Batman, Captain America, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG? Roger Craig Smith's Many Heroic Voices

Credit: Cartoon Network / SEGA

What do Batman, Captain America, and Sonic the Hedgehog have in common? Well, aside from all being incredible strategically minded super heroes, of course… They all have the same voice. Yes, Roger Craig Smith has voiced all three of those characters, alongside a host of others in the realms of video games, TV animated series and animated movies over the last two years alone.

With Sonic Boom about to debut on Cartoon Network this Saturday, November 8, 2014, we talked with Smith in an extended chat about his newest role, alongside his continuing (and expanding) take on Cap. The voice actor told us how his Sonic has changed from the last iteration, teased some things coming up for several of his characters, and revealed which character he’s going to “annoy the ears off” of fans with this fall.

Newsarama: So, Roger, stepping into another longtime iconic character – this is starting to become a bit of a habit for you.

Roger Craig Smith: (laughs) Well I don’t know about a habit. Just a really nice stroke of good luck, let’s say that. I wouldn’t mind making it a habit, if it was up to me!

Nrama: So how did Sonic the Hedgehog come to be for you?

Smith: Well, the boring answer is just… an audition! I had gone in to audition for something – I didn’t know what it was. It’s just a video game audition, and you show up, and next thing you know they’re showing you previous versions of the character, from animation and video games. They tell you how they’re trying to tweak it a bit, make it a little more contemporary, and that’s what happened! That was back in 2010, or even towards the end of 2009. Then once they announced the cast change – I got an email with a heads-up from Sega saying they were about to make the announcement. “Just so you know, your website might get a couple hits, and your contact email might get a bit bombarded,” it said. I was like, “yeah, okay, whatever.” Within five minutes it was just “bing! Bing! Bing bing bing!” all these emails!

But yeah, it was just me auditioning for a job, which is how all of these usually come to be.

Nrama: It’s pretty interesting to me to hear about all these auditions you guys go to where you don’t actually know what you’re auditioning for.

Smith: Yeah. I think they do that on purpose. I think they’re trying to retain – trying to keep things on the down low, control the content. They look at it as a way to keep things in check.

Nrama: What do you do to train yourself to be able to get to an audition, find out what it is you’re auditioning for, and come up with what you think is an accurate voice on the spot?

Smith: You know, my process, really, is to tend to rely very heavily on the director, and whatever they tell me they’re looking for at that time. For me, it doesn’t necessarily come down to a process other than taking input from everyone that’s on the other side of the glass and determining what it is collectively that they want to hear. It becomes a collaborative effort with all the people that have input. I don’t just walk in and determine what the character is going to be. The director says, “hey, this is the Sonic the Hedgehog we’re trying to go for,” or “if it’s up to you, give us your first instinct, and if we need to pull it back or push it further we’ll let you know.” We just kind of throw it against the wall and hope it sticks. That’s how it goes almost every single time. “How bout this?” “No, that’s too young, or too old, or too pinch voice or too screechy or too raspy or too gravelly,” and you go oh, all right and make the adjustment.

If anything, my process is to go in completely as a blank slate and try not to think it through too much at all. The best thing is to be completely brainless! (laughs) It’s funny, when I was doing standup comedy I didn’t like to be unprepared. I had the order, the arrangement of my jokes – I liked to be as prepared as possible. Yet, with voiceover, over time I think I’ve developed the ability to be unprepared, for auditions – once you get the job it’s different!

But a lot of the work we do is that way. If you make a choice and you’re too married to it; you might find out that in the months that have passed since you booked the role and when you’re getting in the booth, they might have some new ideas of how to go. You have to just go, “all right, let’s try that, let’s try this.”

Nrama: When did you find out this was going to be not just for a new video game, but also a new animated series?

Smith: That was something that came about back in 2012. I think we all just started to get together, the folks at Sega of America and the production company got together and were talking about a test for a refreshing of the series and the brand and these characters, and seeing what we could do with it. We actually just started doing some recordings where we would just ad lib together as a cast! We would get in and just start bantering as castmates in character. Or the producers would say, “here’s a scenario, you’re trapped on a desert island, you only have one particular tool to use, and have a discussion on how to use it to get off the island.” It was all weird ad libbing, just to see how the characters, tonally, would work together. It was an attempt at selling the concept, and next thing you know it, you get a call from the agency that they’re going forward with it.

But you go through these things now knowing 100% when it’s going to air – if it’s even going to see the light of day. You just go in, and you’re happy to work!

Nrama: What is your Sonic like? Is there any notable change for you?

Smith: I just think, I mean, vocally it’s going to sound different! It’ll be different than what a lot of folks from different generations of Sonic have come to know. The funny thing is, usually most of the people that I come into contact with and ask what characters I do, if I say “Oh, Sonic the Hedgehog,” they go, “he has a voice?” (laughs).

Some of the older generations of people that grew up playing the Sega Genesis version like I did, that’s their reaction. But there’s nothing all that different about Sonic in a sense that he’s still the same, self-assured, heroic, smart-alecky guy who loves chili dogs! It’s the same character in many ways; obviously the design has been refreshed a bit. If anything, we didn’t depart so much from the tried-and-true Sonic character, a heroic and capable and competent hero. This Sonic is different in the realm of the animated series – we play around and have a little more fun with the characters and their relationships. We’re taking what the existing fanbase knows and loves about this universe and hoping to introduce them to a whole new generation.

The characters interact with one another by using comedy and action in this animated form. With it being CG it’s looking really really cool. So that to me is the major difference, we’re approaching it in a little different way to focus on how much fun they can be. As far as Sonic goes, he’s the same Sonic we’ve known and loved for 20 some odd years. He still makes quips at Doctor Eggman’s expense and tries to skirt the Amy issue…

Nrama: And he still runs fast.

Smith: (laughs) And he runs fast! That’s what I should have said, that would’ve been a great two-word answer. “He’s slow.” Yeah, he’s over it all now, 20 years of running and spin attacks, he’s worn out now.

Nrama: Well, you also went in the other direction, from an animated series into a video game, giving some continuity to the voice of Captain America over in Disney Infinity. What was it like providing the voice there, doing some interaction with other characters in the Marvel Universe? What’s the difference like when you’re doing the same voice for a game versus a TV show?

Smith: You know, the Disney Infinity thing was just a blast. Even coming off of LEGO Marvel Superheroes and doing that. It’s a lot – I shouldn’t say a lot more fun, but with something like LEGO or something like Infinity, they play around a lot more. Obviously, we’re skewing to a more broad audience, or a more family audience, and not necessarily just trying to do the action thing. It was a blast.

I actually for the first time started playing it about two weeks ago, and had a lot of fun. It’s a very cool game. I’m amazed at what they were able to pull off! The interaction of all the characters is really funny, it’s a neat storyline. I was basically sitting there cursing Troy (Baker)’s name. I was on the Loki level and I couldn’t get past it very well as Captain America alone. It took me many tries, and I got so mad at Troy yelling at me as the voice of Loki.

It’s a very surreal thing for me to get to do those things. The cast of Avengers Assemble – we’re really good pals! We are like the detention that happens in High School. The entire detention class. We’re all these goofballs and we sit in this room together and record these voices for a series we love; the lore of all this is something we’re all very fond of. Then between all the takes it’s just, essentially, I can’t believe we haven’t all been fired ten times over for being disruptive! (laughs) We all have a lot of fun. So for me, getting to play the video game and hearing the work of my pals in the game, my initial reaction is, “oh there’s Laura, there’s Travis, there’s Adrian!” You hear all of your friends. You know, of course Fred Tatasciore as Hulk is incredible. It’s fun to hear all of them and what they did in their sessions, how it came to life in the game.

As far as portraying the character from the animated series to the video games, mostly we loosen up a little bit in the games, especially with things like LEGO and Infinity, more than we do for the animated series, because that tends to be more series. Even though there are moments of levity in the series, the games are more broad, so we goof off more.

Nrama: I have to point out the vanity moment here that you tried to play the whole game as just Captain America…

Smith: Oh, of course! (laughs) It’s not even a vanity moment! It’s funny, people always go, “Oh, you play your games as the character you voiced?” And I go, “YES! And you would too!” It’s the dream come true! When I get to be Batman, I’m going to play a video game with me as Batman, and laugh and just not believe I got the chance to do it. It would be almost disingenuous if I sat there and said, “No, I like to play as Black Widow, because I live Captain America.” No, man! I voiced Captain America in a video game, I’m going to play as Cap!

Nine times out of ten, for me, it’s not getting to go, “yeah, that’s so cool!” It’s more getting to see what the collective effort of all these people who make the characters and make all this come to life, getting to see what they did. I can loosely remember what I did in a session, but I don’t get to see the result until it comes out. It’s nice to have people interested in what we do vocally with these characters, but there are so many people involved in this for way longer hours than we do, and they are equally as responsible for creating the characters! You know, the lighting, the content, the writing, the animation, the background, all that stuff goes into creating the world and the characters that live in it. So it’s fun to fire up the game and go, “oh, this is what everybody made, how cool!” If anything, the love that I have for my job has also kind of ruined enjoying certain things – my mind gets so attached to the production side of things. I’m always curious how they made that why they chose this; if I watch something from Dreamworks, I’m enjoying it but I sit and think about their choices, “what was it like for them to animate to that performance?”

So it’s more about me trying to find out what became of everyone’s hard work than it is me trying to enjoy my moment in the spotlight. Though there is a little bit of that.

 

Nrama: Well, I imagine you guys have already recorded all of Season 2 of Avengers Assemble, right?

Smith: We’re still doing a bit of ADR for it, but for the most part, I think the principal recording is all wrapped up on that.

Nrama: Did you notice any changes as far as how you are approaching the series here for the second season?

Smith: No, I feel pretty comfortable. I think we really started to find our stride and develop these characters at about the halfway point of the first season. The writing – if anything that I’ve noticed – the writing has gotten so solid, as we’ve all settled into this production. The writing gets better and better. It’s funny, we’ll talk about it when we show up, we get there and say “this is my favorite episode yet,” and then the next week we show up and it’s “this is my favorite episode!” The show just keeps getting better and better. So that’s what has been so much fun doing Season 2. Doing ADR is fun for it too because you do get to see some of the animation.

I DVR the shows that I’m in and I do it to see how it all came to be and what came of it. Of course, Avengers Assemble is no exception!

Bat-Mite!
Bat-Mite!
Credit: TT Games

Nrama: Well, any other teases here on your upcoming work and where people are going to hear your voice?

Smith: If you follow me on Twitter and such, you’ll see, I have an announcement coming up that I can’t quite divulge – but there’s a video game slated for release for next year that I’ll be talking about at some point.

I’ve got Regular Show on Cartoon Network still airing, I forget what season we’re in there! But Thomas the intern has a very special episode coming up this season that I think will be mind-expanding for some people.

Clarence on Cartoon Network is still going strong, and we’re having a ton of fun making that show, it’s been an absolute blast to be a part of.

And Sonic Boom is November 8th on Cartoon Network! It’s an embarrassment of riches for my life, I’m very lucky to be involved in all of these.

And finally LEGO Batman 3, I’m the character of Batmite! I am going to annoy the ears off of just about everybody that plays that game. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Nrama: And of course Skylanders: Trap Team just came out and you’re Sonic in Super Smash Bros as well, right?

Smith: I believe so, but I think they just lifted some stuff that we already recorded. But yeah, for Trap Team I had a lot of fun. Playing yet another Italian in a video game!

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