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MONDAY, MARCH 20, 2006


LOS ANGELES -- Jeffrey Sams is the new kid on the block. Not only is he joining the cast for the second Ultimate Avengers movie, playing Black Panther is his first-ever voice role.

"I'm usually in front of the camera," said Sams, who has had regular stints on CBS' CSI and UPN's Veronica Mars and guest-starred on numerous TV series.

The long road to Wakanda has taken a few turns. With a Tony-nominated show in his theater resume, Sams had a strong background in singing and dancing before coming to television.

"The whole voice thing was something I always wanted to do, but I never had the chance," he said. "I did a lot of pilots. I'm right up there with George Clooney with the number of pilots I did that weren't successful."

Finally, spurred on by a friend who does voice work, Sams auditioned and got the role of Black Panther, a key character in Ultimate Avengers 2.

Clips shown at Wizard World Los Angeles on Sunday revealed the Black Panther -- based on designs by Ultimates artist Bryan Hitch for the film -- and Wakanda for the first time. It appears that T'Challa and Captain America share a foe from their pasts.

"This is really the first time Black Panther and Wakanda have truly been realized in animation," said Marvel's Craig Kyle, an executive producer of the direct-to-DVD films that will also be airing on Cartoon Network.

Playing a comic-book character was especially fun for Sams.

"I'm a Marvel geek," Sams said. "I grew up collecting comic books and I grew up watching super-hero shows. To get a chance to do this is great. I have a son who is 6, and he's asking me everyday, "When is the moving coming out?'

"To play a wonderfully written character such as Black Panther is an honor and a privilege."

Sams also acknowledged the imporantance of the character in Marvel history.

"It's a privilege knowing that this was one of the first black super-heroes, along with Luke Cage and the Falcon," he said. "It's really an honor to be part of the Marvel family."

The cast members of the Ultimate Avengers are some of the most talented actors you've never seen. Many of them have dozens of credits and some are playing multiple roles on shows on Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

"Being a virgin in this, it was amazing watching these guys, especially watching them do other voices," Sams said. "It was amazing watching them click instantly into another role."

What's the most difficult part of a recording session?

"Everything is heightened," Sams said. "All the grunts and groans and action sounds you have to do with your voice is a challenge. By the end of the day, no one on the phone recognizes me because it's gone.

"I learned you have to pace yourself and drink lots of water."

Sams said he gave T'Challa a "fictional dialect" in accordance with the character's African roots.

"To try to keep a consistent fictional accent was difficult," he said. "Also, you have to keep in mind he went to Oxford University and he's a genius."

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