When you’ve got “30 Rock” money in the bank like Scott Adsit, there are worse habits you could indulge in than comic books, action figures and original artwork. And now that he has provided the soon-to-be-much-imitated voice of the impossible-not-to-love robot Baymax in Disney’s “Big Hero 6,” who knows what coveted items he’ll add to his collection?
A familiar face on TV after seven seasons as the comparatively sane Pete Hornberger on “30 Rock,” the writer, actor and Second City veteran is also a serious comic book fan — so much so that he’s even inspired his own recurring character, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Adsit, in the pages of “Deadpool.”
Now he’s assuming another Marvel Comics persona, this time as the soothing, friendly voice of the automated heath care assistant who inadvertently becomes a high-flying superhero while trying to tend to the emotional and physical well-being of fourteen-year-old super-genius Hiro. Adsit sat down with Comic Book Resources to reveal how he found Baymax’s distinctive tones, his longtime Marvel love, and his awesome comic book-related collection.
CBR News: The thing that I really admire about your performance in “Big Hero 6” is how you kept that specific artificial intelligence and antiseptic quality, but also brought a certain amount of warmth to the character. I’m curious how hard it was for you to get there and find that balance.
Scott Adsit: I think early on in the audition I kind of had an idea of what I wanted to do, and then I saw a picture of the character — the early designs — and I heard the voice in my head, and thought, “Play it benign. Play bedside manner and user-friendly.” And so I just found the most benign voice in my head and then kind of let the audience do the rest of the work. I feel like a lot of the emotions you feel coming out of Baymax is projection and inference, because just like his face is blank, his emotions are blank, too. But when you see a blank face, you can put any face you want on that face, depending on the situation. So I kind of feel like the audience knows what emotion he should be feeling but can’t express, and they assume he’s feeling it. You do a lot of the work for me. It’s great!
What did you love about the character and his role in the story? What was the element that got you excited about him?
The thing I liked the most is the fact that he does have a purpose, and that is to make sure that Hiro is safe and healthy, and that is what he pursues the entire film. There’s no real instance when he’s not pursuing that, apart from when things go a little awry because of Hiro’s choices. The idea that everything that he does and everything that happens to them because of what he does is merely to make sure that Hiro is happy and healthy and alive, and that was the great thing for me — the relationship between the two of them, though it seems one-sided. The idea that he is getting what he wants by keeping Hiro safe is very satisfying.
Did you do the role entirely by yourself? Did you ever get to work with any of the other actors?
No, no — none of us did. We all met for the first time at the first screening of the film ever, at a private screening. [Chief Creative Officer at Walt Disney Animation Studios] John Lasseter hosted a dinner and a screening for the cast and some of the crew and we all saw the film for the first time, which had been finished two hours before we screened it — it came hot off the presses and it was still wet. And we watched it, and that was the time we all met for the first time. Maya [Rudolph] wasn’t there. I knew Maya before, but everybody else I’d never laid eyes on. We all had this immediate kind of camaraderie and the feeling that we’d been working together for a year and a half, which in a sense is true, and there was kind of an immediate feeling of being like a theater troupe that had all been working together on “Brigadoon” for the past year and a half.
Personally, what did it mean for you to become part of that great pantheon, for lack of a better word, of Disney voice actors and to be able to get a character who — I think it’s safe to say — is going to become regarded as a classic?
Well, my first instinct is to say, “You’re lying to me!” I still can’t believe it, and my ego won’t let me believe any of those statements about me joining some pantheon. But conceptually, it is unbelievable. I feel like I’m a fan of these films and of comic books, too, so I feel like you would feel if you were suddenly the voice in a Disney film. I mean, I’ve had a long acting career and done a lot of different things. This one feels like a fiction, still. I say to my girlfriend all the time: “I’m Baymax — so far!” I’m waiting for some axe to fall, because it doesn’t seem like something this wonderful could happen. But here I am talking to you, so something’s going right.
I think every kid has that one Disney movie that they get obsessed with. Was there one for you that you really loved in your childhood?
The very first one was “The Sword in the Stone,” because they had that magic battle and that always fascinated me. That was so cool to me as a kid, Merlin and Morgan le Fay fighting each other and turning each other into creatures — that was really cool.
I just re-watched it and it still holds up. It’s of its time, but it’s still a lot of fun.
Does it? I haven’t seen it a while. But yeah, that was one. I’d always spend my youth drawing the Disney characters and the Marvel characters, too. So now I find myself signing autographs and signing pictures of Baymax when I do it, so that’s really heady. That’s crazy.
Who was your go-to, as far as a Marvel character that you like to draw?
I’ve liked to draw the Hulk since I was a kid, and I think my favorite character would be Reed Richards.
What was it about Reed that made him your guy, out of all the great Marvel characters?
I don’t know. I think my very first comic book was a very big treasury edition of “The Fantastic Four,” and it was the Galactus Trilogy. I liked him. He was a very good leader, and he was a very responsible guy, and in the Galactus thing he locked himself in his lab with the Watcher and has grown a five day beard and is out of character. I was very fascinated by the idea that he was the most responsible, calmest guy in the world and then he finds himself in the situation to act out of character and be really rude to people and be really dramatic about something. He’s kind of a character who doesn’t have a lot of emotions, except in dire situations. It was the first time I’d ever seen this character, so I was really taken with him. And since then, I’ve followed him, and sometimes he’s handled well, and sometimes he isn’t. But when he’s handled well — like, I think John Byrne handled him really well after [creators] Stan [Lee] and Jack [Kirby] — he’s very endearing because he cares and also he’s an outsider, but also, he’s almost inhuman with his intelligence, but he’s like, really good with his kid. I like that.
Have you kept up pretty regularly with comics since discovering them as a kid? Did you stray and come back? How has it worked for you?
I wandered away for about four years and then I came back during college and have stuck with it since then. I still collect. I don’t bag and board anymore. But I do keeps tabs on everything, and then also I have books that I get every month.
The cool thing about this movie is it’s got the great Disney DNA and the great Marvel DNA and it mixes them together just right. That must have been really fun for you, as a serious fan of both, to see.
Yeah, it’s like two mighty rivers hitting each other and creating this flood of geek emotion, and I’m right in the middle of it surfing. It’s fantastic.
Have you had a chance to eyeball all of the merchandise for Baymax? And are you asking Disney to just pull the truck up with all the toys and bedsheets and everything?
[Laughs] That’s what I did today! We’ve been doing junkets today, and all day I’ve been seeing new products come and go, and I said, “I want that. I want that.” I think they’re going to be very nice to me. I think they’re going to pull the truck up, yeah. But I collect action figures, too — or I have. I don’t do it much anymore, but now there’s action figures that talks with my voice, so I’m getting multiple — it’s going to be a Baymax Christmas under the tree.
Are you anticipating that moment, when a parent is going to say to their child, “Hey, this is Baymax” and then they want you to do the voice for the kid? Are you prepared for a lot of those moments to come?
Yeah, I expect it to happen. It’s happened a couple of times, now that we’ve screened it a couple of times — I’ve had that very situation happen. And the kids, I expect them to be like, “No — he’s got bones!” or “He’s got a beard!” or something and be creeped out. But the kids, they understand what’s going on. They know I’m the voice of that character. And there’s still a little bit of a comfortable awe going on — very shy exuberance going on in their eyes — and I really, genuinely enjoy talking to them because they say very simple things that are very true and emotional. It’s great. I have friends who are voiceover people who are very well known, like Tom Kenny who does SpongeBob and a lot of other things. I’ve seen him get on the phone with kids for an hour at a time and talk to a bunch of kids all at once or one kid for a long time, and he enjoys it so much. When I watched it, I said, “I wish that I could do that. I wish I had that gift to give kids and to have for myself.” And here I am. So I’m hoping it’ll happen.
I think it’s probably going to start real soon. Post-“30 Rock,” what’s front and center, work-wise, when it’s not just your voice?
I’m in a great movie called “St. Vincent” with Bill Murray and Melissa McCarthy. I’ve got a lot of great scenes — and they all got cut, but I do show up in the movie and they talk about me a lot and then I arrive. I don’t say much in the film anymore, but it’s going to be a great DVD for me! And then I just did a pilot called, “We Hate Paul Revere,” which is a half-hour, single-camera sitcom, which takes place in Colonial Boston among the people who are firing the revolution up. It’s really, really funny — written by a couple of friends of mine, and they star in it, Adrian [Wenner] and Ethan [Sandler]. And then Ron Livingston plays Paul Revere. I play Sam Adams and we are the one-percenters. And Adrian and Ethan are silversmiths who are overshadowed by Paul Revere, who’s just a jerk. And I’m a friend of Paul Revere’s, as Sam Adams, and we’re just despicable rich men. And then I’m on a show called “The Heart, She Holler” on Adult Swim, which is a far cry from Disney, but it’s very, very funny by the guys who did “Wonder Showzen,” if anybody knows that. It’s crazy, nearly avant garde comedy/soap opera/fever dream madness with a narrative. It’s really hard to describe. I was on the junket for that the other day, and I had the worst job trying to describe what the show is, but watch it from the beginning and see if it makes sense. I’m not guaranteeing anything, but it’s really intelligent, really funny and really bizarre. “The Heart, She Holler.” And then there’s a couple of things I can’t talk about.
I’m curious, within either your comic book or action figure collections, what’s the pride and joy, the crown jewel? What is one item that they will have to pry from your cold, dead hands?
It’s neither, really. The thing that I want to be buried with is a sketchbook I have that I bring to comic cons, and it’s a themed sketchbook for artists to draw in, in Artists Alley, and it’s themed as “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” so everything in it is from the league, and I’ve got some of the top artists in the world in there. And now the book itself has a bit of a reputation. I’ve done interviews about the book. And it has Adam Hughes and Alex Ross and Mike Mignola and Tim Sale and Stephane Roux and Mark Brooks and Phil Noto and Brian Stelfreeze, and just the list goes on and on of the greatest artists in the industry. And that’s my prize thing right now. That, I would kill you if you try to put a coffee mug on that.
Well, if I wasn’t already insanely jealous of you, which I was, I certainly am now.
[Laughs] Well there’s a couple of pictures I put online. The rest are still mine to hoard. But if you look up my name and “The League” and Adam Hughes or Alex Ross, you can see a couple of things I posted. They’re amazing.
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