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Marisha Ray, Ashley Johnson, And Matthew Mercer Bring The Legend Of Vox Machina To Life - Exclusive Interview

The first episode of "Critical Role" aired on March 12, 2015. Now, nearly seven years later, the group of voice acting buddies who turned their D&D session into an online streaming sensation are taking their world and their characters to the next level — an animated series.

An ongoing cartoon show was not the plan. When the team behind "Critical Role" started their Kickstarter, they thought they'd be making a one-off, twenty minute special. They asked for $750,000, but, what they got instead was $11.3 million and a partnership to bring a full series to Prime Video. Not too shabby for a bunch of voice actors who were just looking for something fun to do in between gigs.

With the series entitled "The Legend of Vox Machina" set to release its first three episodes on January 28, Looper sat down with Marisha Ray, Ashley Johnson, and Matthew Mercer to talk about their characters, how they were adapted, and how it feels to let go of something you've controlled for years and allow a new team of creatives a chance to add to it.

Adapting D&D to animation and evolving Keyleth

Since you're adapting such a long running game into this animated series, what, for each of your characters, was really critical to keep and what was a great way to evolve them for this new medium?

Ashley Johnson: I think for me, throughout a lot of the years that we played, I was gone a lot working on a show in New York. One of the biggest changes and adjustments that was great for me is that my character got to be a part of a lot of the storylines that I wanted to be there for. Honestly, there is such a similarity between what we did at the table to what we brought to the animated series. I feel that was a big thing for us, being able to keep that similar tone and keep the characters feeling authentic as they felt at the table. We had just as much fun recording in the booth either together or in our closets once the pandemic happened, still connecting with each other and feeling the energy off of each other. We all just genuinely care about each other. Basically, just getting to be there was a big part for me.

It feels like there's a lot of opportunity to evolve Keyleth, Marisha.

Marisha Ray: Oh yeah, absolutely. The beauty about knowing these characters and having embodied these characters for three, four, five years is that we know them so deeply through and through. And then we're also EPs on this project, so we can bring exactly what we want out of these characters onto the screen. For me, so much of Keyleth is about her journey and showing her grow as a person. I'm so excited to bring that to a new audience.

Matt Mercer letting go of control as GM for Vox Machina

Matthew, I feel like there's got to be a unique challenge for you because you were GMing and doing all these NPCs. It feels like there's a lot that you, at least to some extent, have to let go of because there's now other script writers coming in. What is that like? How have you adapted? Are you okay?

Matt Mercer: Thank you for checking in. I appreciate that. No, this is a project that we have been in the creative driving seat with from the very beginning. This isn't releasing an adaptation to an entire creative team to do what they will with it. We've been involved in every part of the process to make sure that this is as close to the vision that we've always wanted and feel as honest to what we've played through in these stories as it can be. We've been very lucky to bring in many other creative talents to help write these stories and write these scripts. It's all been wonderfully collaborative, both with everyone at Prime and with all the creative teams we've had in here. There hasn't really been a lot of tension.

It's all been everyone really excited to make it the best it can be. I've not felt like I've had to give up vision too much. I don't feel like it's been like this huge loss of seeing it evolve into something that is beyond our control. It's been all of us working hard to adapt it as honestly as we can in this new medium. If anything, it's been relinquishing a lot of these NPCs that I played in the campaign to new actors, which, in itself, has also been more exciting than I expected it would be, because I get to watch all these really talented people do a much better job bringing into life than I ever could and watching them become something even bigger than I personally felt they were. All in all, I'm genuinely really excited with how it's gone together and what it's turning out to be like in the final product.

Vox Machina's enormous guest cast

There's so many people coming in to take on your NPC's Matt: David Tennant, Tony Hale, Stephanie Beatriz, Dominic Monahan, Gina Torres. What was that like? And then who else should come in and play roles for this?

Mercer: All of the guest cast we brought in here — we're fans of all of their work and it's been very much a wild experience seeing who would be in and bringing life to our little role playing game show. As nerds ourselves, it's been really exciting to bring many of these people on board and having them be a part of this — and then many of them finding out what the heck it was. A lot of folks come in like, "Oh, it's a show based off of some RPG some people play it. I don't know what that means." Then, they actually get to learn about it and go, "Oh, this is actually really cool. Oh, and it was created by the community and they supported it. Wow, this is actually something special." Watching their journeys in discovering it has been really, really neat.

As far as other people we want to bring in the future, I can't think of anything off the top of my head, partially because yes, I still want to try and bring them in if things continue in the future and I don't want to spoil it in advance, if they say yes or not.

Bringing other characters into the world of Vox Machina

You've all been a part of so many different properties over the years. If you are going to say, of the people that you've played in the past, who could you bring in that would be helpful to Vox Machina? What's one character you'd be like, "They'd come in clutch in a jam." And who's one that would be absolutely terrible and make things so much worse? Marisha, do you think that you've got one in the tank for this?

Ray: Oh goodness. That is such a question. Man, I don't — Oh, goodness.

Johnson: That's hard.

Mercer: Well, while you think on it, I would say a character that would be extremely helpful for them that I voiced was a character named Kiritsugu Emiya from the "Fate/Zero" anime, who was just a very, very well thought out assassin [and] strategist, which could really come in handy for a group of people that are mainly off the cuff, not really knowing what they're doing until they're doing it. Having a little more of that structured planning would be helpful. As far as a terrible idea, I voiced a character in a recent Netflix animated feature for kids called "Seal Team" named Dave, who's a basking shark. He would be absolutely not helpful, but he would talk the whole time, because let me tell you, there was a lot of facts about basking sharks. He would be bad.

Johnson: He needs to join the campaign. I love him. I love him so much.

The Last of Us and crossover events

Ashley, I know that you've won a BAFTA twice for Ellie in "The Last of Us" at this point. That's pretty impressive.

Johnson: Yeah, that's my girl.

Part III happens, hypothetically. Where would you want to see that character realistically go?

Johnson: Just to live a happy life. Alive and happy.

I said realistically, Ashley.

Johnson: I know. Realistically, I don't know. Just to find some happiness and some love in her journey.

Ray: I would put Ellie on our team so fast, though. Can that be my answer? I want one of Ashley's characters to join. Mine are whatever.

Okay. Ellie joins the Vox. What happens? It can't happen, so you can feel free to write this in the moment. You're safe.

Ray: I love this Scooby-Doo mashup Saturday morning cartoon we're developing though.

Johnson: Yeah. I like this, guys. We're workshopping something pretty cool here.

Mercer: I'll talk to Neil [Druckmann, creative director for "The Last of Us"], see what he's in for. I think Ellie and Pike would get along pretty well, if I'm going to be honest.

Ray: I think so too.

Critical Role's favorite comfort movies

Everybody's been through it in the last two years. One of the ways that I think everybody copes is they go to their favorite comfort movies. What have been some of your favorite comfort movies the last couple years?

Ray: I think for all of us, "The Lord of the Rings." I think we do pretty regular re-watchings of the "Lord of the Rings." It inspired so much of what we do. We're such nerds for it. Man, you can't help but get good vibes from that. And then, recently over the break, we went back and we started re-watching through a lot of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films and same thing.

Johnson: They're feel-goods, for sure. I could watch "Thor: Ragnarok" rock a million times and never be tired of it. Just so good. I'm a big sci-fi fan, so a lot of it is lot of "Alien," any of those I'll pop on. I know that doesn't feel like a comfort food, but...

It's my favorite. It's my favorite movie actually. You can't go wrong with me.

Johnson: Okay, great. Yeah. I was going to say "Lord of the Rings," too. That's on all the time, all the time. Putting it on in the background, the music, it just feels good.

Mercer: Yeah. For me, it would be probably "Wet Hot American Summer," which is one of my favorite comedies of all time, and "The Wire." I've watched it four times now and we watched it again over the pandemic. Yeah, "The Wire's" just so, so good.

As we wrap, I'm going to ask you the most important question I think I can ask somebody on this team, which is, is there anything worse than a door that will not open?

Ray: Hello darkness, my old friend.

What's worse, giant dragon or door that won't open?

Ray: I will take the giant dragon any day. There is a way to defeat the giant dragon ... still unclear as to how to defeat a door.

Mercer: I can honestly say, being a man that threw out his back trying to open a jammed door the other day, doors will forever be my enemy, in the real world and fantasy.

The first three episodes of "The Legend of Vox Machina" begin streaming on Prime Video January 28, with new episodes premiering once weekly after.