He’s come a long way since losing on Bravo’s reality series Manhunt to voicing the coveted role of Anakin Skywalker on Lucasfilm’s Clone Wars.
But Matt Lanter, the boy from Atlanta (yes it’s really true), wouldn’t have it any other way.
ABC3 is about to premiere the third season of the animated season, but season four has just gotten underway in the US Fall season on the Cartoon Network.
The spin-off animated series is set in between Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, with Lanter voicing the role that was made famous on the big screen by Hayden Christensen (and indeed Darth Vader before him).
“We’re filling the gap in between Episodes 2 and 3. They are the years they call the Clone Wars and we got to hear about them a little bit in the films. But I get to expand on the Anakin character in those times because he’s a bit of a different character. In the Clone Wars he’s a little more swash-buckling, charismatic, more aware and has more bravado. He’s more tough guy with a bit of an attitude,” he says.
“George (Lucas) and Dave (Filoni, Supervising Producer) thought that by adding more character it makes his fall that much more tragic when he does become Darth Vader, because we can see he was a good guy. He was the chosen one.”
Lanter first played the role in the feature film 2008 and won the role with limited knowledge of the Star Wars universe.
“The movie was basically the first three or four episodes they stitched together. But for me it was a regular audition. They didn’t really tell us anything about it, because big projects like that they usually try to keep pretty secretive. They didn’t tell me anything about who I was auditioning for or anything, so when I got there I was in the sound booth and our Supervising Producer Dave just told me to give it my best shot between Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.
“I did what I thought would be a good mix and got a call a couple of days later, asking me if I wanted to be Anakin Skywalker as one of the leads in the series.
“I’d seen a couple of the films, but I didn’t really know them. I guess everybody knows the names Darth Vader, Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker but I didn’t really know the story.
“I’d watched a couple of them but I didn’t really know how it all connected,” he admits.
“After I got the job I watched all the films and because this huge Star Wars geek. So I’m proud to say I could probably geek out with the best of them.”
The third season is billed as “Secrets Revealed.” As evil bleeds into the very ranks of the Republic itself, heroes make a stand on both sides of the battle lines.
Lanter records the series across the year, juggling his commitments with CW Network’s 90210.
“We record an episode maybe every other week or something. It just depends, there’s not really any consistency to it. Sometimes I go in once a week, sometimes once every three weeks. But it’s pretty much year round,” he explains.
“We take about 4 hours to record an episode and we go through the scenes one by one. They give us notes after each scene and we’ll do each scene a few different times.
“Dave knows what the action’s going to look like which they do with character models in the computer, and then we voice them and eventually it gets shipped off to our animation studio in San Francisco or Singapore. I believe they alternate episodes. So they animate the lip sync and the mouth and the final touches to our voices.
On top of its resident cast, the show has enjoyed some impressive special guests including Sam Jackson, Liam Neeson, Jon Favreau, Michael York, George Takei, Ron Perlman and Seth Green.
“It’s got to be one of the most talented voice casts around. The guys that I work with, and a lady too, are uber uber-talented. I’m just blown away to work with them,” he says.
“The longer and stronger the show gets, and it continues to do so, people really want to be a part of it. There are a lot of well-known names wanting to be a part of the Clone Wars.“
Lanter’s showbiz career began in the reality series Manhunt: The Search for America’s Most Gorgeous Male Model but he rose above such auspicous beginnings because he was never a perfect fit on the show in the first place.
“I wasn’t really a model. They had an open call and I thought it would be a cool opportunity to go to LA and they ended up casting me in the show. But I’d never done modeling before that. I’d gone to an acting class in Atlanta and I’d been doing some background for a film in Atlanta and fell in love with the whole process. I’d always fallen in love with movies and TV and the magic of them. Sometimes I’d watch the behind-the-scenes stuff before I watched the films because I think it’s fascinating,” he says.
“My manager saw me on Manhunt saying I’d rather be an actor and I eventually went back home and saved up a few grand, packed up what I had and drove to LA and tried to make a career of the acting world.”
He went on to appear in the short-lived FOX series Point Pleasant and guest roles in Grey’s Anatomy, 8 Simple Rules, Big Love and Heroes but things took off as the son of Geena Davis when she played a female President for ABC.
“Commander in Chief was one of my first big breaks. It was a big show, on ABC with Geena Davis and Donald Sutherland, and it was a wonderful opportunity,” he says.
“It was pretty cool to be here for five or six months and all of a sudden be on a network television show. But I guess with the business of scheduling and taking it on and off the air and media gratification, that for whatever reason they felt like they couldn’t leave it on the air. I guess it wasn’t getting good enough ratings by the end of the season as it was in the beginning.”
Since 2009, he has played Liam Court in 90210, the remake of Beverly Hills 90210, a series that had a limited run in Australia on TEN but continues to perform in the US.
“We’re in season four and going strong. We have a good time and I don’t know if there’s an end in sight. The kids have graduated from high school as of last season so now we are in college. Some are in college and some are not. My character is not, he owns a bar and is trying to make a life for himself,” says Lanter.
“I’m supposed to be 18 or 19 in the show and I’m 28 in real life, so it’s a big stretch. Somebody said it’s actually not that different from most young shows. If you look at any of the shows on CW (Network) everybody has older casts.
“With the old 90210 they had people in their thirties. And I’m not the oldest one by any means.
“And I know the Glee people are definitely upper-20s.”
Lanter also has a new thriller film coming up called Liars All and is in pre-production on another film called A Chance of Rain to be shooting in Africa and Michigan, as well as another animated role in the pipeline,on an unnamed series.
“The show has been announced but I just haven’t been announced as being part of it yet,” he says.
Clone Wars returns Thursday, October 13 at 7.10pm on ABC3.