Hi all. Retroplayer here.
Ryan Drummond is a jack of all trades. While most of us will know him as the voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, he’s quite prolific on screen, behind the mic, and on stage. But how does such a physical performer translate those talents to voice over? We recently spoke with Ryan about voice over, how he approaches his work, and that little blue hedgehog himself. Enjoy.
Ryan- Hmmmm. What could I tell you that’s NOT already on the internet somewhere… I love candy! I was born in Lima, OH which is where the show GLEE takes place (though not filmed anywhere near there). I’ve been making a living as an actor/performer since 1993, which was half way through college for me….do the math from there and you can guess my age. I collect clown and carnival art. I have two young sons. My favourite colour is June-July blue. I’m half Latvian and half Scottish. How’s that?
Retroplayer- Ryan, you’ve acted on screen, on stage as well as voice acted. Even from an early age did you always enjoy performing for people?
Ryan- I come from a rare situation in that both of my parents were theatre people. My mom used to act in shows when I was a kid, and my dad actually directed me in my first handful of shows with the Kettering/Oakwood Children’s Theatre (in Kettering, OH). So, more so than it just being an interest, it was almost the family business. I started performing shortly after I learned how to walk and I’ve just never stopped. You could say it’s in my DNA because of my folks. I’ve never considered doing anything else. It’s always just been what I’ve done.
Retroplayer- Out of those mediums which do you enjoy the most and why?
Ryan- Each medium has pros and cons. It’s difficult to really compare them because they are actually quite different. If I had to pick one as a “favourite”, I’d have to say live theatre, simply because that was my first love.
Retroplayer- Tell us about your work ethic. While every acting role is vastly different how do you approach your work in general?
Ryan- I never take any job or any role lightly. Since acting is my life’s work, it’s such a part of me, I wouldn’t ever slack on a job. It’s an on/off switch. You give 100% or you give 0%. Plus, just the fact that the acting field is SO competitive, you have to be giving your all every single time or someone will come right up behind you and take your job from you!
Retroplayer- Your first videogame role back in 1998 was in Sonic Adventure as Sonic the Hedgehog. What was your first impression of the videogame voice acting world?
Ryan- Contrary to popular belief, Sonic was not my first videogame work. I actually started doing voices for videogames and software back in 1996. I wish I could remember the name of my first game. It was some sort of math software for schools where I was a turtle (or maybe a raccoon?) helping kids with times tables and such. Sonic came a couple years later. It was a pretty fascinating world to get into. It was a really interesting challenge, trying to channel all your skills into providing a voice for an animated character. It’s fun, most definitely, but also can be grueling and challenging work! There are a lot of things about the VO world that most people don’t know until you experience them. For example, I’ve probably got the question “What’s Corey Bringas like?” (the original voice of Tails), but the truth is, I’ve never met him! That’s the cool/odd thing about studio work. You can have scenes with someone you’ve never actually seen. I heard a rumor that the first time Mike Myers and Eddie Murphy met was at the red-carpet premiere of “Shrek”. They did the whole movie together and never met! Not sure if that’s true or exaggeration, but you get my point.
Retroplayer- Was videogame voice-over always something you wanted to get into or did you just happen upon it?
Ryan- I actually happened upon it in the fact that I didn’t actively seek it out. My agent at the time just called up one day and asked if I was interested in reading for this math software gig and I said sure. I ended up booking it and meeting the engineer of that studio who introduced me to some other people and that’s when the avalanche started. I’m still good friends with that guy to this day. His name is Rick Bowman and he runs Lethal Sounds in San Diego, CA. He’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.
Retroplayer- Up until Sonic Adventure, Sonic never had an in-game voice. How did you approach voicing this iconic character? Was it intimidating breathing life into a character that so many people already had such a strong love for?
Ryan- At the risk of sounding cheesy, the way I came up with Sonic’s voice was very “organic” (strikes a tree-like pose). In the recording booth at the audition, they had a picture of Sonic up on the wall, and the producer said “if a voice were to come out of this character, what would it sound like?” and pressed RECORD. I didn’t think about it at all. I just looked at Sonic’s picture and tried to become that character and I opened my mouth and that’s the voice that came out. Sounds cinematic, but that’s exactly how it happened. And I’ve been doing that voice ever since! It wasn’t really that intimidating attempting to voice Sonic, because I didn’t know so much about the Sonic community before I got the job. I knew he was a well-known character, and I had played him on the Genesis, but I really didn’t know too much about how many die-hard fans of Sonic were out there. Plus, this was 1998, and the internet wasn’t quite what it was today back then. So hearing from all these fans wasn’t as easy as it is today with MySpace and Facebook and Skype and all that.
Retroplayer- Do you use any skills from your voice over workto help you in your on screen work?
Ryan- It’s all interrelated. From doing VO work for the past 15 years I’ve learned a lot more about my voice and what it can do. So I’ve definitely used that knowledge in the other acting mediums.
Retroplayer- You’re a very physical performer. When voice acting how to you compensate vocally for the lack of your own physical presence on-screen?
Ryan- It’s more about having a “good ear”, as they say. You have to erase any kind of relying on your physical performance and funnel that into your voice. That’s one of the fun yet challenging sides of VO work. Also something that most don’t realize is that recording voices can be quite a physical workout! You don’t necessarily stand motionless in front of a mic the whole time. Using your whole body to record your voice is encouraged!
Retroplayer- You’ve also been in other videogames such as Blue Stinger, Illbleed and Call of Cthulu, Ryan. In terms of writing and storytelling do you think videogames have progressed much since you first voiced Sonic back in 1998?
Ryan- Very much so! I’m not saying the quality is better, per sey, but there has been a huge leap in making games more cinematic. Developers used to rely on tiny cut-scenes or just the game play itself to tell you the story….such as Mario going after Princess Toadstool or what have you. Then the scenes between game screens got longer and more involved. Now you need whole sections of plot just to drive the game along in some instances. The attempt at creating a whole “world” for a videogame is always in the mind of those making them. They want it to be an experience.
Retroplayer- Many fans online believe that you are still the best Sonic voice yet, and would love to see you return to the franchise. Is returning to voice Sonic you might ever be interested in doing again?
Ryan- In a heartbeat! I never wanted to leave! But as most of you know, we were all let go by Sega and replaced for reasons too vast to go into right now. There was a glimmer of hope a while back when Generations was being cast. Sega asked me to come to LA and “re-audition” for the role of Sonic because they were doing the same thing to Jason and that cast that they did to us years before. So I went and they were very pleased to have me back and they actually said they were going to have me back and it was going to be this great reunion. Then when the actual offer came to my agent, it was a complete joke. They asked me to leave my union (which is how I make a living), do all kinds of work for no compensation, etc. It was a real slap in the face. I really don’t see it ever happening. Sega is a huge corporation with zillions of dollars and they don’t see any need to change the way they do things. There’s a lot more detail I can’t go into because of legal reasons, but let’s just say that I wish I’d been voicing Sonic all this time, I would return in a heartbeat, but if Sega ever decides to hire me again the devil’s making sno-cones. It’s cool though, I would love to be Sonic again, but I have plenty of VO work without Sega.
Retroplayer- While many gamers associate you as Sonic, are there any roles that you’ve done that don’t get much attention that you think our readers should check out?
Ryan- I’ve done about 80 games now, so you can run into me in a bunch of titles. There was this old PC game called “ZAX” I did a bunch of years ago that pops to mind because it’s such a different voice than Sonic. See if you can find that one! I remember the developers were Sonic fans and I think the fact that I had done Sonic’s voice helped me get that job. That was a fun recording session. That whole game is loaded with Easter Eggs and funny things. We were all going to go get a burger at Fuddruckers after the session and I remember they had me say, as Zax, “Let’s go to Fuddruckers!!” or something like that. I wonder if that ended up in the game!
Retroplayer- Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what games do you enjoy?
Ryan- I used to be! I grew up a videogame fanatic. Then as I got older and started working on games, I usually only played the ones I was on, simply because I got copies of them for free! Haha! I also loved Crazy Taxi (though I’m not on that one). I was hooked on that for a while. Then I had kids and all my free time went out the window! So now the only games I play are anything on my Iphone that I can take with me and play in line at the grocery store. Right now I’m playing a lot of Ragdoll Blaster. I love the world that game creates. When my kids get old enough to play, I hope we’ll all get into the same games and have tournaments in the living room. Probably get ‘em a Wii or something.
Retroplayer- At this point in your life what is your main source of inspiration, Ryan?
Ryan- Career-wise my inspiration has always been the same…..to entertain the world. I’m not a “fate” kinda guy, but I feel like people are born with skills/gifts that they should share with the world. Mine is performing. I don’t know how to do anything else, so I better stick with it!
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Ryan- Take it seriously. I get asked this question an average of five times per day, and so I’m glad you asked it so I can answer to a lot of people at once. The whole “my friends say I’m good at voices and I think it would be fun…” is a really dangerous angle to come from. This is a *business* that can be fun. Not something fun that’s also a business. So treat it like a job. Take classes. Work on your skills. Meet people. Be the captain of your own industry. Work at it. You only have a chance at real results if you put in the work. Just know there are always 10,000 people in the industry better than you are at any given moment. So you have to put in the effort to rise to the top.
Retroplayer- How do you want your portrayal of Sonic the Hedgehog to be remembered?
Ryan- I just like the fact that I was there at the beginning of Sonic’s voice. That’s a real honour for me. And it’s always an honour when someone tells me that my voicing choices really made sense to them. It’s cool to hear things like “I always had this idea of what Sonic would sound like in my head and then when I heard your voice I thought it was just like in my head!”. I did show recently (“Curtains” at Foothill Theatre Company in Los Altos, CA) where a couple of young guys in the show came up to me after they found out I did Sonic’s voice and said, “We grew up with you!!”. That’s always cool to hear, when people feel a connection with you because they’ve heard your voice so much.
Retroplayer- Favourite role you’ve ever played?
Ryan- “Smudge” from the musical, “FORVER PLAID”. I’ve played that show 867 times now and I’m still not sick of it.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Ryan- I wish I could take each and every one of you out for pizza.