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Exclusive Interview: Roger Craig Smith, Voice Of Sonic The Hedgehog, On Bringing Iconic Characters To Life

Chances are you know Roger Craig Smith. At the very least, you know his voice. Roger has provided his voiceover acting talents for everything from movies (Planes) to television shows (Regular Show, Say Yes to the Dress, Avengers Assemble). In addition, he is no stranger to the world of video games, having been the voice of Ezio Auditore da Firenze from Assassin’s Creed, Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins and Arkham Origins: Blackgate, and Chris Redfield from the Resident Evil series.

Since 2010, Roger has been the voice of the iconic Sonic the Hedgehog, who will make an appearance in Disney’s upcoming film Ralph Breaks the Internet, in theaters November 21st. Sonic will also be back in action on consoles in Team Sonic Racing: The Game, which will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC this December.

Roger was kind enough to answer some questions about his career and discuss how he brings iconic characters to life in this exclusive interview with The Gamer.

Photo Credit: Jen Rosenstein

Roger initially started his career in comedy, which, according to him, inspires his voice acting abilities in a lot of ways:

"I don’t know about inspiration as much as just what I call ‘the arsenal of tools that you have in your tool belt’ when you’re doing this job. There’s a lot of things that have influenced: Everything from the screenwriting major in college, the stand-up comedy in terms of improvising/improvisation, coming up with stuff on the spot. Early on, I was always sort of drawn to comedians who performed characters. They sort of became a character as far as their storytelling would go. My high school theater arts instructor – when I went to go try out some material in front of her after I had graduated high school; this was many years after that – she was the one who said, ‘Don’t just do the observational stuff. Why not become these characters? You were always a character guy.’

Of course, if we're talking about comedians who have masted characters, there's really just one choice:

So, early influences were Robin Williams, of course, because he would just take on the persona of whatever it was that he was sort of lampooning or making fun of, and then we get to go along and laugh at him as this character. I would say, there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not in a booth somewhere doing something and I think, ‘Oh, that’s the degree in screenwriting.’ Or, ‘There’s the musical theater background at play.’ Or, ‘Oh, there’s the stand-up comedy experience.’ It definitely influences a lot of my day-in and day-out stuff.”

Of course, as a man of many voices, Roger’s day-in, day-out routine understandably changes as he takes on different roles and characters, portraying both heroes and villains.

“I think bad guys are always a lot more fun. I don’t know why. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome being a hero, but boy, oh boy, as a little kid I always thought Darth Vader was super cool. They usually have cooler looking spaceships and all that kind of stuff, but I don’t know. Getting to do Ripslinger in Planes, that was a fun sort of departure for me.

I think bad guys are always a lot more fun... Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome being a hero, but boy, oh boy as a little kid I always thought Darth Vader was super cool.

I like being a hero character. When I was first sort of exploring what it was to kind of be a performer as a little kid, for one, I wasn’t usually the big guy in class and therefore, if there was a lead role that you had to be – let’s say Li’l Abner – if you wanted to be Abner, it would help if you were a little bit taller. But what I started to realize was that the description of a hero character or a lead character is usually a very well fleshed out, very thought out, very deliberate, like, 'Abner is this. He says this. He is this type of character.' Then you look at bad guys or ancillary characters, and they usually just say, 'Pappy Yokum is Abner’s grandpa.' From there, you get to be the one that conjures up something original and fun, a little more dynamic and different. I would say it’s a little more fun to play bad guys, just because sometimes you can take a little bit more creative license with those characters. But look: everyday behind the VO mic is a good day. If someone wants to offer me a good guy versus a bad guy, I’m not going to say, 'Aww, I really wanted to play a bad guy.'"

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Whatever role Roger takes on, he works closely with his team to bring the character to life. But how is he able to keep a big-personality character, such as Sonic, fresh and exciting after so many years?

“You know, that’s not up to me. I would like to think hopefully that every time I go in, I’m trying to do something vocally that feels like its sticking with what we know this character to be. Sometimes you’re working with different creative groups. Obviously with Wreck-It Ralph, I’m working with a different creative team, than say when I work on some of the video games, or when we were doing Sonic Boom. That’s where writing and content play such an important part. I’ve been fortunate enough to voice this character since 2010. It’s not as if I’m responsible for coming up with what he says. There might be the occasional ad lib, but really and truly it’s the passionate group of people that are behind the creation of these characters that create the content. They’re the ones that are taking a sort of temperature of where we’re at as a society and trying to see can we push this in a new direction; can we introduce this to a newer, younger audience; can we reintroduce this to the audience that’s known this iconic character for the last 25-plus years? There’s all that to consider. Every time I step into the booth, even if it’s a character I’ve done before, or that’s well-established, or that I’m fourth or fifth in line having voiced this character – it’s still going to be a collaborative process where I work with the people behind the glass to have them tell me what they want and what they’re hoping to achieve. My job as a voice actor is to hopefully be vocally malleable enough that I can deliver something that they’re happy with.”

Many of the characters that Roger has voiced are iconic figures that fans have been familiar with for years. When asked how he handles the pressure of voicing high-profile characters, like Batman and Captain America, where fandom can sometimes be particularly critical, Roger laughed.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m not on social media. I don’t know what you’re talking about...."

"You have to just not think about it. It really just comes down to: Just do the job. Do the work. All that stuff is beyond my control. I can only hope that by the time that I’m stepping into the booth, I’ve earned the right to be there; the reason that I’m there is because the folks that are behind the glass wanted to work with me, or somebody else wasn’t available [laughs]. You just have to think about it from the standpoint of: you’re here to do a job. I rely heavily on working with whoever is the director behind the glass at that time. Or, in the case of Wreck-It Ralph, with a lot of Disney reps and the director in the booth with you. My job is to see, hear, and deliver whatever it is they are asking for, and maybe within that – as a collaborative process – push it into realms that maybe they weren’t considering to see if they like where that’s going; to see if we can’t collectively discover something new. But for the most part, I just think, ‘Do the job. Line-by-line.’

On voice acting, Roger says it takes teamwork and strategy, not unlike a sport:

I’ve called it ‘football’ in a lot of ways. A lot of VO sessions tend to be like a football game, or a football play, where you huddle together. Everybody says, ‘This is what we hope to achieve with this next recording of this next line.’ The director yells, ‘Hike!’ You deliver your line, and as soon as you’re done delivering it, everybody huddles back up and goes, ‘Was that good or was that bad?’ If I’m in the booth, and I’m doing something I’ve done before with a character that’s well-established, I will every now and then say, ‘That feels outside of what we might know for this character,’ or, ‘Sonic wouldn’t say that. He would say it like this. He would come up with a different phrase. Or, he’d deliver it like this.’ We’ll push it in that realm. But at the end of the day, I am a hired hand there to do a job. I have zero control over what people are going to say about it. It’s so collaborative, and there’s so many people that put their stamp on these projects that sometimes we get it right, and sometimes we don’t get it right. It’s just a risk. I have nothing to complain about in that realm. I get it when fans don’t like something that’s been done by a different project because it feels out of whack with them. But sometimes, they need to understand that it’s not about what’s been done. It’s about introducing these beloved characters to a newer audience. People tend to lose sight of that. We tend to, on social media, think, ‘Well, this is for me! If I don’t like it, then no one else should.’ But it doesn’t work that way.”

It is clear that Roger is grateful for his career in voice acting and getting to voice characters from many different genres.

“When I look at the resume and the characters that I’ve gotten to do, and things that are coming out that I still can’t talk about, I’m baffled by it. I’m baffled, humbled, and just thrilled beyond belief. I have had so many dream-come-true gigs. I think you’re lucky in this industry if you get to do one high-profile thing, let alone, it’s not bad to just have a career of working in this business. I’ve been fortunate enough to remain steady and work consistently. I’ve been able to be part of really amazing, huge projects that, to me, it’s just mind-blowing. How can I sit here as somebody who’s voiced Captain America, Batman, Sonic, Chris Redfield, and you name it – all these other projects that I’ve been able to be a part of. And then all of the family-friendly stuff, like Ripslinger in Planes. All that stuff…It’s incredible. I’m very fortunate.”

Be sure to catch Roger as Sonic the Hedgehog in Ralph Breaks the Internet when it hits theaters on November 21st, as well as Team Sonic Racing: The Game, due out at the end of the year.

Thanks again to Roger Craig Smith for this interview.

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