Interview | ‘Ratchet and Clank’ Voice Actors James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye
It’s been a big year for the Ratchet and Clank series, with the franchise making both its debut on the PS4 and in theaters, thanks to the release of the first ever film based upon developer Insomniac Games’ beloved platforming heroes.
Ahead of the movie’s release on Blu-ray and DVD on September 23rd, we spoke with voice actors James Arnold Taylor (Ratchet) and David Kaye (Clank) about their experiences taking these characters to their big screen, along with their thoughts on its underwhelming critical reception, comparisons to Pixar and more.
Oh, and we also asked James Arnold Taylor, who voices Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Clone Wars, about his ideas for a spin-off starring the Jedi. We couldn’t help ourselves.
Check out the interview below:
Crave: The Ratchet and Clank movie is unique in that it is a film adaptation of an existing video game series that, rather than recasting its voice over artists, instead got you to reprise your roles from the game. With that being said, how did it feel to take this character you’ve portrayed for so many years and then seeing him on the big screen?
David Kaye: I thought he looked quite sexy! Seriously, I never thought it would happen. When I saw it first in the theater the hairs on my arm stood up. Kind of a surreal moment.
James Arnold Taylor: It was one of those things where it was a long time coming for all of us, because we felt there was always a wonderful and, as you mentioned it, unique storyline in Ratchet and Clank… it’s always been unique and really funny. Thanks to (Ratchet and Clank writer) T.J. Fixman and all the folks at Insomniac who wrote and created these wonderful stories and these great characters for us to live in… I know that sounds very cliche because people always say that about their characters, but it’s really true.
I’ve had wonderful opportunities as a voice actor to portray so many different characters, but Ratchet is one of a kind – literally! I ended up really loving the movie I thought it was great and I was very proud of my performance. I was so incredibly proud of all of my friends and actors who were in that, I thought they did a wonderful job. David Kaye is fantastic, Jim Ward (Captain Quark), Armin Shimerman (Dr. Nefarious), just fantastic work. It’s one of those ones where hopefully it will do better on [DVD and Blu-ray]… so many times [after the film’s release] I’d go to conventions and I’d be signing things and people were such big fans of the game and I’d be like “did you play the game?” And they’d say “yeah!” Then I’d ask if they’d seen the movie and they’d say “no, I haven’t seen it yet.”
People are waiting for it to come out [on Blu-ray and DVD] because people that are gamers don’t really go out much [laughs]… they don’t go out to the movies a lot I guess. So they’re all waiting for it to come out on iTunes or something, and then they’re gonna rent it and watch it. I wish they’d gone to see it at the theater, then we would’ve gotten some better numbers there, but it’s been great to see [Ratchet and Clank] up on the big screen. I’ve been able to be in so many animated films, and be the lead in so many animated films, but this one was very special… I thought they did a great job.
What were some of the biggest differences in the process behind recording for the movie and recording for the game?
David Kaye: Not many at all. The biggest was the fact that James and I recorded together. During the games, we never saw each other.
James Arnold Taylor: There really wasn’t much of a difference, except for one crucial thing: Jim Ward, David Kaye and myself recorded in the room together, which never happens for video games. It very rarely happens for animated films! But Ratchet and Clank the movie, we all got to be together. I was in my own little isolation booth because my character had the most lines, and I needed to interact with both Clank and Quark, so if they needed to add anything in [after recording] such a little sigh or a noise then they could, but we were all in the same room and we could work off each other which never happens. Again, the video games are always alone – you go in and then you record. The first time I met David Kaye was after six or seven Ratchet and Clank games that we had made. Pretty crazy.
“The first time I met David Kaye was after six or seven Ratchet and Clank games.”
Outside of that there weren’t that many differences, meaning that it worked pretty much the same way as the games did, and I think that’s important. I think that it needed to feel like the video games. I do believe they succeeded in making a movie that felt like the game, and I know some people would say they could’ve done more, and yeah they could have, but they also needed to make it more mainstream, they need to make it work for people who don’t know the game. I thought it had a wonderful moral lesson to it, too.
The latest Ratchet and Clank games marks the series’ first appearance on the PS4, which allowed the quality of the animation to be be significantly improved. Does this have any impact on the recording process? Does it allow you to be more “free” with your emotions when providing voice over work, knowing that they can be more successfully conveyed by the animators?
James Arnold Taylor: That’s a great question. No one’s ever asked me that, and the answer is “no” [laughs]. It doesn’t affect it really in any way. We had no idea what the quality of the animation would be. We always expect it to be great, and it’s always grown by leaps and bounds with every game, which is amazing considering we’ve done one almost every year. You always see the animation growing and becoming better, but on that note I will say that I never could have dreamed that it would look exactly like the film. You play this game, it’s so immersive. It looks just like the movie. They put scenes from the movie in it as well, and it’s pretty much flawless. It’s fantastic, it’s beautiful, it’s exciting to think of what the PS4 is allowing for gaming and what’s to come from gaming in that regard.
Great question, but it did not change it. We always just go into it giving it our all, and I think that actually – and I’m certainly not patting myself or other voice actors on the back – I think it does challenge the animators to do more. We’re always challenging each other to do better, and that’s the great thing about it. When the performances are that free and easy, and you’re just going the way you would, they never say to me “well pull back on that because we can’t animate that,” that’s never been a thing. I think they’re always challenged by it, and it comes through better in [Ratchet and Clank PS4] because you get to see so much more emotions.
I talked to a few kids in my family about the Ratchet and Clank movie and they loved it, but the critical reception for the movie was a little less favorable, with one of the recurring criticisms being that it didn’t cater to both a young and mature demographic. Do you think that, with the success Pixar movies have in successfully appealing to more adult audiences, films such as Ratchet and Clank that directly attempt to entertain children are being held to an unfair standard?
James Arnold Taylor: Yes. Yes I do. I think that it is absolutely unfair. I think that the most frustrating thing for me as someone involved in the Ratchet and Clank series and the movie, and then reading the critiques, was that everybody was comparing it to Zootopia. Guess what? Zootopia cost $200 million to make. They took six to eight years to find and develop that story. They took as much time and money and effort as they could to do that. Then you take a movie like Ratchet and Clank; the first time anybody’s ever done this – successfully, I might add – taking a video game and using the same animation in the film, the same character models and everything. This little company that could, Blockade Entertainment, having a vision and communicating with Sony and with Rainmaker and with Insomnia, and saying “we want do this.” Doing that for the first time on a budget of $20 million.
Now you and I would both say “well, $20 million is great,” but it’s not for an animated film. $20 million is nothing. You can barely do anything for $20 million, and they did it. They made a really great movie with a nice moral story, it’s extremely well acted – I don’t care what anyone says, that’s not me patting myself on the back, that’s me patting all my fellow actors on the back. They did a great job, the animators did a great job. You look at the animation of this compared to a Pixar film, and there’s not a huge difference. There are style differences, but there aren’t quality differences.
“Critics are trying to be the cool kids now… wanting to have Disney, the coolest kid in high school, like them.”
But I do think we are held to a really unfair quality standard, and I think critics are trying to be the cool kids now. [It’s like] they’re in high school, wanting to have Disney, the coolest kid, like them. I read a lot of really unfair reviews in my opinion, and I just don’t think that it’s fair because I do not believe that the film was something that was “just for children.” I saw the most ridiculous reviews that were like “well, your kids will love it…” It’s a PG family film about action and adventure, about a young boy going on a Star Wars-y journey! Y’know, they probably said the same thing about Star Wars. I’m not comparing the two films, I’m not saying Ratchet and Clank is up there with Star Wars, but I’m like “you gotta relax, people!”
This movie is a good family film, with a good moral value and a lesson to be learned in it, and a lot of fun. What’s wrong with that? Pixar movies, as great as they may be, are sometimes a little too hip for the room. My personal opinion is that Disney has completely gotten away from making G-rated movies. As a father that wants to take his child to the movies, I have to watch what is said in these movies now. You’ve gotta watch the content. They’re thinking “we’re not making these for kids anymore, we’re making these for adults, we wanna be smart, we wanna be hip.” That’s great, but where are they going to stand in thirty years from now? Things aren’t as evergreen as they used to be. Dumbo, Bambi, Little Mermaid… they hold up, and I think a lot of these movies will hold up, but they’re adult films. They’re not kids films. What’s wrong with making a kids movie?
David Kaye: The budgets for Pixar and the like are immense. It’s hard to compete on that scale. The Ratchet and Clank franchise as a whole is HUGELY successful so in perspective, we did alright. The film really catered to the huge fan base we have garnered over many years. That said, my parents and their friends who are in their 70s went to see it and really enjoyed it and never knew anything about it/were not familiar with the games. What was important to me was the fact that the fans and people in the know seemed to really love it, that it stayed true to the game, and that they kept James and I in it.
Ratchet and Clank PS4 received a pretty massive reaction considering that the series had been shelved for a few years. How did it feel to return to the franchise for the current console generation to such a hugely positive reception?
David Kaye: It felt great of course. In this business you never really know what’s going to stick and what doesn’t.
James Arnold Taylor: Fantastic. As much as the film got a lot of critiques from critics while the fans liked it, with this one both the fans and the critics loved the game. It was fun for me because it was retelling the first game, which I wasn’t in, and I thought they did a great job with it. I think it was the fastest selling game in PS4 history or something (it was actually the the fastest selling game in the franchise’s history), it was wonderful to get that reaction. We’re actors, we’re egos, we like to hear that people like what we do, we want everybody to like us. I can look on my Facebook or Twitter and see thousands of people saying “hey James, we love Ratchet and Clank,” but then I see one person going “he’s stupid” and it affects me. So whenever we get a positive reception, it’s wonderful to get. I was extremely pleased to find all of that, so thank you to everyone who loved the game. I think it’s a great sign of things to come.
James, you got to record Obi-Wan’s “Final Message” for Star Wars Rebels, a pivotal moment for that character which hadn’t been seen before until that episode. I know you’ve previously said that you believe Obi-Wan shouldn’t appear in Rebels again, but are there any other similarly unexplored moments for the character that you wish you could act out?
James Arnold Taylor: Yes. Great question, thank you for asking. It was wonderful to do that final message, it was very emotional to be able to do that because we did not see it [in the films], we just saw Obi-Wan saying [seamlessly transitions into Obi-Wan voice]: “I’ve recorded a message!” And then Yoda’s waiting for him. [The message] was longer than you see it in that episode, actually, because they had to cut some stuff out, but to record it was great. As far as other things, yes, I’d love to see young Obi-Wan. I think they should be a spin-off animated series just on Obi-Wan Kenobi, where you could have him on Tattooine, much like the book Kenobi written by John Jackson Miller which I thought was a fantastic rendition of what Kenobi’s life is like while watching Luke Skywalker’s life grow. But I’d love to see a TV series that is that story as well as flashbacks to his training in the Jedi temple, as well as his meeting Duchess Satine. I think it’d be fantastic, so maybe the powers that be will read this and think “hmm.”
David, you’ve provided voice over work across a number of giant franchises, from Star Wars through to Transformers, Batman and Marvel properties such as The Avengers. How does it feel being involved in so many of these beloved fictional universes?
David Kaye: Honestly it’s a dream come true. Most of the time during a session I’ll look around the room and wonder “how the hell did I get here?!” I’ve always been a comic book fan and to be able to work on projects like this with people like Joe Kelly (Avengers Assemble) and other major and critical acclaimed artists and writers is pure joy.
Star Wars is a notoriously secretive property that, even in the age of the internet, rarely suffers from online “leaks” or other such spoilers ahead of a film or TV show’s release. As someone on the inside of the production of a Star Wars show, how did they manage to keep all of those secrets locked away? And how does that secretiveness affect your role as an actor?
James Arnold Taylor: That’s a brilliant question, no one’s ever asked me that. How do they do it? They keep it from everybody. They don’t tell any of us. We got the scripts when we walked in the room to record. And that’s to the credit of voice actors, as opposed to on-camera TV/film actors who get scripts and look at them and study them for weeks if not months, sometimes even years… we get them and within the next 10-20 minutes you’re in the booth recording it. And you don’t get to read the script – you have the script played out for you as you go along, and we are living it.
Usually the stuff that you’ve heard me record as Obi-Wan Kenobi is the first, second or third I’ve ever read those words, so that’s one way to keep it secret. The other way is that we all love Star Wars. I’ve worked on hundreds of different shows throughout my career, and never has there been a connection with the actors who have become such a family like we did in The Clone Wars. It’s relatively devastating that they took it off the air in my opinion. It was two seasons earlier than we planned.
If I had my way, I’d have had them run Clone Wars all the way up to this last December when The Force Awakens came out, and then released a new series called Rebels or whatever that would have been a continuation of that, or even maybe what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. We all love Star Wars, so we kept things secret because we knew we had to. I loved nothing more as a kid than going in to Empire Strikes Back and – spoiler alert! – finding out that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s father. We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have spoilers back then, so it was beautiful. I think we all appreciated that when we worked on the show, so we kept it quiet.
The secret affects your role as an actor because when you’re doing interviews, the only good thing about not having any more Clone Wars to do means I can talk about it now, but you really had to watch what you’d say. You’d record so many things, so many episodes, that you’d get confused about what has and hasn’t aired. It gets confusing, but I always tried to stay in that space. I rarely watched Revenge of the Sith, even though it’s one of my favorite movies, because I did not want my Obi-Wan to be in that space. I wanted him to be the Attack of the Clones, The Phantom Menace Obi-Wan, who believed that Anakin was the chosen one.
It seems that in the past few years in particular, more people have become aware ofthe talent behind the voice over work in the games they play. As someone who’s been providing his voice to a game series for nearly 15 years, have you noticed a change in your line of work over the years as a result of this?
David Kaye: Yes – there’s a LOT of folks who want to make careers out of voice work now, so it is crowded. You really have to be on your game and work on this craft everyday. After all it’s a craft and it’s something that can be done badly or greatly. I hope we keep things on the ‘greatly’ side of things. Also the journeyman voice actor is up against “celebrity,” but that’s the nature of the beast. You adapt. You have to become so good, they can’t ignore you. Lot of pressure there.
Is there anything you can tell us about the future of the Ratchet and Clank series?
James Arnold Taylor: No. [Laughs]. I can’t because I don’t know anything – I truly don’t know anything! I hope and pray that there’s more Ratchet and Clank to come… people, go out and buy the movie! Support the movie! Support it so we can make enough money to make another one! People always say “is there gonna be a sequel?” but there won’t be if people don’t go out and see [the first movie]. All you fans of this game across the world, the millions and millions of you, you’ve got to support this movie, too, for there to be new things. Will there be new things? I don’t know. I wish I could tell you more, but I don’t know anything.
David Kaye: I haven’t heard anything yet but the game is still selling like crazy so we’re all quite thrilled that Insomniac hit it out of the park – again!
Ratchet and Clank will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 23.