I’m willing to bet that before the 2003 Teen Titans cartoon, very few people outside of comic book readers knew about the Cyborg character. But twenty years after that seminal animated series, Cyborg has not only reached new comic book heights as a member of the Justice League, but has also gained greater recognition with the general public. Much of this can be attributed to the actor Khary Payton who voiced Cyborg in the Teen Titans series and continues to play the character to this day in the The Teen Titans Go! cartoon that has now become the longest-running DC animated series.
The Teen Titans Go! is set to reach the 400th episode milestone when Season 8 premieres on Cartoon Network later this year. Before that though, Cyborg and the rest of the Titans will meet the Super Hero Girls in an all-new crossover adventure with The Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse Animation Film. We had the pleasure of chatting with Khary Payton not only about his long career in the voice of Cyborg, but also his recent adventure in writing for animation.
Taimur Dar: I think it’s safe to say that Cyborg is a character near and dear to your heart. I would go so far as to say that your performance and that original Teen Titans cartoon helped bring Cyborg into the limelight. His rise as a major character almost parallels your own career when you first started out and now you are one of the most sought after actors in both animation and live action. How does it feel to look back from where you are now?
Khary Payton: What’s cool for me is meeting people who love series and cartoons and seeing how it affected them. Ultimately, the reason I get the most enjoyment out of it is that connection with people. Obviously, you connect with your fellow actors and the people you work with on set and in the recording booth. But at the end of the day, you want the story to really affect people watching. I feel really lucky that we were able to reach so many people. There are millions of people who have watched the shows, but there is a smaller percentage who really needed them. It is a refuge that people needed at some point in their lives. People have come to me and said that when they were kids, this show gave them a place where they felt safe when they didn’t feel safe anywhere else. It’s just humbling and gratifying to know that all the things people think are silly really help.
Dar: Much of the magic of The Teen Titans Go! is due to the fact that the five actors are recording in the same room where so many gags and jokes have been improvised. Obviously, this was not possible due to the pandemic. I know virtual band recording sessions are still happening so I’m curious Chaos in the Multiverse or the last seasons of The Teen Titans Go! if you were able to record together virtually or if you had to record by yourself?
Payon: I think we had a session that we recorded together and then other sessions that we recorded by ourselves. The Titans the team always tries to record together if we can even if it’s virtually. We try very hard because this interaction between the five of us and our voice director Lisa Schaeffer and producer/director Pierre Rida Michael really makes a difference in how everything is played. For most, it’s really hard to do these days.
Dar: It is clear that the producers of The Teen Titans Go! really appreciate your contribution and you are not just a cog in someone else’s machine. How creative was it to play Cyborg?
Payon: It was a terrific trip. I feel like I’ve had the pleasure of working with writers, directors, and producers who always appreciate my input. Sometimes they say, “No, Khary. It’s not a good idea.” And they’re probably right! [Laughs]. But I’ve come to find that for the most part, they’re really excited to have this exchange of ideas.
Dar: Another DC Comics character that you play as and is also close to your heart is kaldour‘ahm, the former Aqualad and now Aquaman in the hit Young Justice animated series. You made a splash this season Young Justice: Ghosts write your first episode. So I have to ask you how this opportunity came about and what was your experience writing your first animation script?
Payon: Greg Weisman and Brandon Viettithe showrunners of young justiceactually asked me to write a season 3 episode but I was just getting started The Walking Dead and I felt like I had to focus on that. So when season 4 came they asked again and I was so excited they asked me again. And man, I absolutely loved the experience. I feel like I learned a lot from these guys when it comes to storytelling. I had a very unique perspective from playing Kaldur’ahm for so many years. [I had] so many thoughts about what was going through his mind and the minds of the people around him. I think I was uniquely qualified to write this story. And at the same time, learn on the fly some of the structural components of writing for television in this genre.
One of the reasons Greg asked me to do this was that in the first two seasons I was always talking to him about my perspective on where I thought the character and the story could go . The thing is, Greg and Brandon already have a very specific plan because it’s such a complex story. But he was always very interested in what I thought to move the story forward. He said to me: “Khary, I think you are a writer. I wrote and produced a movie and wrote some scripts myself. But I guess he just saw something in those interactions. And I just had the best time writing with him and we’re continuing that partnership by writing other stuff. So we’ll see what happens with those.
Kaldur grabbing his pens. Thanks to @Greg_Weisman and @BrandonVietti for mentorship and opportunity. I am incredibly grateful and more than a little proud. I can’t wait for you to see it. #youngjusticephantoms #young justice #byfootorbyfin https://t.co/E2SX0sD9Ln pic.twitter.com/h6adeuKhj8
—Kary Payton (@kharypayton) April 6, 2022
Dar: Your The Teen Titans Go! co-star Hynden Walch also wrote her first animated script for a The Teen Titans Go! episode a few years ago. Now that you’ve had a taste of writing animation, I guess you don’t see yourself writing an episode of The Teen Titans Go! in the near future?
Payon: You know, I think it’s totally possible. I throw a lot of ideas at these guys and there were several ideas that they came up with just from our silly interactions. I might want to see if I can jump in and contribute some. It would be great fun. This show is so crazy and so much fun! The possibilities are limitless.
The Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse is now available on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital.
Fans can also catch the cinematic event on Cartoon Network premiering Saturday, May 28, then on HBO Max starting June 28.