How Ben Schwartz Brought Sonic the Hedgehog to Life
The Sonic the Hedgehog star reveals his initial reaction to “Teeth Sonic,” how he helped make Sonic so lovable, and which obscure Disney show he referenced in the film.
The success of the Sonic the Hedgehog movie has been a delightful surprise to everyone, from the fans, critics, and the movie industry at large. Following a disastrous first trailer the film quickly pivoted and now, after the film just recently hit digital, has become genuinely beloved by a segment of the fandom. A big part of that is Ben Schwartz’s turn as Sonic, bringing the character humor, warmth, and surprising depth.
We interviewed Schwartz not long after the film dropped on digital and discussed the wild ride the entire process has been. We talk his reaction to the redesign, his admiration for the films writers, wanting to meet Baby Sonic, and much much more.
Sonic’s been out for a few months now and it’s been lovingly embraced by the audience. What has the reaction been like from Sonic fans?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Let’s talk about the movie coming out, the numbers that it did! The passion and the love that people are showing on Instagram and Twitter and Tumblr and all these different artists are writing their (versions) of scenes. I feel so fortunate to be involved with a franchise to begin with because I’m a big fan of the video game and everything, but to watch people really love the movie, it has been a highlight and I’m very excited.
The whole process of the movie must’ve been like a wild roller coaster ride. The reaction to the first trailer wasn’t great but now it’s just shot all the way up. What was it like for you from when the first trailer was released, when you weren’t sure what the reaction might be, to now?
What a ride, man. I think the biggest thing for us when that first trailer came out was we weren’t sure how many people cared about a movie version of Sonic the Hedgehog. Who would be interested in that? We, of course, cared and I’ve been playing that video game forever, and we know there’d be a community that would be excited by it, but the biggest thing we learned from that is that so many people were so passionate about that trailer, about the franchise, about what they wanted to happen. I think it was this beautiful moment of like, “Okay, you know what? So many people are rooting for this movie and all those people getting together and figuring out how to redesign Sonic,” and I can’t tell you, I love the way Sonic looks now. He very much is how in my head I was voicing him the whole time.
So once the redesign came in, did that alter your performance at all or did it pretty much stay the same?
No, because when I’m doing my performance, most of the time it’s very pre-vis, which is… I’m sure you know because of the title of your website, you know what that is, but I’m saying that for people who may not know, it’s a more obviously rudimentary version, and more basic version, because you can’t obviously, while you’re recording because things aren’t finalized, things aren’t done.
So what I see is a computer graphic. Some of them look like old school Sega Saturn type graphics. Other ones look more like they’re getting there. But when I’m doing my performance I had to go and see everything in that place. I see a doll they used for live action stuff or I see very pre-vis so I kind of did the same performance all the way through.
It’s one of the biggest positives because I’m not live action (so) we can do as many takes of my performance as we want. I’ll try new jokes, if I had new ideas for jokes and had rewrites, stuff like that. Being an animated character in there before they fully animated it leaves you open to kind of really play with the words a bit which is fun.
Are there any cool scenes that you remember that didn’t make it into the movie or even the deleted scenes that were released? Any improv line that you wished had made in?
I’m sure there’s a bunch of lines we did. We did a scene in the very beginning when I go, (over the Sega logo) “Sega.” We tried one where it was me with my voice over itself five or six times, but it’s never going to sound as good as what was there, which was beautiful. There’s a lot of alts and weird little things we tried, but a lot in the stuff that I love is in there and I don’t think there would be many deleted scenes (that didn’t make it onto the digital release). I wish I could remember. We did so many records that there’s a bunch of stuff that I tried out (which) was improvised so I don’t really remember what I said.
Obviously you played Sonic throughout most of the movie, but there was also Baby Sonic who was played by Benjamin Valic. Did you have any input into that performance?
No, I wish I could meet the person. They did such a good job. I loved it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be doing Baby Sonic or if there was a Baby Sonic and then I heard it in one of the test screenings, I was like, “Oh my God, it’s so cute.” I loved it. I loved Baby Sonic. But also a huge testament to Patrick Casey and John Miller, who were the writers of the script. They are by far the big heroes in this whole process because people loving the movie are loving the words and what it’s about and they’re the reason why that is what it is.
While watching the film Sonic is portrayed kind of like a kid, even past his introduction as Baby Sonic, who just wants a family and that’s definitely a new interpretation for the character. Can you talk about playing this different version of Sonic?
Yes so the way that I kind of saw it is when Pat and Josh wrote the script, that’s kind of what I went off of for my performance. I treated it like any other movie where you look at the script, you see what you want to do with the character, what you feel from the character and in my head this character, exactly what you said, he’s this kid and he has all this hope. I want him to have this kid-like energy and it’s this kid who’s really excited and always wants to go out there and do all these things in the world, but never really got to because he’s kind of trapped and he can’t go out there .
Imagine you were a kid that had all this energy and want to do all these things but you were never allowed to be seen by anybody else and I really wanted that to shine through because I wanted that feeling of his loneliness and his passion for a family or friends. You could see it in great movies; you can see it in Taika Waititi type films or anything like that. If you balance your comedy with your drama, I think both really can shine a little bit more. The jokes hit a little bit harder and if you really care about the character, you’re going to want that person to succeed and you’re going to be rooting for him a little bit more so I wanted that to be a part of it instead of it just being like cotton candy jokes all over the place.
I wanted there to be meaning underneath all of it so you really kind of connect with them as like a kid and almost, for a second, forget that he’s this alien little hedgehog.
In re-watching the film, I noticed that a lot of those lines without that undercurrent could come off as kind of jokey and almost a little like too snarky at points, so having that sort of bed under it really does help inform the entire performance.
It’s like all those great characters people like, they do things, they say things, when you really find out who they are as a person or what they’re really feeling. Even him getting kicked out of his cave, that moment or him talking to Tom or him realizing that he has to leave and he doesn’t want to, all those moments. That baseball scene is a huge one and one of the first things I saw in pre-vis, before the movie. It’s super fun to play nine versions of Sonic at the same time and then the realization is when it’s time to celebrate, he has nobody to celebrate with and he’s just so lonely and then you see him, just like a lot of other kids trying to express (themselves), showing that it’s okay to express your emotions and show that you’re upset or you’re sad. I think all that stuff was great. Jeff Fowler did an incredible job directing those scenes.
I saw a little while ago when they did a Sonic watch party on twitter you had mentioned that some of your Dewey performance from DuckTales had an impact on Sonic. Talk a little more about that.
Well, I think there’s a little bit of energy that you could feel like is a little bit of Dewey. I love playing Dewey because he thinks he is always nailing it and he’s just trying so hard to get everybody to like him. Dewey wishes that he could have the power and stuff that Sonic has. But that “nailed it” (from the film) was also a callback to (Disney series) Randy Cunningham who used to say, “Nailed it” as well.
And I think there’s one beat that after I watched the movie, I was like, “Oh, I wish I had seen that earlier.” Because there’s a moment there’s all these little ducklings that are walking by and Marsden is like, “Donald, Daisy, da, da…” I was like, “Oh, Jeff, I wonder if Dewey could be there. Just one quick Dewey for me.” And he’s like, “Oh, I didn’t think about it, that would be great.” But it was very exciting and I’m very excited if people are watching DuckTales because I truly think the writing is phenomenal. For kids and for adults I think it’s so well done.
What was your first reaction, whatever cut of a movie you saw, when you saw Tails show up at the end of the movie?
So (Jeff) pitched the idea of how they were going to reveal Tails at the end and it was amazing, and then even in the storyboards, you see the two feet, you turn around, you see this tail and it goes back to be two tails and it made me so happy. But the first time I saw a final of it was when we did the DVD commentary. But I think they took out… I didn’t get to hear the whole thing, I’ve got to listen but I think they took out my reaction of what I said.
But it was the first time I was seeing Tails in his final (state.) It was like magic. There was such beauty in it and I think Tyson Hesse probably helped out a bunch as well. I mean, Tails just looked incredible, as exciting to me as seeing Sonic. Seeing that they did Tails justice as well is great and I love that ending.
One of the cool things is that I would go to theaters with [Jeff] Fowler or with [James] Marsden and we’d kind of show up for the end. People wouldn’t know we’re coming, and we’d surprise the audience. To watch the real fans see that ending, because we’re there, they don’t know there and they go nuts. It was so exciting. I’ve been watching Marvel movies my whole life and you when you get that post-credit tease or whatever and people go bananas. I know we’re never going to get something like that but it’s to see those fans really care, it was so cool. I loved that moment.
Where are the talks, if you know anything, about the sequel? Do we know anything about it yet?
I don’t know anything. I’m sure people higher up than me may know more information, but I have not been told anything yet. But I am waiting just like you and just like the fans to hopefully find out that we get to do another one. But I have not heard anything yet.
Sonic The Hedgehog is now available for digital purchase now and arrives on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD May 19th. On May 19 it will be available to rent at all digital stores and “on-demand”, be available to buy on disc (DVD, Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray™, and available to rent on DVD and Blu-ray.