Published on August 2nd, 2013 | by Cameron Woolsey
Roger Craig Smith | Character Behind the Character [Interview]
In the latest edition of GAMINGtruth’s Character Behind the Character, we speak with Roger Craig Smith.
Smith, 37, broke into the video game voice-over scene in the late ’90s. However, one of his first major performances came in 2004 when he took the role of Chris Redfield in Resident Evil: Outbreak – File #2. Since then, Smith has voiced Redfield in other Resident Evil games including Resident Evil 5 (2009) and Resident Evil 6 (2012), as well as giving the walking meat fridge words when he went head to head against Capcom and Marvel heroes in Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds (2011).
His other notable roles include voicing arguably the most famous assassin of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, Ezio Auditore da Firenze, as well as SEGA’s famous blue mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog.
Ezio starred in Assassin’s Creed II (2009) and its spin-off sequels, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (2010) and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011). Smith has been voicing Sonic since 2010, and his work encompasses several games in the franchise, including Sonic Free Riders (2010), Sonic Generations (2011), Mario & Sonic at the London Olympic Games (2011) and the upcoming Sonic Lost World (scheduled 2013). He also voiced the blue hedgehog in his cameo appearance in Disney’s Wreck-it Ralph (2012).
Smith will also voice a Batman in his early crime-fighting career in the upcoming Batman: Arkham Asylum (2013).
Smith’s work extends beyond the realm of video games. He has played a role in 15 anime shows, including Bleach, Naruto and Kekkaishi. He has also voiced characters in American animation, and has been heard in shows like Regular Show, Ultimate Spider-Man, Fish Hooks, Young Justice and Gravity Falls.
[GAMINGtruth]: In general, what’s your prep work like before heading to a mic to record? Is hot tea just an urban myth? Or do you do yoga?
[Roger Craig Smith]: No, no yoga for me [laughs]. You know what? I guess that the preparation is all the time. Daily basis is just trying to stay healthy and trying to make sure you get enough sleep, for me. It’s different for everybody. Some people do vocal warm-up exercises, things like that. I will, from time to time, depending on the project, try to do some warm ups. It also kind of depends on my fatigue level: How much work you’ve done earlier in the week.
There’s really no process as far as preparing for a role. Nine times out of 10 with this stuff I like to go into the collaborative group we’re working with: The director I’m working with; the creative director I’m working with; the voice-over director. You want to kind of get everybody’s input as what they want your character to do. If anything, the prep is sort of being prepared for just about anything.
Things change so much, and even in the midst of the recording process you might find out that, “You know what? This isn’t working. Let’s go back. Let’s ditch what we’ve done. Let’s go back and start approaching it again.” And if you’re not adaptable and you’re not ready to ditch something and start all the way over, it can really kind of throw you off.
What do you find has changed most since your initial involvement with the video game industry?
With video games in particular? Well, it’s interesting, they’re looking for actors now that, not all the time, but depending on their process, they’re looking for actors that are the aesthetic, vocal and physical embodiment of the character. What you’ll see with actors like Nolan North, Troy Baker, these guys are phenomenally talented at what they do, and they’re doing to full-body mocap (motion capture), and there are instances of facial performance capture so their likeness is being cast on characters now.
It’s interesting – I laugh because it’s not always the case – but I’ve gone on a number of auditions and the irony is that, I’m saying for the last five years, it’s starting to come to where I’m too short for a voice-over role [laughs]. It sounds odd to say that, but I’ve gone into a number of video games, what I thought was for a voice-over auditions, and you get there and you find out that it’s eventually going to be a full-body mocap performance, and with the way, somebody with my stature at 5-foot-5, the way that works and the way the computer looks at that and the way the dots and all that data get rendered it would make me look like a chunky little 14-year-old kid.
If you’re character is supposed to be a 6-foot-2 military specialist, the porky looking 14-year-old boy running around with a machine gun really doesn’t make for a good video game.
It’ll be interesting to see where it goes from here, because like I said I have seen so many different forms of mocap technology come around and it just keeps changing and changing and changing. So it’s really interesting to see where it goes.
Hopefully they will find a way of making me look 6-foot-2. I’d like that. I’d like to see that.
You have provided vocal work for many video games. What has been your favorite role so far and why?
Oh boy. That’s a tough question. It’s tough to say your favorite. You know, just because I got a three-game run with a character — it was an original character that hadn’t been done before — I would have to say that getting to voice Ezio is, not so much my favorite, but just an honor to have Ubisoft allow me to be a part of something that big and for that long: A series of games. It was incredible. It was such a neat character and it was really compelling. There were so many voices that could go with the character, and getting to voice a guy like that over the course of three games, it was just incredible.
Through that I forged new friendships with the people I was working with, and I just feel that we were able to do something special in the world of video games that doesn’t come along all the time. Now, he was not necessarily the favorite because they were all incredible. Between Sonic, between Batman, between Chris Redfield, all of them, it was incredible to get to do these things. To see yourself as a video game character is insane; it doesn’t get old. I can’t pick a favorite, but I would say that one of the more enjoyable element, or at least the biggest honor for me was, again, to voice a new character like Ezio and then to find out that it resonated with the audience of fans of the series is just a huge honor. It’s really cool.
Are you a gamer yourself?
I am. I wish I was more of a gamer than what I have been over the last couple of years, but it’s a nice first-world problem to have. Work has kept me busy, and gone are the days of me being able to stay up until three or four in the morning with my buddies on Xbox Live blowing stuff up. Lately I threw in Troy Baker’s The Last of Us,and I still have yet to complete that.
I feel like I have to turn in my gaming card at some point, or my gamer card. I just haven’t been as diligent with my video gaming as I feel I should be. It’s a responsible thing I should stick with and I feel I’m failing.
[Note: Troy Baker voices Joel, the leading role in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us]
What would be the dream game franchise you would like to work on?
You know, the pat answer is always: The next one. I guess that’s the reality of the job, is that you’re always trying to find something to achieve. The real answer is that I’ve already done it. I mean, look, Batman? Are you kidding me? Assassin’s Creed? Resident Evil? These are massive titles. Sonic the Hedgehog has a worldwide audience – it’s crazy.
I’ve already done it. That’s the sort of the frightening and awesome thing is looking at it going, “Man, I’ve done things that I would have dream I could have the good fortune of landing these roles.” But, I guess the dream franchise is maybe another original one or the next one. If I’m lucky enough to book another role someday, I’m going to probably find myself going, “Man, oh man, I can’t believe they’re still using me.” I still feel like, you know, one of these days I’m going to wake up and the phone’s going to ring and someone’s going to say, “Hey, we realized you have no idea what you’re doing, so we’re just go ahead and just go in a different direction now.”
Hopefully the next one, but the reality is that, boy, oh boy, have I already done more than I could have ever possibly dreamed of. It’s just … I’m beside myself with being able to do these iconic characters. I can’t imagine yet another dream franchise to be a part of. It would be great.
Back in July 2010 it was announced that you officially became the voice of esteemed Sega mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. In what ways would you say that you two are similar?
Goofballs, I guess. I’m a total ham, and Sonic is definitely no stranger to kind of milking any opportunity if he’s got an audience, even if it’s Eggman or Tails or anybody. You know, and fast talking, I guess, and just trying to find the fun in things. But then there are also a lot of ways we are not similar. I can imagine he works out a lot more than I do. He’s probably got a better cardiovascular health than I do, being so fast. I would say, just kind of making snarky little sarcastic comments and stuff. That’s kind of near and dear to my heart.
Kevin Conroy has voiced Batman for more than two decades and he keep himself healthy with exercise and the use of nutrition systems online, you may ask how much does nutrisystem cost? but is actually pretty affordable, but mostly anyone. However, he will pass the cape and cowl to you, who will take over the role of Batman and Bruce Wayne for Batman: Arkham Origins. How do you feel about taking over that iconic role?
Well, I need to clarify: No one is taking over anything. As much as it is for just this particular game, we got a prequel. So there’s no taking over, no passing a torch for Arkham Origins. It’s simply that they wanted to go with a younger sounding Batman, and we wanted to portray Batman at a different point in his career. I cannot take over for Kevin Conroy. It’s not about filling shoes, as I said at the panel at Comic-Con, it’s more like falling into them.
It’s two decades of work that people have come to know. It’s no different than myself when I was watching the cartoon back in high school or junior high. We’ve come to know all of these actors and the portrayal of Batman or the Joker. So, it’s not about taking over, it’s not about replacing, it’s more about, this is a different time in Batman’s storyline, and the developer wanted to go with a younger sounding approach to things.
Thankfully, with it being a prequel, we can finesse the character a little bit, but at all times being very aware of the work that’s been done previously, while making an homage of the character and making sure that we stay true to the character and not necessarily try to do any kind of impression of any previous actor’s work, but making sure that we don’t stray so far from those performances that it feels like, “Well, who is this? This isn’t the Batman we know.”
It’s very much very similar to think about how many on-screen actors have portrayed Batman throughout those films. It’s just an honor to have an opportunity to portray this character, but by no means am I taking over anything.
Why did you get into voice work?
I was doing stand-up comedy and I was doing characters and voices in my act. If I was [thinking], “Why didn’t I continue to pursue stand-up comedy as opposed to voice-over, or anything like that?” I guess the jokey answer would be that nobody’s drunk and telling me that I stink at my job when I’m at a voice-over session, as opposed to working with a stand-up stage.
It was one of those things that was never really on my radar back in the day, but as I did more stand-up shows, I had more people asking me about it. I was always kind of a goofball. I liked being a character actor. I liked doing goofy characters and playing around with things. So, once I realized that, in the world of voice-over, that can be received well, the phone started ringing, I started getting work
Did you do a lot practice doing different voices growing up? Did you discover your talent early on?
I wouldn’t call it practicing; I would call it stuff that got me into trouble in junior high and high school. I wasn’t a bad kid; I was a goofball; I was a ham. I liked goofing off and making voices and mimicking. I wouldn’t have known at the time I was practicing for anything, as much as it was just going out and trying to get people to laugh with me or at me or anything like that. It’s probably why I wanted to get on the stand-up stage.
It’s one of those things where eventually you start trying the voice-over role and going, “Oh man, how funny. All the stuff that I’ve been doing when I was a little kid … I really didn’t have any idea.” Voice-over wasn’t anything I even considered, even when doing the stand-up stuff.
What’s the best advice you can give someone trying to break into the industry?
You know what? That’s a really tough question to answer, because anything I say is all to be taken with a grain of salt just because everybody that’s in this business has a different way they broke in. No two stories are the same. It almost always starts with someone going, “You got a great voice. You should look into [voice work].”
If you’re going to be starting out, the only thing I can stress on people is education and perseverance. It’s a job filled with rejection on a daily basis. It doesn’t imply that you’re a terrible person or that you’re bad at your job. There are just so many variables that are out of your control, that perseverance is going to be your biggest asset, and educating yourself. It’s an investment in yourself to get educated – to get educated in general. You have to go out and take a couple classes in voice-over specifically and acting.
If you think you’re just going to magically pop into it and take off without knowing some of the jargon, you’re maybe going to do yourself a disservice. So why not invest in yourself, invest in your career and educate yourself in the business. Get really good at understanding that just because you heard the word no, or even if you’ve never heard anything at all, and you turn on the television and you realize somebody else booked the part, it doesn’t matter. So perseverance is going on to the next, on to the next, on to the next, (and it) will keep you, probably, from going crazy.
We at GAMINGtruth would like to thank Roger Craig Smith for spending some time with us to discuss his work as a voice-over actor.
Be sure to catch Smith in Batman: Arkham Origins (as Batman), coming October 25 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC. For animation fans, you can hear Smith in J.G. Quintel’s Regular Show on Cartoon Network (as Thomas), Disney’s upcoming film, Planes (as Ripslinger), on August 9 and Avengers Assemble (as Captain America) on Disney XD.
Photo credit: Richard Wright Photography. Used with permission.
For more on Roger Craig Smith, visit his official website.