SPIDER-MAN Exclusive Interview With Yuri Lowenthal On Playing Peter Parker, Cameo, PRINCE OF PERSIA, & More
In our full interview with Spider-Man star Yuri Lowenthal, he talks to us about the pressures that come with playing a Marvel icon, the Prince of Persia remaster, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and much more!
If you're going to take a look at Yuri Lowenthal's IMDb page, you'd best have some time on your hands because he's without a doubt one of the most varied and prolific actors working today. Many of you will know him best from his work on PlayStation and Insomniac's Spider-Man franchise, but he's leant his talents to everything from Ben 10 to Crash Bandicoot, Young Justice, and Naruto Shippûden.
For many fans, Yuri has already become one of the all-time great Peter Parker actors, putting him in an exclusive club which includes the likes of Tobey Maguire and Christopher Daniel Barnes.
We were lucky enough to catch up with the Spider-Man: Miles Morales star to discuss his role as the wall-crawler, his return to the Prince of Persia franchise, and a number of other recent projects. Those include his Cameo account (the messages he shares with fans are amazing), Yuri and Tara Platt's book, their documentary series, some of his favourite performances, and much more.
If you missed them yesterday, head to our Interviews tab for Yuri's thoughts on Peter Parker's face change on the PS5, his hopes for Spider-Man 2, and interest in playing the hero on the big screen!
It's great to speak to you, Yuri; how has it been working through COVID? Are you able to work from home at all?
I’m definitely very grateful that I can work from home. The work has definitely dipped a little bit throughout [the pandemic], but we have found a way to keep going through the crisis. I was luckily already pretty well set up at home to record because I had a couple of clients who required that of me regardless. I miss going into studios and seeing people [Laughs], but I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to continue from home.
Are there any specific projects you’ve been working on during the pandemic that you’d like to point our readers to?
Most of them have asked me not to talk about them just yet, but I just had a couple of games come out that we did complete during the lockdown. One of them, we did entirely in lockdown. The first one is called Call of the Sea. It’s a game that came from Out of the Blue and Raw Fury, and it’s the kind of game I would definitely play. It just came out, and reminds me of Mist from back in the day. It’s an exploration and puzzle game; it’s really beautiful, has cool music, and cool backdrops, and nothing constantly trying to kill me [Laughs] which is the kind of game I gravitate towards playing these days! Bugsnax came out recently which we completed in lockdown. It’s delightful. We’ve got the Prince of Persia Remaster coming out soon which we had completed before lockdown happened. We did some pickups in lockdown, but I’m looking forward to that too. There’s an animated show coming out on Netflix that I’m really excited for people to see, but I can’t talk about it for another couple of weeks [Laughs] so we’re just short of that one!
I was having a look through your Cameo, and man, those are so cool. I know there’s a discount on before Valentine’s Day, but can you talk about what people can expect from you on there, and the characters and types of messages they can ask you for?
I have done such a variety of different messages on Cameo for people. It is constantly exciting. There are the sort of classic, ‘Hey, my friend is a big fan of this character you play, it’s their birthday, and I would love for you to tell them Happy Birthday in the voice of the character or give them some other message.’ Some are from people saying, ‘I’m really depressed. I find strength in this character you play or love the work you do, and need something to cheer me up.’ Some of them are from parents to their kids, and some of them are from kids to parents which I love. Those are always my favourite. They’re like, ‘My mom is a huge fan of Sasuke Uchiha in Naruto, and it’s her birthday, will you please send her a message from Sasuke?’ [Laughs] Some people ask about voice acting and getting into voice acting, and ask for a few bits of advice. It’s a variety of different things. Sometimes, people want me to promote things like their YouTube channel or whatever. Those are always harder because I feel like I have to do due diligence and go and either listen to their podcasts or check out the channel to make sure I’m not promoting some QAnon site or something involved in murdering puppies [Laughs]. Those take more prep and more research, and I’m a little less likely to do those as I have such little time as is, but the requests are wide and varied, and very fun to fulfil.
I’ve noticed you’ve done some documentary filmmaking with Up, Up, and Away!, but is that a series you hope to continue when the world if normal again?
My wife, Tara Platt, and I love travelling. It’s one of our favourite things. We also love creating content and telling stories, and we thought it would be a great mix of the two to do travel shows based on the places we wanted to go anyway. So, when we’re on those trips, we’ll film, and then come back and put them together, recording voiceover to go with them. There are actually a couple we’ve been completing in lockdown that we filmed previously and had never gotten around to editing and writing narration for, so we’ve actually been working our way through some of the trips we had yet to put together. That’s been a blast.
I’m not sure how many people will know this, but you have a book, Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It's Like Behind The Mic, which I see is available on Amazon, Audible, and the usual places, so what can those reading this interview expect if they go ahead and check that out?
You know, the reason that book came about was because people were getting in touch with us saying, ‘Hey, I see you’re doing voice acting, I would like to do that too someday, and was wondering how I would go about it.’ Some of those people are fans, and some of those people are friends of ours and other actors curious about getting into it. We’d gotten to this place where friends would ask, ‘Can I take you out to lunch or coffee and pick your brain about voice acting?’ We’re always happy to do that, but it got to the point where it was hard to schedule that many coffees and lunches (and to keep answering the same questions over and over for fans who were reaching out on social media of via email). So, Tara said, ‘What if we wrote it all down in a big book, and that way, when people ask us these questions, we can say, “Here’s the book!”’ [Laughs] It’s cheaper than taking us out to lunch, and there’s a lot more information in there. In a strange way, the book came about out of laziness [Laughs] because we couldn’t schedule all these things and wanted to make it easier on ourselves, so we wrote a book in a funny way that’s all about our experiences, the basics of voice acting, and the business as we’ve seen it.
Many of our readers will know you best for Marvel's Spider-Man; I recently played through Remastered, and two scenes that stood out to me even more with the improved visuals were Otto’s defeat and Aunt May’s death. Those are moments which hinge on your performance, so how do you, as an actor, get into the headspace to deliver such strong emotional reactions through your work when it’s not necessarily a traditional on-screen role?
Thankfully, I was able to approach it like an on-camera role because of the way we filmed the cinematics. We did it all with facial capture and motion capture on a stage with other actors. When I was recording a lot of the in-game lines, most of that stuff was recorded with myself in a booth with the director and production team. I didn’t have other actors to play off, but because we were shooting cinematics like a film or performing it like a play, I got to work face to face with other actors. I think you will always get a stronger performance that way. I’m sure everyone is different, but I believe the performance will always be stronger if you’re working with another actor. I would say that getting into that headspace was in great part because a) the writing, as that was just ace on this game and makes my job so much easier, and b) the people I was working with. If I’m good in those scenes, it’s because William Salyers or Nancy Linari are as good as they are, and better than me, so I have to up my game. I credit my performance in the Doc Ock/Peter relationship with how good Bill is. If the scenes are tear-jerking or heart-rending with me and May, it’s because of how good Nancy is in those scenes. I had them to work off, and I think that, the way we shot it, and having the actors there as well as the writing being that good was 90% of my performance, honestly.
I'm sure a lot of people won't realise this, but the reason for the face change on the PS5 is because of your face, and the performance you’re giving, so what they’re seeing is still very much you. It’s not like the character has been taken from you.
Exactly, yeah. I do, in many ways, feel more ownership over this character than I would to a character I just delivered the lines for and it’s straight up animated or captured using a different actor. I have to also give credit to my stunt doubles. There were several guys, but mostly two of them, Seth Austin and Ross Kohnstam, who whenever Spider-Man looks cool in the game, it’s because of them! If Peter looks dorky or Spider-Man is just standing there saying something [Laughs], that’s me. If he’s ever doing something cool, it’s because these guys were flipping and flying around and really putting the spider in Spider-Man, I guess.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales was first revealed to the world last June, but when were you made aware of the game, and did you feel your performance changed at all given Peter's new role as a mentor? Was that a chance for you to explore something new with him?
Absolutely. It was something I wanted to explore more because we got a bit of that from the first game seeing Peter’s new role as a mentor after he loses his previous mentor in Dr. Octavius. There’s a lot of pressure because he remembers who Doc Ock was and who he became. I’ve had a lot of fun playing the mentor role in this new environment in the new game. I’m trying to remember exactly when I found out. I’m pretty sure it was before we had completely finished the last game, but maybe not... with what I know now about how these games are made, they had to at least had an idea they were going to do it and gotten started on planning it while we were still doing the other game, but I can’t be sure. I didn’t actually do any work on it until obviously the first game was done and all the DLC was done. I’m honestly impressed at how quickly they turned it around. I know they had some of the assets in place because of the first game, but that’s a lot of work. I know a lot of people were thinking, ‘Oh, it’s basically just glorified DLC,’ but it’s a game in and of itself. I have to credit both Insomniac for coming up with something that as its own game, and then for Sony to recognise that and maybe go, ‘Okay, we’ll give you a little bit more time and money [Laughs] to really make this what it could be and what you guys are turning it into.’ Kudos to everybody for making that the standalone game it is.
The Spider-Man games have sold tens and tens of millions of copies, and for many fans out there, you are now the definitive Spider-Man. As you move forward with this character in your life, how does it feel to be part of his legacy and the expectations that come with that?
Oh, Josh, I’m proud beyond belief. I’m a comic book nerd from way back, so to say I’ve not only gotten to play Spider-Man, but this particular Spider-Man, will go down as one of my greatest achievements in life. Period. I will say, when I first took it on, I was really nervous about screwing up Spider-Man for a whole new generation [Laughs]. The pressure when you play an iconic character like that, at least for me having grown up admiring and adoring and consuming all of these characters, to suddenly have that as my responsibility to a certain extent, I was nervous for three years while we were working on the game! What got me through that was the rest of the team. They were working so hard and loved Spider-Man so much, and I knew they were not going to let me fail, you know? Here’s the thing, the responsibility was, to a certain extent, on my shoulders, but a game is not made by the actors, there’s so much that goes on. There was responsibility on a lot of different shoulders, and I didn’t have to take it all on myself. As soon as I realised that, Bryan Intihar, the creative director on the game, he loves Spider-Man too much. He was not going to let me f*** it up [Laughs], so that’s what got me through the time, honestly: the rest of the team.
Spider-Cop is a sensation online; did you expect that reaction? He's even made his comic book debut since the game was released!
He’s canon now! Spider-Cop was a surprise to just about everyone. Benjamin Arfmann, who was one of the writers on the game, had been trying to make another boring tutorial into something more exciting. He was trying things, and they were still boring. He got fed up, and basically birthed Spider-Cop. He turned in that script and was told, ‘We don’t think this is going to work.’ He said, ‘I don’t think it’s gonna work either, but let’s try it and see what happens.’ Guess what? It worked! Not only did it work, but I love Spider-Cop. I believe Spider-Cop should have had his own DLC [Laughs], but that we got as much as we did was really luck. Every now and then you’ve got to try something really crazy that you don’t think is going to work, and it does. You’ve gotta try it!
I spent my teenage years playing the Prince of Persia games, particularly Sands of Time, and now you’re coming back for the remastered edition which is so awesome. How excited are you about that, and should we expect a new spin on the Prince given the time that’s passed since you first played him?
I think it is inevitable and that was a fine line we had to walk because we couldn’t recreate a whole new Prince for several different reasons. One, it was a remaster. We still had to stick to the original plan. We recorded all the dialogue, and did performance and motion capture which was not part of the original game because it was all just fully animated that first time around. This time, we got to use that new technology, and because it was fifteen years since we last worked on it, the Prince was inevitably going to be different because I’m different. Another reason we didn’t want to change it too much, and this is honestly, the world has changed. Once upon a time, a white guy like me could play the Prince of Persia, and it was really no big deal. Nowadays, with more inclusion in games (which I feel is justified and right and overdue), if they had said, ‘It’s a brand new Prince of Persia game, and we want you to play the Prince,’ I would have to actually think twice about actually accepting that role. I would want a Persian actor, or at least an actor more from that region, to be considered for a role like that over me.
That was a conversation that we had going into it, but even with the remaster, I was a little nervous taking on the role, but because it was a remaster of a game we had done with the character being exactly the same and just updating it, we went ahead with it as is. The Prince is inevitably going to be slightly different because I’m slightly different, so we’ll see. I’m really looking forward to it because even as a gamer, I loved playing that game over and over when it came out. I’m excited for people who never played it the first time to check it out, and for people who played it back then, to play it again! I think we were also able, with fifteen years hindsight, to fix a couple of the things people were just like, ‘Yeah, the game was great, except for...the Visir died too easily at the end,’ or ‘There was too much hack and slash to get through this one thing, it should have been more interesting.’ The dev team has had chance to address some of those things, and I’m really excited for people who loved it before to play it again.
We’ve talked a lot about Spider-Man, but you’ve played so many characters and been part of Avengers, Ben 10, Star Wars, and so many other huge franchises. So, if you wanted to point our readers to another of your performances, what would you say they should go and check out?
Wow. I’ve got two answers to that. One, I’ll refer back to Call of the Sea which I think is a great game. Two, my wife and I produced a web series years ago that I still think holds up and was ahead of its time called Shelf Life. It’s basically a live-action Toy Story, but very adult orientated. There are a lot of cameos from other actors and characters who people will know from the voice acting world because that was our community. Getting to see them live and goofy on this show, I still love what we created. There are almost fifty episodes of it online. That, and I did almost two years ago, a show called Orbital Redux for Legendary for their Project Alpha platform that was a weekly, live sci-fi show where the entire episode was performed live in one take. All the music was performed live on stage, all the sound effects and visual effects too like a play on broadcast. That was the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my professional career, and one of the most rewarding. The nature of the platform meant not a lot of people got to see it. Luckily, we were able to cut together the performances, and we’re going to be putting those out soon. We haven’t decided exactly where it’s going to go yet, but keep an eye out for Orbital Redux.
Finally, as I sit here, I’m looking at some of my Funko Pops, and there’s two there based on your Spider-Man; I know you’ve played a lot of iconic characters over the years, but how does it feel when you stop and think, ‘Man, I’m an action figure!’
Yeah, my office is covered in action figures, and they’re not all my characters! Like I said, I’ve been this kind of nerd for a long time. I think I’m looking at the same two Funko Pops as well as some other Spider-Man stuff I’ve got here in this little shrine area [Laughs]. It’s the greatest honour, and the best feeling.
Here's a photo of Yuri's Spidey shrine he was kind enough to share with us, and you!