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August 16, 2017

SDCC 2017 Interview With Steven Universe’s Zach Callison

Steven Universe, the show and the titular character, have grown a lot since their premiere in 2013. So has the voice actor of Steven, Zach Callison, who is now an adult playing a young teen instead of still being one. Zach was able to join San Diego Comic Con for a round table interview about the show and other projects he’s got coming up. What’s he got going on? Let’s find out!

Steven Universe voice actor Zach Callison

Comic Attack: Steven is a very optimistic character, do you think he still has an optimistic view for the future with all that’s happened in the show?

Zach Callison: Less than he used to, I think. That is the goal for him but he’s been quite discouraged as of late. He’s giving it his all for what should be the future, everyone living in harmony and no more threat from the home world Gems. He’s the biggest advocate for peace and for everyone getting to be who they are. He’s always been a champion for that. With the Off Colors we’ve seen and the Crystal Gems we see that. Having a world where everyone can live freely and the world isn’t under constant threat. That’s the way to go.

CA: How do you prepare for the more emotional scenes?

ZC: At this point the preparation is a lot less than it used to be. I don’t even read the story boards before coming in most of the time for a session because I’m able to jump into the character now so I like to discover the scenes in the moment. Generally I have advanced warning for big moments, like the whole Lars thing, I knew that was coming but it still hit me like a truck when I saw the storyboard. Usually we’re goofing around during a recording session but when a scene like that happens. The Gems will see me go into the corner and not talk as much. Every actor has their mental prep methods for how to go through for stuff like that. It’s the same for voice actors.

CA: With the story arc with Lars, you said it hit you like a truck, I think it hit everyone watching like a truck because no one was expecting that.

ZC: Hit Lars like a truck too.

Steven says goodbye to Lars

CA: Going forward are we going to see that effect Steven a whole lot more?

ZC: I think so. I see them becoming a lot closer. This is the first time we’ve seen a human die on screen in the show. The tone of the moment, reflects that, it’s a sign of the darkness for the show and it’s not going to stop.

CA: What’s it like growing up with Steven at the same?

ZC: The physical limitation of my voice changing was the hardest part of it. I have a wrangle on my voice now but there was a time where I has no control over it and that was definitely the scariest period of the show for me. As an emotional growing up its been very supportive. We have very similar arcs in our lives, happy-go-lucky kids with lots of responsibility put on our shoulders and being able to experience that with Steven has been helpful for me and for playing the character and doing him justice . Rebecca and Ian had mentioned to me during the run of the show that they wanted an actual kid to play Steven for the tone of it and to nail the child-like wonder that he has. But to also have a kid who actually grew with the show because I didn’t know they were going to actually age Steven.

CA: Do you worry if Steven’s voice begins to change if he continues to grow that you’ll be able to change your voice for it?

ZC: My voice isn’t going to get much deeper than it already is but if his voice needs to change due to possibly further aging, I definitely have better control of my voice now so I feel like I’d be able to do that. I’m more comfortable with my voice control now not only for Steven but for my singing.

CA: What about Steven do you identify most with?

ZC: His desire to see the best in people, always, even to a fault. If any jaded or cynical thoughts enter my mind, that is the counterpoint that I think about. Even if it doesn’t pay off, like why not give someone the benefit of the doubt? I admire that part of Steven, I admire his emotional maturity and learning to have that for myself is almost a role-model for my growing up.

CA: Is there any other show, animated or live-action, that you wish you could have been a part of?

ZC: Codename: Kids Next Door. I loved that cartoon growing up. I didn’t have Cartoon Network as a kid so I had to go to my grandparents’ place to watch it. They used to send me VHS tape recordings of it. I love that show. I know there’s mumblings of bringing it back. Galactic Kids Next Door and all that but I’d love to be a part of that. Dee Bradley Baker, who does our show and literally every cartoon ever, he was Numbuh 4 and I learned that one day and totally needed out about it when he was working with us. Being able to work in voice over and meeting and not even realizing they’ve played such amazing characters is such a fun part of the job.

CA: We’ve been introduced to so many new characters, which have you taken a fondness to?

Peridot and Steve

ZC: She’s not super recent but Peridot. She gets all the best dialogue and is a fan favorite for a reason. Of the really recent ones, Padparadscha, she’s so much fun and so adorable. We had a moment during the panel and I mentioned Padparadscha and was met with silence from the Gem actors. Then about 15 seconds later, Deedee (Pearl) says “I like the one who can see into the past.” I told her that’s Padparadscha. She had a very Padparadscha moment right there on the panel. Everyone can relate to that, that’s why I love Padparadscha.

CA: Did you enjoy making that episode?

ZC: I really did, it was a lot of fun throughout the process. Rebecca would show us the new characters and whenever we get new Gems I become a hound for new information. There’s stuff I can’t get into for future episodes but it’s going to be a lot of fun.

CA: Do you have a favorite musical moment from the show?

ZC: Mr. Greg, “I Guess It’s Over” really is a high point. It just got nominated for an Emmy and we’re all very proud of Rebecca for that. She mentioned on the panel how we don’t have additional time to write the songs for an episode. It’s the same amount as writing the rest of one, and that episode has seven songs in eleven minutes. It was a huge undertaking, her and half the crew took their weekends to get it done in time and I’m so glad the Emmy’s are recognizing their hard work. It makes me so proud of them because it was such an undertaking and they pulled it off so well.

CA: Are you involved in any of the song writing?

ZC: No, the idea has come up a few times but I leave that to them. The style of music I write is different from them. It’s quirky alt-rock and I don’t know how to write anything that isn’t my own thing. It’d be really fun to try but I’d need help. I’d need a lot of help.

CA: Any other projects you’re working on?

ZC: I have another animated one but can’t talk about it yet. Music is coming along really well. Really enjoying working with this producer. Hoping my first single drops in the fall. The comedy show, The Zach Callison Show, this project that started really small and has grown a lot since then. It’s a sketch show about making a a sketch show. So we do digital shorts and live comedy sketches with musical intros and outros, ala Key and Peele, Carol Burnett Show, Chappelle’s Show. It’s edgy with a lot of commentary like those shows.

The difference for this show is we’re trying to craft a narrative and character arc for this fictionalized version of me. His battles with production, this network that lives in the shadows. You see the story unfold over a season and it’s still a sketch show so those are going on along side it. We’re very excited to get that edited and finished to pitch it around. It’s one of my babies and I’m working on it with a lot of friends who also were child actors, so it’s been also lot of fun.

It started with me doing a YouTube channel for music and stuff, which is also still coming out, and one of the guys on my team is a producer who said he’d help me get this started. Got the right people for it and doing a narrative for a sketch show isn’t really common. That was six months ago and we’re very happy with doing the material Justice. Been an amazing experiencing getting to direct, price and all that, which is what I’ve been wanting to do in this industry for a while now. It’s been amazing.

CA: The response to the soundtrack, how’s that been for you?

ZC: Awesome! We all got our own Spotify pages, which is really cool. We mentioned it on the panel and the audience went wild for it. I’m glad that everyone’s been so happy with it and the album art for it is incredible, so beautiful. I’m really proud of it.

There you have it! Zach Callison was a lot of fun to talk with and seems to be trying to live up to Steven, which is a worthy cause if there ever was one. Here’s to more Steve Universe! See you next time!

Dr. Bustos
drbustos@comicattack.net

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