Sam Riegel Interview
For the third in our series of articles looking into the voice talent behind the Western release of Tales of Vesperia, we chat to Sam Riegel and find out a little about his involvement with Tales as well as Eternal Sonata and some exciting non-RPG projects!
RPGSite: Hi Sam, thanks for joining us. From the information online, it seems you have been acting in some capacity since a very early age. How long have you been in the business now?
Sam Riegel: I started acting at age 6, as an Oompa Loompa in a theater production of "Charlie in the Chocolate Factory." My first professional gig was dinner theater in Northern Virginia at age 9. So I suppose I've been acting professionally for over 20 years now! Holy moley that's a long time!
RPGSite: What prompted you to leave the stage and become a voice actor?
Sam: When I outgrew all the younger roles I was used to playing onstage, I discovered I still had a pretty good -- although much deeper -- voice. And even better, because I grew up in Washington, DC, I had what they call a "region neutral" American accent. So I started doing English learning tapes. You know, easy stuff like "The ball is RED. What color is the ball?" That led to an audition for 4 Kids Productions in New York, which started the whole cartoon thing. I'm quite lucky to have fallen into it. Voiceover really is an awesome job.
RPGSite: And what would you say was your first big break as a voice over artist?
Sam: That first big "break" would have to be landing the role of Tristan on Yu-Gi-Oh! It was my first anime, and my first television cartoon. It's ironic that after season one, I actually got replaced by another actor. The people at WB wanted Tristan to sound "manlier"... and, well, I don't really sound very manly.
It was tough to lose the role, but it actually worked out for the better, as it freed me up to do Donatello on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and dozens of other roles. As an actor, you quickly learn that when one job ends, another begins. It's all good.
RPGSite: On that subject, I cannot tell you cool it is for this aging turtles fan to be talking to Dona-freakin'-tello. How does this latest adaptation differ to the original cartoon series that I grew up watching?
Sam: The 80's cartoon was, well, more cartoony. Silly plot lines, lots of pizza, crazy toys. The 2003-Present version of TMNT is more rooted in the original Eastman & Laird comics. It's darker. In fact, Peter Laird was involved with every script we recorded. And pretty soon we're releasing a TV Movie event that should be really cool. I can't give away the plot, but you'll really be able to see the difference between the 80's cartoon and the modern version. Stay tuned for that...
RPGSite: What is the group dynamic between the four actors that voice the turtles like compared to the turtles themselves - are the four of you anything like your respective characters?
Sam: Actually, yes, we are. Michael Sinterniklaas (Leo) is pretty level-headed, and the other guys match up with their turtles well too. And it's true -- I'm a bit of a geek in real life too. I have a giant computer with two huge monitors and about 4TB of storage, 2 laptops, a Blackberry, an iPhone, etc. etc. Talk about a nerd.
RPGSite: What are some of the pros and cons of working on a long running series compared to a one off project?
Sam: Over the years doing TMNT, it's been amazing watching our characters develop and change, even in subtle ways. We know these turtles inside and out. On a shorter project, you just don't have that kind of familiarity. It's the difference between meeting someone for the first time and knowing them your whole life. Everyone seems more complex the longer you know them... even if they are a turtle.
RPGSite: Dragging us back to the scheduled interview, you recently gave voice to Flynn Scifo in Tales of Vesperia – when did you first hear about the game?
Sam: At the audition! I didn't know much about the game, other than it was one of a series of "Tales" games. I cold-read the character in the audition, and was told the next week that I had booked the role. A pretty simple process.
RPGSite: Did you audition for several roles or were you there specifically for Flynn?
Sam: I also auditioned for Yuri. But, as you can tell from the game, that wouldn't have sounded quite right. They made a good call with the casting.
RPGSite: When you are recording for a game like Tales of Vesperia, do you know much about the story as a whole or are you just given your lines and a summary of what is happening at that moment?
Sam: There's always somebody in the room who knows more than you. The voice director tells you just enough to get you into the mood of the scene, but typically not the entire story. We just don't have that much time in the studio. But if I have any questions, they are quickly answered. Like everybody else, I didn't know the whole story until the game came out!
RPGSite: Flynn's best friend is the lead character, Yuri Lowell, but they take very different paths striving for very similar goals. Can you tell us a little about Flynn's motivations, beliefs and actions and how he feels about those of his friend?
Sam: I think that relationship is pretty common in life. No matter who they are, best friends ALWAYS diverge at some point. Whether someone moves away, or gets married, or changes careers, friendships evolve over time. It's sad, but it's life. And the best true friendships will continue even afterwards.
RPGSite: You also worked on Eternal Sonata as both a voice actor and the voice director. Is it difficult for a voice actor to transition to voice director?
Sam: For me, it's been an easy transition. Directing actors is a lot like acting itself. You make a decision about how you want to play a character in a moment. The only difference is, as an actor I'm deciding for myself and as a director I'm helping someone else decide. And acting in Eternal Sonata was probably the easiest job I've ever had -- because I knew that I would agree with the director 100% of the time!
RPGSite: How long does it take to complete all the voice over on a game like that?
Sam: I believe we recorded Sonata in 3 weeks. We record 8 hour days, 5 days a week.
RPGSite: Do you feel that you achieved what you set out to do as the voice director on the game?
Sam: Absolutely. I think we captured the mood of the original Japanese while making the story accessible to a Western audience. All the actors did a great job. It's nice working with the best of the best.
RPGSite: As an actor on the game you voiced Allegretto. Who directed your recording sessions?
Sam: I self-directed. But the game producers and engineers were listening to make sure I didn't stray from the character. Typically I would record two versions of each line and let the producers choose which one they preferred. It was a pretty smooth situation.
RPGSite: Allegretto is roughly half the age you were when you recorded his voice. How do you prepare for your roles, particularly when they are at a completely different stage in their life?
Sam: Acting, my boy! That's pretty much it. It's what we actors do. I don't care if I'm a 13 year old thief or a 44 year old psycho killer, it's all the same. You have to put yourself in your character's shoes, feel what they feel, think how they think. It's challenging, but that's our job.
RPGSite: You have worked with Namco Bandai several times; was your involvement with any of their games a direct result of your work on any of the others or is it just a coincidence that you auditioned successfully each time?
Sam: I have no idea why I get certain roles and don't get others. I'm sure the people at Namco Bandai know my voice by now, and they must like it 'cause they keep hiring me. But I've done plenty of work for other game companies too. You never know!
RPGSite: What is the shortest and longest amount of time you have spent working on a single project?
Sam: Turtles has to be the longest. We've been going for 6 years now! Shortest? Hmmmm. Well, I did a game for the Nintendo Wii that only took 5 minutes to record. It was a cheerleading game and I only had to grunt a few times. Then they were like, "That's it! You're done!" I wish they were all that easy.
RPGSite: From our discussion so far it would appear that your characters generally tend to be good guys. Have you ever voiced any villains?
Sam: Villains are way more fun. And yes, I've played plenty. From Rex Raptor on Yu-Gi-Oh! to Clovis in Code Geass, Azel in God Hand, and Viral in Gurren Lagann, to name a few... Playing evil is way more fun than playing nice. You get to draw on more primal emotions, and really let your performance go.
RPGSite: Just before we wrap up, you can also been seen in front of the camera as one half of the comedy duo Riegel & Blatt. How did that come about?
Sam: Rob (the Blatt of Riegel & Blatt) is a longtime friend of mine. We met in an a cappella group at college then formed a comedy partnership that has created some pretty wild stuff. You can check us out at www.riegelandblatt.com
RPGSite: According to your website, your comedy music videos averaged at 1 million views per day on MSN.com. Are you surprised by the level of interest?
Sam: The MSN show that we did was called Pop of the Day, which was a this-day-in-pop-culture-history musical series. It was a lot of fun to produce and stretched our range. We did rap, reggae, rock, folk and soul music. All comedy, of course.
RPGSite: Which of your videos would you say is your favourite?
Sam: The video that most people enjoy is called Weekend Plans. Google it if you wanna see. It's about how boring married couples live on the weekends. We shot it in one day, all over Los Angeles, with zero budget. And it came out great. It's been on Comedy Central a few times, too.
RPGSite: I was watching Weekend Plans earlier actually and do indeed think it's brilliant. I also have to ask, was that Liam O'Brien I caught sight of at the start?
Sam: Yes, that was Liam in the video. It's no secret to the fans that he and I are best buddies for life. He's often referred to as my "man-wife." You can also catch other V/O performers in that and other videos. Megan Hollingshead, Steve Kramer, and Tara Sands all make cameo appearances in our stuff.
RPGSite: How about your siblings, who are also in show business - do you ever work with them?
Sam: I've worked with my sister Eden numerous times. I helped write her Emmy-nominated web series, Imaginary Bitches, which was created by her husband, shot by my wife, and edited by our OTHER sister. It's a crazy entertainment family!
RPGSite: And finally, are you working on anything at the moment, whether it is as voice actor, writer or director?
Sam: My latest and greatest is a web series I co-wrote and co-directed called MANBEAR. It's a horror comedy, and it is the coolest thing I've ever worked on. Look for it on www.atom.com later this summer.
RPGSite: Sam, thank you for your time.
Stick with us for the rest of our Tales localization series, and be sure to check out our interviews with Liam O'Brien and Danielle Judovits, both of whom worked with Sam on Tales of Vesperia!