Wendy Young interviews Roger Craig Smith
It’s not often that you get to sit down with someone who is as well-versed in the animation, gaming and media world as Roger Craig Smith. Known for bringing life to characters such as Batman and Ezio Auditore, right the way through to Sonic the Hedgehog, we had a chance to catch him during a rare moment of downtime and ask him about the world of voice over and how to get your foot in the door of Hollywood.
How did you get into voice acting?
I started off, like any kid, with no direction and no idea where I was going with my life. I wasn’t college-bound, and I was kinda directionless in life. I had some by friends who said that I should try out for comedy, which is what I did – and in my stand-up act I would do characters and voices, on the advice of my high-school theatre arts teacher.
It was the people within the comedy industry that started taking note of my voices and, at the Aspen Comedy Festival, I was one of ten performing, one night. The woman who was there to help us all reach our goals came down the line, one-by-one, and – when she got to me – she just asked me who represented me for voice over. I said “nobody” and she responded with “you should look into that” – she didn’t say anything about my comedy! So, I figured I should just follow her advice.
Did you have another job when you first started out, and how did you make that transition into voice acting?
That’s a good question, because I know that’s a huge barrier to entry for so many people. Being instantly available is absolutely key to getting work as it comes in – and you can’t do that if you’re working day shifts in a bar or wherever you might be at the time. And I was very, very fortunate, because my mum was a huge supporter of getting me where I wanted to be.
Most people who want to start their own small business might go to a bank and get a small loan, but you can’t really do that when you’re doing something creative like this. When she saw that I was taking this seriously, she helped me out with a loan – that I had to pay back, because in this instance, she was acting as my bank.
She covered my rent and my health insurance, but the rest was up to me. Her doing that allowed me to be completely available to clients. So, if someone called me up and said, “can you be here in three hours?” I knew I could immediately respond with “yes”, so I could get my foot in the door. Without that, you can be pretty sure that the person who called would rather go on to the next person, than wait to see when you’re available for them.
Without that support, you’ve gotta find a way to make yourself available to people. If that meant working night shifts, then that’s what I would have done. And there were definitely times where I knew that getting my foot in the door meant telling people “I’ll do the first one for free. I know I can do this, let me show you”.
How do you manage rejection?
It happens all the time. It’s happening right now – look at the Sonic movie. We approached the production team fairly early on about whether or not I was going to be involved in that and it was pretty clear, pretty quickly that they were looking for someone else. A lot of the time, you’d like to think you’re in control but really and truly, are at the mercy of a lot of decisions that have nothing to do with you.
You have to be realistic about the industry that you’re in and what you’re a part of. You have to understand that you can’t take things personally. These are decisions that are beyond your control and you’ve got to find other things that become the pursuit. It’s not always going to be what you envision it to be.
The path is never linear – you can end up forward, sideways and backwards before you realise how you got there. Looking back on it, you might find yourself wondering how you got from Point A to Point B, when really you from Point A to Point H, all the way to behind Point A and then forwards again.
I’m also able to talk to people about what it’s like, share that feeling with others who understand what it’s like to get your feelings hurt and be affected by these things. A lot of the time it feels really, really unfair – but you’ve got to find other things that fuel you and inspire you. For me, it’s mountain-biking, hiking, going out and taking pictures – like my astrophotography.
When the going gets rough, it’s about having gratitude for what I have and how I’m still able to do what I love. Find out whatever it is that helps you to weather the storms of rejection and remember that, that is what you should be focused on.
Do you think your past as a screenwriter and comedian helped you to get where you are and do you still use some of those skills now?
Absolutely. I say this all the time. It’s no different from when people become fixated on this goal. A lot of people have a habit of saying something like “I want to be like….” and they might be referring to me. They’ll say “I want to get to where you are” – and I tell people, when they say that, that they’re never going to have the career I have. Then I wait for their response. Then I say “and I’m never going to have the career you have”.
Your pursuit, your goals, your skills, your background will all be vastly different – and it’s up to you to figure out how to bring all of those things into your career. All my of screenwriting, musical theatre and comedy will all help me to be better at my job. As an example, I can look at a script and know, pretty much straight away, whether or not the writer said any of his or her work out loud – and I might reorganise the words a little to make the script flow better with the spoken voice.
Even in Planes, I was lucky enough to work with a director (Klay Hall) who was a phenomenal guy to work with, and who let me work with the script as written, as well as ad lib around the script. He used to leave the mic open for me, so I could do a few lines and see what stuck. Understanding character arc, story arc and so on – it’s all in my mind when I’m working, and Klay was kind enough to go back and animate a particular ad lib into the script.
The same thing happens in comedy, being able to think on your feet and it all comes back around – you would be shocked at the little things you can go out and learn, so try to fill your life with as many pursuits as possible.
What are the biggest factors you look into when choosing a role?
I rarely get to be the one to choose. There are times when I might have turned down some work based on what kind of stress it places on my voice or if I stand against something on a personal level that doesn’t sit right with me. Not because I feel like I’m being sanctimonious but because I might just feel uncomfortable doing something – physically or otherwise.
I don’t want to participate in damaging people or dumb stuff down. It might be super judgemental, but I’d just rather not be a part of it. A lot of the time the agency gets it, and they’re generally happy with my choice – but rather than turning it down, I just won’t audition.
If you were to receive an offer of two roles at the same time, what would be important to you when choosing?
That pretty much never happens, because I’m always looking for a way to get both jobs! There have been times where there’s been a conflict but it’s usually in terms of time and the ability to reschedule the work. That’s the only time I’ve ever really had to turn down something. After all, I’m an independent contractor, so you can hire me for a day and there’s no exclusivity – that’s how I get my work, and what lets me work for DC and Marvel, at the same time.
Which roles have been the most fun?
I loved working on Unikitty, the writing and the reception was great. Ezio from Assassin’s Creed was a blast and a totally unique thing to be a part of. There was a huge benefit to not having to worry about how my Ezio could be received as opposed to Batman, for example, where people could be a little more protective of the role and who gets it. It’s always a privilege and an honour to be a part of any of those projects, but with Ezio – particularly with Assassin’s Creed II – with the writing being so good and being with people who were so passionate, it’s major element of pride for me. What an honour to be a part of that!
Being able to work with so many collaborative, creative and hard-working people is amazing. They all help me to conjure up new voices and characters – it’s never solely up to me and every job is the best, in its own way.
This interview was conducted by Wendy Young, over on Live Life. If you’re looking for more on Roger Craig Smith, check out her website, where she gets into the nitty gritty of Hollywood life, 21st century living and what he would send into space!
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