“The descent had destroyed me… and yet, I lived.”- Raziel
Hi all. Retroplayer here!
Here at TGL we interview many, many voice actors. There are however a select few that we would call true pillars of the voice acting community, actors that are absolute masters of their art. Michael Bell is such an actor. Both succesful both on screen and behind the mic, gamers would know him mostly as the voice behind Raziel of the Soul Reaver series. It was a true honour to interview Michael, I can tell you. Thanks for your time Michael, and the memories! Enjoy.
Michael- I was addicted to showing off at 5. Used to sing for pennies in my local market.
Retroplayer- Early in your career you were in films such as War is Hell, The Proud Rider and Brother John as well as TV shows like Get Smart, Mission Impossible and Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. Did you find it difficult during the beginnings of your career, or did you build up enough momentum that work found its way to you relatively easily?
Michael- I can’t recall how hard it was, just that I was so determined that no one could convince me to give up the quest. The major studio dynasties were nearly over and I was determined to get under contract. After being seen in a play off Hollywood Blvd by a producer of independent films, I was promised a part in War is Hell. That didn’t come about for a year but unlike most Hollywood promises, this one was kept. The Producer Burt Topper got me my SAG card. I didn’t work for sometime after that until I decided to join the army, then I got cast in a television reality show called The Verdict is Yours.
I got a compassionate delay, did the show and went into service for 3 1/2 years. Once discharged, I came back to Hollywood, got cast in a small small small silly film called Damaged Goods and kept hitting the bricks until I did Gomer and got lucky from there.
Retroplayer- Michael, you were there right when videogame voice over was first starting up when you played Dark Fact in YS: book 1&2 back in 1990. What was your first impression of the videogame voice over world?
Michael- It was a job. I had no idea what a video game was.
Retroplayer- Do you approach voice over the same you would as on-screen acting, or does it require an entirely different skill set?
Michael- Both. You are still a committed actor, only without a camera in your face. Of course, if the show is animated you don’t often work with anyone else in the scene, and if you are lucky enough to, you cannot overlap your dialogue. Unlike on camera, you have the discipline of working with a mic, and painting the picture vocally. You also have the luxury of not having to learn lines. The most exciting part is playing roles you would never be cast in on camera.
Retroplayer- I don’t think I could do this interview without mentioning your iconic work on the original Transformers cartoon, in which you voiced characters such as Bombshell, Prowl, Swoop and Brainstorm just to name a few. Looking back what does Transformers mean to you?
Michael- Again, it was a job. One of ( thank heavens ) many. The best part was working with some of the most talented actors in the business. It was indeed a golden time.
Retroplayer- Transformers has quite a dedicated legion of followers, Michael. What have your interactions with the fans been like over the years?
Michael- I have been blessed with a covey of fans who constantly remind me that I made a dent in the business and in some small way affected their lives in a positive way. Lucky me is all I can say.
Retroplayer- You have a long association with Star Trek having appeared in the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and two episodes of Deep Space Nine. You’ve also lent your voice to a number of Star Trek videogames including Star Trek: Armada II, Star Trek: Starfleet Command II: Empires at War and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Fallen. How did you first get involved with Star Trek, and have you enjoyed your subsequent involvement in the franchise?
Michael- I have studied acting with several coaches over the years, one of which was the late Cory Allen ( one of the stars of Rebel without a Cause ) . Cory eventually cast me in a play he directed at a little theatre on Melrose Ave. We ultimately became friends, and over the years he brought me in on a few tv episodes he was directing ( Man and the City with Tony Quinn to name one ) .
He called me in to read for Star Trek ( actually for the role of Q ).However Gene Roddenberry asked me to audition for Groppler. The rest is tv history ( at least for me) as I always wanted to do a Star Trek, and to be cast in a guest role in the pilot of The Next Generation was another dream realized.
Retroplayer- In 1999 you were cast as Raziel in The Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. Soul Reaver, much like its sequels, was highly praised for its writing. As an actor how did you respond to the material you were given for Raziel?
Michael- I thought it was one of the most intelligent scripts I had read in a long time. As a result of being cast, I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know Amy Hennig ( one of the best producers in da biz ) and directed by ole Mr. Talent himself, Gordon Hunt. Legacy was a real gift all around.
Thankfully, I got to work with the other actors at the same time. It was voice heaven.
Retroplayer- How do you view his relationship with Kain?
Michael- Think Raz the Democrat and Kain the Republican.
Retroplayer- Do you think the Legacy of Kain franchise has a place in contemporary gaming?
Michael- I must be honest. I don’t know much about gaming franchises. The game biz and the challenges surrounding the games change so rapidly, that as one who doesn’t play them, I am, despite my long career voicing them, a luddite.
Retroplayer- You returned to voice Raziel in the downloadable content of Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. What was it like stepping back into his shoes, Michael?
Michael- Ok, here goes. That was a lift. In other words, they lifted the voice track from the original game and placed it in the Guardian of Light. I had no idea they were going to do that and when I found out, I was pleased Raz got some play, and thrilled that I got some pay.
Retroplayer- There’s plenty of rumours about a sequel to Legacy of Kain: Defiance. Despite the fact that Raziel sacrificed himself at the end of Defiance, if given a chance, would you be interested in returning to his character?
Michael- I doubt, even if I entertained the hope of playing him again, I would be cast. I suspect they will, if they do raise him from the dead, cast someone else. It is the nature of the business to move on. I didn’t get to revise my characters in the newly animated version of Tranformers or Gi Joe..or the film The Smurfs, so I doubt I will be given the opportunity to “audition for my career” again ( which is what many of us say when we are asked to audition for our original roles in revised series ).
My days of vocalbating ( is there such a word? ) are pretty much over however, one of these days I hope to do nothing but direct. Got to do that recently for the LeBron James webisode “THE LEBRONS”. Now that was fun!
However, I have been in animal welfare for many years and can pin a rose in my nose for helping to create laws both locally and nationally that serve and protect animals. I am on the board of Valley Wildlife Care, a local rescue group that does wonderful rescue, care and release of wildlife of all kinds.
And also work with Kinder4rescue a dog rescue organization that pulls from LA shelters and finds wonderful homes for small dogs that would otherwise be euthanized.
Retroplayer- At this point in your life what is your main source of inspiration, Michael?
Michael- I must admit to being inspired by my daughter and her extraordinary work ethic. I can’t recall ever researching a role as much as she does, or putting the kind of effort into a role once she is cast.
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Michael- Study acting. Get into a good improve group. If you are located in NY or Los Angeles or Chicago, there are several. Stretch your abilities. Study study study. Learn as many dialects as you can. Once you think you are really good, reassess and keep learning. You are never good enough. Someone out there will beat you out of a job if you become to complacent. Learn from the masters.
Retroplayer- Michael, your role of Raziel is easily regarded as one of gamings best performances. Along with the incredible writing, your voice brought the character of Raziel to life and to many it is simply iconic. How do you want Raziel and your portrayal of him to be remembered?
Retroplayer- What’s next for Michael Bell?
Michael- Hoping to get a second season directing The LeBrons. Perhaps directing an animated series in my future? That would be sooo cool.
I have been teaching animation to professionals for many years and for the past few years teaching voice anime to Japanes College Students who fly in from all over Japan a couple of times a year to study with me. That has really been a challenge, and a joyful one.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Michael- The VO actors I know, and I know mucho, are thrilled to have you on their side. Thanks for all the encouragement and kind words.