Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is out this week, which means we can finally share this interview with Shameik Moore! The actor from Atlanta voices Miles Morales, the hero in Marvel and Sony’s dimension-hopping animated movie, which has already spawned talk of sequels and spinoffs.
It’s worth mentioning that this interview took place before the film had been screened in full. We’ve since seen the movie and written a five-star review of it, but at the time of this conversation, we only had the first 40 minutes (and the scene from the Venom post-credits) to go on. Nonetheless, we thoroughly enjoyed chatting to Moore in a swanky London hotel room…
Let’s go back to when you were a kid. Were you a big fan of superheroes growing up?
Oh yeah, everybody likes superheroes. Yeah! I saw cartoons with my older cousin growing up, and, you know, I always liked superheroes. And when they started making live-action films, it definitely, like, I was like…woah! You know? I think everybody wanted to go see the first Spider-Man movie that came out.
Do you have a favourite Spider-Man movie from the ones that have come before?
It would probably be the first one, or the second one. Tobey Maguire, James Franco. Totally.
At London Comic-Con, you mentioned that you discovered Miles Morales for the first time when you were watching cartoons with your cousin. Can you remember what cartoon was or what the story was?
I know Bob [Persichetti], one of our directors, told me that it was a Disney show…and Miles just made an appearance. I actually thought I was younger when I saw Miles, but Miles was created in 2011, so I had to be about 16 when I saw this. Originally, I thought I was more like 13.
But when I saw this character, definitely, it touched me. I used to watch cartoons with my older cousin, and when I saw Miles I felt like I was looking at myself. You know? I can’t say that any other way. He looked like me in the mirror, not just him being black, you know? They could’ve made him look a whole different way, and then I don’t feel like I’m looking at myself. I literally felt like they took my face and put it in and animated it. So I was like, “Yo, I am Miles Morales! I’m Spider-Man.” And I wrote it down in my journal, while I was working on the movie Dope. And a few years later, the directors from this movie and the writers from this movie, saw the movie Dope and said “Hey, we want Shameik to be in this movie. We want Shameik to play Miles Morales.” And I wrote it in my journal while making that movie, which they saw, to hire me! It’s like… you know what I’m saying? It’s like wow! The circle of life.
And then they reach out to you, after seeing Dope. What was your reaction to that first conversation?
Well, they didn’t just offer it. They wanted me to audition. And they were like, “We’re really interested in you. Can you record something on your phone and send it to us?” And so I did. I texted it to Bob, one of the directors, and he was like, “This is perfect, thank you,” and they made a rough edit – with rough drafts – of my voice with, like, some sketches they probably had or something. And, honestly, I was hoping to get a response way quicker. It was like six months before I really knew, and they did a countrywide search – a nationwide search – and yeah, I guess they wanted to verify that I was Miles. And then they came back to me and they were like, “Yep, you’re the one.” And then we started working on it.
Were they a nail-biting few months waiting to hear?
Dude…I had to let go of that. And that happens so many times: you audition for something and you don’t really hear back and you just have to move on, and hope that if it was meant to be, it was meant to be. If not, keep pushing, keep living. And that was that situation. I thought, “Ah they’re probably playing around. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.” And then they called! I was like oh, yes!
Was there a long pre-production period then, after you signed on, or did they get you quite quickly into the studio?
It was probably like a month or so, after I got confirmed. And I went to LA. Yeah they handled all of the business side of things, and then about a month later I was in LA and I was working. I went in, in person, and we got to work. You know, my biggest thing was sounding like I was 13, because I think I was 21. Or 20.
I was thinking about that… did you try to do a more high-pitched voice?
I did. I was like [affects a high, almost squeaky, sort of voice] “Hi, I’m Miles Morales!” And they were like, “Nope. Nope. We like your voice, Shameik. You know? Let’s keep that!” I was like, [back to normal voice] “Okay!” I was nervous the first day, but we found it and we’ve been working on it for like two years. So, sometimes we’re doing a scene three or four times…and there are minor differences in the writing, you know… but they want me to attack it a different way, or whatnot. It was a process. So, finding Miles was cool. I just trusted my directors and got into character.
What do you think are the core things driving Miles? It seems like that trifecta of Miles and his dad and his uncle is going to be like a big kind of emotional heart to the film.
Dude…that’s the process, man. I got to work with Brian Tyree Henry [who plays Miles’ dad] in person in the booth together, and we were just riffing off of each other and going back and forth. He was like, “Shameik, I’m gonna reach back there and choke you for real!” And I was like, “Come on man, we’re acting!”
And yeah, Uncle Aaron, the Prowler, that’s a…dude, that’s my favourite villain in the movie, honestly. He kills it. Mahershala Ali is amazing.
Did you get to have time with everyone in the booth, or was it a lot of stuff on your own?
Ah yeah, a lot of stuff on my own. I’ve worked a lot with Jake Johnson, who plays Peter Parker. And Brian, who plays my dad. I know a few of the cast members: like Mahershala Ali, I’ve met him a few times. Zoe Kravitz [who voices Mary Jane], we did Dope together. Hailee [Steinfeld], who plays Gwen [Stacy/Spider-Woman], I met her at Comic-Con and she was really cool, and she kills it in this movie by the way. Everybody did a great job, yeah.
What was it like being in the booth with Jake Johnson? I imagine he must be a million-ideas-a-minute kind of guy.
He is, he is. He’s very witty. Very witty. He’s great to do interviews with because he’s energetic 24/7 and he keeps it funny. Like I’m not the type of dude who can just tell jokes off the top of my head. I’m the type of guy you could laugh at because I did something funny that I didn’t realise was funny. You know? But Jake will like, off the top, keep going. He’s one of those guys, just witty.
With animation, do the directors try and pull you back onto the script, ecause if you’re going off on tangents they have to animate more stuff?
I don’t really go off on tangents, to be honest. I’m in there, and they’re usually pretty stretched on time, honestly. Because they’re moving. They’re doing a thousand things. And there’s always a rush. You know what I mean? But in a good way: a staying-on-schedule kind of a rush. We have 142 more lines, and I’m like [mimes wiping sweat off brow] spending five hours in here. And I’m not giving them stuff that’s [off on tangents] you know?
But when Jake is in there, and when Brian is in there, we’re like, going back and forth. It’s different. You know? And they might want it sometimes, like, okay, here’s the scene and Jake might try something and I’ll go back and forth with him. But never by myself. I’ll just… once I’ve done what they asked, I’m waiting for them to tell me the next thing. You know? Not wasting any time, I wanna execute it. I don’t wanna go looking for another Miles. You know?
Working with three directors, are they kind of all in charge of different things? How does that work for you?
I mean, dude, I have no idea. You know what? Everybody’s the same to me. You know what I’m saying? There was one point where everybody was in the room. Chris [Miller, producer] was rarely in the room, but Phil [Lord, producer and co-writer] was always there and Rodney [Rothman, director and writer], Bob [Persichetti, director], Peter [Ramsey, director], and then you got the camera dude holding the camera over you… and then you got the sound engineer in there. Then you’ve got the script supervisors, the two of them. And yeah, it’s a room full of people, and they’re like, “How about this, how about this, how about that…”
But, then, the next time I could be in Atlanta and Bob flies to Atlanta and it’s me and Brian Tyree Henry. Or the next time I could be in Atlanta by myself and Rodney’s on Skype, looking, Skyping through the whole situation. And then maybe I’m in LA and Peter is there with me and we’re in a different studio. I really don’t know what their day-to-day is like, but with me, I just go and I follow directions with whoever’s in the room.
I imagine it’s all out of sequence when you record it all. Is it difficult getting the emotional levels of it right, if they’re pulling you immediately into a scene where Miles is really stressed out? Are you flitting between things more quickly than you normally would?
It’s only difficult when I’m the complete opposite 10 seconds before. When I’m like walking down the street like, [super casual delivery] “Oh hey, yeah, what’s up? Oh good to see you!” So easy. “Miles, we miss you!’ ‘You miss me? I’m still here!” You know what I’m saying? You just saw that scene. And then, you know, there’s a scene you didn’t see yet and I’m really sad, in an alleyway, and things get really complicated.
But we did those scenes back to back. Like, okay, we finished this one, okay cool, Shameik, now you’ve got to be really sad. They’ll break down the whole scene to me and they’ll turn the lights down and get it real moody and then, boom! Now I’ve got to do this. [Starts acting out heavy breathing and some sobbing] I’m crying, you know? Right after smiling and laughing.
Was that a new skill for you to learn?
You know, it’s kind of scary to be in control of your emotions like that. Being an actor. You could be a psychopath. It’s kind of cynical to me.
Did you have a chance to go and see Venom, with the Spider-Verse tag on the end credits?
Oh yeah, I did! I went to the premiere in LA. It was very cool. I was happy that that happened. I was only mad that it took so long to see the end credits. [Laughs] I actually missed it the first time, at the premiere, I felt like I was in the theatre for like 10 minutes. And I was like, “Oh I must have heard wrong, they don’t have me at the end of this.” I walk outside and then people come out after like, “Woah, your movie looks amazing!” And I’m like, “What? I just walked out!” And so I went to the theatre when it came out, and then I checked it out and I was like, “Oh snap! This is cool.”
What do you think about the potential of folding Venom into a larger Spider-Verse? Like the way that this film does but with the live-action side of it.
Well, I’m curious what you think. If you saw a movie with our Spider-Man right now and our Venom right now, you know, who do you think would win?
I feel like Venom would take him down.
Yeah! What do you think?
Well, our Spider-Man is currently taken from us.
Oh yeah, he’s a pile of dust.
Yeah! Currently, so maybe Miles is still around, but if I’m Miles and I’m fighting Venom… [Laughs] You know what I mean? It might be a little different! But nah, I think Venom can definitely continue. I think Spider-Man would have to adjust to fighting Venom in order to take him down. They can’t come out and he’s just beating Venom up at the beginning of the movie. You know what I’m saying? He’d have to figure out sound is the weakness and outwit him!
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is in UK cinemas from 12 December 2018