Saturday , May 18 2024
Dr. Eggman from 'Sonic Prime' (Courtesy of Netflix)

TV Interview: Brian Drummond on Voicing Dr. Eggman in Netflix’s ‘Sonic Prime’

Brian Drummond, a veteran actor in North American animation, lent his voice talents to the first episodes of Netflix’s Sonic Prime in 2022. In the new series, Sonic the Hedgehog (Deven Mack) and friends are still foiling the plans of Dr. Eggman (Drummond). Things go wrong when Sonic hits the Paradox Prism and accidentally unleashes a multiverse known as the Shatterverse. With the show returning this July, it’s a great time to hear from Drummond about his career and how he approached playing Eggman.

On Career Highlights and Advice

Drummond is best known for Mobile Suit Gundam Seed, Death Note, and as the original Vegeta on Dragon Ball Z. Quite memorably, he appeared for a short stint on the series Dragon Ball Super as Duplicated Vegeta opposite Chris Sabat’s Vegeta. He welcomes the opportunity to return—”in a heartbeat!”—if Duplicated Vegeta appears in a future Dragon Ball video game.

“Chris wanted me to play a Vegeta that copies his Vegeta, but he wanted me to do it in the original Vegeta-style voice. I recorded in Vancouver with the director from Dallas. Then we sent all the files down there and the studio put it all together for the two- or three-episode arc. The fans lost their minds!” Drummond recalled during our Zoom interview.

Outside of the anime sphere, he’s been in animated franchises that cartoon enthusiasts have seen at one time or another: LEGO, Wolverine, Transformers, Inspector Gadget, and Barbie, to name a few. While Drummond has these successes under his belt, he has kept an important piece of advice in mind since the 1980s: to treat others in the acting business—wherever they are—how you’d like to be treated.

“You never know where someone else will end up in their career. They might have been just a grip, backstage hand, or stage manager when you were the star of every show in theater school. Down the road, you might be digging for bit parts on a series and they’re directing their third film.”

On Robotnik’s Array of Vehicles and Gadgets

Throughout the Sonic the Hedgehog video games, TV shows, and films, Eggman, or Robotnik, never ceases to amuse audiences with the devices in his evil plans. Drummond shares that excitement about these contraptions.

“If I could just step into a vehicle outside of my front door, hover my way to wherever I need to be, avoid the congestion, and pull up in front of the studio I need to record in, that would be epic.”

Photo of Brian Drummond looking at the camera
Courtesy of Brian Drummond

Drummond admitted he’d love a more realistic alternative, a kitchen gadget. “[Yes] to something that could properly crack my eggs for me because I’m terrible at it. I always have shells in there!”

On Meeting Sonic Fans’ Expectations

Landing a part is always exciting, but sometimes there’s extra pressure to do it well. Drummond said that was true when he got Wolverine years ago, and again with Eggman in Sonic Prime. “To get to play someone that someone else has played is always a little nerve-wracking because you know the fans have their favorites.”

However, Drummond pointed out that he’s the latest in a line of Canadians to play Eggman or Robotnik, including Long John Baldry, Garry Chalk, and recently Jim Carrey. He wanted to avoid doing everything in the same way as what’s been done before.

“I was able to play a well-known song that many people have heard before, but they’ll hear it with my instrument. I still play the tune that Dr. Eggman is, and it was an absolute joy.”

Interestingly, Drummond is not new to the Sonic franchise as a voice actor. He played Knuckles in Sonic Underground in 1999. Some fans assumed when his name was announced for Sonic Prime that he was back as Knuckles. “No, I’m a little more the shape of Eggman in my voice and maybe in my real life a little bit.”

Artwork of Dr. Eggman pointing
Brian Drummond voices Eggman (Courtesy of Netflix)

On Sonic Prime Recording Sessions

According to Drummond, voice actors typically do a lot of work in advance. He spent hours thinking about how his Eggman would sound. He created two or three versions and submitted those, securing a callback, and then ultimately was chosen for the part.

“Once they pick a voice of what they like, the studios keep that as a voice reference for you. When I know where they want it to sit, I’ll always play that back for myself on my way to the session, just to get it fresh in my mind. I have the script in advance and I review all the pieces.”

Then at the recording sessions, Drummond listened to instructions from the voice director and the animation director. Working on Sonic Prime presented a challenge because the cast recorded individually during the pandemic.

“We only recorded the show one actor at a time in the studio. You’d leave and they’d wipe everything down, clean it up, air out the studio for 15 minutes, and the next actor would go in. I never once got to work off of Deven Mack as Sonic, or Vincent Tong playing a couple of the [younger] Eggmans.”

On Playing Villains

While Drummond occasionally plays good guys, most of the time he’s a villain. I asked if portraying a villain is more difficult depending on whether it’s for little kids versus older audiences. To my surprise, Drummond didn’t really see a difference in difficulty level.

“One might be easier on your vocal cords than the other. If I’m doing a Warhammer video game or something screamy and dark, it can be pretty throat-trashing because of how big it can be. But [while] Eggman was loud and yelling as well, it’s the intention behind it. It can’t be quite as ferocious,” he answered.

Studios in Vancouver produce a lot of animated shows aimed at preschoolers, and Drummond has voiced many of those villains. “You know it’s the bad guy, but it’s lighthearted with a learning element, and it can’t be quite as scary. Then the darker stuff, they’ll let you go as scary as you can.” 

Photo of Brian Drummond holding a microphone
Courtesy of Brian Drummond

Sometimes voice actors have to contend with script changes during production, which happened with Sonic Prime. “You are dealing with a younger audience, so to go into multiverses or shatterverses, you have to make things a little clearer for them. That’s possibly what they were doing with the changes.”

Thoughts on the Evolving Voice Acting Industry

Drummond also shared his thoughts about what’s happened recently in voice acting circles. Casting is not the same as it was before, as animation creatives moved towards more diverse rosters in the last few years.

“I’m working on projects like Sonic Prime, an amazing series with Shannon Chan-Kent, Vincent Tong, and Deven Mack. A casting of this show that would never have existed when I started 30 years ago. It would have been me and bunch of white dudes auditioning for every role. I think it’s a fabulous change that’s taken place.”

As in other industries, voice actors are keeping a close eye on discussions about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential impact on their work. Drummond is particularly concerned for younger actors pursuing careers in voice, theater and the arts.

“The real reason theatre, film, and animation exist is to tell stories that other people around the world don’t hear. It’s unfortunate if computers are going to start telling the stories. That’s what I hope our industry doesn’t devolve into, and that we can find a way to keep stories told by actual, real people.”

Sonic Prime is available on Netflix.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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