Critical Role cast had to rewrite history with Legend of Vox Machina
The web series has seen actual-play phenomenons since its inception in 2012. Essential Role has expanded the world of Exandria, with each subsequent campaign taking place later on in the world’s history. But with Prime Video’s animated fantasy series, Legend of Vox MachinaVoice actors make a return to the place where the story began, with their original misfit mercenaries. However, this time they were able to change the course of history.
“[We’d] been playing as a group for two and a half years before we decided to take it to the stream,” says Marisha Ray, voice of half-elf druid Keyleth. “So there were a lot of character building and backstory moments that the audience never saw. So through flashbacks, and just really great cold opens, we’re able to see kind of a peek behind that curtain.”
[Ed. note: This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of The Legend of Vox Machina season 2]
“The scenes that I love are the moments that I didn’t get to be there in the actual campaign,” adds Ashley Johnson, who voices compassionate gnomish cleric Pike Trickfoot.
Johnson missed some crucial moments due to scheduling conflicts. Animation allowed actors to make some changes to history, and Pike was able to join the cast for certain scenes. This season’s third episode, for instance, “The Sunken Tomb” follows the plot points of one of the web series episodes that Johnson couldn’t attend; now when a trap triggers in the eerie underwater temple and kills half-elf ranger Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey), Pike rushes to her side to try and revive her — a moment notably absent from the original run.
The animated series not only gives the actors a chance to dive into more of their characters’ backstories and explore dynamics that weren’t present at the table, but it also takes the show outside the storytellers’ POV, allowing viewers to see the villains conniving and plotting their own schemes. Dungeon master Matt Mercer was especially excited about seeing that part of the show become a reality, because he had previously played the role of Dungeon Masters for all of the Chroma Conclave’s dragons. In the show, though, while he does reprise the role of ancient dragon Umbrasyl, the other dragons are voiced by Cree Summers, Lance Reddick, and Liam O’Brien (who is also the player and voice behind half-elf rogue Vax’ildan). Now we get to see the dragons’ behind-the-scenes machinations, which make the epic battles all the more exciting. That’s not the only tweak that comes with showdowns.
“We get to make some elements of combat that sometimes the dice don’t get to make as cool at the table be that much more cinematic and dynamic and exciting for this series,” says Mercer.
In the case of the series itself, they play a different set of characters who deal with new threats. However their OGs occasionally appear in cameo roles. They still have a special place for those characters that started the series, even though recording at the table with a script in hand is different than improvising.
“It’s like going home on vacation to visit your family,” explains Mercer. “There’s this facet of these characters that we love so much and lived with for many years, many years ago. Now we can kind of slip back in those comfortable old outfits. For many of the friendships which have become irreplaceable, we get to come back and relive them. This is kind of taking what was old and making it new again.”
The first session was held in Vox MachinaThe majority of season one recording was done in-person, but much of it had to take place remotely because the pandemic. When possible, the cast recorded in pairs or trios, able to feed off each other’s energy and try to replicate the experience of being at the table and making it all up the first time around. Going forward, recording together looks like it’s going to be more of a regular thing, but the actors say there will always be something really special about that first ever everyone-together recording session.
“It was a very pinch ourselves type of a moment,” says Sam Riegal, the voice of rakish gnome bard Scanlan. “We were all together in a booth recording a show that we created and helped write and get to do the voices for and get to help produce. Mary McGlynn (one of our best friends) was directing us. It was a real “Is this real?” type of a moment, that first time in the booth. But every time we get together to perform, whether it’s at the table, or behind some microphones, or on a convention stage, it’s great. It’s great to hang out with these guys. We can still laugh even after years of being together. It’s a rare friendship that we have. And I hope we get to keep doing it forever.”
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