This is the second page, and the text-only version of the interview with Steven Universe voice actor Zach Callison. To jump back to beginning, and the audio-video version of this interview (recommended), click here.
Not too long ago, we put a question to the fans: If you could ask Steven Universe voice actor Zach Callison one question, what would it be? You asked, and Zach has answered!
Zach Callison is probably most well-known for his role as the voice of the titular character on Cartoon Network’s beloved show Steven Universe. His talents are diverse, though, and I got to sit down with this Zach-of-all-trades the weekend of Raleigh Supercon and get some insight into what it’s like playing such a beloved character, a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into a show like Steven Universe, and a sneak peek at some of Zach’s future projects. This interview contains questions from fans and spoilers through the episode “Lars’ Head.”
Editor’s note: In the slightly edited transcript below – the full audio-video interview (recommended) can be heard by clicking here, Zach offers such gems as: how he got into voice acting; what commonalities he shares with Steven Universe and how he’s influenced the character; his other projects such as his new YouTube show and his music; and even answers fan questions that he’s definitely not allowed to answer, in the most hilarious way! You can read the the interview below, or listen to the audio-video version (recommended) by clicking here!
Nerdy Minds: How did you get into voice acting?
Zach Callison: “Sort of by accident. What happened initially was I was a theatre kid – I was seven years old – in St. Louis Missouri. I just really loved performing in front of people and doing that whole thing – kinda got addicted to it, and I ended up moving to L.A. for film and television acting when I was nine, turning ten. Voiceover came a little later. I got some auditions from my agent, got a good response, and then I ended up booking this radio show called Adventures in Odyssey just by chance. I ended up working on it for five years and got a lot of on-the-job training. So just a couple of lucky breaks in a row, really.”
NM: You mentioned working on film and television projects in the past. Can you tell us about any of those? How is that different from working in voiceover?
Zach: “Yeah, that’s what kept me working at first, for a while. I did Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? when I started out, when I was actually in fifth grade; Hannah Montana and I’m In The Band for Disney and Disney XD; and then later on I stopped working in on-camera for a while and just did voiceover… And then as I got older I did guest spots on NCIS-LA, Fresh Off The Boat, Henry Danger, and then my credit from earlier this year was Just Add Magic for Amazon – I played their villain for the season. It’s a really cute kids’ show about magical cooking, and I was a time-traveling ‘60s greaser who ruined all their plans.
It’s definitely a different experience from working in voiceover. The studio environment for voiceover is very relaxed. It takes a lot to make a set relaxed, organization-wise. You can’t waste anyone’s time because there are so many moving parts. [It’s a] similar skill set, there is some overlap, but it’s a different thing acting in front of a camera and having facial expressions, body language all available to you… And voiceover is concentrated into one medium, and you have to be really sharp on that one thing.”
NM: Is there anything that you like to have in the booth when you’re recording?
Zach: “Yeah, I guess my trinket would be my tea – I just always have tea with me. (What kind of tea?) That’s the beauty of tea; it’s what suits the moment. If I need energy, which I usually do at nine in the morning at Cartoon Network, it’s green tea. If I’m nervous about a session, it’s chamomile. Sometimes I switch it up and have Earl Grey – Rooibos is my favorite; that’s an anytime tea.”
NM: What do you and the character Steven Universe have in common?
Zach: “We used to have a lot more in common. When I was 14 and I started the show, I was basically Steven. I had his same “Awesome!” attitude about everything. I feel like because we’ve grown up together in such close quarters, there are a lot of similarities in our story of how we’ve had a lot of additional responsibility put on our shoulders than most kids have at a certain age, and I definitely relate to him in that way. I feel like because I spent my adolescence playing a very positive person, I almost subconsciously went the other way and became somewhat more cynical, just in my sense of humor. Not in a negative way, but just in the way I present my jokes and present myself. Steven lives in here, but I always say he’s the angel on my shoulder. Steven is the kid in me to this day. I’m a lot more cynical than Steven in real life – not to a fault, it’s just how I’ve ended up, I guess.”
NM: Having grown up playing this character who is also growing up on the show, is there a way that you’ve influenced the growth of the character?
Zach: “Yeah, I mean it’s my job to sort of guide it, along with the writers – I mean they give me a lot of food to work with. I call it actor candy, actor food. Every script we get has some sort of nugget of brilliance to work with, which I don’t get on every show. The thing about Steven’s arc – growing up and coming into that responsibility – all I had to do was take the real part of that for me in my life, and just project it on the character. It’s an acting technique called substitution where you substitute your own experience for whatever the character is experiencing, or something similar, to convey that emotion. So if you have to play a sad scene, just as an example, you would think of a personal memory from your life that made you feel that way. This was a lot subtler because I didn’t realize it was happening at the time, until a little bit later, but I realized that we were so similar and had this similar arc in life. I think it helped [me] play the character, especially down the line as he became a little more complicated in his mental state – as he grew up and learned more.”
NM: Do you have anything going on besides Steven Universe, other projects you want to talk about?
Zach: “Why yes, as a matter of fact. This year I’ve been really busy working on a few things – I’m starting a YouTube channel; that’s the first thing. I’m going to be doing a lot of cover videos on there, some surrealist comedy, to just have fun and goof around and sort of parody the YouTube format. And then along with that I’m doing a sketch show called The Zach Callison Show, which is a short-format sketch show about a sketch show being made. You follow my struggle to actually make the show, but you don’t see everything; you just see me being beaten down by Hollywood stuff. It’s definitely a departure for me, image-wise, because it’s very edgy, out-there, raunchy, but that’s Zach’s sense of humor, so that’s what I wanted to put out there for that show. We’re really trying to make something that’s special to us.
The other thing is my music. I’m really really stoked to have some songs out later this year. I’ve been working on them for quite a while. I really took my time with it because I was trying to cultivate an original sound that’s new, that’s fresh, that’s not gonna be bubblegum pop-type stuff. I’d been approached so many times over the years like, “Oh you should do this, you should do that, you should be in this boy band,” and I was like “Nope, not ready, not ready.” Now I finally feel like I have the words to sing and things to write about. That’s a departure for me as well.”
NM: Who would you say are your influences, music-wise?
Zach: “Closest to what I’m doing now – Panic! At the Disco, My Chemical Romance, Twenty One Pilots, Fall Out Boy, Muse, the rock alternative type stuff. That’s my inspiration for it. And we’re going with theatrical alternative. It’s musical theater-inspired – very dramatic; there’s not a lot of relaxed notes, it builds a lot – there’s a lot of crescendos in the music. I’m excited about that.”
NM: This is from Devon T. “What’s it like playing a TV character loved by people everywhere?”
Zach: “It’s definitely humbling in a lot of ways – just to see our fandom do what they do, and be inspired to make all this amazing art and tell us their stories. A lot of people talk about how the show has been a positive influence on them, and that’s always amazing. It’s also very intimidating. It is pressure; I feel the need to be at my absolute best to make the show as good as I can when I’m in the studio, to do Rebecca [Sugar]’s vision justice because I fully believe in that, and to do the fans a service by letting the show stay as consistent as it can.”
NM: How did you feel about the idea of the show before you started working on it? How did you feel when they asked you to join them?
Zach: “When I saw it, I definitely thought it was quirky and off-beat, which excited me. I always love anything that’s a little bit off-center. In the pilot, it didn’t at all show what kind of show it was going to be down the line and the messages it would talk about, and the narrative themes and how deep it would get. But it was a really fun, quirky, colorful cartoon, and that was very exciting to me alone, in the beginning, and then it became so much more. The vision of what I knew Steven Universe as when I started and what I knew Steven Universe as in season two and three are completely different.”
NM: Are there any other ways that your perception of the show changed from when you started working on it to where it is now?
Zach: “For me, playing Steven is a lot different than it was. I was just being an animated kid version of myself back then, not really putting any thought into stuff like motivation or past history, but there’s so much now. And I’ve grown a lot as an actor because of the show and while I’ve been on the show that my approach to playing Steven is a hell of a lot different now, which I’m grateful for. It’s been a huge lesson for me as an actor; to be able to spend this amount of time with a character has taught me a lot about the method of getting into a character.”
NM: Joseph R. wants to know, “Why hasn’t Steven asked any questions about Bismuth?” And along the same lines, “How come Steven doesn’t ask the questions he should be asking, for example “WTF is going on”?”
Zach: “I think Steven knows that those kind of questions tend to rock the boat a little bit. And also, he, in the past, has not gotten the full truth. He feels like he needs to discover a lot of it on his own now. With Bismuth, he discovered a lot in a very short amount of time at the end of that episode and it was one of those things that I think was a little traumatizing for him, and that might be the reason he’s not asking about it. Everything happens so fast, and there’s also so much more going on now, that there hasn’t really been time for him to breathe. In the beginning of the show, something would happen, and the gems would teach him about it. Now, it’s all coming like bam bam bam, one after the other, and there really hasn’t been time for him to be a kid and just learn about what’s around him and what his purpose is, which I think is confusing him a lot.”
NM: So I’m gonna ask you a couple questions [from fans] that are “out of bounds.” And I want you to make up the most ridiculous wrong answer that you can think of.
Zach: “My favorite – okay.”
NM: Who was Pink Diamond?
Zach: “Lars, obviously.”
NM: Why has no one mentioned White Diamond?
Zach: “Because that’s the name of a ski resort in Colorado and that’s crazy.”
NM: What happens if Lars goes into Lion’s mane?
Zach: “It’s like dividing by zero. We don’t really know. No one really knows.”
NM: Who shattered Pink Diamond?
Zach: “Rebecca Sugar.”
NM: What do you think would be the funniest way to get the off-colors home?
Zach: “Is Fluorite the big one? I think Fluorite’s the big one. It would have to do with all of them riding this giant worm through space and somehow landing into the earth like an apple and just randomly showing up on the gems’ doorstep like “What? What are you?””
When asked if he had anything else he’d like to add for the fans, Zach’s final remark was a simple, “All the spoilers.” What do you think? How has Steven Universe changed since its beginning? What’s your White Diamond theory? In what ways do you relate to Steven or the other characters in the show?
This interview is brought to you by Alyssa Knoll via Nerdy Minds Magazine! Alyssa is a cosplayer and blogger from North Carolina. When she isn’t sewing or hot gluing, she enjoys binge-watching weird Netflix shows, overthinking things, and making people laugh. She also never shuts up about the things she loves. Connect with Alyssa at @inelegantcosplay on Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook, and @inelegantcos on Twitter! got a nerdy mind? Write about it! Take a look around to see what we're about, and contact us with ideas on anything you'd like to write for us or read from us. Keep up with Nerdy Minds by following @NerdyMindsMag on Twitter and liking Nerdy Minds Magazine on Facebook.
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