They probably wouldn't be able to identify him if they saw him on the street, but fans of video games, Cartoon Network, Disney and TLC might be able to recognize Roger Craig Smith if he stopped to ask for directions. Smith voices some of the top characters in video games and animation and he also does his fair share of voiceover work as well. Building off his success playing Captain America on Disney XD's "Avengers Assemble," voicing Thomas the Intern on Cartoon Network's "Regular Show" and lending his vocal talents to popular video games like Assassin's Creed (as Ezio Auidtore da Firenze) Resident Evil (as Chris Redfield) and the soon-to-be released Batman: Arkham Origins (as Batman), Smith took on one of his biggest roles to date -- Ripslinger in Disney's brand animated feature film Planes which cruises into theaters on Friday, August 9.
His character, nicknamed "Rip," is the lead villain in the film and his goal is to stop Dusty (voiced by Dane Cook) from winning the Wings Around the Globe Rally. Other cast members include Val Kilmer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Teri Hatcher, Brad Garrett, Sinbad, Cedric the Entertainer, and Stacy Keach. Smith took a few moments to talk about some of his projects, how he got into the business and what it's like to work as a voice actor.
Q: So how did you get into the business in the first place?
A: I started doing standup when I was in college and I would incorporate a lot of characters into my act. As the characters became goofier, I started hearing less and less about "When is the next time you are doing your act?" and more about "Who represents you for voice over?" I started thinking that maybe I was barking up the wrong tree.
Q: Did you have any characters that people really enjoyed?
A: I had this alter ego character that I would use to poke fun at myself. Basically the joke was that I'm this short, pasty-white guy but if I get a beer in me, in my mind, I'm six feet tall and a Latin lover. Instead of Roger, I would become "Rogelio."
Q: "PLANES" seems totally family-friendly but you've also worked on some Adult Swim shows. Do you approach the two types of projects differently?
A: You approach them all differently. The possibilities are endless which is what makes it so fascinating. Going from something like "Regular Show" to something like "PLANES," you are probably going to treat the family-friendly project with kid gloves, but it really comes down to what the director wants. The director will describe the vibe of the show and the pace they want to work at and you just have to adapt.
Q: Do you have a preference about what you like to work on?
A: There's no real preference. My favorite job is the next one. It's such a gratifying experience getting to creatively keep trying something new and push things in a different direction. Your voice starts to change as you do this more often so you start trying to find new characters where you don't really know where the voice is going.
Q: What's the difference between working on a film versus working on a video game?
A: With a film, your character probably isn't going to be in every scene so you can sort of parcel out the recording sessions. Video games are really exhausting because there's a ton of work that needs to get done within a four-hour window -- that's usually how long a recording session lasts. You have to do all sorts of effects and grunts to cover all the limitless possibilities of what a player will do. If they make the character jump up and down for an hour, that has to be covered.
Q: How does that compare to working on a series?
A: Well for example on "Avengers Assemble," we record as an ensemble cast. I can look across the room at one of the other actors and if we are having a scene together, we can match each other's pace and project our lines at the same decibel level. All of the actors who work on that show are friends outside of work and that plays in to how the characters interact. We're like a big dysfunctional family, which gives things a fun dynamic. With feature animation [like films and video games] you are typically in a booth by yourself.
Q: Do you do anything special to keep your voice in shape?
A: Sadly, no. I wish I could say I have some sort of daily exercise to warm up. Really it boils down to just rest and taking care of yourself. If I don't get enough sleep, my brain gets fatigued and the voice suffers. If I'm doing some retail work and trying to read and record legal copy, I start sounding like I had a few too many the night before.
Q: What sort of physical toll do the recording sessions take on your body?
A: It can actually be somewhat physical in the booth. You'd be surprised at how often you find yourself sweating just standing in front of a microphone. As Captain America, who runs, jumps, throws his shield and beats up bad guys, the sounds of him doing all those things have to come from your diaphragm, stomach muscles and esophagus. All theses little areas have to make all that effort without moving too much and risking making a noise and blowing the take. There is a weird, stationary physicality that's involved.
Q: You've gotten to play Batman and Captain America. Are you a DC or Marvel guy?
A: How foolish would it be for me to answer that at this point? (Laughs) I'm a fan of characters wherever they come from. Truth be told, I wasn't a big comic book fan growing up. Maybe that helps me bring a fresh perspective to things because I'm not trying to match anything that's been done in the past.
Q: You are a big video game fan. What's it like to play as yourself?
A: It's surreal. It's really funny but it's also kind of like research. I go and bark in front of a microphone for four hours and then I leave without really knowing how it's going to come out. I like getting the games I've worked on to see what the experience is going to be like for someone playing the game. A lot of times I'll be playing a game and think, "God, am I really that nasally?"
Q: Are people who've heard your work every surprised by your appearance?
A: All the time. If they were on-camera roles, I would have never been considered for 90 percent of the things that I have done. I get a kick out of it but sometimes I feel badly for people when they realize that their favorite characters actually aren't real. There's a disconnect -- some people don't really seem to think about the fact that there is actually a person who does the voice of their favorite character. I don't like to ruin that fantasy, especially for children.