Jeff Pearlman

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Roger Craig Smith

#266
You don't know his face—but you know his words. As Sonic the Hedgehog. As Chris Redfield. As Batman and Captain America and Iron Man and both Monkey No. 1 and Monkey No. 2 in Delhi Safari. This voice acting superstar has some things on his mind ... POSTED July 12, 2016

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So if there’s ever been a Quaz who’s perfectly Quaz, it’s Roger Craig Smith.

He’s insanely prolific, but you don’t know him.

You recognize his voice, but not his face.

You’ve heard him speak countless times, but from myriad heads and mouths.

In other words, Smith is one of America’s most accomplished voice actors. He’s been in a gazillion TV shows and movies; has starred as every imaginable superhero; has been in a Megan Fox film without having actually appeared in a Megan Fox film. He also lives near a Trader Joe’s and seems to dig Demi Lovato.

One can visit Roger’s website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Roger Craig Smith, speak up! You’re the 266th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So I’m gonna jump right in here. One of my absolute all-time favorite animated films is Wreck-It Ralph. You were the voice of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” So I’ve asked tons of actors through the years about preparing for roles and getting into character—but never a voice actor. So, looking back, what was the process. How do you figure out how to be Sonic? His motivations? His linguistic patterns? Etc?

ROGER CRAIG SMITH: Well, prepare for disappointment … I honestly don’t prepare all that much for voice over roles, depending on the situation. Specific accents, or some unique physical characteristic (which could affect the vocal performance) might require certain amounts of prep, but my experience has been preparation can often work against me. If I go into a session with a whole bunch of ideas for all my lines, performance choices loaded and ready to go, it’s not unusual to have those things shot down by a director or other creative individual on the other side of the glass (in the control room). Sonic came about in this manner. I remember auditioning for the character prior to Wreck-It Ralph and working very closely with the creative team from Sega on getting his cadence and voice print down. After landing the role from Sega, it’s slowly evolved into where it is today on Sonic Boom. When we started, they wanted to “age him up a bit,” so we played around with a little different vocal register. With his appearance in the Disney film, Rich Moore (director) sat in the session with me and basically let me do my thing with regard to the voice print for the character, but he had lots of suggestions on delivery and timing. THAT was a tremendous bit of good fortune for me that they decided to incorporate Sonic into a Disney film. Pure luck I happened to be doing the voice for Sega’s games at the time Disney was in production.

When I first started out as a voice actor I was super prepared. Through a decade of doing this on a professional level I’ve learned to have an overall understanding of what’s happening in the script, make some minor choices, but show up ready for anything and be malleable. I don’t have a magical vocal warmup that I practice everyday, or a specific dietary supplement or throat spray—I just try to get as much vocal rest as possible in between sessions, so I’m at my best when they hit record.

J.P.: I usually wait to ask this—but I can’t wait. You’ve had such a unique, lengthy, impressive career as a voice guy. How the hell did this happen?

R.C.S.: Ha! Man, you tell me. Not a day goes by that I don’t find myself in some weird situation in a VO booth where I wanna pinch myself. It’s truly unreal. I’ve had a number of folks ask, “How do I get your career?” I would sometimes answer with suggestions of classes, books, training, etc … Now, I usually respond with, “You won’t.” I wait to see if they bristle at that to follow it up with, “And I won’t have YOURS.” Fact is I went about this in the way that I went about it, but it wasn’t as if I had a road map leading me to voicing Batman, or Sonic, or Captain America—I simply kept trying to get another role, and then on to the next audition. When I started out down in Orange County more than 10 years ago, I went around and knocked on local post-production studio doors and offered up my crappy VO demo CD. From there, a few folks hired me. From there, I learned and got more experience. From there, I took more classes up in LA and had an agency “discover” me. From there, I landed some bigger roles and had more casting directors hear me. From there, I landed more work and eventually had Jeff Pearlman ask me to do a Quaz. I can’t tell everyone to go out and do it the way I did it, because it wouldn’t work for them. Their way of getting started wouldn’t have worked for me. I guess it’s just a matter of trying to take one step up the ladder at a time and not worry too much if ya slip here and there. If I had any idea it would/could have led to this, I’d never have believed it. I’ve worked hard and made sacrifices for it, but I still can’t believe it’s turned into the career that it is.

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J.P.: You spent years as a standup comedian—which seems like pure hell. What drew you into that world? What was the love? The buzz? And—because I always ask this—what was your lowest moment on stage?

R.C.S.: When I was a kid, I loved being a ham. I loved theater and being funny. Loved making people laugh. Also enjoyed mimicry, so started doing voices and making funny sounds at a young age. Being somewhat directionless in life after high school, it was inevitable that folks suggested standup after all my theater and silliness earlier in life. Wasn’t until my mid-20s and during college that it started to be a viable creative outlet. I went to a few open mics with a buddy who was living in LA at the time to see what it was like and found myself thinking, “Hell, I can do better than that.” So, I was introduced to the wonderful world of the LA “bringer room.” Started having my friends show up to watch me perform six minutes at a time and they all had to pay up at the door and suffer the two-drink minimum. It was indeed a pure hell in many ways (mostly for my friends), but I did enjoy the challenge. I liked the ownership of comedy. If I had a great set onstage, then that was my doing. If it sucked, well I sucked and needed to evaluate and try again. The shortness of breath and butterflies before hitting the stage, then (as experience came) the calm that washed over me as I’d take the stage, the whole notion of getting to be someone who had the guts to get up and do that—it all appealed to me. Sadly, the writing on the wall of what life as a comic could be like did not. Babysitting drunk crowds on the road and seeing some of my heroes in the standup world dealing (in the wrong ways) with dark personal issues started to have me second-guessing that career path. Thankfully the voices and characters I was doing in standup opened the doors to people suggesting VO as a career.

I think my lowest moment onstage was just the need for dealing with hecklers who were drunk. Unless someone from the club steps in and removes ‘em, it doesn’t matter how bad you shame them or put them in their place—they’re just a drunk mess and tend to ruin a fun night for everyone. I was never a mean comic, so I didn’t like the idea of slamming people from the stage. So, when ya ended up having to deal with the lowest common denominator in the room it was always a bummer.

J.P.: You’ve narrated a bunch of reality shows, including “Say Yes to the Dress.” No offense whatsoever, because it has zero to do with you. But I loathe reality television. So I wonder, how do you feel about the medium? Besides it being a paycheck?

R.C.S.: How DARE you! Reality is the last bastion of all things good in our culture, dude. Now you’ve offended me and I’ll contact your sponsors to have your livelihood taken away. Dammit I’ve been BULLIED, I tells ya!

The medium is what it is, I suppose. There are some really great shows that are in the reality genre and there are some steaming piles of soulless crap, as well. I’m mostly loathsome of the fact that many of these shows have writers and producers steering the content of the show, which, in my mind, makes them anything BUT reality. I’m actually quite proud of having been a part of Say Yes to the Dress, because I feel they’ve never strayed from focusing on the brides and the stories of the “real” people. They haven’t started focusing on the folks who work at the salon and who they’re dating, who they’ve slept with or betrayed, etc … Most reality shows stray into that BS (*cough* LA Ink) and then it becomes a soap opera with bad, unprofessional actors as they try to play up drama on their REALITY show. Bugs the hell outta me. Usually ends up killing the show, too. Thankfully, SYTTD hasn’t gone away from the focus of what people wanna see on that show, which is women making the biggest dress-decision of their lives and the process involved with that. Yes, it’s a first-world-problem subject matter kinda show and the drama of crinoline vs. silk is the kind of “tough life choice” most folks on this planet would like to have, but it is what it is. Also, it’s kept me humble having voiced superheroes and zombie-killing badasses, but also being a man with knowledge of crinoline vs silk.

J.P.: I wonder how people respond when you say, “I’m a voice actor.” … especially living out here in SoCal. Is it, “That’s awesome!” It it, “Um, what?” Both, neither?

R.C.S.: Ya know, out here, most folks follow it up with, “So, like, then what’s like, your day job and stuff dude?” Being a “working actor” seems a bit of an oxymoron for most folks in LA. And here’s the truth—I’m only as legit as anything you’ve heard of. So, when folks ask me what I do, I usually ask them about how much TV or radio they may listen to. Because the older lady on the flight sitting next to me might have no clue about shows like Regular Show (it has a dang Emmy), Avengers Assemble, Clarence or Say Yes to the Dress … So I can list off some of the higher-profile projects of which I’m a part and she’ll just give me the, “Well that sounds fun, I suppose. What do you do to pay the bills?” If she’s never heard of anything for which I’ve been involved, it’s unimpressive.  Also, folks in LA are so mired in the industry, it’s just like the days of dealing with LA comedy audiences (some of the worst, except for the Ice Room in Pasadena), because they all know someone who does what you do and they’re likely “better at it than you” or “more successful.” Here’s the other response from SoCal: “Yeah? Everyone tells me I should do the same thing. So, can you get me a job or an agent?”

J.P.: You’ve voiced Captain America repeatedly. So what goes into voicing a superhero? Is there an oomph one needs? A certain sound? Projection? And I don’t understand how Captain America hasn’t been shot to death about 5,000 times. I mean, he’s just a strong dude with a shield, no?

R.C.S.: Thank you for pointing out what I’ve asked for so many times—“Can we give Cap a gun every now and then?! Dude is working his tail off with nothing but a Vibranium Frisbee!” For the version of Cap that I’ve been lucky enough to do, Collette Sunderman, our voice director, worked on having his delivery be “fists on hips,” in terms of a posture when we first started collaborating. Think of the classic, comic book-esque, iconic image of a hero standing tall with his fists on his hips. That became our approach to voicing Cap early on in Avengers Assemble on Disney XD (shameless plug). It gave him more of that 1940’s “ahh shucks” delivery to contrast with the other voices on the show. I’m more barrel-chested in my delivery with him, as opposed to when I’m voicing the darker, more brooding Batman in Batman Unlimited (shameless plug coming to DVD Blu-ray later this year), nowhere near as nasally as when I’m voicing Sonic the Hedgehog in Sonic Boom on Cartoon Network and Hulu (shameless plug),  and he sounds nothing at all like my voices for Mouse and Moose in Amazon’s “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” available on Amazon Video (shameless plug). Oh, and Cap’s voice is different than Belson and Percy in Cartoon Network’s Clarence (shameless plug). Or the voices I do for Powerpuff Girls on Cartoon Network (no shame). Transformers: Robots in Disguise on Cartoon Network. Did that, too. Oh, and Ram trucks commercials might have a familiar voice in them, too (I’m disgusting).

J.P.: You did some voice work for “Jennifer’s Body,” a film even the stars sort of hated (but 13-year-old boys absolutely loved). How did you land the gig? What was the experience? And what did you think?

R.C.S.: That was just a straight up, regular audition I got a call for. Showed up, a bunch of us read for the radio DJ voice, I was lucky enough to land the gig and off it went. I think horror is a genre that often comes under fire for lots of reasons—but if you’re taking THAT film seriously, then you’re getting it wrong. I think it was meant to be somewhat ridiculous. I mean, I hope it was, at least. I REALLY enjoyed getting to be a part of that. Really and truly, even when you’re a part of something that isn’t well-received, as long as you can be proud of what you delivered when you were called to do so, it’s a fun job and that’s that. Hell, I voiced a goat that had his way with Forest Whitaker’s leg in Our Family Wedding. I’ll own that! I landed a gig and at the end of the day, that’s the job.

With Jennifer’s Body, I found myself thinking, I’m a very small part of a film that 20 years from now, folks that saw this when they were young might be lampooning it the way we do all things pop culture from our youth. It’s silly, sure, but maybe I’m not the demographic for it. Also, being in a film with Megan Fox wasn’t the worst thing at that time in my life. Not that I met her or anything. I mean wait, yeah, I like totally know her. We’d hang at craft services and share a smoke during production.  She’s okay, I guess. She still texts me from time to time and stuff but I’mall “babe ya gotta let this bird fly, m’kay?” Because voice actors are super glamorous and cool. Ahem.

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J.P.: What’s it like to hear your voice on TV, or in a film? Is it a buzz? Boring by now? Do you remember the first time? What was that like? Where were you? Thoughts?

R.C.S.: It, to this day, does not get old. It’s a dream come true in so many ways. Sure, I don’t fully flip out when I hear a commercial or see a show I’ve voiced these days, but the magic of getting to hear something you’ve done hit the airwaves, a screen or the Internet is always pretty damn cool. It’s that aspect of voice over that does give me the same sorta buzz that standup did. Sure, VO is way more collaborative than standup, but I do get to say, “that’s MY voice—I did THAT.” I dig that part of my job. It’s very gratifying.

Can’t really remember the first time I heard my voice in a production, but I can tell you this—when the opening sequence of Planes begins, I still get goosebumps. That was such a thrill for me, being a part of a Disney feature film. And as a BAD GUY! What a rush! So, I’m glad the excitement over something coming out for the first time is still there. Once it’s gone, I think you’re doing something wrong. I hope I’m lucky enough to be in my sixties and getting excited about landing a gig in VO.

J.P.: I have a weird one here: So you’re 5-foot-5, and I’m repeatedly amazed by the relatively short stature of actors. Most of the ones I’ve met have been in that 5-4 to 5-9 range. Is this just coincidence, or is there something about performing that draws smaller guys?

R.C.S.: Ha! Seriously, I think it has to do with the fact that we gotta find a way of getting attention from the ones we wanna attract in a different way than being a tall, athletic dude. I couldn’t develop an identity as a clutch player from the 3-point line. I wasn’t very good at water polo. I’ve never known the thrill of lifting up another human male to demoralize him in front of his girlfriend the way so many tall men have done to me in my past. So, yeah, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think short dudes are looking for a way to compete for attention/affection and being a performer, being funny, being good at something that takes guts to do—all those things don’t come with a minimum height requirement. That’s likely how a lot of us height-challenged individuals wind up here. And please use “height-challenged” going forward, Jeff. Stop bullying me with your micro aggressions and trigger words. “Smaller guys,” puhlease. I’m offended. I’ll take your livelihood now, thank you.

J.P.: You were at the first table read for “Planes,” and over three years you apparently expected to be replaced by a celebrity for the final film recording. But you never were, and wound up one of only two actors to stick the entire time. How do you explain your survival? And what did it mean to you?

R.C.S.: Wow, it meant EVERYTHING to me. I kept referring to it as a Faberge egg of opportunity that I didn’t want to handle too much. I’d enter every recording session and knock on wood in the waiting room. The production folks would often give me a hard time as we got closer to the premiere about “enjoying it and celebrating” my involvement. But, I just didn’t wanna believe it was real. After the premiere I was able to relax a bit.

There are ZERO guarantees in this industry and every single day there are decisions made that can drastically affect you—and yet you have no say in those decisions. It’s just a fact you need to be okay with if you’re going to do this job. At any moment, you can be replaced. It doesn’t mean anything, it might not be personal, but it happens. So, when you grow up as big a fan of both aviation and Disney as I did—this just seems like it’s too good to be true. And I was happy to be involved in ANY aspect of that film, let alone being the lead antagonist. To go from those animatic sessions, table reads, early voice sessions and over the course of three years…it was just one of those take-a-breath-and-chill gigs where I simply wanted to do the absolute best I could do each time I went in. After they replaced me, I figured, I could at least be proud of making it hard on the celebrity that might come in to match my performance. And then the replacement I was preparing for never happened. I was beside myself. That whole year was a blur for me. I’ll ALWAYS be proud of being a small part of such a neat film. I got to be a Disney baddie, no matter the scale.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROGER CRAIG SMITH:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Anthony Mason, Eazy-E, David Price, Hoda Kotb, Reggie Miller, scallions, Demi Lovato, Ford Explorer, Great Orange Park, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” the number 12: Scallions, Demi Lovato, the number 12, Easy-E, Mr Holland’s Opus, Hoda Kotb, Anthony Mason, Reggie Miller, Orange County Great Park, David Price, Ford Explorer

• We give Elena Della Donne a season of Division I men’s basketball. What’s her stat line?: 2,000+ pts, 1800+ rbs, 3,000+ blks, 1hb (heart broken, mine)

• Why the “Craig” in “Roger Craig Smith”?: Because “rogersmith.com” is a hotel in New York.

• Five reasons one should make Chatsworth, Cal. his/her next vacation destination?: 1. You loathe having options for things to do nearby; 2. Lots of career opportunities in what is now the former porn capitol of the world; 3. You can catch a contact high from the Porter Ranch gas leak; 4. They filmed the original Bad News Bears at Mason Park; 5. Did we mention former porn capitol and Bad New Bears? We did? Um, we’ve got a Trader Joe’s.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Wondering if I’ve lived a full-enough life.

• Absolute best animated film ever made?: Oof. Dang. Lion King.

• What’s the kindest thing someone has ever said to you?: “You sound much taller.”

• One question you would ask Samantha Fox were she here right now?: “Could you help me with my British accent?”

• Best joke you know: Knock knock. Who’s there? Interrupting cow. Interrupti MOOOOO.

• In exactly 26 words, make a case for the Love Boat: New and exciting love! A bartender and a Gopher are expecting you. Stubing’s just the captain’s name, not something you do on the Love Boat, sadly.

  • Ted Mark

    Mr. Smith has a very nice imdb list of credits. He has a very successful career ongoing and I wish him continued success in the future. Good quaz.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

— Seth Davis, author of Wooden: A Coach's Life