Thrillist: How does one get the call saying, "Would you like to be Sonic the Hedgehog?"
Ben Schwartz: So the way that started off was I had a meeting with Tim Miller, who directed Deadpool, about a different project. When I was there, Jeff Fowler had just started to get the offer to direct a possible Sonic movie. They were going to do a test animation of Sonic. So they said, "would you be interested in doing the temp thing? It doesn't mean you're going to get the role if we get it." And I said, "do you know what? Screw it. Let's do it." I'm just a fan of it. Even if it puts me in the running. We did a test, we sold it to Paramount, and they really liked my voice in it. I'm sure there was a moment when they probably went out to super famous people, but for some reason that test really stood out and they really loved the way that I played Sonic. They ended up being like, "let's just let Ben do it." I got very lucky.
One of my favorite clips of you is when you spoke to Larry King about playing Sonic.
Schwartz: Yes! That went viral!
Because it's amazing. And I don't mean to parrot Larry King…
Schwartz: Please do. Now's your time. It has to be a dream for you.
Larry King did go to my shul growing up.
Schwartz: Is that true? Where?
In LA. Anyway, he asked you what your Sonic sounds like. And I did want to ask: How does one play Sonic?
Schwartz: I wanted to play him like an energetic young kid who is just so excited to do things because, in my head and in the film, he has kind of been hiding in a cave and hasn't had the opportunity to interact with anybody. Then imagine if all of a sudden the world is open to you, your bucket list is open to you, anything you want to do. He's just so excited to do it all and so excited to share it with a friend because he had been all by himself. In my head I played it like a little kid that's really excited to do this. I think that lends itself to what his superpower type thing is where he's so fast anyway he'll be talking a mile a minute and he's so excited. They let me improvise. We got to play with the script a lot so I could have some freedom and it made it so much fun.
Did you have a prior relationship to Sonic?
Schwartz: I'm a very big video game nerd. I had a Nintendo and a Super Nintendo. [My friends from PS 24 in Riverdale] had a [Sega] Genesis so I would go over there and play QuackShot and we'd play Sonic and Sonic 2. It's always been something I've always loved. Video games, I've always loved and still do, so when this came up I was like, "Oh man, to make the movie version of this thing that was so popular and I liked so much is great."
Have you kept up with the Sonic fandom? I don't know if you know this, but the Sonic fandom has gotten very weird.
Schwartz: It's amazing. It's incredible. They've been very supportive of me. I know there are like different facets. There's a comic book and a video game and there are different iterations of the cartoon show and there are different people voicing all those iterations. There's Team Sonic Racing and, like, 25 different games and the [Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games], all of that stuff. I haven't watched everything but that is why I was a little bit nervous being like, "I hope they like what I do with the character." But they were so psyched about it, which made me so happy they're being so supportive. It just makes me feel like I'm being embraced by a cool group of people.
Have you dug into the world of Sonic fan art though?
Schwartz: Is it weird?
Yeah. I can pull it up for you.
Schwartz: You came prepared.
There is an internet thing where you can google "'your name' and 'the hedgehog'" and there is probably some sort of Sonic fan art.
Schwartz: My name?
Anyone's name. So I can Google "Esther the Hedgehog."
Schwartz: Do it.
[I Google "Esther the Hedgehog.']
What? So do "Ben the Hedgehog." This is amazing.
So if you want to get weird, there's this.
Schwartz: "Ben the Seesurfint Angel Hedgehog." [Silence as we ogle more hedgehogs.] Sonic has become a huge thing. I mean, it was always a big thing. There's a book called Console Wars. It talks about the birth of Sonic and how much it meant, and Sonic 2 and how much that meant. I'm reading that and I loved that. It was such a big way for Genesis to establish who they are.
An outgrowth of this fan art is…
Schwartz: The "gotta go fast"? The Sanic. I love that.
There's a "Bad Sonic Art" Twitter account.
Schwartz: It's just weird shit? I didn't know about any of that. I knew about Sanic, of course. But I didn't know about a... pregnant...
I don't mean to make you uncomfortable.
Schwartz: No, it's the perfect way to start off an interview.
Just show you weird pictures of Sonic. Speaking of weird pictures…
Schwartz: Speaking of weird pictures and you just hand out weird pictures of yourself. What are you doing? What a weird interview...