TORONTO - For a Hollywood veteran with 30 years of memorable roles under his belt, Maurice LaMarche enjoys a rare level of anonymity.
Even when the Toronto-raised talent heard his name called out at the Emmy Awards last year, he remembers rising to his feet to claim his trophy — unsteadily, fighting back tears — while those seated around him wondered exactly who he was.
"People are going: 'This fat guy picked a great time to go to the bathroom,'" said the 54-year-old with a laugh during a telephone interview this week.
Well, such is life as one of the world's premiere voice acting talents. While LaMarche — who just picked up a second consecutive Emmy nomination for outstanding voice-over performance for his roles on the sci-fi satire "Futurama" after his win last year — has used his pliable pipes to amass more credits than a Vegas casino, he remains incognito pretty much all the time.
"It's like having a secret identity. I literally go completely undisturbed everywhere I go," LaMarche said. "When I was a younger man and I had a bigger ego, I wanted everybody to notice me.
"Now? It's just fine with me," he added. "And I've got three days a year where I go to this microcosm where they know me — at San Diego Comic Con, I can't go 10 feet without someone asking for my autograph.... I get all that attention, and it's fantastic, it gives me a ton of validation that I'm good at what I do.
"And then at the end of Comic Con, I get in my car, go back to the hotel, stop to fill up my gas, and the guy at the Chevron station has no idea. Doesn't know, doesn't care."
Thanks to Emmy, the dedicated denizens of Comic Con are not the only people providing validation these days.
That sort of recognition was never the plan. But neither was voice acting.
LaMarche discovered his facility for voices when he was attending junior high school in Toronto. A self-described "hapless kid" — "I wasn't good at sports, I got ADD before they even had a name for it, I was a terrible student" — LaMarche found his calling after a revelatory performance at a high school talent show.
But with his penchant for mimicry and impressions, he figured stand-up comedy was his destiny. He relocated to Los Angeles in his early 20s and while he did find some success as a comedian, performing alongside the likes of George Carlin, Rodney Dangerfield and Sam Kinison, LaMarche seemed to be finding more traction with his side-job as a voice actor.
In the '80s, LaMarche booked roles on several high-profile children's cartoons, including "The Real Ghostbusters" (as Dr. Egon Spengler), "G.I. Joe" (he played Destro, among others), "Inspector Gadget" (Chief Quimby) and "Dennis the Menace."
A pair of personal tragedies changed LaMarche's course. His father was murdered in Toronto in 1987, and his younger sister was killed in a car accident three years later at the age of 18. After that, LaMarche largely left stand-up behind to focus on his burgeoning career as a voice actor.
And he excelled. His list of credits is too exhaustive to reproduce in detail, but over the past 20 years he's performed on "The Simpsons," "Tiny Toon Adventures," "The Critic," "Freakazoid," "The Tick" and "King of the Hill."
One of his most memorable roles was that of the megalomaniac mouse Brain on "Animaniacs" and "Pinky and the Brain," a role that allowed LaMarche to deploy his expert Orson Welles impression (which is also featured in Tim Burton's cult masterpiece "Ed Wood.")
But still, LaMarche went into his audition for "Futurama" with low expectations.
"I actually thought ... 'Here I am in the room with Matt Groening,'" LaMarche said, referencing the "Simpsons" creator who launched "Futurama" in 1999.
"I had no hope of getting on the show, but I remember thinking (it was) going to be on forever."
He was, of course, wrong on both counts. While LaMarche didn't emerge with a headlining role on the whipsmart comedy, he wound up portraying dozens of popular peripheral characters, including the put-upon Lt. Kif Kroker, stern alien anchorman Morbo and robot soap opera star Calculon.
His Emmy win last year came after he submitted an episode revolving around his oafish intergalactic ruler Lrrr. This year, he's nominated for an episode called "The Silence of the Clamps," which brought depth to the seemingly one-note Clamps, an aggressive member of the Robot Mafia. Clamps' voice — which LaMarche cheerfully launches into during this phone interview with no prompting — sounds like an even more unhinged Joe Pesci.
Beyond the kick he gets from personal plaudits, he's happy the show is being recognized. "Futurama" was cancelled in 2003 and brought back to life on the Cartoon Network five years later after the show's impassioned fans refused to let it die. (In Canada, the show is broadcast on Teletoon at Night, with new ninth-season episodes set to air on Sept. 7).
Now, he hopes the show one day matches the longevity of "The Simpsons," about to enter its 24th season.
"My running gag is we will also get to 25 seasons but it'll take us 40 years," he said.
LaMarche still marvels at his Emmy nods. He doesn't portray any of the show's main characters — "I've had episodes where I've had two lines," he points out — and in both years, he's been up against some Hollywood heavyweights.
Last year, he triumphed over a group that included Canuck Oscar winner Christopher Plummer, "Robot Chicken" creator Seth Green and "The Simpsons" stalwart Dan Castellaneta.
Unsurprisingly, LaMarche remembers every last detail about that night. How the hastily written speech in his suit pocket became too warped by sweat to read. How a dead cellphone prevented him from alerting his friends to his win. How he walked the wrong way off-stage. How he tried in vain to locate his old friend Howie Mandel in the crowd to celebrate the win.
He even recalls the feeling he had when he realized every winner had clutched the same Emmy trophy onstage before being given their own later on.
"I immediately wanted to Purell," he recalls, laughing.
More seriously, he remembers the look on the face of his then-17-year-old son, seated with LaMarche and his ex-wife (with whom he remains close friends).
"His eyes were just beaming with pride," LaMarche said. "I got up, kissed him on top of his head, he squeezed my hand, and then when I walked into the aisle, I started to cry, just for a millisecond.
"I thought ... 'Do not cry at the beauty of this moment, that your teenage son — who spends most of his time looking askance at you — is now finally proud of you.'"
LaMarche will face stiff competition again this year when the Emmys are held on Sept. 23. He's up against the likes of Oscar winner Kristen Wiig, "The Simpsons" vet Hank Azaria, and "Desperate Housewives" narrator Brenda Strong.
But this time, he doesn't mind his odds.
"I've gone from my low self-esteem telling me I have a one in 1,000 chance, to me having a one in six chance," he said.
"I've won one. The validation of that is settled into my heart. It means I'm good at my job. If it happens again, wonderful, and if it happens to one of the other five, wonderful."