Crystal Dynamics revealed the Spider-Man trailer for Marvel’s Avengers on November 11, but didn’t say exactly who provided the voice. The studio later revealed that voice actor Sean Chiplock would be taking up the role, an actor known for his many roles in anime, including his portrayal as Subaru Natsuki in Re:Zero, as well as other non-anime roles like his dark take on Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat 11. Senior Gaming Editor Michael Leri spoke to Chiplock (and Jessica Krause, writer on the Spider-Man DLC) about both of those roles in addition to his new role as Spider-Man in Avengers, the surprising connection between Subaru and Spidey, how dunking on Twitter trolls helped get him the job, and more.
Michael Leri: Spider-Man is probably like a big dream for a lot of actors, but that probably comes with a lot of expectations and pressure. Can you speak to how that was for you when you got the chance to take this role?
Sean Chiplock: Oh man. I mean this in the best possible way, but when most people get cast for a big role, it’s a dream come true for them. They’re like, “Oh my God, I’m so happy. I’ve always enjoyed this role.” For me, it’s typically a nightmare because I’m like, “They picked you out of anybody else they could have had,” which in Los Angeles is a hell of a lot of people and “Don’t screw it up or you’re gonna spend your entire life regretting it and people are gonna say they wasted it on him and they should have used someone else instead. No pressure.” This is probably the first case where I kind of used that fear to help me develop my approach to the character because I actually feel like it helps me connect to him.
But it’s something I take very seriously. He’s an iconic role. It’s a major franchise. Like Marvel is one of the powerhouses of the gaming industry today and the cinematic industry in general as well. And I respect that a lot and I respect the position that I’m in. I respect how I’m being entrusted with such a large role. I think of all the people that are gonna play this game and choose whether they spend their money based on reviews from other people, there is going to be no shortage of folks who go and play through this expansion and use their experience to tell other people whether it’s worth picking up or not.
And as soon as someone else’s money is in my hands, metaphorically, I’m like, “Oh, I want them to spend it wisely. I want them to feel like they made a good purchase.” So all of those thoughts swim around in my head. And it’s scary as much as it helps me focus because I’m grateful for it because if I didn’t care as much as I did, then I think it would be a lot easier to only put in half the effort or to just kind of phone it in. And I’m grateful for that because that nervousness basically makes me incapable of zoning out. It makes me incapable of going, “I don’t care enough about this to care whether that sounded good or not.”
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I’m sure that everyone else who worked with me that could tell you that there were times where they were totally happy with what they heard. And I went, “Can I actually do that again? Because now that I’ve done it this way, I’m feeling like I can do it again.” And then I do it and they go, “I’m so glad that you asked us to do it again.” That’s the kind of thing that I experience a lot. I think it works for Peter, too. I’m sure he’d do like one of those back flips off of a high beam and then land in a superhero pose and then everyone else around him is impressed, but he’s just like, “I could have done that better.”
People have a lot of different reasons for why they like Spider-Man. So what do you personally like about Spider-Man and how did you try to bring that into your performance?
Chiplock: This became more universal with the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and you’ll understand when I bring it up, but I like that historically Spider-Man has been a lot of the confident comic relief. He is a character that uses humor a lot to diffuse situations or make light of situations, but doesn’t end up becoming the butt of a joke because of it. It’s part of how he maintains his sanity. We may end up getting really deep into his mentality as a character and the fact that he’s often dealing with this battle between what life expects of him and his powers and who he wants to be, and I feel like him maintaining his comedy is very, very, very integral to holding onto his sense of identity.
I feel like if he was forced to be serious all the time and if he was told, “Hey, you need to stop joking about this. You gotta stop with these one-liners. This is a life or death situation,” we would lose Peter. And I mean that sincerely, like we would lose who he is. He would basically just become a puppet for Tony Stark based on the tech in his suit in some of his iterations. It is very in a very important part of his character and that’s something that I closely identify with.
How did you like find that in your performance in the game?
Chiplock: When I was nervous about a line delivery, I laughed and then tried again. When I wasn’t sure how to approach something, I’d usually make a joke and then use that as a template to bounce off of that. It was a mix of finding those moments when I could be vulnerable and finding those moments of where I could be confident, which is just as true about a voiceover performance as it is about his characterization. There are parts of like when he’s doing his one-liners after defeating an enemy, or when he’s talking about something that he’s passionate about where I’m like, “Oh yeah, I know what this feeling is. This is totally natural. I’m not acting at this point.” And then there were those moments where he has to reflect on some very real fears and ask questions where there’s no easy way to ask them without it being interpreted the wrong way.
And I wasn’t sure how much pause to give, where to stop and take breaths, or like if I was sounding too nervous versus if I was blowing through it too quickly and in a weird way, those thoughts kind of sitting in your head while you’re performing the line kind of make it sound more realistic because you’re not sure what to do with it. Well, what he’s saying, he’s not sure what to do with this scenario. And it lends itself to authenticity. And I thought it was really interesting how in many ways, my own nervousness kind of contributed to a more confident performance.
This is a Heroic Event and not like a full blown expansion, but how did you use the many sides of Spider-Man to come up with his arc, his like motivations, and his background and stuff like that?
Jessica Krause: So the story is primarily told through our doc set, which has been a really fun and interesting approach to take from a narrative perspective. We have had a lot of text messages, emails, voice memos, and things like that to get at not just the plot of the pack itself, but also the internal struggle that Peter is having. I don’t think there’s actually a single document in the doc set where it’s speaking from Spider-Man’s voice. The doc set is kind of where Peter lives. And we see that vulnerability and that anxiety that he carries and the responsibility he carries as Peter Parker through the documents and then externally through combat and through cinematics and through banter, we’ll see the Spider-Man side.
So it’s this delicate balance of making sure that they don’t sound too dissimilar. Like they sound like they come from the same person, but you can see the mask dropping in moments. So that’s been a really interesting place to live in. And one of the things that I think makes Spider-Man so great is that because he is so relatable and because he’s such a vulnerable character, he kind pulls that vulnerability out of the people that he talks to. You don’t get the same vulnerability between like Tony Stark and Steve, as you would with Steve and Peter, because Peter is younger and Peter is slightly more inexperienced.
He’s still been doing this for six years, but when you look at some of the more senior Avengers, they obviously have years and years of experience on Peter. So he does kind of like bring out that curiosity. And I think the Avengers are a little bit more willing to be more open with him because of that curiosity and that vulnerability that he just naturally brings.
Sean, you were the voice of Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat 11, which is a performance that is so outside of the other voices you’ve done in your career. So how did you decide to do something so drastically different for Noob Saibot?
Chiplock: This is one of the funniest stories when I talk about how I booked the gig and the voices that I did. So Mortal Kombat 11 was definitely a code-named project. Like I had no idea what project this was for. But when they sent the audition sides for the characters for the one that ended up being Noob Saibot, they described it as “wraith-like, ethereal, not of this world.” Those were the three key words. And so I’m a person who always sends two takes if I can. Like the only time I will send only one take is when it’s like that is the one voice that I can do believably for this character.
So of my first take, I went for something very breathy, very ghost-like. So then I wanted to do the exact opposite of that for take two. If I did something higher pitched and wispy, I want something very gravelly, very rumbly, very deep. And I thought, “Well, what sounds very ethereal, wraith-like, and not of this world?”
This is gonna show my age more than anything else, but do you remember a GameCube game [that was also on PS2 and Xbox] called Shadow the Hedgehog? So Sean Schemmel voices this character named Black Doom and Black Doom is literally this alien creature who wears these large shrouds and floats everywhere and every time he talks, it’s [starts talking in his Noob Saibot voice] all the way down here. “Shadow, collect the Chaos Emeralds.” And I always loved it because it was just so definite. Like how much more foreboding can you get than that?
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So I thought for second take, I’m gonna go for that kind of voice. That’s the one that stuck in my head. It would be fun for me to do. It’s an homage to a game that I actually played to completion, which is very rare. And that’s the one that I ended up booking. Some people are like, “Oh, this is the perfect voice for him.” I’ve had people say that it sounds so campy for him and ask why it was so over the top and I’m like, “Because it’s an undead dude who’s completely shrouded in black and all he wants to do is cause chaos. The voice that I pulled is from someone who does exactly that.” So I have no regrets. That was my contribution to history.
Your biggest role is arguably Subaru Natsuki from Re:Zero. How has that experience has been with voicing Subaru?
Chiplock: Coincidentally, there’s a lot of ties to Spider-Man, too. I look at it in the sense of like with Subaru, many people don’t know this, but the Japanese performance artists for Subaru and Rem specifically were so good in their respective roles that is the gig that propelled them into the celebrity sphere in Japan. So like imagine me coming in going, “Hey, you’re the English equivalent of this star-making role that for this Japanese person, don’t screw it up. Also a lot of people in this industry think subs are infinitely better than dubs no matter what kind of performance you give. So all have fun.”
And there are ties to like Spider-Man and being like, “Hey, certain other, very famous, very liked people have played this character. They may not recognize you. Don’t let that worry you too much.” But it was one of those cases where I combined my nervousness with the parts that I was confident about. I knew that I was stepping into some really big shoes. I believe that was the first time I had ever had a lead role and what a series to have one on where, for the first season, he pretty much carries every single episode. And I don’t mean that in a negative context. I mean there is literally no scene that doesn’t have him in it. But also because I knew it was something I was capable of rising to meet the challenge of. I knew I could pull it off. I knew I could do it. I knew I could bring quality to it.
I just had to show up and do it, you know? And so I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished with that character far. There are two major scenes — one in each season — that I am super proud to tell people, I did both of them in one take. If you’ve seen the second season, the rabbit scene of season two, I did that entire scene in a single take. And there was no safety take. We did one, they slotted it in, it turned out to fit perfectly, and they didn’t feel comfortable doing a second take because they thought people were gonna tell if they splice it.
Krause: Coincidentally, I think when we were around the time of casting and we were like trying to make our decision, I think at some point, one of your threads showed up on my Twitter feed where you were talking specifically about Re:Zero, but about like the battle of superiority between subs and dubs and you were just like dunking on people [possibly this tweet or something similar]. And I sent it to our narrative team and said, “Yeah, this is Peter.” [laughs]
Chiplock: The best response I feel I’ve ever had is when someone is like, “I refuse to watch this. I don’t care about your performance. I’m gonna watch it in subs only.” My response is, “Hey, thank you for supporting the official release and giving them the money that they need to afford things like paying for dubs to be made. So I appreciate you helping my career.” Like how are they gonna respond to that?