Interview with Roger Craig Smith on Batman, Planes, Assassin’s Creed and Wreck-It Ralph

Roger Craig Smith (2)

Photo by Richard Wright Photography

Roger Craig Smith will always be known to me as Ezio Auditore da Firenze from the Assassin’s Creed series. That’s not the only thing he’s known for though. He voices Sonic the Hedgehog in the Sonic games and in Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, and he’ll be the voice of Batman in the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins game and in Disney’s Planes as Ripslinger.

John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor): Hey Roger, how’s it going?

Roger Craig Smith: How’s it going, man?

Nerd Reactor: Good, so Comic-Con is coming up. Are you excited for that?

Roger Craig Smith: Oh yes. It’s going to be my absolute first Comic-Con ever.

Nerd Reactor:  Oh wow, first comic book convention ever, or just Comic-Con?

Roger Craig Smith: Yes. Well, this is the first Comic-Con. I’ve done SacAnime, and I did the London MCM Expo – did a couple small things here and there, but as far as the Holy Grail of conventions, San Diego Comic-Con, this is my first time.

Nerd Reactor: So that’s going to be crazy with the panels, fans everywhere and the parties!

Roger Craig Smith: Oh yeah. Nah, I’m looking forward to it, for sure.

Nerd Reactor: So you have a lot of projects coming up and then of course the big projects you’ve done in the past include stuff like Assassin’s Creed and Sonic the Hedgehog. Let’s start from the beginning.

Roger Craig Smith: Okay.

Nerd Reactor: So how did you get into acting in the first place?

Roger Craig Smith: All right. That’s interesting. Going back to as early as, oh gosh, literally all the way back – I think it was kindergarten, in a school play. I think I got to speak the only speaking line of a  weird version of Charlotte’s Web. They had a microphone, handed it to me and I got to say something like, “Mr. Zuckerman, you’re going to the fair!” or something like that. It’s funny because I can remember getting laughs and thinking, “That was fun!” And I think from there, that got me realizing that being a goofball and all kinds of stuff gets people laughing, and that’s fun.

So I was just a goofy kid in a lot of ways. Eighth grade, class clown, I spoke at my 8th grade graduation, I spoke at my high school graduation, I was freshman class president of my high school and was doing musical theater and stuff during middle school and theater arts during high school. I got out and still had the bug and thought I wanted to be an actor, but went down the path of being a musician for a while as a drummer in a band. That obviously didn’t work out –

Nerd Reactor: So, no singing?

Roger Craig Smith: No. heck no. Well in musical theater, I did some singing but mostly it’s characters and stuff like that. The closest it came to real singing was Rolfe in The Sound of Music. So a little singing Nazi character – that’s always fun. But no real singing background for me. I think I did some backing vocals here and there, but nothing up front. And then I started pursuing stand-up comedy while going to college. That kind of led to me doing characters and voices in my act and that led to more people asking when I was going to do voice overs than it did about people asking about when I was going to be performing my comedy again.

So I started to think, “Yeah, gonna listen to what people are saying,” and took some classes in commercial voice acting, and then from there, pounded the pavement in my hometown area of Orange County. Took an animation class up in LA and the rest was history. I was quote unquote sort of discovered at an animation class up in the LA area and that got me representation and went on from there. That’s the start.

Nerd Reactor: I notice that the bulk of your voice acting work ranges from video games to cartoons and I was wondering if you have a preference for a certain genre or medium?

Roger Craig Smith: Not really. I enjoy all of it. Obviously original animation cartoons are a lot of fun because there’s so much more of a creative process that can begin there. But there’s no real preference. I enjoy doing narration, I enjoy doing radio imaging, I enjoy doing commercials. You name it – it’s just such an interesting business in a lot of ways, and all the behind-the-scenes stuff is, to me, where I geek out. There’s not really one favorite over the other, as much as it is, it’s an incredible job and I’m always amazed that I get to do this, let alone five days a week. So, no, the cheesy answer is that my favorite job is the next one. The acquisition of the work is part of the fun.

Nerd Reactor: For most of these projects, do you get to do research or do you just go in there and wing it, read the lines?

Roger Craig Smith: Sometimes I’ll walk in – it really depends on the breadth of the story, that kind of thing. Sometimes there’s an advantage to going in and not necessarily knowing too much about what’s going on, so you’re approaching it from a first-person perspective. I don’t know, it just depends project to project. For some video games, depending on the role, you definitely want to understand the universe that you live in, as far as your character. But other times for certain cartoons, you just want to go in fresh and have a cold read pass at it – sometimes you discover a happy accident as a result. Your timing was a bit off but it worked into you playing an ad lib of some sort which lends itself to a little spontaneity. Who knows?

Typically with video games, there’s a little more research involved I think, than animation. Simply because the story lines can get much more convoluted in a very short period of time, whereas with an animated series, you’ve got multiple episodes that are recorded at different times. Whereas with a video game, you might be doing an intensive amount of work for a couple weeks straight, and you want to know, “Who is this character again, and why am I speaking to him in a hostile manner as opposed to a friendly manner? Who are these factions of people that we don’t like?” etc. So that’s where the research helps out with video games.

Nerd Reactor: I was wondering, do you have an Italian background, since you did the voice of Ezio in the Assassin’s Creed franchise?

Roger Craig Smith: (laughter) No, not at all. Yeah, well here, I was just as surprised as anybody could be that they’re going to go with this Renaissance-era Italian assassin character, portrayed by a 5’5” Scotch-Irish guy. That makes perfectly good sense to me. All of the lines from Assassin’s Creed II that were spoken in Italian, and the accent, all that stuff, we really owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Ida Darvish, who was my dialect coach for Assassin’s Creed II, and Peter Arpesella, who handled that midway through Brotherhood and through all of Revelations.

The Italian in Ezio’s accent and actual spoken lines in Italian – if anything I’m a good parrot. I listen to Ida say the line in Italian and then I say it, and she says, “No, no, no. Adjust your accent like this, or make sure you hit  this word this way.” Once we get the thumbs up from her, give the thumbs up to the director and let him know we’re ready to roll. I spout it out and if Ida gives the thumbs up, and Amanda Wyatt, the voice over director gives a thumbs up, and if the production staff is good with us moving on, we crank it out and move on. So up until that point, I really hadn’t spoken a lick of Italian in my life.

Nerd Reactor: Well, you know, it sounds believable on my end.

Roger Craig Smith: Good, thank goodness. Sometimes I cringe when I hear it, and I’m sure there’s plenty of actual Italians out there who hear it and just go, [Italian accent] “Oh my goodness. It’s very bad.”

Nerd Reactor: Oh yeah, they’re probably like [Italian accent] “That’s not how you say it!”

Roger Craig Smith: Exactly! It was really interesting in the process because much like any region of the world, there are different ways of saying it, depending on what region of a country you’re from. I mean, if you ask a guy in New York to pronounce the name of Houston street, he’d call it “House-ton.” And if you ask a guy in Texas to pronounce the name of that street, he says “Houston street.” Even though they’re both spelled the same way, different regions pronounce things differently. Especially considering we were doing a time piece, a period piece, there was a lot of speculation on how they would have said those lines, in Italian, back then. There were some arguments here and there over that kind of stuff.

Nerd Reactor: That’s why next time when someone asks that, if they question your accent, just tell them you’re doing the “far south” version.

Roger Craig Smith: There you go. Exactly! “Oh, the Northeastern-western version of it.” “Oh, okay, okay.” Letting it slide.

Nerd Reactor: Okay, so you’ve got two big upcoming projects. You’ve got Planes and Batman: Arkham Origins. Let’s delve into that. In Planes, what character do you play?

Roger Craig Smith: I play the Wings Around the Globe racing and defending champion known as Ripslinger.

Nerd Reactor: Ah, so you’re the one that the main character is trying to defeat.

Roger Craig Smith: Correct. He is the antagonist to Dane Cook’s Dusty Crophopper, the protagonist. So yeah, Rip is the bad guy, he’s the villain.

Nerd Reactor: He’s going to be pretty tough to beat since he’s a racing plane and all that.

Roger Craig Smith: Oh yeah. Fiberglass everything, spared no expense. He’s the Formula 1, and Dusty is, at best, Go-kart racing in his eyes. And so he’s out to make sure that Dusty doesn’t sully the good image of his beloved sport of air racing, and having this little crop duster come along and think he can beat some of the best. It really kind of gets under his skin. He’s about as cool as it can get. As far as character I could play, he’s the coolest plane, he’s the coolest guy. I mean, come on. What are you going to do?

Nerd Reactor: I’m not sure how he’s going to be able to beat you in the movie. I guess we’ll just have to watch the movie to find out.

Roger Craig Smith: I think so, yeah. On August 9th we’re all going to have to find out. I mean, if it happens. I’m not going to spoil anything. It’s quite possible Dusty might fail. You never know.

Nerd Reactor: Oh yeah. You never know, especially in a Disney movie made for kids.

Roger Craig Smith: Exactly! Of course he could fail! No. It’s gonna be such a fun ride, man. As far as Batman: Arkham Origins goes, I can’t wait for October 25th, and as far as Planes goes, I cannot wait for August 9th. It’s a very, very, very exciting summer for me. That’s for sure.

Nerd Reactor: For the role of Batman, how did you go about getting ready for that role? Did you do any preparation in terms of researching previous Batman characters, or did you try and go in a new direction?

Roger Craig Smith: I wish that I could – I really can’t delve too much into any of the Batman stuff, only because it’s so far away from its release date. I can tell you, I mean obviously I’m just as familiar with all the different versions of Batman that have existed in video games, film and animated series work, prior. So with regard to doing research and all that stuff, it’s like, man, I’ve watched all the movies, and while I was never really a big comic book guy growing up…as far as anything related to the character for this upcoming game, I’m not really at liberty to say anything about preparation or the approach to the process, other than we’ve all just got to wait for the panel at Comic-Con. They’ve got an Arkham Origins panel. I think Troy and I are going to be there, possibly some other cast members. I’m not sure. But I’m assuming and hoping that they’re going to reveal a little more at Comic-Con. Hopefully that will maybe answer your questions at that point.

Nerd Reactor: Okay. Warner Bros. is probably watching you right now.

Roger Craig Smith: Oh, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure my house is bugged. I can’t blame them though. It’s such a highly-anticipated project. Everybody’s doing a really good job of keeping their mouths quiet,  and we’re just as excited as anybody else is to see the finished product.

Nerd Reactor: So Planes will be your second Disney movie that you’re going to be in?

Roger Craig Smith: I guess, technically, as far as feature animation goes. I did the Sonic the Hedgehog cameo in Wreck-It Ralph. As far as feature animation, with a theatrically-released film, yeah, this is the second Disney movie, which makes two movies that I never would have dreamt I could have ever been a part of.

Nerd Reactor: I wonder what that felt like. If it’s your first feature in a theater, I know you didn’t have a lot of lines as Sonic, but just knowing you’re in theaters everywhere, how did that feel?

Roger Craig Smith: It’s surreal. As most of this job sort of is, it’s an interesting thing because you go in and do the job in a very small room with other adults sitting around you. You’ve got your microphone and your script, and sometimes it’s a very quick process. Sometimes it takes place over a few days or months or years even. But you can very quickly begin to forget that what you’re doing is eventually, potentially going to be seen by millions of people around the world. And so it’s a surreal feeling.

The posters started coming out for Wreck-It Ralph including ones with Sonic the Hedgehog. I have a very small part with that character, but to just be involved in that as a voice of a character that’s so widely recognized by so many people, I really can’t describe it. It’s one of those things where you’re so focused on the work nine times out of ten that you easily forget that you’re this goofy, funny character. Or you’re something that little kids are going to want to play some day. Surreal is the best word I can come up with because so many happy accidents have occurred in my life with regard to this career that you go and you sit down in a theater and there’s your voice coming through the surround sound. It’s big and booming and you’re thinking, “This is bizarre. I don’t remember sounding like that.” I went in as a dorky little dude and did my job and left, and the next thing you know, it’s like, “Wow! Larger than life.”

I really don’t know that I’m all that prepared for what it’s going to be like when I see the finished version of Planes because I have yet to see a final version of the film. I’ve only seen bits and pieces. To think what it’s going to be like, and sit there on premiere night and watch it in all its glory – I’m beside myself with this particular project.

Nerd Reactor: Just imagine a bunch of kids ordering popcorn and the popcorn bag is going to have Planes with your character on it.

Roger Craig Smith: I know! Yeah. I didn’t even think about that. I’m celebrating like you wouldn’t believe. I’ve already bought my die-cast collectibles, I’ve got a framed movie poster. Long before even working for Disney in this regard, I was an annual pass holder to Disneyland.

Nerd Reactor: Same here!

Roger Craig Smith: I just think Disney does it better than most. Both aviation and Disney are such a big part things that I enjoyed as a kid, to be involved in this film in any capacity, let alone getting to be one of the stars – the bad guy in it, all that stuff. Again it’s surreal. I’m just as much a geek and a nerd for this stuff as anybody can be, and to be involved in it is just the chance of a lifetime.

Nerd Reactor: Do you get to geek out on any other stuff right now during your free time?

Roger Craig Smith: Yeah, and in fact this was the other surreal element to this stuff – so many of us get  along as friends outside of the industry. Troy Baker, the Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins and Hawkeye in Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, he and I, all of us are good friends outside of the business and his latest release, The Last of Us is just so incredibly awesome. When I can find the time to steal away and sit down and geek out on that, I’ve been trying to get through as much of that story as I can. But yeah, I would consider myself a gamer, it’s just that I unfortunately, the job is starting to get busy, which is great! But it cuts into my ability to stay up until 3 or 4 in the morning and play video games, which is not fun, but I definitely geek out on all that stuff. I’m trying to collect little things here and there for Planes and for Avengers Assemble and Captain America stuff. You’ve gotta know for sure than when Arkham Origins comes out, I’m sure I’ll have a wall in my house decorated with all sorts of stuff for Batman. So, an admitted nerd and geek in a lot of ways.

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