Interview: Yuri Lowenthal on being the voice of Spider-Man and his new show, Orbital Redux
It’s safe to say that Spider-Man on PlayStation 4 is a resounding success. The game has been flying off shelves (physical and digital) and critics across the board have given the high scores (including us).
In addition to all the accolades for the game’s gameplay, story, and graphics; the voice acting by Yuri Lowenthal has also been lauded for capturing the essence of an older, wiser, and more confident Peter Parker/Spider-Man. Lowentahl is also known for voicing characters in games like Mass Effect: Andromeda, Horizon Zero Dawn, Titanfall 2, Fallout 4, and a whole bunch more games and animated TV series.
We recently caught up with Lowenthal on the set of his latest show, Orbital Redux, a new live interactive sci-fi show on the Alpha streaming service from Legendary Digital Networks (check it out at https://www.projectalpha.com and get a free 60-day trial using the code ORBITAL). We talked to Yuri about being Spider-Man, the hopes for a sequel, and his new show Orbital Redux.
How are you feeling about the response to Spider-Man on PS4?
I am thrilled! Not only because people love it, but because I spent three years obsessing over whether, I was going to ruin Spider-Man for a new generation or not. I mean, I knew the team at Insomniac would not let me mess up, because they’re huge Spider-Man fans and they wanted to make the best game possible. But I had to cling to that because Spider-Man is such an iconic character and I grew up reading comics and I just didn’t want to mess it up. I’m just glad it’s out, people have played it and they dig it.
Was it tough to hold on to that secret for so long?
Oh yeah! I wanted to tell everybody I was Spider-Man! I would have to wake up in the morning and go to work, but work was being Spider-Man and I couldn’t tell anybody. It’s a dream come true for an old school nerd like me.
Did you do any research or studying before taking on the role?
To be honest, I haven’t followed the comics in the last couple of decades but I knew that Insomniac didn’t want to model their Spider-Man off of a specific Spider-Man that we’ve seen before. Either in the comics, in a film or a cartoon. They wanted all the things we love about Spider-Man and Peter Parker, but to create one that we haven’t quite seen yet for the game. That’s why they set it eight years in. We’ve seen the origin story… a lot.
They said what if he’s been Spider-man for eight years, he’s got it down and loves going to work every day but he’s more confident about it? And the thing that really sold me and made me excited about it was Pete’s always been a scientist first, so what if he gets to a point where he realizes that maybe being Spider-Man is not the best uses of his capabilities? What if being a scientist, and focusing on that, he’s going to save more people? Will he give up being Spider-Man? Can he give up being Spider-Man? There’s an ethical quandary right there for him. I never really considered that before so I was super excited about that.
When it comes to voice acting for a character like Spider-Man is there anything specific that you have to pay attention to?
We did take the time to differentiate when Peter Parker is talking and when Spider-Man is talking. Or when Spider-Man is talking to people who know he’s Peter Parker, like MJ. We did pay attention to the quality of his voice. He’s a little more confident when he’s Spider-Man and when he’s Peter he’s a bit gentler. That was something we definitely kept tabs on when we were working. Sometimes I would step out of it, forget what I was doing at the time and Kris Zimmerman, the voice director, she would lean in like “Hey, that’s a Spider-Man voice! You’re supposed to be Spider-Man right now!”
Have you played the game and finished it yet? What is it like hearing yourself in the game?
I haven’t finished it yet, because I’m terrible at video games, but I’m about a tenth in so far. But yeah, it’s always weird hearing yourself in a game. I obsess over things like, “Oh, they used that take? Aw, that sounds terrible.” But it’s gorgeous and super fun and I’ve also been experiencing the game by listening to people talk about it online and watching playthroughs.
I’m definitely going to finish it. Insomniac blessed us recently, they invited the team to come in and watch a screening of all the cinematics and cut scenes threaded and stitched together. So we got to see all of the main stuff but I realized when we went to the screening how much story takes place in the gameplay and not just in cut scenes. It was really exciting, and moving. I walked out of the screening like, I just saw an amazing Spider-Man movie.
Have they called you for the sequel and booked you yet?
Nobody has talked to me about a sequel… yet.
It’s got to happen though, right?
It’s got to happen! Between you and me, it’s got to happen. When something makes money, nobody is like “Oh, we don’t want to that again!” So, I would hope. Three million copies sold in three days!
Can you talk about the upcoming DLC for Spider-Man?
I can’t talk about the DLC except that the DLC is coming. But I will tell you this, a lot of people complain about DLC like “Oh, this is just stuff that they couldn’t fit in the game, they just repackage stuff that didn’t work…, “ No, all the stuff was always planned as a DLC and they’re paying just as much attention to it as the full game. You’re going to be getting a lot more than you think. The stories are good! It’s not a bunch of chase stuff around missions.
Switching gears, your latest project is a show called Orbital Redux. How did you get involved with this?
I was approached by Steven Calcote, the creator and director, who I’ve worked with for many years, and he said to me one day, “Can I come over? I want to talk about a thing.” I said yeah, come on over. He said, “I’m building a spaceship and I want you to be the pilot.” I said stop right there, whatever you say after this doesn’t matter, just know that the answer is yes! Then he described the idea and I said, well you’re crazy, but we’ve done a lot of crazy things together in the past, so I’ll do it. Just the idea of doing everything live, terrified me. But I’ve learned in the past that usually the things that scare you the most, you should probably go do that thing. Unless it has something to do with a crocodile or something.
The live setting scared you a bit?
It was exciting, but once I said yes, I was never going to back out. And I come from theatre and live performance is not inherently terrifying, but I’ve never done a live streamed, live sci-fi show with a million moving parts where all the effects are live, the cues are live, we have cameras moving around, live music… I have never stepped into something quite that daunting before.
Can you talk about your character on the show?
Zachery “Max” Levodolinksy pilots a helium 3 tanker in our version of the future, the year 2050. There’s been a lot of catastrophic weather events as well as a hacker attack that basically destroyed a third of North America. So in the future, we’re relying on helium 3 which powers everything in the future. Helium 3 is mined on the moon and is managed by a huge conglomerate called H3TLL (Helium 3 Transportation Logistics Limited). The company automated all their spacecraft to ferry the Helium 3 back and forth between the moon and Earth, then ransomware hackers took it over. Like nowadays, when you update your iOS on your phone and it goes wonky? Just imagine what that would be like in 2050 where everything is computerized and automated.
So one day, ransomware hackers hacked a bunch of transport vehicles and crashed them into the Earth and reeked mass destruction. So from that day on, H3TLL didn’t automate the tankers anymore and they had to use human pilots again and revert to Apollo era flight technology. They couldn’t use all the computerized stuff they had. They had to go back to switches, and wires, and fuses and things that a human pilot would know how to fix if there was a problem.
My ship is pieced together from old airplane parts, Apollo era space parts, and old Russian Soyuz capsule parts… but long story long, it’s Max who used to be a NASA pilot with hopes and dreams and lofty ideals of what an astronaut could be, has his job reduced to being a space trucker. He’s a truck driver in space. He kind of hates his life but the only thing he loves more is flying a spaceship and being in space.
What kind of problems and issues do the characters face throughout the series?
Well, besides the ship constantly breaking down, his boss surprises him, “Hey, I know we’ve been breaking regulations by having you fly alone, you should normally have a co-pilot,” which Max has been happy flying alone. So his boss assigns this brand spanking new trainee co-pilot, Tommie Al-Qasimi, played by Yasmine Al-Bustami, to fly with him on a training mission.
She is half his age, has never been in space before but scored really high on all her simulators and everything, comes from a rich family, and basically the opposite of him. Max is super annoyed because now he has to babysit her and then when they get into space, things go wrong. I don’t want to spoil too much.
The interactive part of the show seems pretty interesting. How does the audience participate?
One of the things we really wanted to experiment with on this show was, because of the way it’s being streamed and broadcast, we wanted to give the audience a say on the show. Early on in the show, in the pre-show section with a host before the episode begins, viewers are given the opportunity to vote on a series of possible outcomes for an event during the episode. The actors and team have rehearsed all of the possible options. We don’t know what they’re going to choose and they choose right as we start off so we have to roll with it as it happens. This is another terrifying but an exciting bit of what we’re doing.