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  • Writer's pictureCulture Combine Staff

Fan Expo Chicago 2023 Saturday Panel Catchup

There were so many great celebs lined up on Saturday's panel schedule we figured we'd have to do nothing but sit in panels all day long and only leave when they cleared the room to bring you everything there was to see. So...we pretty much did that, split among our entire convention team, of course. It's still a lot of trips around convention center ballrooms past the watercooler, so we hope you enjoy what we got!

Henry Winkler at Fan Expo Chicago 2023, Saturday. Photo: Aaron Cynic

Henry Winkler is the perfect person to start out your day in Fan Expo Chicago 2023’s panel rooms with. As it turns out, the Fonz is even cooler in real life than he was on the silver screen on Happy Days.

Winkler is a frequent guest here at Fan Expo and it’s evident why from entering the room to his warm smiles. The former Fonz is full of fatherly wisdom, advice and love for his fans and life in general, and it’s always uplifting to be in his presence. We hope he stays a show mainstay for a long long time.

Jodi Benson at Fan Expo Chicago 2023, Saturday. Photo: Marielle Bokor

Just shortly thereafter, we wandered over to the Jodi Benson panel hoping to be part of her world for a moment. The SAG-AFTRA strike struck again in regards to the actress being able to actually sing the song that the panel was named after, but it didn’t dampen the deep dive she’d go on about being Ariel.

For those that didn’t know, much like Scott Weinger’s deal with Aladdin, Benson is the voice of Ariel singing and speaking in every single one of her appearances up until recent works which could not be discussed. And as it turns out, this gig of a lifetime only came about because of Howard Ashman and his warm heart. As it turns out, Benson and Ashman had worked together before, on a show called Smile that turned into a Broadway flop, leaving Benson out of a job. She and a few others were asked to audition for the mermaid’s role. The rest is history.

But not every audition was smooth sailing and Jodi Benson had a fantastically awkward tale from her Toy Story tryout. Benson, who voiced Barbie in Toy Story 2, went in to start recording and encountered executives who were imploring her to please be careful with her portrayal, since this would be the first time Mattel had allowed Barbie to have a voice.

Jodi was confident she’d ace the part because, unbeknownst to this director, Barbie had indeed had a voice, and it was hers! Mattel had in fact allowed Barbie a voice for a workout video that predated the Toy Story franchise. When she tried to relay this to the director she was met with a bit of skepticism and awkwardness, despite trying to smooth it over and not sound like she was asserting herself, but, the actress said, ‘it was a bad day.’

Overall though, the ride through Disney fame has been a “blessing from heaven” and “unbelieveable gift” for Benson, and she continues to love to see where Ariel’s story goes, and interact with fans. She did sing, much to the delight of the panel audience, choosing a song called Harmony, appropriate given the strike and the current needs of the world at large, and we wrapped up our time delighted to have met a real Disney princess.

Holy crap, so Ivan Raimi’s an emergency surgeon. I guess that’s our main takeaway from the Sam and Ivan Raimi panel. This is knowledge that obviously some fans had, but had completely flown under our radar. When it was revealed it was an amusing moment, because a fan asked Ivan Raimi how well his brother Sam depicted the practice of medicine–and Ivan scoffed, and specifically brought up how the medical scenes in Dark Man were barely passable.

Surprisingly, one fan asked about director Sam Raimi’s signature close-up shots–something we thought was a bold question. You don’t just ask a magician how they do their magic! However, Sam Raimi had a fantastic answer–and it’s all about building up tension, while showing the characters’ reaction to that unknown fear that us, as the audience, isn’t even privy to.

Tom Wilson was in rare form on Saturday afternoon at Fan Expo. His panel began with a ukulele solo about all the questions he’s been asked repeatedly on his career. The crowd had a blast with the music, he then followed up with a discussion on what it means to work in the industry, and grinding for something greater. Overall it was a great time with some interesting insight.

Danny Trejo, Fan Expo Chicago 2023, Saturday. Photo: Aaron Cynic

Danny Trejo is known for being a badass, and is probably the “most recognizable Latino in the world,” as he puts it. Known for playing a tough guy (and often a thuggish bad guy) in movies, Trejo in real life is a jovial, almost grandfatherly presence. He’s reached a surprising 80 years old–but definitely doesn’t look like it.

While Trejo is definitely more grandfatherly now, he did come from a rougher background. The actor talked about the time he did in San Quentin, and how, afterwards, he was discovered while working as a drug counselor. He made his big break when a casting director asked him if he could stand around and look tough for $300 dollars a day. And it turns out Trejo enjoyed acting, and stuck with it as a lifelong career.

“Find something you love doing, and get paid doing it” he told the audience–and he definitely found it.

You wouldn’t have had to look for the union label when going to see Michelle Hurd at her panel at Fan Expo Chicago. As the VP of the LA chapter of SAG-AFTRA, Hurd is at the heart of things, and with the characteristic warmth, grace and dash of humor that endears her to so many on screen, she managed to get to the heart of things with the strike and with her fans.

But the actress didn’t just bring platitudes – she brought facts, with statistics on just how many working actors don’t qualify for 26,000 a year insurance, or who make under $12 an hour. “The bulk of artists are working class” she stressed. She went on to explain things like the concept of Top of Show, where studios can pay the minimum they’re forced to pay for long hours of work that don’t offer health insurance.

But it’s not just about actors, she said, and it’s not just about the entertainment industry - it’s happening with professionals everywhere, and we need to stand up and say enough is enough – which it’s obvious Hurd is doing with every word.

Hurd was lovely to her fans as well, managing to make her voice heard and then still give back to fans with a look at her upbringing and the way her father inspired her to go do new things and be a well rounded person.

While she couldn’t mention much of what fans wished she could, she did give nods, mentioning that in the future when the strike was resolved there’s a few things she’d like to do - work with writers and the writer’s union, work towards more representation in media of POC and LGBTQIA+ folks and work on a spinoff that fans would absolutely adore. We hope she does all three.

Felicia Day at Fan Expo Chicago 2023. Photo: Marielle Bokor

For our last panel of the day we sat in for a chance to hear what Felicia Day had to say. It’s been a minute since we’d been up on what's been going on for her, so it was good to hear her tell a little bit about her life now.

Day said she’s learned more about herself and the world after becoming a mother, and talked a little bit about her daughter Calliope and her social struggles, as an introverted child. She said she’s learned to recognize when situations or people might be too much for her daughter and help her ground herself and feel like she has permission to not be in those places or around those people, but, the actress admits, she rarely let herself, also an introvert and anxious person, have the same accommodations. “I really didn’t treat myself well” Day said.

It’s something the actress has since learned and embraced though, and she talked a little bit about leaving Geek and Sundry to spend more time with her daughter as a decision she had absolutely no regrets about. We wish her well and were glad to see her embracing self-care - something we could all afford to give ourselves a little more of.

We hope you enjoyed catching up with all the celebs from Saturday at Fan Expo Chicago 2023 – if you still want more stay tuned for a report from Sunday (along with another cosplay gallery!) and bonus content from our team soon, too!

Editor's Note: Actors not pictured were not pictured at their request due to the strike.



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