Dayton native voices witty character in new Disney ‘Phineas and Ferb’ film now streaming

For the past 12 years, actor, author, activist, and Dayton native Maulik Pancholy has voiced the role of intelligent, witty Baljeet in Disney’s animated “Phineas and Ferb” series.

He’s back as the latest adventure “Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe” premieres Friday, Aug. 28 on Disney+.

In the film, step brothers Phineas and Ferb join forces to rescue their older sister Candace, who after being abducted by aliens, becomes the center of attention on a far-off planet. Ultimately, Candace, who initially felt overlooked and overshadowed, realizes the importance of self-worth, forgiveness and acceptance.

Pancholy’s credits include roles on such TV shows as “30 Rock,” “Weeds,” “The Good Wife,” and “The Good Fight” among others. He most recently returned to Broadway opposite Jane Alexander, James Cromwell, Michael Urie, and Ben McKenzie in Bess Wohl’s contemporary comedy “Grand Horizons.”

In addition to serving on President Barack Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, he is the author of the children’s book “The Best at It,” a story of a gay Indian-American seventh-grader coming-of-age in Indiana.

In advance of the premiere, Pancholy, 46, discussed his career and giving voice to the always helpful, “Space Adventure” superfan Baljeet.

Q: How does it feel to have ‘Phineas and Ferb’ return?

A: The timing is perfect. People really want fun content right now. A lot of kids are at home, so I’m glad we have this film to give them. And the great thing about ‘Phineas and Ferb’ is that it’s fun for the whole family. I know so many adults who are just as excited about this film as kids. In the end, the film is about friendship and coming together to help each other. I hope people will be very moved by it.

Q: What do you find the most appealing about Baljeet?

A: Baljeet has evolved a lot over the course of the series. I love how fearlessly smart he is to jump in and be a leader when the gang needs him. He also has a surprisingly snarky side every now and then when he knows he has the right answer and everybody is wrong. But the biggest thing about Baljeet is that he has a really big heart. I think that’s why fans really respond to him.

Q: What are the most exciting and challenging aspects of voiceover work?

A: Being an actor, whether you’re on a TV set or on a stage, you’re used to being in front of a lot of people all the time whether millions on TV or hundreds inside a theater. But the joy of voiceover is that you get to show up in a sound booth, no one knows what you look like, and the voice becomes the final product. And what’s exciting is that you get to put so much into that voice. However, it’s also challenging to put so much into that voice. Baljeet’s voice lives in the stratosphere so when we would record multiple episodes at once I was definitely vocally exhausted by the end of the sessions. But one of the things I really love about animation is that there are no limits. The characters go on imaginative escapades. I get to go to outer space in this movie and it’s a fun exploration. We have an amazing creative team as well with fearless leaders.

Q: Did you enjoy recently reprising your role as Jonathan on the ’30 Rock’ reunion special?

A: We’re all quarantined right now so I actually recorded my portion on my phone with really good lighting while Tina Fey (interacted) with me by Zoom. I think everyone did a great job making that technical feat come together. Everybody was in a different place and the crew was working remotely. We’ve been off the air for seven years, so to make a little piece of that show again was really fun.

Q: ‘Grand Horizons’ completed its Broadway run before the shutdown. Are you grateful not to have been forced to close like so many other shows?

A: We had such a great cast. We all genuinely loved each other, which was the best part about the experience. We’d make Instagram videos during intermission. I feel so lucky to have been in one of the last shows to close as scheduled. Being on Broadway is such a gift as an actor and certainly something I dreamed of when I was a kid. I know a number of people whose shows had to close early or were prepared to make their Broadway debut but their show wasn’t able to open. It’s a really tough time. There’s something about the immediacy of live theater that people need. I hope we’re on our way to having live theater again very soon.

Q: Do you have fond memories of your Dayton roots?

A: Although I moved around a lot as a kid, leaving Dayton at age 2, I grew up spending entire summers in Dayton with my cousins. When I was in college, my mom actually moved back to the area and lived in Troy. I live in New York City and the pace of life can be very fast but the slight slowdown and pace of life in Ohio is really nice. The Dayton area will always feel like home to me.

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