Roger Craig Smith is much like many of the veteran voice-over actors in Hollywood. He works continuously, voicing characters in dozens of cartoons. Because he's good at his job, you wouldn't recognize him on the street, even if he's talking to you. He's one of the best, morphing his voice to fit whatever character he's called to play.
Smith has been enjoying a successful streak, which will be topped off with the August 9th, 2013 release of Disney's Planes, in which he plays Ripslinger, the star flyer who plays dirty when it comes to racing.
The journey to the release of Disney's Planes has been a long one for Roger Craig Smith. Initially he was brought in to record the "scratch" version of Ripslinger's lines. He recorded lines in order for the artists to create animatics, rough versions of the final animation. Usually, those lines are scrapped when a more famous actor is cast in the role and records their own voice for the final cut. However, for Disney's Planes, it was Smith who crossed the finish line. "It started out as me doing some scratch for animatics, and then it was the table read, which was in front of John Lasseter, which was a huge opportunity. Then they said, yes, you got the role."
Playing Ripslinger seemed like destiny for Smith. "I grew up near El Toro Marine Corps Air Base. I knew the flight patterns of all those jets, and I was a huge airplane buff as a kid. I had airplane posters on my wall, and I had a favorite cargo plane as a kid. I was a dork." That dork grew up to embody the slickest character in Disney's Planes. "I’m celebrating like crazy this whole weekend."
Roger Craig Smith worked for Disney on another big animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph. Because Smith is the official voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, he was asked to join the cast of the Oscar-nominated movie. Did his work in Wreck-It Ralph lead to Disney's Planes? "No," says Smith. "In fact, that came long after I had already started work on Planes. That’s just another happy accident where I happened to be the voice of a licensed character. That was a really funny phone call from my agent who said, 'Hey, Disney’s calling. They want you to go be a part of this new movie.'" Smith was incredulous, but sped to answer the call. "That was also just a huge opportunity, and working with Rich Moore, the director, on that was a blast."
Roger Craig Smith also plays one of my favorite comic book characters, Captain America, in Marvel's Avengers Assemble on Disney XD. Playing a good guy has its challenges. Smith says, "Unless you’re doing something so unbelievably original that’s never been done before, there’s not a lot of room to play around with things, simply because you need to stay true to the character. And since Captain America has been around for a very long time, there’s only so much you can do. If you push it a little too far, it starts to sound out of character."
Voice-over actors rely heavily on the director when it comes to making character choices, because usually the director is the only person who can provide a window to the big picture of the story they're telling. "I think the thing that we try to play around with, with this version of Captain America, is making sure that he stays heroic but not so much that he’s a stiff. We don’t want him to be incapable of having fun or incapable of being a member of the dynamic family of all the Avengers and this sort of dysfunctional family that they've created with one another, where they poke a lot of fun at one another." Captain America may be a man out of time, but, as Smith says, "While he’s not necessarily the most snarky or sarcastic of guys, every now and then he gets a zinger in there, albeit from maybe the 1940s."
Some cartoons require actors to record their lines alone in a booth, with only the director to work with. Marvel's Avengers Assemble brings the cast together to record as a group. "It makes for an opportunity to kind of play off of the projection levels, the intimacy of a scene, the pacing of a scene. All of those things give you an intangible energy that I think comes through in the performances from all the actors involved." He's quick to add, "And also, we just have way too much fun."