GeekNation recently had the opportunity to talk with voice actor Roger Craig Smith, a very prolific worker in animation and video games. You’ve probably heard his voice as such iconic characters as Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke from G.I. Joe, Captain America (in both video games and animated television), and even Charizard from Pokemon. He’s lent his voice to a great deal of stellar video game series, like Assassin’s Creed, Soulcaliber, Tekken, and Metal Gear Solid.
Today, Smith adds another great game franchise and another iconic character to his resume as Batman: Arkham Origins hits all major consoles and PC. Smith gets to voice the Dark Knight himself, Batman, in the highly anticipated prequel game to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and 2011’s Batman: Arkham City. Check out our exclusive interview with Smith below, talking about everything from his early beginnings to his most memorable roles, and the road that led him to Batman.
Chris Clow for GeekNation: Thank you very much for making the time to speak with GeekNation! I just have to warn you, I’m a huge Batman fan, the very first movie I ever saw when I was a kid was the 1989 film…
Roger Craig Smith: Uh oh!
GN: …but I’m not going to badger you with continuity questions, or anything like that! At least, I don’t think so!
RCS: (laughs) Thank goodness! Thank you!
GN: Well, I always like to begin by asking whatever talent I’m talking to how they got their start. So, was voice acting something you were interested in, or did someone discover you had an aptitude for it? What led you to devote yourself to that?
RCS: You know, it was kind of interesting. I think as a kid, I always liked voices and cartoons and things like that, but I never thought of it in the realm of that being a job somebody could have. Something, especially a grown up, could go and do. I remember as far back as elementary school, junior high, high school, I was interested…and really just a ham! A total goofball, and that sort of lent itself into going into musical theater, and getting involved in kids theater programs, that kind of thing.
I studied theater arts in high school, got out of high school, and then sort of putted around with junior college, and that sort of thing. As far as a creative outlet, I wanted to get involved in the industry in some way, and then sort of found myself trying to go the route of stand-up comedy. I’d always been sort of a goofy guy, so I thought I’d give it a try. So I ended up doing stand-up. Then, I got some advice from my high school theater arts instructor while I was trying out some of my material on her. After I did the initial act that I’d put together, it was kind of quiet, and she said, “do you want me to tell you that it was great, or do you want me to give you my honest opinion?” (laughs)
GN: Whoa! (laughs)
RCS: So I told her to give me her honest opinion, and she asked me where my characters were. “Where is that little cast of characters you used to do when you were here in high school when you were goofing around making up voices and characters?” She said then that I should try incorporating that into my stand-up. And I thought, “Oh, okay.” So I started doing voices and characters in my stand-up, and eventually, after quite a few years of doing stand-up, I started to hear more and more about who represented me for voiceover, and less about my stand-up comedy! (laughs)
So I started thinking that I better bark up that tree, because there are professionals in the industry that are evaluating us for comedy festivals, and they’re all saying that I should really look into voiceover! That it could be something where I can earn a living. So I started taking a few classes in voiceover, and found out that I fell in love with it. Screenwriting was my major in college, and between theater, screenwriting, and voiceover, I realized that I found something that incorporated all of those elements that I enjoyed. Writing, performing, getting to be a ham, and getting paid! (laughs) That’s always a nice thing. So I just fell in love with it, and it turned out to be a great fit.
GN: Yeah! That’s a fantastic story. Well, if you describe yourself as a ham, then I imagine that this job as Batman was outside of your regular personality to a degree. Normally I’d follow up by asking what attracts you to the character that you’re playing, but because it’s Batman, I thought it might be best to instead ask when you first discovered that character. As a kid, were you a fan of Batman?
RCS: Of course! I don’t know anybody who grows up that doesn’t know Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, you know, all these characters. It’s just so woven into your youth to know these characters. But, the notion that I would somehow ever, conceivably even be considered for this role, in any way, shape, or form, was never on my radar. And you know, a lot of questions come down about how we conjure up the characters, what approach we take, and even knowing previous versions that have been done like, obviously, the Kevin Conroy version. But going back to the first time that I was at an age where I could understand what was going on, or see it in a new light, was the Michael Keaton version.
Going back as far as that, I didn’t necessarily walk into this project thinking that I had to do what those guys have done. I think that from the get-go it was one of those things where the people that are working on the project have the creative vision of what they want to capture for whatever sort of character they’re working on. So from the beginning I went to this audition, and I didn’t even know what I was auditioning for, but I got in there, and some of the dialogue seemed vaguely familiar from maybe some previous games that I had played. But it seemed like they were trying to keep it kind of secret at the audition.
But really, it’s working with those creative people, and as a big fan of all those previous versions of Batman, especially Christian Bale’s, it wasn’t really something that influenced me, and it wasn’t really something I was trying to be mindful of, because I knew I had no clue what they were trying to do with this game, and wanted to make sure that I was pleasing Amanda Wyatt, the voiceover director, Eric Holmes, the creative director, and making sure that I’m delivering what they’re asking of me for the character that they know, and how that character fits in with the rest of the universe of the game that they’re creating.
And Troy Baker, the voice of the Joker, if you saw recently the video from the panel we did out in New York…
RCS: …he’s a diehard fan, and a comic book nerd, and loved the early comics, so he has this passion for the character and the role, that honestly, I would argue not many other people could, or would. So his approach was vastly different than mine. But it’s just because he grew up practically living on that kind of stuff. But for me, I just kind of tend to parcel it down into chunks.
GN: That’s great! You actually kind of touched on one of the other things I wanted to ask you about, and I know a fair amount of people have talked to you about what it’s like to step into the shoes of a guy like Kevin Conroy, but the thing that interests me, and I’m sure a lot of other people, is how his work may have informed yours. Normally, with a character like this, you’re allowed to forge your own unique take on him, but because you’re playing a younger version of a previously established iteration of a character, what was your process like in finding that part of the voice?
RCS: Well, again, it’s a collaborative effort. At the end of the day, whatever performance they decide to use in the game, you know, that’s on me. We do a lot of takes of things, and sometimes there might be a version that you like better than the one the director chose, or the creative director or writer might’ve chosen something different, but as far as coming up with the character, as far as even going back and playing through Arkham Asylum and Arkham City again, and listening to what Kevin had done, it quickly became apparent to me that I would be doing myself a disservice if I was trying to emulate that, or if I even got too much of that in my head.
This is true for just about any role that I take on, I don’t want to go in with an overly prepared sense of exactly what I should do with a character, because truthfully, it’s really not up to me. And that’s true of anybody stepping in. Troy could’ve had all of these brilliant choices about what he wanted to do with the role, and I think at its essence we’re trying to do what is right by the character, at all times. Eric Holmes mentioned that in a recent interview, it’s about authenticity. And really, I would argue that’s true for any actor stepping into it, whether it’s on-camera, animation, video games, you’re just trying to be authentic to the character.
And inherently, it’s going to sound like you’re taking this new fresh take on the character, but if all of an actor’s idiosyncrasies and delivery go beyond what we feel is authentic to the character of Batman, then you’re not taking a new, fresh perspective on it. You’re trying to change it, and that doesn’t necessarily bode well. I would say between Cesar Romero, Troy Baker, Heath Ledger, Mark Hamill, all of these guys [that’ve played the Joker] are doing versions of the character, but if any of them decided to step so far out of bounds of that character, we’d all be like, “What is this guy doing?! That’s not the Joker!”
So, people also keep asking me what I think I bring to this, and I keep telling them that I don’t know. Eric has said authenticity, and that’s just from us working in the booth, and trying to approach the job in those little small chunks of what we need to accomplish with a scene, with a line of dialogue, with a certain character interaction, but I’m not sure I bring anything new to it except for perhaps a different perspective on where Batman is in the timeline of things.
And when I say it’s a collaborative effort, I really mean it, because we work with the writers, the director, and try to establish a voiceprint for how we want Batman to sound at this point in his life. That being said, we were obviously very aware of all of the previous versions of Batman that have been done. I think in this, you’ll hear that people have picked up on sort of an unhinged version of Batman in Origins, because he was raw. He was less defined, and nowhere near as defined as he was in the timeline of the previous games. So we kind of toyed around a little bit with that growl. That so many people found polarizing with Christian Bale’s performance, but that I have no issues with whatsoever. I actually liked Christian’s choices in that role. But I can’t step into Kevin Conroy’s shoes, and I’d argue that nobody could. He’s just iconic.
GN: Well it’s kind of funny, because you seem to be tuning into every question that I’m thinking of asking you here!
RCS: I’m crafty! (laughs)
GN: You are, you’re a crafty man! (laughs) The iconography. There’s a great deal of fascination that surrounds Batman in global culture, so it seems like it might be difficult for some to get past the fact that they’re embodying an icon. Especially a guy who, in the story, really tries to put his humanity on hold. I think I remember comic book writer Scott Snyder, who writes Batman right now at DC, saying that he’s not really honest with himself about his own humanity. Did you have any difficulty finding the humanity underneath the front that he puts on towards the criminals of Gotham, or even some of his friends?
RCS: You know, I don’t know if it’s so much that. It’s such a strange thing how we go about this, because for one, we don’t record in a linear fashion. I’ve never been a part of a project that records in a linear fashion, so I would say that in every single project that I’ve been a part of, I usually leave a session wondering exactly what I did that day. So come October 25th, I’m going to get that game and pop it in and look forward to how this ride we’ve created flows and comes together.
And with all of those scenes and interactions, I would hope that’s what we’re going for, but I don’t know if that’s what it is that we were doing. This is kind of an odd answer I realize, because there were so many small parcels that we were accomplishing in a nonlinear fashion as far as the recording sessions were going, but I think, at its essence, that’s really what Origins is all about.
That’s why I love that tagline, “Your enemies will define you.” That’s really what this is sort of all about, including interpersonal relationships that he has, like with Alfred, and how they perceive one another at this time. All of those things are definitely explored in this. Paying homage to the iconography, while I’m in a session, is something that I just can’t think about. It’s all so surreal now when we’re just days away from the game launching, and every time I answer questions about Batman, I’m still kind of shell-shocked. I still can’t believe that this has happened, that I’ve had this opportunity, and the gravity of the role now can sink in. But if I thought about that at the time we were doing the sessions, I would’ve been…petrified. (laughs)
I wouldn’t have been able to record, and I’d have been paranoid in thinking, and overthinking, and I wouldn’t have done a good job in being authentic to the character. And this look at Batman’s struggle with his inner demons in Arkham Origins at this particular time in his career, that’s a big theme in this particular game in its entirety.
GN: Yeah, I saw the recent TV spot just on Bruce’s face that follows him through different phases of his life, and I was just astonished!
RCS: Wasn’t that great? It’s so cool!
GN: Yeah! The tone is just incredible.
RCS: Yeah! I actually sent a text message to Eric telling him that right there is a great example of visual storytelling. We’re actively seeing that inner turmoil, that inner torture that turns out to be the motivation for Batman. I’ve had a lot of questions asking me if Batman is the actual guy, and if Bruce Wayne is the real costume. Or, is it the reverse? And I’ve always felt, that at its essence, this character is Bruce Wayne. But that’s one of the things that I’ve always felt made Batman such a cool and compelling character in general, it’s that you’ve got the billionaire playboy that a lot of people can sort of be jealous of, and yet this guy is just so determined to right wrongs.
And yet, the way he’s doing it and going about it, it’s in the eye of the beholder about whether or not you think he’s really doing the right thing. In some ways he’s taking the law into his own hands, and the law looks at him as an outlaw. So there are just so many layers to this character and the story that I think that’s one of the reasons he has, as you said, that worldwide iconography that’s so significant because there’s so much to explore with this universe. I’m rambling…
GN: No, that’s fine! You might actually be relieved to know that I got to talk to Christian Bale on the set of The Dark Knight Rises, and he pretty much agrees with you!
RCS: No way! Cool.
GN: He says that that’s something he takes through his entire life, so it’s cool that you guys are on the same page in that regard. But, I am going to ask you one comic book question, and I swear it’s the only one, but it seems like a lot of Batman’s modern celebrated works take place during the early years of his career. Books like Frank Miller’s Year One, or The Long Halloween, those books are greatly celebrated and firmly placed in the same kind of timeline as this video game.
Was there maybe something in those kinds of comics that helped inform either your perception of a young Batman, or maybe even a tempo to his voice? Is that something that’s possible to discern in reading a comic?
RCS: If Eric had told me from the get-go that they wanted to capture something from Year One, then I’d have found it. Eric actually sent me a copy of Year One to read through to get kind of a general sense. He said that if there were any of them that he’d want me to kind of take a look at, it would be Year One. But it’s also the fact that you can prepare too much, so I think he just wanted to give me a taste of where they wanted to go. But, knowing full well, once you get into his boots, that’s when we start to truly define what kind of sensibility we’re going to have for that character right then and there. And regardless of how much research I’ve done, and how many ideas I might have coming into it, my job at its core is to do what Amanda Wyatt wants me to do in the booth. And she’s working very closely with Eric, the writers, and the producers of the game to capture that performance from me. But really, I would say that I walked away from reading Batman: Year One almost learning more about Gordon more than anyone else.
GN: Oh yeah, of course.
RCS: He struck me more in what I took away from the comic book, and I think he was more compelling to me in that story for some odd reason. Just because of the faults of the guy, and how his story shows us that not everyone is as clean and wonderful as we might like to think. But as far as influencing this version of Batman, we were just trying to make sure that at all times we got the character in this particular timeline to match up with the whatever the creative vision of the designers working in Warner Bros. Montreal wanted to establish. And I didn’t want to have too much influence from any previous iterations of the character because then I might be trying to sound like I’m doing a Kevin Conroy impression, or a Christian Bale impression! And if I did that, then I think that’s where you start to really irritate a fanbase since that could come across as disingenuous with the character.
That’s not to say that everybody’s going to love it! (laughs) Or that everybody’s going to hate it, for that matter.
GN: Well, for people that don’t quite know how it works, would you mind taking us through your process of voicing the main character in a video game? For instance, do you do all your work in a single day, or is it something that’s done over a long period of time? How does that work exactly?
RCS: In a testament to how passionate every employee at Warner Bros. Montreal is for Arkham Origins, we worked on the voice recordings for this game for almost a year.
RCS: Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s five days a week and eight hours a day, but over the course of a year we were recording a lot. And we worked very closely with the voice print of Batman, we played around a lot with it. We had to decide if we wanted to push a youthful sound, a less youthful sound, that sort-of Christian Bale growl, that sort of thing. So the process for this particular character was kind of involved in terms of how closely we tried to work with everyone in conjuring our Batman up in the beginning stages of his career.
I hate to say that there’s not much of a process for me, at least in which to get into character. Truth be told, you go from job to job, and there were many days where I was doing Batman at 9AM, and then doing “Say Yes to the Dress” or something right after that, and then going to do a cartoon series right after that!
GN: Wow! (laughs)
RCS: So, really the process for me is that I make sure to show up healthy, well rested, my attitude is good (laughs), I’m not stressed out about traffic or that kind of thing, and able to work. Able to provide the folks that are asking you to vocally tap dance out there with a quality product. So there’s a lot of hyper-focusing, and in-between takes we might be discussing if we like the way the line is written or my delivery, or if we think there may be an issue technically with the line, and if we had a problem with the microphone.
There’s all these things that go into capturing the performance. And usually, depending upon the type of scene that it is, you kind of become like a football player. You go back to the huddle, you’re trying to recuperate and gather your thoughts, and figure out what the next play is. You sit at the line of scrimmage, then the ball gets hiked, and everybody explodes with this massive energy for about eight seconds, and then you just kind of stop, regroup, and go onto the next one. And voiceover sessions for video games can be very much like that, where it’s like, BOOM! You launch into character and you’re angry at this! BOOM, you’re attacking that!
That really is the preparation. It’s usually trying to make sure that I’m healthy as a person, getting plenty of sleep so the voice can recover, and so that I can have control over it for the following day so I can be ready to work for the client. I know a lot of people love to say that I’d put on Batman underwear, or a cape and cowl (laughs)…
GN: (laughs) That’d be dedication!
RCS: But truth be told, it was all about trying to go in professionally, and being ready to have Eric and Amanda steer me in the direction that they want me to go, and that’s where you get to feel that sort-of team effort of them hiring me to be the hammer, and the video game is the nail.
GN: Sure! Well, I imagine it was a relatively unique opportunity coming into, now, the third entry of this game series, where you can get to play around with the first two. The reason I say that is because one of the things that I loved about the first two games as a big Batman fan is that they really did make you feel like Batman. So, the process with which he defeats his enemies and the way the games just make you feel like Batman, is that something that maybe informed you a little bit? Not necessarily about your specific take on the character, but just about the character himself?
RCS: For sure! I can’t imagine a better reaction going forward. And trust me, I know it’s usually never in your best interest to get out there and see what people are saying about a game. Opinions are everywhere, and they vary all over the place, but the one thing I hope people walk away from with this particular performance is feeling like I was maybe connected to this character. And that I was trying to get players to feel a sense of what Bruce Wayne or Batman might be going through at that time in his life. The only downside in revisiting Asylum and City is that his relationship with all of the other characters in those games are all much more defined.
I didn’t want to get too far into the previous games, though, because I got it pretty early on that we were really exploring the question of what exactly is this version of Batman? He hasn’t really done this too much. So, we were all sort of treating it with kid gloves, because we just knew that this is a bit of a funky, different thing. We know we’re going to jar some people because, well, I always get a kick out of people going, “Wait, Sonic the Hedgehog is Batman!?” (laughs)
RCS: So we were very aware that we would kind of shock a couple people with that, but from the get-go we just wanted so bad to make sure that we were going to capture Batman at this time in a very believable fashion. It’s going to be very interesting. I’m just as excited as anybody because I actually have not had a chance to get hands-on with the game, and at this point I kind of don’t want to. I’d rather wait until we’re back from launching it in London, and when we get back I’m going to enjoy a nice, quiet evening sitting down, popping that game in, and seeing how all of the people that created this character pulled it off.
So many people went into this. I could give you this voice, right? And it’s weird to be a sort-of tangible representation of the character, in that you can talk to me on the phone, or shake my hand, but I am not that character. The animators, the composer, the lighting crew, the mo-cap actors, I mean everybody that is involved in this thing all the way through, all share a collective desire to create the best thing that we can create, and they all love this universe, and these characters. Everybody creates this Batman.
I go in for four hours at a time and bark out a bunch of lines into a microphone, and then it’s handed to some very creative, intelligent people, who then plug it into the animated character. And they take that and add all of that stuff to it. So I’m excited on October 25th to try and see exactly what we have created. When you think about it, there’s a lot of things I can do with the timing of a line, but I don’t have control over that performance. Once I’ve delivered it into the mic, it becomes a little digital file and is sent to someone else, and then they can manipulate it, slow it down, speed it up, move it here, move it there, and all of these things become this big collaborative effort. So, I’m looking forward to seeing what we’ve got. It’ll be fascinating so that I can go, “ Oh! That’s where that went!” Or, “I remember that! I could’ve done such a better job with that!” That kind of thing.
GN: Yeah, it’s definitely going to be very interesting, I’m really excited to see what’s coming up in it. You’ve mentioned the other roles that you’ve had, and I think you have a proven versatility between Sonic the Hedgehog and, actually, my favorite Marvel character Captain America, so you’ve actually voiced my favorite Marvel and DC characters which is pretty awesome.
GN: But, after the release of Arkham Origins, what’s next for you? What do you have coming up that you’re excited about and can talk about?
RCS: You know what, I’m actually looking forward to one of the greatest joys of my career and an absolute dream come true was getting to portray Ripslinger in Disney’s Planes, and the DVD for that is releasing on November 19th. There’s more good stuff in the works like an animated series and a new game for Sonic the Hedgehog late this year and next year, and the best part of my job, and the most frightening at the same time (laughs), is sometimes not knowing what lies ahead! I’ve got some projects that are in the works. I did just get to do a character on Skylanders named Boomjet, which was cool.
The worst part about doing video game work, and even animated series work, is that you sign so many Non-Disclosure Agreements that there’s a lot of stuff that we have to stay “top secret” on unfortunately.
GN: Sure, of course.
RCS: But as far as people who maybe want to find out what I’m going to be doing, which is sort of surreal that people want to know what I’m working on (laughs), just follow me on Twitter @RogerCraigSmith. I did have a Facebook page, but I lost track of it, and it’s more frustrating to deal with Facebook than it is Twitter, so I’ve taken to the “tweets.” (laughs) And that’s where I’m mostly promoting my latest and greatest.
And I have a website, RogerCraigSmith.com, but it’s nowhere near as updated as the Twitter feed is. But there’s a lot of good stuff coming, and it’s so surreal to think that there’s more coming even after all of the things that I’ve done. Playing all of these characters is such an absolute dream come true, that it’s just sort of weird to think that there’s something I get to do beyond something like playing Batman. So, I’m just knocking on wood hoping that the phone keeps ringing. And that I’ve got more chances to keep standing up behind a V.O. mic, and reading out loud for a living. It’s nuts!
GN: Well it sounds like a fantastic job, and it sounds like you have carved quite a niche for yourself in it. I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me and GeekNation! We’re all really excited about Arkham Origins. It sounds like you have a lot of reverence and appreciation for all of the people that put a great deal of time into making the final product something special, and it’s hard not to find yourself really looking forward to it.
RCS: Me too, awesome! And honestly, it’s hard not to have reverence and appreciation for it. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!
If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out our coverage of the Arkham franchise by reading our reviews for Arkham Asylum, Arkham City, the Arkham Origins mobile edition, as well as our review of the full Arkham Origins game!
Latest posts by Chris Clow (see all)
- Original ‘Mortal Kombat’ Film Turns 20 Years Old Today - August 18, 2015
- ‘Alien 5’ Production May Be Delayed by ‘Prometheus 2’ - August 18, 2015
- Hugh Jackman Teases Other Comics Characters, Berserker Rage - August 18, 2015
- 343 Industries Responds to Backlash Over No Split-Screen Gameplay in ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ - August 17, 2015
- First Look at ‘Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection’ on PS4 in New Story Trailer - August 17, 2015