Talking to voice actors is always fascinating. Half the time you're not aware of the many different roles they have played. In the case of Roger Craig Smith, he continues to rack up incredible role after incredible role.
Smith is the voice of Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins but that's not the only hero he portrays. He is also currently the voice of Captain America in Avengers Assemble. If that wasn't impressive enough, he has also voiced Ezio Auditore da Firenze in Assassin's Creed II and Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Chris Redfield in Resident Evil and even Sonic the Hedgehog. (You can see all the games he's voiced in HERE).
Smith will also be providing the voice for the villain, Ripslinger, in Disney's Planes, due in theaters on August 9.
We had the chance to talk to Roger to find out what it's like providing the voices to so many great characters.
Comic Vine: How did you get started in voice acting?
Roger Craig Smith: My background in voice acting came about from doing stand up comedy before, during and after college. I guess the grander story is, I have to give credit where credit's due. I had a high school theater arts instructor that when I was considering doing stand up, I went back to visit with her to do what I was thinking of doing for stand up.
I did my stand up in front of her long after school had ended and she just sat there quietly after I finished my little set and said, "Okay." She wasn't really laughing so I asked her what was going on. She asked, "You want me to be honest?" and I said yeah. She asked, "Where are your characters? Where are your voices? You were always a goofy character actor in high school and that was what I enjoyed seeing you do. Why just tell me about this person in your joke; why not just become that person in the joke?"
I said said, "That's a really good idea" and started doing that with the stand up more. Sure enough, as I was progressing through my stand up…we'll call it a career, as I was going through that, I had more people asking me who was representing me for voiceover or if I thought about doing radio and that sort of thing and less and less about how funny I was. I though, "You know, I should probably look into this VO thing."
The ultimate decision came after audition for the Aspen Comedy Festival at the Improv in Irvine. The woman that was there to kind of critique us after the show ended was going down the line telling everybody, "Hey, I really liked this" or "I really liked that." She got to me and her first words were "So who represents you for voice over?" I told her nobody. She said, "Oh, you do a lot of characters and voices. You should really look into that." And then she just moved on. She didn't say a word about my stand up or material so I thought, "I need to look into this VO thing."
I basically just got onto the Internet and Googled around. I think I called a couple of agencies to find out what they recommend in terms of training. I took some classes and I guess the rest is, as they say, is history, but that would be the sort of start to it.
CV: Is there a different process for recording movie and TV characters versus video game ones?
RCS: You know, yeah. It's all sort of the same technology for the most part. It's just me and a microphone. There's definitely a different process. With a movie, I don't want to say it's a less tangible experience that's going to happen. It's a different sort of experience for the person observing. Where as with a video game you can enact some element of control, which means there's a ton of variables regarding your performance that needs to be covered.
I guess the only difference in process is it might involve somewhat of a longer session. You never know. With a scripted animated feature, you have a definite scene that needs to be recorded and locked down because that's what's been written, storyboarded and produced. With a video game, they have to get in there and say, "Well the player might have you climb up this wall right now or they might have you jump off this and land there or get punched by this bad guy." So you have to cover all the variables that could take place within the entirety of a game.
There's a lot more coverage, just random grunts and efforts. They call it onomonopia or grunted effort or battle chatter. It's just you doing the little things you might take for granted in the gameplay when you climb up that ladder and hear your character go ~sigh~ and all those things we have to capture. It's sort of a weird process. You feel a little goofy as you're sitting in a booth by yourself, being a grown man going "Uuuh! Aaah! Ooooh!" over and over and over again.
That would be the difference in the process. You just have a lot more to cover. Sometimes not as much freedom as you would get in an animated film. You can kind of play around as since you're going to delivering to what your voice performance is going to be animated as. You can have some freedom to play around and come up with some new stuff.
Both are sort of similar in terms of what you do inside the booth but very different as far as how you approach what you're doing with your character and that sort of thing.
CV: To prepare for voicing Batman in Arkham Origins, where did you go for inspiration? Did you look at any comics, movies or games? Did you try to avoid stuff to have your own unique version?
RCS: It's a completely collaborative effort when coming up with a character like that. Eric Holmes, the creative director, had sent me BATMAN: YEAR ONE and a lot of different comics to start studying. None of that was necessarily what we did to try to capture what we were going to do performance-wise. It really was sitting there working with Eric, Amanda Wyatt, the voice over director, the writer - all of us just sat around and even other actors in the booth sometimes, we would determine what we'd want to do. It wasn't so much as trying to find a voice as it was really honing in on character. We want to pay homage to the fact that this is a character, not that we're trying to match a performance per se. We definitely knew that we didn't want to stray too far from the character and have people say, "Well this doesn't sound like Batman."
Batman sort of lives within a certain type of parameter in terms of what you're trying to go along with, performance-wise. We just all approached it from this fit Batman, in this timeline, in this time in his career. Is this believable? Also, do we want to push it a little more emotional or less emotional, just to make sure we were getting a prequel version of Batman as opposed to the Batman we know. That was our primary concern. Just to make sure this character is believable and works in the context of the whole Batman universe.
CV: Is there any difference, besides your voice, in recording Batman or Captain America in Avengers Assemble?
RCS: It's kind of funny. I want to be conscious to the fact that you're always going to hear some element of my voice in anything that I do. There's only so much you can do to try to change things around. With Captain America, the joke we always make is "Fists on hips." He stands there almost like a WWII poster. "Buy war bonds" kind of thing. The big fighting man up there with his fists on his hips. We try to give him a little more square-jawed feel. Captain America is from a different era.
With Batman, there's the inherent sort of darkness that's there. There's a very serious nature to Batman. There's moments of levity with Captain America. Batman is so committed and almost to a negative element as far as his personality is concerned. Batman is just very very serious, in comparison to Captain America. Not that one is different or better or that kind of thing.
To answer your question, I would wonder what my posture would be. I've never really seen myself in a booth. With Batman, I imagine maybe I'm a little more chin-down as opposed to Captain America who might be chin up, just a bit. They're both heroes but they both have a different posture as they go about doing their business.
CV: I'd imagine Batman is a little more clenched.
RCS: Yeah. He's tightly wound, in a lot of ways. He just comes through. I don't know if Batman would ever work if he was too light hearted. There's such a unique thing that happens in the Batman universe where these criminals, his enemies, are so…fantastical. The Joker is just all over the place. At his essence, the guy is just evil. There's a darkness to the Joker even though he's more colorful and, at times, comes across almost as silly. But always even with the silly and the goofy, there's that darkness that's there.
CV: Is your approach to Captain America in Lego Marvel Superheroes game different from Avengers Assemble?
RCS: You know, I'm not sure if I can actually answer that only because the game was just announced. I don't know where we're at as far as that's concerned. I apologize.
With video games, like when people were asking at Comic-Con for both Troy Baker and I to do voices for Batman and Joker, our approach is we try not to divulge what we do as actors or to also do the voice because then you're seeing…I mean Troy Baker is tall, good looking and in my case, I'm 5'5" and balding. [laughs] I don't know if you'd want to see me do the voice of Batman and you physically see me do it. We want you to get the game, play it and have it be the character you're falling in love with or the game in its entirety and not just the voice actor. There's so many people that work on these games. I think I'll be a little tight lipped on any sort of process of the Lego Marvel game versus Avengers Assemble.
CV: Do people recognize your voice and ask "Aren't you Ezio?" or "Are you Chris Redfield?"
RCS: No, you know it's only happened once. I was on like a retail call for Pottery Barn or something and there was a woman that said she recognized me as Batman. I laughed and said, "No, probably not because the game hasn't come out yet." She said, "No no no, my kids were watching the trailers, that's all they've been talking about so I know it's you." That's the closest I've ever come. It's definitely not going to happen with Ezio. I always make the joke, people ask if I ever go to a bar and try to hit on girl in my Ezio voice. Again, you have to remember, if you look at me…being not Ezio, or being about as far away from a Renaissance-era Italian assassin, ladies man in my shorts and t-shirt, trying to speak with that accent, you'd probably run for your life. So no, no one's ever recognized me as far as Ezio's concerned.
I've been in a games store and had one of the employees kind of give a couple looks. But again, you don't know…for all I know I had a booger hanging out of my nose and the guy was just looking at me funny. I've wondered a couple times, "I wonder if this guy knows…" It was right around the time after Resident Evil 6 had come out and I was wondering if he was like, "Is this the dude that…?" I've never had it where anybody actually recognized me vocally.
CV: You've mostly played heroes but you're the villain, Ripslinger, in Planes, was that a challenge or a nice change of pace?
RCS: It was awesome! I'll be honest, I always find the bad guys to be a lot more fun than the good guys. When I was doing musical theater as a kid, I liked playing little bit characters rather than the lead character. To me, the lead character was always described with a very definitive description of what they wanted for the character. Then you'd look at other characters and it'd be like, "This is that character's grandfather." That's all it would say. I thought it was great because I could play around with that character and take it places I wanted to and have fun with it. There's more freedom in pushing the character to keep him evil and have fun. I mean, who doesn't look at Darth Vader and go, "Man, he's so cool!"
It was a blast playing Ripslinger. For one, he's the wings-around-the-globe champion. You get to be the best of the best in that sport and it's fun for me as a departure. It's one thing for me to be, with voice overs, to play characters I would never be considered for in an on-camera sense because I don't even come close to looking like half the characters I portray. It was the same thing with Ripslinger. I get to be this guy who's a racing champion. He's just full of confidence, brash and is sort of bombastic in certain ways. Playing the bad guy is a blast. It's such a dream come true to be involved with this project. To be involved in anything Disney, for me, is sort of like the Holy Grail of companies to work for. I was a huge Disney nerd growing up and still am a Disney nerd. To be in an animated feature, let alone about airplanes, that's done by Disney, is just incredible. And to be the bad guy…Disney villains hold a special place in my heart. To be a villain in anything Disney is just so cool.
CV: Did it seem weird at first to be giving life to an airplane?
RCS: Yes. [laughs] For the longest time I never even got to see stuff. It wasn't until towards the tail end of when we were finishing up the principle recording of the characters I finally got a chance to see some of the roughly animated elements. It's still surreal when I watch a trailer on TV now. I still haven't even seen the film. When I watch the trailers or clips released online, I don't think it's going to hit me until after that opening weekend. There's just so many elements to this that are surreal. I'm not supposed to be there. That's how it feels. I laugh and explain that I'm waiting for someone to call up and go, "Ooh, we're really sorry…you didn't get the memo. We completely changed it around and hired someone people might recognize to be in this role." So when I see the character on screen like this, it's so crazy. It's like I know the guy, but I don't. It's like, yeah, I know that airplane because I've been staring at a picture of it for three years. All of a sudden you see it come to life and you hear your voice come out of that, it's surreal. The only way you can describe it is as surreal.
CV: Do you have a go-to voice if you answer the phone and suddenly decide you want to pretend you're not at home?
RCS: [laughs] Oh man! You know, not really. I don't know what that voice would be. It might change…gosh, that's a really good question. Maybe I should start doing that. Would you recommend that as a good way to get rid of telemarketers?
CV: I guess, like, "I'm Batman…leave me alone."
RCS: [laughs] That might work. That might actually frighten someone because they'd be like, "Man this guy is crazy and I don't want to talk to this person on the phone." It might be hard to do Batman at a drive through, I imagine because he's so quiet. Maybe Ezio would throw them off the trail the most just because of the sort of bad butchering of the accent I do with that character. They might think, "I'm calling some guy named Roger Smith but there's a weird Italian Spanglo-English guy answering the phone. I think I have the wrong number."
Planes is in theaters on August 9 and Batman: Arkham Origins will be released on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC on October 25.