Ben Schwartz talks about voicing the snail Skidmark in the animated comedy Turbo, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD
Between playing the outlandish Jean-Ralphio on NBC's Parks and Recreation and Clyde Oberholt on House of Lies, the multi-talented Ben Schwartz somehow found time to lend his voice to a snail named Skidmark in Turbo, currently available on Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD. Skidmark is a part of the race crew who helps Turbo (Ryan Reynolds), a snail who gets blessed with amazing speed after falling through a car engine, realize his dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500. I recently had the chance to speak with this actor about his voice recording process, future projects, and much more. Here's what he had to say.
I have to imagine, for an actor, it must be a dream to play a character named Skidmark.
Ben Schwartz: Oh, when I came up in the business, doing the garbage to get free classes at UCB, I was thinking, one day, I better be called Skidmark, and I better be a snail that plays alongside Snoop Lion.
I bet knowing it's an animated film takes some of the mystique out of it. If you just hear Skidmark, and you don't know what it is, that would add a whole new layer to it.
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. The character, originally, was called Crash, I think. I got the news after I recorded a bunch of it. They're like, 'We need to redo one of your lines. Instead of saying, 'Hey, I'm Crash,' now it's 'Hey, I'm Skidmark.' I'm like, let's try this out for a little bit. It was a pleasant surprise. I loved it.
There's such a great cast here, but you don't really get to work with anyone. Just knowing who the other actors were, like Snoop, Samuel L. Jackson and Maya Rudolph, were you imagining how they were reading their lines, while you were recoding?
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, the gift that we get is that David Soren, the director and the writer and an extraordinary person, had recorded some of them and read their lines as if they were them. He would do an impression of Maya when I was talking to her character, stuff like that. It was the best. It was basically like me working with an impressionist of those people, and he's the director, so he knows exactly what he wants. It was pretty great.
You don't normally hear about directors mimicking other actors like that. That's awesome.
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, it was really fun, man. That director is awesome. Also, the people in that cast, I look up to all those people for 100 different reasons, so it was really cool to be a part of anything they were a part of.
As an actor with so many live-action things going on, is it refreshing to just step in a booth and use your voice?
Ben Schwartz: Well, I was really lucky because I've been doing animation for awhile. I kind of know how it works and such, but the cool amazing part about this are people who I've looked up to for so long. That was the joy. I think, for voiceover stuff, I have such a good time with it because it's just basically being a kid. You get to be a version of yourself to the Nth degree, being goofy, being crazy, move your arms a bunch. I love it.
Were they actually filming you during your sessions? I know it's a snail, so it might be difficult to incorporate your motions, but does that play into it at all?
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, I think what would happen was David and some of the animators would come down and watch when you record. There may have been a camera on me as well, so they capture that. I didn't have to wear the dots, where sometimes they put these points on your face for the movements. It wasn't that, but people would study when I said certain sentences, how I would react. It looks like there's a little bit of me, and my eyes are very long and protrude out of my face, just like a snail does, so that worked really well.
You said the name changed during the recording, but did they show you a lot of early drawings to show you what he looked like? Does that help get you into character to see what he looks like?
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, totally. Whenever I record, there's a picture of the character behind me, and they showed me all the other characters I'm talking to. They'd show me the setting, exactly where it was taking place. So, if it was the Indy 500, they'd show me exactly what it looks like and David sets the scene. We didn't get scripts, which was interesting. It was the first time ever I didn't get a script for something, but they set the scene and tell you exactly what's happening. They give you as much of that world as they can, so when you're in there, you're really in there. The guy is super energetic, so he's like, 'OK, it's the Indy 500 and you love it!' 'Great.' We start doing the lines, and it's amazing because he let me play a little bit and improvise. Some of that got in there, which is great. Before we started recording, David sat me down and explained the entire film, every beat in the movie, what happens with my character, what happens with Ryan Reynolds' character, so I know exactly what the movie is about and I'm totally up to speed. It's almost a gift so I don't have to read anything. He tells me exactly what's going on and, that first day they explained the entire film, which was so cool. They treat you very, very well at DreamWorks. It was so fun.
Even with all you have seen while recording, it still must be a thrill to see it for the first time, because you really don't know what it's going to look like.
Ben Schwartz: Yes, it was absolutely that. It was such a beautiful moment because, as someone who has been watching cartoons and animated movies my whole life, I had no idea. I did ADR and saw some snippets, but to see the whole story come together, in 3D, in a beautiful theater, man, I loved it. I really thought it was a special movie. I really enjoyed it.
I was wondering if you could talk a bit about Jean-Ralphio, because he's one of my favorite characters on Parks and Recreation. Are you slated to come back at all this season?
Ben Schwartz: I come back for the 100th episode. I did two episodes already, the first two episodes, and then I'm going to come back one more time.
Is it getting trickier to balance that and House of Lies and other things you're doing?
Ben Schwartz: Yeah, it's getting harder and harder. One year, they were so packed, with some of the Entertainment 720 stuff, sometimes we had to film on a weekend, and they were so kind to do that. When I'm shooting House of Lies, that's four or five days a week, so it's pretty hard, but the cool thing about House of Lies is it's only three months, so I have time before and after it. Yes, it has been a bit harder, but both Showtime and NBC have been working so well together by allowing me to do it. It was one of those things when I took the House of Lies job, I made them very aware of how much I loved Parks and wanted to keep doing it. They told me it was totally cool, and that was the nicest thing they could do.
Ben Schwartz: Sure. In Better Living Through Chemistry, I play a character named Noah, who works at the pharmacy that Sam Rockwell is in. I think that's coming out soon. We filmed that maybe a year and a half ago. Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Ray Liotta is in it, and I can't wait to see what that looks like. It's one of those movies with a smaller budget that you really root for. Sam Rockwell is, I think, one of the best actors in the universe. In the universe. I'm excited to see that. This Is Where I Leave You, I could not be more excited for that, because the cast in that is like, 'OK, Ben, you're in fantasy land. Who do you want to do a movie with?' I would just pick everybody who's in that movie. Jason Bateman, I've looked up to for a long time and Tina Fey, who is as nice as she is funny, and she's maybe the funniest person in the universe. I play this rabbi called Boner, and I get to play with them in a bunch of scenes. For me, I came up at UCB, with no money, I was interning for free classes, and it was always like, 'One day, hopefully I'll be able to play with these guys.' And I did, and they were so kind, and so nice and so welcoming. Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Rose Byrne, Connie Britton, Jane Fonda, who did my improv show out here afterwards, they were all amazing. That is a movie I am so excited for. (Director) Shawn Levy crushed it, and Jonathan Tropper's script is so good.
Ben Schwartz: It's such a good movie, and it's a perfect thing to watch at home as well. It's a story of someone who has a dream that no one else believes in, and he just pushes his heart out. It's a beautiful lesson for kids, to never give up on your dream. It's one of those things, especially for me, when I was doing comedy, you're trying to find people who have similar voices as you. When I found UCB, those were my people, and it was almost like when he found his race crew. You're accepted by people and you can excel and create. It's such a beautiful thing for kids to learn. My niece and nephew love this movie. It's a really fun family movie.
Excellent. That's my time. Thanks so much, Ben. It was great talking to you.
Ben Schwartz: Nice to meet you, Brian. Take care, buddy.