall and Oates. I’ve done so much stuff, hard to know where to start but I have two original albums available on my official websitewww.samanthanewark.com and if people want to cruise around my YouTube channel I have lot’s of live video and also vocals I’ve done for TV/Film and Games.
What types of Jem-related memorabilia do you love the most? Dolls? Coloring books? Animation cels?
I’m starting to get a bit of a lovely collection, I just got an actual Rockin’ Roadster from a fan and I seem to be the only cast member that bought myself a JEM cast jacket back when we did the show. I still have it; it’s a beautiful black satin Jem jacket with pink lining and the colorful Jem logo embroidered on the back and my name on the front. That for sure is a treasure as well as many of my original Jem scripts I kept. The Jem community also gifted me for my Birthday last year one of the beautiful new Jem dolls from Integrity/Hasbro. They are not cheap and the fans took it upon themselves in secret to pool their money together and buy me one and then present it to me – I’m still floored and touched deeply by that amazing gift of kindness.
What are you up to these days–and where can the fans keep updated with your current and upcoming projects?
My schedule is up on my official website and is constantly being updated.
I’m staying pretty busy traveling around the country and internationally to different fan conventions to meet the Truly outrageous Jem and Transformers fans in person. I just finished working on a brand new animated short film called “HG Chicken” by really talented animation master Mike Salva with a cast that includes Bobcat Goldthwait, Jonathan Katz, Maria Bamford & Todd Barry as well as Horror film directors Lloyd Kaufman and Herschell Gordon Lewis and other swell folks.
I’m also performing with the amazingly talented Pink Floyd tribute band Bricks in the Wall. Based in Dallas, It’s an epic production with the whole laser light show and I’m one of 3 female backup singers bringing Great Gig and other iconic tunes to Pink Floyd fans. We tour regionally and it really is the sights and sounds of Pink Floyd we have some big shows coming up this summer.
I’m also working on brand new music for my next solo record with producer Dave Polich so keeping pretty busy but I love it!
A big shout out of thanks to Samantha for taking the time to talk with me about her adventures and behind-the-scenes remembrances of Jem and the Holograms—and to get us all caught up on her current life of music and the fans out there showing their love and supporting her appearances on the con circuit. If there’s the equivalent of a Brony for Jem—I’m it. Show’s over, Uncle Maffy…