Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is set to hit cinema screens on Friday, heralding the return of Parks and Recreation star Ben Schwartz as the voice of the iconic blue hedgehog and James Marsden onscreen as his long-suffering guardian Tom Wachowski.
Also returning for the sequel is Jim Carrey as Sonic’ nemesis, the evil Dr Robotnik, while the movie also welcomes Idris Elba as the voice of Knuckles, who joins the chaos this time around with another video game character, Tails.
Speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk ahead of the film’s release, the two stars had some fun filling us in on some behind the scenes secrets, from how to get Sonic’s voice just right to how exactly CGI Sonic is presented on set for interactions with the live-action performers.
Best known for the irritating yet engaging role of Parks and Rec’s Jean-Ralphio, as well as popping up more recently in Space Force and The Afterparty, 40-year-old Ben is also a prolific voice actor, having leant his dulcet tones to shows including the DuckTales reboot, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, BoJack Horseman and – of course – the first Sonic movie.
What does he do though, to step into character as Sonic before recording his lines?
‘I’ve been doing voice over since 2005 or 2007,’ he explained. ‘And sometimes when you do a bunch of characters over a certain amount of years, what I do is I say a sentence or something like that, right before I get into my record to just get yourself you locked in.
Ben, a voice actor for over 15 years, is back as Sonic (Picture: Paramount Pictures and Sega of A)
The comic actor revealed that he has a sentence to get into the right mindset for each of the characters he has voiced (Picture: Getty)
Idris Elba is a new addition to the Sonic cinematic universe as Knuckles (Picture: Paramount Pictures and Sega of A)
‘With Dewey [in DuckTales] there is a sentence, with Leo from Turtles there’s a sentence, and for Sonic it’s more like I threaten Robotnic out loud before I start going. I like to say something about Robotnic and then say, “Gotta go fast” or say a quip or a really fun joke, and then I’ve got it and I’m off to the races. But for me, the biggest thing is, I wanted him to sound like an excited kid.’
Expanding on Sonic’s endearing characterisation, he added: ‘I wanted kids to be able to see themselves in him, with his heart, with his want to try to be cool – even though sometimes he’s not – and to be unique. I want kids to be able to see that and see versions of themselves in that.
‘So, whenever I’m doing Sonic, I always want to keep the energy up, I want to try to be loose and I want to try to get that childish energy that hopefully people can connect with.’
Unfortunately, Westworld and X-Men actor and co-star James, 48, doesn’t always have much to work with in his scenes as Green Hills sheriff Tom opposite Sonic, admitting that it can be a bit tough when he’s working with tennis balls and stand-in Sonics.
James as Tom and Tika Sumpter as his wife Maddie are back getting into scrapes, thanks to Sonic (Picture: Kimberley French/Paramount)
The Enchanted star joked about exactly what it is he gets to work with (or not) in the place of Sonic while shooting (Picture: Getty)
‘There’s sometimes a sort of crudely made version of Sonic that’s basically like a pineapple that’s been painted blue with a little Styrofoam head on it,’ James told us. ‘But it’s hard. It’s difficult to focus sometimes when you don’t have the voice actor there opposite you, and it’s a whole other different skill set that maybe a lot of other people don’t really appreciate.’
‘It’s not necessarily [a tennis ball on] a stick, per se. I’ve been doing this a long time; when I first started in the 70s it was a stick, but now it’s more of a rod, and the tennis ball used to just be a ball of twine… It is a tennis ball still, what I look at, because it’s supposed to represent my eye line to Sonic, which is constantly moving,’ he added, while joking around with Ben during the junket.
This is not quite what James gets to see (Picture: Paramount)
‘I have to deal with a lot of distractions actually because as an artist that sort of inner flame is so easily blown out, and you can’t be distracted by the things going on around you otherwise the audience will be pulled out of that very sincere, genuine moment that you’re having with Sonic – like on the boat when I’m talking to him as a father and telling him to behave himself.’
Directing the last bit of his answer at Ben, he finished: ‘It can be tricky, yeah, because you don’t have an actor or at least a mature human being sat opposite you.’
While James is set to star in the hotly anticipated Enchanted sequel Disenchanted with Amy Adams, Idina Menzel and Patrick Dempsey, out later this year, Ben is currently busy working on Dracula henchman-focused movie Renfield, for Universal.
‘I get to play a character like I’ve never played before, and Nic Cage is Dracula! What else do you need?’
Sonic The Hedgehog 2 is exclusively in cinemas April 1.