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Talk Nerdy Talks with Sonic the Hedgehog, that is Roger Craig Smith

Roger Craig Smith might have one of the coolest jobs on the planet. You may not know his name, you probably wouldn’t recognize his face, but with over 240 voice-acting credits under his belt, it’s almost guaranteed that you know his voice. Resume highlights include work for TLC’s longest running series Say Yes to the Dress, announcer on NBC’s World of Dance, a multitude of RAM Truck commercials and the voice of KROQ 106.7FM in Los Angeles.

But let’s get to his most important gig: he’s the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog! Specifically, Roger has voiced Sonic for SEGA since 2010 and does work as Sonic for the Cartoon Network on Sonic Boom. In 2012, he was tapped to voice Sonic in Disney’s Wreck it Ralph and you can check him out next week when he returns for Ralph Breaks the Internet. When I chatted with Roger – he did the whole interview in his own voice, which kind of made me sad – I found out how this class clown ended up as one of the busiest voice actors in Hollywood!

You graduated from Dodge College with a screenwriting degree. How did that turn into voice acting? 

Screenwriting was the major mostly because it was less expensive than if I had chosen directing. You could end up spending up to $5,000, almost minimum, if you wanted to make your own film as a directing major. I went, “Oh, okay, what if it was writing and directing?” So I chose screenwriting because you had to complete two full screenplays in order to graduate. And I was like, “Well, that’s a ream of paper, that I can afford.” But I liked that, when I got done, I had a screenplay that was in development. We’d had five meetings and five rewrites and all this stuff. We were working on it. And I’d also been doing standup before attending Chapman, during Chapman and then for a brief period after. But the voiceover career was sort of in the background… kind of starting to take hold and it paid and screenwriting was still kind of like you’re just sort of trying to find someone who wants to buy the script and you’re out there doing pitches and all this stuff. Then this voiceover thing started to really kind of utilize all those things from my past – musical theater as a kid, screenwriting as the major, standup comedy with the improv and the thinking fast on your feet and all that. I found myself just really enjoying a) the fact that it paid and b) it just seemed like a really nice fit. It was just a fun sort of blend of all of these things that I had kind of sort of creatively been steering myself toward.

You’ve obviously have had a lot of success in this business. What would you say was the moment you got your big break?

You know what, it’s a make your own luck kind of a situation, which is how most people find themselves in this. After doing it for a few years down in Orange County, I decided I would take Bob Bergen’s animation workshop up in the Hollywood area. It just so happened that after a few classes there was a woman that was there that was auditing the class, that’s what we were told. She was just going to be kind of hanging around to see if she wanted to take the class. But she was actually a booth director for the Abrams Artists Agency and they were looking for young men and young women there that could do animation voices at the time. So I just lucked out in the fact that as I was taking Bob’s animation workshop class and there was somebody who was scouting talent at the time I happened to be there.

So I would argue that was sort of the big break because that was the catalyst for me getting discovered by Disney to do a voice-match for Steve Zahn for Chicken Little. So really, and truly, it was spending money I didn’t have at the time to take this animation workshop class. I felt like, “Alright, it’s time to start seeing if I can run with the big dogs and what that is like.” I was still based down in Orange County and was still doing a lot of local non-union voiceover work down there. But I was cutting my teeth and making mistakes and learning in a safe environment down there as opposed to trying to come up right away to LA and expose myself to being sort of less than schooled in the art of voice acting.

So, make your own luck, take your shots. What else would you say to anyone trying to get into this field?

I think young people today, they see what they deem to be fame or stardom or success and it just looks like the obstacles seem so insurmountable. Right? The reality is you’ve got to start small; what can you do today to take one step closer to getting that thing, and then celebrate and honor and enjoy the little, tiny victories. Like, “Oh, I sent an email to a talent agency and they responded telling me about a workshop they think I should take.” That’s awesome. That’s good feedback. I will take that workshop and all those types of things. I’ve heard the term “incrementalism” versus a “moonshot” and we’re losing that patience, but that’s how it happens. It just doesn’t happen overnight. There’s no such thing. And if it does, then that person very likely isn’t going to appreciate it and probably aren’t deserving of it. It might be a fluke, but really just take your time. Start small, start local, baby steps, all that stuff.

Who inspires you as a voice actor?

Oh man, I would say everybody. I mean it sounds like a sort of cliché answer, but I’d say everybody. Obviously, you can go as far back as Mel Blanc and just say what an incredible talent. But I work with some of the most creative and talented and fun and funny people and they always inspire me to try to get better.

We’re always trying to do impressions of one another and you hear something that somebody gave you and you go, “Oh, that’s a cool little technique that they do with their voice. I’m going to incorporate that into one of my characters.” But man, I always think of somebody like Robin Williams in terms of conviction and character creation and all that. So I would say as an actor, probably somebody like Robin Williams is a good inspiration for being able to do both incredible comedy but also finding those moments to create heart and perform the sort of more dramatic roles.

You’ve done so much behind the scenes. Have you ever done work in front of the camera? Or considered it?

No. It’s funny, I’ve got my agent pushing me like, “If you want to, you probably could.” And I just think, “No.” I am very fortunate and it’s a perfect fit, the voiceover world. I chose screenwriting as a major and I chose standup comedy as a pursuit because I thought I was going to be a writer and I liked the idea of being a part of the team that’s in the trenches, kind of creating the content for these arrogant actors in that cynicism of working in production and they could go out and read our brilliance. [laughs]

But, I think it was Tom Kenny, the voice of Spongebob, who I’ve heard attributed to this quote. I don’t know if it was his or not, but something to the effect of, “If the world of entertainment were superheroes, voice actors would have the power of invisibility.” We’re just as exposed out there as we want to be. I might get recognized by one percent of people at a convention. But it’s so rare that I go to the supermarket and might have a kid who goes, “Whoa, you’re the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog.” And you just go, “Oh, that’s funny.” But you really are giving up a tremendous amount of your soul and who you are and you’re putting it out there for people. And I have the utmost respect for on-camera actors, but the job really doesn’t appeal to me.

Quite frankly, my average week is multiple sessions a day, five days a week. And a lot of the on-camera actors go on hiatus or a full 16-hour work day for a lot of them. So for me, just from a business standpoint and a lifestyle fit, I love being behind a voiceover microphone and getting to create these cartoon characters. It’s just the ultimate form of theater-of-the-mind acting. And it’s challenging, which is something I also like. I don’t have a costume or a set or a director telling everybody to be quiet. You’re just having to conjure up this performance from the neck up.

Well, that ruins my next question. I was going to ask you if you ever wear costumes while you do certain characters.

We’d done that back in the day, back in 2013 when Marvel was premiering Avengers Assemble, the animated series. We had a session on Halloween and a group of us all dressed up as our characters. So I showed up, ruined the image of Captain America for many children by being a short, doofy-looking Captain America with a fake muscle-padded suit. It was hilarious. But no, typically we don’t dress up. My go-to wardrobe is cargo shorts and a tee shirt and pair of sneakers and off I go to work. It’s not a bad gig at all.

I read in your bio that you do a lot of work with Children’s Hospital in Orange County. Tell me what inspired you to get involved at CHOC and what kind of stuff you do there.

CHOC became sort of a passionate charity for me just because I was based down in Orange County for so long. I had a buddy of mine, who’s no longer with us, that I went to high school with who suffered from sickle cell anemia. I went and visited with him when we were freshmen in high school and just saw the people that were there. That was one of my first exposures to seeing the people that work there and how they interact with the patients.

I remember thinking, “Those seem like really nice people.” And then as I got older and started to achieve a little success in the business, I thought, “How do I, as a voice actor, find a way of giving back? What do I do with this really fortunate, goofy job?” And then I realized, “Well, I do a lot of kids cartoons and video games and things.” As that started to increase, I hit up people who were affiliated with what was called The Radio Lollipop, which is a radio station that broadcasts inside the hospital. Kids could call into a radio talk show and interact with DJs that were all volunteers. One year I did a Radio Lollipop thing where I showed up and read Christmas stories; the kids could come down and I had them doing sound effects for the Christmas stories and stuff. It just became this perfect fit for me, getting a chance to kind of do some volunteer stuff at the hospital by showing up and just being interviewed and talking to the kids and then doing room visits with the kids. I try to hit up as many of the entities that I work with to see if they’ll send some swag. But really, you meet some of the most incredible kids and the most incredible families and really the most incredible staff as well as volunteers at the hospital. It kind of keeps me feeling like I’m still an Orange County guy, by going back down to the CHOC.

So in the rest of your free time, you’re into Astrophotography. How do you come up with that as a hobby?

It’s the one thing I could do at night. I’ll just tell you that. It was at night and therefore I was able to not have to worry about trying to do something and then get interrupted. At night I don’t have to think or worry about the gig, the industry, none of that stuff. So it became a perfect escape that I could do at night on my own time. And it’s just for me to kind of get out and gain some perspective.

What is the super secret project that you’re not telling anybody about on Instagram?

Oh, in reference to the motion capture picture that I took? Is that the one? I mean, if I told you I’d have to kill you. Right? That’s the old answer. [laughs] We should hopefully be able to start talking more about that as soon as January. It’s the best and the worst thing about my job. Nine times out of ten I’m working on stuff that might not see the light of day for two years, three years or more. But often it’s always at least a year out and there are other projects that have already been announced that I’m a part of that they haven’t yet announced the cast list on and that kind of thing. So there’s more good stuff coming, but if people follow me on Twitter, primarily, that’s where I usually do the majority of my announcing for upcoming projects.

I was trying to trick you into revealing a secret. I guess I didn’t veil my question very well? Ha! Ok, last question: our website is called Talk Nerdy with Us, so we always like to ask, what do you geek out about?

I’m trying to think. For me, it’s become photography, and photo technology, night sky photography and time-lapse photography especially. I love shooting time-lapse photography in the night sky. Yeah, if you want to start getting me geeking out, it’s usually on the little gadgets and things that are coming out: the websites, the apps,  the things that are helping Joe Blow VO guy be able to go out and shoot the space station transiting in front of the moon or the sun, or this new device that allows you to connect your smartphone to your telescope. I can go on and on and on about anything involving our night skies, space, rocketry, rocket photography, etc. I love all that stuff. That’s become my big passion in life: photography and the night sky.

It’s not often you get to talk to someone who seems to have created the perfect life for themselves but it seems like Roger has. His career accomplishments are incredible but he stays connected to his roots through his community service and grounded to his world by snapping photos of the stars.

Ralph Breaks the Internet is out in theaters on November 21. You can check out Roger’s reels and other fun stuff on his website or follow his photography adventures on Instagram.

Photo Credit: Jen Rosenstein

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