Roger Craig Smith has plenty of voices in his head, but that’s okay. After years of working as a stand-up comic, Smith transitioned into the world of voice acting and has joined the superhero ranks as Captain America on both “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble,” as well as Bruce Wayne and Batman in “Batman: Arkham Origins” which hits stores on October 25.
But those aren’t the only impressive credits to Smith’s name. Before playing two of the biggest heroes around, Smith performed all kinds of roles in video games, cartoons, anime and even automated dialog replacement, better know as ADR. You might know him as Chris Redfield in the “Resident Evil” games, Ezio from the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, Sonic the Hedgehog or various voices in the American versions of “Naruto” and “Bleach.”
CBR News recently had the opportunity to speak to Smith in conjunction with “Game Over,” the most recent episode of “Ultimate Spider-Man” on Disney XD. This particular installment found Spider-Man teaming up with Captain America and Wolverine to take on a younger, more video game-oriented version of the classic Marvel villain Arcade. Smith talked about everything from his transition to voiceover work, developing the voice of Captain America and just how much fun can be had during recording sessions.
CBR News: Before getting into your work as Captain America on “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Avengers Assemble,” I’m curious, what made you want to get into the world of voice acting in the first place?
Roger Craig Smith: I guess it was my own failures as a stand-up comic. [Laughs] That would be the good answer. I was doing stand-up comedy before, during and after college for 6 or 7 years. I was doing characters and voices in my act and I started hearing periodically more people asking, “Hey, who represents you for voice acting?” or “Have you ever thought about doing voiceover?” I started hearing more about that and less about, “Hey where are you going to be performing your wonderful stand-up comedy next?”
It was never really on my radar, I’d always been a goofball and did silly voices and mimicry as a kid, but [didn’t peruse it] until I started getting into stand-up and hearing from professionals in the industry saying, “Hey you should look into this. This is something you might find some work in.”
I was finally trying out for the Aspen Comedy Festival and the woman who was there to critique the guests after our performance went down the line of all the comics that were there that night, got to me and said, “Who represents you for voice work?” I went, “All right, I’m going to look this up.” I Googled some stuff back then, took a couple classes up in Burbank and then started pounding the pavement in my home area of Orange County. I fell in love with it. It was the perfect blend of stand-up, screenwriting — which was my major in college — and performance. Once the phone started ringing for voiceover more than stand-up I went, “This is where I want to be.”
You’ve acted in everything from anime, dubbing for “Bleach” and “Naruto,” to doing video games like “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and cartoons like “Ultimate Spider-Man.” What different challenges do those types of jobs offer?
With Anime, you have something that’s already been animated, so it’s sort of a localization. We have to be conscious of matching mouth flaps and finesse a performance in a language other than what it was originally intended for. There’s not a lot of freedom in terms of what you can do with the performance. You’re fairly locked in to whatever the original language actor had done and the animators had timed.
It’s much more of a technical and clinical approach with Anime as it is with ADR. Usually, if you’re doing ADR for something you’ve already recorded, it’s a little bit easier to finesse a performance because you performed the original lines.
Video games offer the greatest difference only because, with a scripted series or a scripted movie you’ve got the opportunity of knowing what the writers intended and how it’s going to be animated. You’ve got a structure in place so the sessions can be very controlled. With video games, because so much of what happens in a game involves the player moving the story forward or conducting all the action, you have to cover all the variables that can enter into a video game character during the course of a game. So, there’s a lot more work in terms of covering all the grunts, efforts and actions that the player would have your character do.
In my opinion, sometimes there’s not a lot of leeway for improvising or ad-libbing with video games because you have such a complicated storyline that you have to make sure you’re covering all your bases. It’s interesting to see how the writers work in video games. It’s almost like a giant map that they have to lay out and make sure your character is not saying something that could not make sense given the timeline of things.
There’s a lot more coverage that’s required of video games whereas with “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” it’s like a giant radio play. We record as an ensemble cast and it’s a ton of fun because we get to feed off of one another’s energy as a result of that. With video games, we’re very isolated in a booth by ourselves. It’s rare that you get a chance to work with another actor. It’s not less fun, but there is something to be said for when you can be with your cast mates on a show. There’s an intangible energy that can be captured that comes through the performances. We’re genuinely feeding off of one another’s energy.
Before auditioning for the role of Captain American did you have a set idea of what the character should sound like or did it develop during the process?
If I go in with a fairly rigid pre-conceived notion of what I’m going to do for this character or what I feel this character should be, nine times out of ten, I’m going to get shut down by the director, the writer, the producer, whoever might be there. I don’t necessarily know what the creatives that are involved have as far as the intention for this character in this version of whatever it is that we’re doing.
There’s been LEGO versions of these things, more cartoony approaches, stuff that’s skewed for a younger audience and for an older audience, so I try to just go in as blind as possible and say, “All right, what do we want this version of Captain America to sound like? What do we want to do with this version of the hero?” Sometimes they’ll tell you flat out that they want to capture a previous performance that was done by an on-camera actor or go back to a more classical approach.
They’re the ones that give you the feedback as far as what they want to do and from there I’ll throw something against the wall and see if it sticks. It’s a very collaborative thing to come up with the version of the character we’re going to work on. I don’t tend to do a ton of research because I don’t want to over-think it. I want to get in the booth and the director and whoever’s working with the creatives from the company tell me the vibe, age range and delivery method. We all work very closely with one another to kind of create this character. It’s not me walking in and going, “I’ve done my research and therefore, this is the version of Captain America that you’ll all receive.” Nobody that I know gets that luxury. We all work together to create these characters.
Do you remember some of the key vocal elements they really wanted to nail when it came to this version of Captain America?
[Casting director] Collette Sunderman and I honed in on a directing approach as far as the vibe we wanted to get from Cap. I think she called it “fists on hips,” where it’s that heroic old military pose of the guy with his fists on his hips. That was how we started to steer Cap. We didn’t want this version of Cap to sound too contemporary. Even though this is an animated series, we didn’t want him to sound as if he’s from the 2000s. We wanted to play up the fact that he’s from a different era. That being said, we didn’t want him to sound so stilted and so up-tight that people wouldn’t relate to him or that he’d sound like somebody who couldn’t have fun with his counterparts like Hawkeye and the snarky Iron Man.
If I’m starting to sound a little too relaxed in the read, Collette will say, “Hey, remember, fists on hips on this one.” So we pushed the line between when he’s that heroic leader and when he’s just having fun being the member of the team. It sounds funny when you say a particular voice type or approach because it was more of a physical approach. I will literally put my fists on my hips. It barrels out your chest like a Buy War Bonds sticker from the ’40s. He is definitely a member of the Avengers, but he’s always got a different approach than most of the other guys. That’s where his military training and his military background come through. I think, also, that’s where that bygone era of integrity and doing things by the book [comes in]. He’s always grounded in that, but is always also willing to let others work with him.
It’s interesting to see him with younger heroes on both shows. How do you approach the relationship between Captain America and Spider-Man?
I think Cap is always looking for the good in most people, with the exception of Red Skull. I think Cap is always looking to see a person’s assets, what they bring to a team. I think he also really enjoys passing on his knowledge and his training and helping others find a better way to do stuff. It’s why he’s always giving everybody a hard time about training. Training is everything to him.
In Spider-Man he recognizes so much talent even though there’s some bravado and a little element of rushing in too soon and not thinking things through as far as Cap would perceive it to be. He’s very familiar with that with the way he looks at Tony Stark. He tends to think Tony’s got a little bit of an ego which leads him more than anything else.
But with Spider-Man, Cap looks at any opportunity to take on a young member of the team, no different than on “Avengers Assemble” how he does with Falcon. He looks at all these guys, looking at what aspects they bring, what makes them special and maybe guides them in a way that enhances their abilities. He looks at it like it’s a possible mentorship and he’s eager to give Spider-Man a shot. That’s Cap’s inherent nature, he’s always trying to find the good in things and the positive side of something and [figure out] how to bring everybody’s strengths to the table to achieve victory. His relationship to Spider-Man is no different. Maybe he can help him find a different approach that will lead to more success in his pursuit.
You do Captain America for two different series’ that are set in the same universe. Do you have a different approach at all between the two shows?
It’s not up to me to make the determination as to if I’m going to change up any sort of delivery. I think we might play around a little bit more with the fun you find on “Ultimate Spider-Man” but, that being said, we’ve had episodes with “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” that kind of lend themselves to a little bit more of that camaraderie and that fraternal relationship between all the members of the Avengers.
It sounds boring to take it to a work element, but that’s where I rely so heavily on the creatives that are involved with the show. That’s why I rely on the director, the writers and everybody involved to say, “This is the vibe we want to go with.” I don’t know that there is much of a difference. With this version of Cap, we’re just trying to get that “fists on hips” authority figure, but we don’t want him to be a stick in the mud. When he’s regarding younger superheroes like he does with Spider-Man, I think there’s a little bit more of, “That’s right guys. I know who I am. I’m Captain America.” He enjoys being in that position of not so much authority, but respect. He relishes that a little more in “Ultimate Spider-Man” than he does in “Avengers Assemble” because he’s working so much more closely with contemporaries.
Again, I don’t go in thinking, “This is the ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ version of Cap versus the ‘Avengers Assemble’ version of Cap.” I go in and work real closely with everybody behind the glass. So many times I don’t know what we’re going to do or what the vibe is or if this episode is setting up something else. I tend to just rely on the folks who know so much more about this series than I do.
What about the mood and vibe of the actual recording sessions? “Ultimate Spider-Man” has a bit of a younger cast. Does that change the sessions at all?
It is grueling. None of us get along. None of us can stand each other. It’s a hostile work environment. [Laughs] No, between both shows it’s a blast. We’ve had elements where Drake [Bell, who voices Spider-Man] comes and joins us on “Avengers Assemble” and vice versa. It’s just too much fun.
This is a dream come true, getting to portray a superhero in animated form that you grew up knowing about and loving all these types of shows. To be a grownup sitting in a room with a bunch of other grownups of varying ages that all get to have this goofy day job is a blast.
I don’t think there’s any sort of a different dynamic between “Avengers Assemble” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” because everybody in the room inherently knows that this is a dream come true. Being behind the mic and getting to voice these iconic characters is such an honor. How do you have a bad day? Anybody who brings a bad vibe to a situation like that is just doing themselves and everyone else in the room a disservice because it’s just so much fun. The writing is phenomenal and the sessions go like a giant radio play. We’re all goofballs, so we have such a great time getting the work done.
No, I don’t think there’s a difference in term of the vibe. I might be recording with somebody who might be younger, but I think everyone in the room has a collective mentality of about a 10-year-old. It doesn’t matter if you’re in your 40s, 50s, teens or 20s, everybody in there recognizes just how great of an opportunity this is, bringing iconic superheroes to life. We all have a ton of fun.
That seems to be a common theme in the voiceover world, that the majority of actors and actresses have a sense of how cool and fun their jobs are that might not exist in the on-camera world as much.
We love the question as voice actors, “Have you ever thought about doing any real acting?” It’s always so funny. How do you take yourself seriously? I am so far away from being the physical embodiment of any of the characters I’ve portrayed. I’m short, I’ve got graying hair, I’m about as far away from Captain America as you can get physically, but I’m able to portray him vocally.
I think everybody there recognizes just how incredible [the job is]. You show up for a job where you’re about to bark in front of a microphone for a few hours. Then some amazingly talented people are going to take this audio, animate this character, take your performance and turn it into this incredible thing and you’re just along for the ride. How do you develop an ego or bring that vibe?
I’m just amazed at the on-camera world which can be very vicious. I think it’s because you have to be everything to that character, the vocal, the aesthetic, the physical embodiment of the character whereas I’m just the voice. I don’t have to be Cap jumping around the room doing stunts. I’m in shorts and a T-shirt standing in front of a microphone and my dorky self gets to portray this incredible, iconic superhero. I have no desire to do anything in the on-camera world and consider myself so immensely fortunate to call all the people I work with friends and just to be a part of this side of the business is a dream come true. We’re all very happy for one another’s success. Nine times out of ten we’re seeing the same people at the auditions. You might walk away thinking, “I was terrible at that, but thank goodness Travis [Willingham] booked that role. Or Troy [Baker], or Laura [Bailey],” or any of the people involved.
“Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Marvel’s Avengers Assemble” airs on Disney XD while “Batman: Arkham Origins” debuts on Oct. 25.