Highlights from Zach Callison’s AMA Interview
Zach Callison, best known as the voice of Steven Universe himself, recently hosted an AMA or ‘Ask Me Anything’ thread on Reddit where he opened up and shared answers about his life, both in and out of the recording booth.
Wading through an entire thread for juicy bits can be a bit of a tricky task, so here’s a summary of everything we learned.
Zach Callison on Steven Universe
- As a viewer, Callison’s favorite episodes are “Space Race” and “Jailbreak”. “Space Race” was another favorite of his to record, and he also enjoyed doing “Steven and the Stevens”. He liked a mix of “goofy, offbeat comedy and dramatic elements,” while he thought the latter episode was the most challenging one for him to perform. He also teased that an episode in the upcoming “Summer of Steven” is one of his favorites. On a scale of 1 to 10, Zach is an “11/10” for how excited he is about the upcoming episodes. In a single word, he describes them as “Shenanigans.”
- Among his favorite lines he’s recorded are “Arrivederci…” (“Steven and the Stevens”), “If you need-a great-a-actor, you’ve-a come to the right-a guy-a!” (“Historical Friction”), and “Skills!” (“Together Breakfast”).
- Zach was absolutely “HYPED” when he first heard about Say Uncle, and says that the crossover episode was a great learning experience.
- The Cookie Cat Rap is Zach’s favorite he’s sung so far in the show. It is also oft-requested by fans, so he practices rapping it in the shower.
- He thinks the LGBTQ representation in Steven Universe is “incredible,” and while he had no idea the show would explore themes of that nature when it began, he feels like “a very small part of something special,” for which is very grateful.
Zach Callison on the role of Steven
- For the audition process, Zach was given drawings of Steven, 10 or so lines, and Rebecca Sugar’s demo of the extended theme. Zach worked with his VO coach to develop a “vocal sound” for Steven, which only took about 10 minutes. “[R]eading the lines and finding the right emotional core for Steven was the bulk of the challenge.”
- Zach’s voice changed about six months after he began recording episodes for Steven Universe. While before then he would pitch his voice up to voice Steven, afterward he would have to pitch his voice down, making Steven sound noticeably older. This means while Steven’s voice inflection has been consistent, it has also “grown up” parallel to Zach himself. The only reasons he is able to get his voice so high pitched is because of years of vocal lessons.
- He tries to tap into his younger self to maintain the “childlike wonder” in Steven’s voice.
- The “professional beach hunk” voice from “So Many Birthdays” is close to Zach’s own, “with a little more base and cockiness added to it.” While recording that episode, it was referred to as “Superman” voice. You can briefly here his real voice, completely unedited, in the ending narration of Steven’s story in “Garnet’s Universe”.
- Steven is Zach’s favorite character he has voiced. Since he’s been with the character longer than any others, he thinks it’s fascinating how he has evolved. However, he still really enjoys recording audio for characters besides Steven, like Onion. In fact, he has a “slight obsession” with Onion, and the ‘Onion is actually Yellow Diamond’ is his favorite fan-theory.
“Steven’s greatest strength and weakness is the same, [in my opinion]: his love for all beings, benevolent or not. He’s a natural protector, and cares deeply for his friends and family. He assumes the best in the people he meets, good until proven evil. This backfires often, though…he sometimes places trust in people too easily. The gems are far more cautious in their interactions with outsiders… Rose, like the other gems, was around for a LONG time; she had gained so many years of experience and knowledge of Gems and the Earth by the time she’s even shown in Steven Universe. Steven is brand new to all of it, and he’s not yet equipped with everything he would need to be like his mother.”
Zach Callison and the Crewniverse
- Zach didn’t know there was a ‘real’ Steven, and was very surprised when Rebecca Sugar first told him. Having met Steven Sugar in person, he can definitely see how he’s the inspiration for the character; “he smiles often, and has a bright, positive aura about him 🙂”
- Zach is usually recording with people at least once a week. He most often records with Michaela, who voices Amethyst. The only main VA he’s never had a single recording session with is Tom Scharpling, voice of Steven’s Dad Greg. In fact, the two have only met once, and Zach really hopes they’ll have a chance to share a booth together before the show’s finished.
- The VAs try “bizarre takes and reads of certain lines, just to try out.” Zach would like to hear a blooper reel if any are available!
- They don’t improvise too much on the show, which Zach attributes to “the talent of the writers and storyboarders.” He does like to take the lines and get whacky with them; alongside the “darker, more emotional bits,” zany reads are his favorite part of doing Steven’s voice.
- When acting, Zach will do anywhere between two and twenty reads of a line. For group scenes they’ll usually only run through it twice, then focus on individual line readings.
- Zach didn’t get to meet Nicki Minaj in person but thought she “put an awesome flair on Sugilite.”
- If he could pick one celebrity voice guest to sing a song, it would be Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote.
- One of his favorite times on-set was when they had a guest in from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Dietz, Estelle and him were all there, hanging out and watching episodes, while Deedee Magno-Hall made a video-call in from the tour of If/Then. Since he was far away from the camera and had grown up considerably, Deedee didn’t even recognize him, leading to lots of laughter when she asked where he was.
Zach Callison the Steven Universe fan
- Of the Crystal Gems, Zach relates to Amethyst the most, because “she represents a lot of teenage behaviors and thoughts [and] As someone who’s in that phase of life, I understand why she does a lot of things she does.”
- Given a choice between spending a day with angry Ruby or angry Sapphire, Zach would pick Sapphire, to get use out of his winter coats, and because she is less aggressive.
- If Zach could have one of Steven’s powers, it would be healing spit. That said, if he could have all the abilities of any one Gem, he’d pick Lapis– he’s wanted to be a water-bender ever since first watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. If he had a summoned Gem weapon, he’d go with a gunblade. His top choice of superpower overall would be shapeshifting.
- If Zach had his own army of watermelon Zachs (a la episode “Watermelon Steven”), he would turn them into a choral group or make them into his food runners for Chipotle and Poquito Mas.
Zach Callison on his career
- Zach moved to LA in 2007 to be a film and TV-only actor, but ended up getting into voice work as “a happy accident.”
- Zach’s been singing for approximately 11 years, though it remains one of the most difficult elements of performing for him. He has some choral background, but his first ever role was a school production of The Music Man. He’s also a pianist, though he hopes to eventually learn guitar, bass and drums. He says that it’s for the best that he’s only ever performed vocally on the show.
- Zach doesn’t have a favorite between voice- and on-camera acting, and says the uniting factor between them is “the emotional side.” He thinks voice work requires much more precision.
- Getting a role in a Bioware game would be a dream project of Zach’s.
- Cartoons (besides SU): Regular Show and Codename: Kids Next Door.
- Bands: Hiatus Kaiyote, Muse, and Twenty One Pilots.
- Sports teams: Saint Louis Cardinals.
- Video Games: The Mass Effect trilogy. He prefers Paragon to Renegade and thinks that Liara or Tali are the best love interests.
- He also plays League of Legends, though he hasn’t had a lot of time recently; he mains support and has a special soft spot for the champion Leona. In his opinion, if the Gems played League, Amethyst would top with Darius (“or someone equally annoying”), Lapis would mid as Atlantean Syndra, Pearl is the neurotic Ashe ADC, while Steven desperately tries to keep the team together as Taric support. I agree with all his assessments, except that clearly Garnet would main Vi jungle, not Zac as he claims.
- PC: Civilization games, and he especially likes attempting to get cultural victories on high difficulty.
- Super Smash Bros: Sonic, but he is “dreadfully bad” compared to his friends.
- Pokemon: Mantine
- Books: Harry Potter. Zach grew up on both the books and the movies.
- Movies: Zero Dark Thirty and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
- Zach is Team Iron Man, “purely because [of] RDJ’s Tony Stark.”
- Flag: Nepal’s, for “going against the rectangular grain.”
The AMA proved to be a ton of fun, and I think we speak for all fans when we extend a big ‘thank you’ to Callison for giving us his time! For Atlanta fans, Zach will be at Momocon next month!
Author: KK Bracken & Laura B
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