California native Adam McArthur has been acting since he was a teenager, inspired by the cartoons he watched as a kid to jump into voiceover work. He is best known as the voice of Marco Diaz on Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, playing the male lead to Eden Sher’s title character. He has also played guest roles on Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Netflix/DreamWorks Animation Television’s The Adventures of Puss in Boots, and also has video game voiceover credits in Final Fantasy Type-0. Recently, AnimeSuperhero was able to talk with Adam McArthur via telephone about acting, being Marco Diaz, his martial arts, and more.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I know you’re big into improv and I’m getting more into that, too. You started acting classes when you were a teenager, but when did you discover improv?
ADAM McARTHUR: I discovered improv around the time I started acting classes. A lot of teachers, especially for commercial classes and what not, use improv games as icebreakers. I think they use it a lot to get new actors who are really green comfortable. So I discovered basic improv really early on when I started acting. Then I went to a high school that had a theater conservatory, and we had an improv troupe that was part of the high school. I auditioned for that in my junior year, so I started doing improv shows and all that stuff starting in my junior year in high school.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I also saw that you were in ComedySportz LA, is that correct?
ADAM McARTHUR: Yeah, that’s correct. I’m a main company member in ComedySportz LA. I go in waves, depending on how busy I am with performing. I’m in sort of a hiatus with them, but I still am pretty active around town doing different shows. I was also associated with Theatresports in LA, which is a part of Impro theater, and I was on the improv troupe at Pepperdine when I went to college. They actually just had an alumni show this past weekend for what they call Waves Weekend which is a big sort of concert and family weekend where alumni come back and all that stuff. So I still perform around town, although not as regularly as I used to. Improv is one of those things that is always equally as terrifying as it is rewarding (laughs).
ADAM McARTHUR: I would say that commitment is everything. Whether it’s you messing up or you completely succeeding, I think that commitment is always important. If you do anything with confidence, people will buy it. So you can say something that is completely ridiculous, not funny, but if you’re 100% committed, it’s always OK. (Laughs) And it makes watching whatever you’re doing a lot more enjoyable, because if you’re not scared about what your’e doing, then the audience will be right there on board with you.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Every single voiceover actor and voiceover coach I’ve ever talked to says “do improv.” It’s a great skill for voiceover, so I wanted to get your take on that. Do you think there is something about improv that lends itself to helping you with voiceover acting?
ADAM McARTHUR: Yeah, I think one of the things that improv games and improv practice is great at doing is helping you get out of your own way. You get to a place where, “Well, I’m making it up. There’s nothing I can pre-plan or do to make it any better,” so you just kind of get into this headspace where you’re free to make decisions and commit and create a character. All that matters in that moment is that character or that story or that whatever you’re doing. I think that is incredibly valuable for any actor because a lot of times, we get in our own heads. We wonder if we’re making the right choices, we wonder if we’re good, we wonder if people are going to like us, and you just can’t really worry about any of that stuff because ultimately it’s only going to hinder your actual performance. So I think the tenets of improv are incredibly valuable to actors and voice actors and really anyone who’s creative. Even in a corporate world, having the freedom to creatively think and speak up when you want to speak up and have the confidence to be present is a gift.
I think, too, with voiceovers, I’d say that both people who have been in it for a while and people who are just starting can fall into some of the same habits. You get comfortable with what’s in your wheelhouse. So you might have a really good country character that would fit in somewhere, and that’s your go-to. Improv allows you to free your mind, and if you’re truly doing improv where you’re being led from moment to moment spontaneously, you can create some really amazing characters and stretch your wings and find something you never knew you could even do. That can help you develop other characters that you can bring to auditions. Then of course, once you’ve already gotten the job and you’re behind the mic, it gives you the confidence to feel free and have fun. As actors, we’re sort of wrangled in by the lines that we’re given. We have to honor the words that the writers provide to us because they work just as hard to come up with those lines as we do to come up with an amazing performance, but within that there is this element of freedom that you can find to bring sort of whatever you want to your character. Ultimately I think that’s what sets a really good voice actor apart from someone who can just do a voice. Just all the life that you bring to the character in-between the lines, and improv can definitely greatly help that.
ADAM McARTHUR: Yeah, the audition came from my agency. Most of my voiceover auditions get emailed to me, and I’ll usually get scheduled the next day or the day after. I go into my agency, they have booths right there at the agency and booth directors on-staff. They help all the actors through the audition process, so you don’t even really see a casting director or a producer or anyone involved with the show until a second or a third callback. So for Star, when Marco found his way into my inbox, it was just like any other audition. Nothing special. I do hundreds of auditions and you just never know. You just do your job and maybe you’ll get a call (laughs).
I remember I didn’t get an entire script. A lot of times with Disney auditions is that they’ll send lines with each line has a description, and they want you to just do maybe 5 to 10 lines that come on the page. Sometimes you’ll get a character image, but with Marco I didn’t know what he looked like. I just got that he was this safe kid who wanted to be a bad boy, and (laughs) and I instantly was like, “Oh! Like me!” The guy who follows the rules but really wants to be the superhero or the guy on the Harley. But realistically, I’m just a kid who’s going to get good grades and be nice to everyone (laughs). So I sort of instantly related to Marco.
Afterwards, I had a couple of callbacks. The first callback was just me and a booth director and the casting director, and in the second callback, I read pretty much the majority of the pilot episode of the show with Eden Sher, who plays Star. They didn’t necessarily call it a chemistry test, which they do for on-camera stuff, but I definitely think it was a, “Well how do Adam and Eden work together and get along and play off each other? What do these two characters sound like together?” That was my third callback for the show and then I kind of just sat back and tried to not be really excited, which was very difficult (laughter). During that time I got whisked off to host a documentary in China about Shaolin kung-fu. It was a three-week trip, and the last leg of that trip, the last 4 days, happened in LA, and the day that I got back to Los Angeles, I got a call from my agent saying that I booked the role of Marco and that I was going to be one of the two leads on this new show for Disney. I’m like 4 generations of phones past that phone, but I still have that voicemail saved in my voice memos so I can always go back and listen to it.
ANIMESUPERHERO: That chemistry read between you and Eden is the first time I’ve ever heard of something like that. I know it happens a lot in on-camera, but have you heard of that happening elsewhere with voiceover work?
ADAM McARTHUR: You know, I haven’t experienced it anywhere else. It was my first project with Disney, actually, and I think it was one of Eden’s first voiceover jobs, if not still her only voiceover job. So maybe it’s because we were both newer…or at least I was newer to Disney. I don’t know. But it’s not something I’ve experienced anywhere else. I sort of wish they would do it just for the level of fun. We had a ton of fun there together. Not all shows record with everyone in the room, and Star is one of those where we record, for the most part, individually. Even now, Eden and I don’t get to record together very often, let alone with any of the other cast. She and I have probably recorded together maybe six or seven times since we started recording, which was in…gosh, October or November of 2013.
ADAM McARTHUR: You know what, it’s not hard (laughs). Especially this show…I don’t know why. This show is so specific that it makes it easy, and at this point if I could do an imitation of Eden, I could pretty much tell you how she’d read each line. I’m sure she could do the same with Marco. We just know the show, especially at this point. But even at the beginning, you sort of learn to rely on the directors and the voice directors to hone you in on just the right area. They’re going to be slightly more aware of what’s happening in the show plot-wise, if you’re only getting bits and pieces of the script. So it really is collaborative. If I’ve gone in and recorded my lines first, a lot of times they’ll play my lines in for Eden when she’s reading as if I was there, so she can sort of react off of them. There’s been a couple of musical numbers in the show, and when Marco had a duet with Tom, who’s voiced by Ryder Strong, Ryder and I were in the studio at the same time for that. It’s a little more tricky, I think, to record a song separately (laughs).
ANIMESUPERHERO: You mentioned martial arts earlier. I know you’ve studied several different styles, but you didn’t know that Marco studied karate until you were in the show. It seems like one of those kismet moments of “This is the character I am asupposed to be playing.”
ADAM McARTHUR: Exactly. Oh yeah. Definitely. From the beginning, from the pilot episode he’s doing karate and all that so you find out that he does martial arts. I think I remember there being a line about that, specifically in the audition too, and another reason why I was like, “Oh. This is me. I am this guy.” (Laughs) And it was funny because Marco has some very cartoony karate exclamations in the show, where he’s like “Hi-yaaaa!” I remember doing them in my audition and Daron, the creator of Star, was like, “Whoa, whoa, you’re really good at those noises!” And I was like, “Well, I have been doing martial arts my whole life.” And she was like, “Wait, you actually make those noises?” And I was like, “Well…no.” (laughs) But it still feels like it was meant to be.
ANIMESUPERHERO: Has there ever been a moment in the show where you looked at something and said, “This would make it more authentic” or even, “This would be a sign that someone’s doing it wrong.” There’s that whole plot line when Marco discovers the truth about his sensei, right?
ADAM McARTHUR: So here’s the cool thing: at this point especially, but even by halfway through season 1, Daron and the directors and Kelly Ward, who’s the voice director on the show, were all incredibly collaborative. It’s never like, “Oh you have to say it like this,” or “You have to do it like this.” They’ve always been sort of the kind of people who are like, “Well, you do martial arts, so what would he do here?” Or “What would that sound like?” So there are definitely elements where I get to bring that to the table. There have also been a couple of times in episodes where it’s like the sensei or even Marco has said some things and it will be written in a way that’s not quite right, so we’ll tweak a couple of things. But with that said, we’re still in this sort of fantastical world where other dimensions exist and stuff like that, so some of the goofy names and what-not are intentional. But any time I can throw a legitimate piece of martial arts knowledge into the show, I’m going to do it.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I have the gigantic massive crossover question: you’re an actor, you’re an improviser, you do martial arts. Do you find there’s a crossover skill that you end up applying in all of those different disciplines?
ADAM McARTHUR: Yeah, I would say that martial arts is really good at teaching you to be comfortable when things are uncomfortable, whether you’re in a situation where you have to defend yourself or whether you’re learning a really hard technique that’s just sort of physically difficult. Obviously, there’s a mental aspect to the martial arts where you have push yourself physically by being strong mentally, and the same goes with improv. You’re never uncomfortable if you can always be comfortable. I don’t know if that sounds cheesy, but it’s absolutely true.
And as actors, you never know what your trajectory will be. Some people come to Los Angeles and they book the big thing right away, and that’s it. They’re off to the races. Some people, it takes a while. Some people have success early and sort of have a difficult time for a while and what not. I think for me personally, having gone through some really difficult and hard things in my martial arts training, I think that I was not really afraid to just tough it out and be here for the long haul and pursue my dreams even if it was hard. When I first moved to LA, I had a lot of success right away with on-camera commercials, and then everything went downhill in like 2008 or 2009, specifically just because of the economic downturn in the country and all that. I had a lot of friends who decided to bail. They didn’t want to live a life where they had to maybe struggle sometimes, and it would not always be amazing and they wouldn’t always have auditions and stuff. I always say if you’re here long enough, someone will notice you’re here and then you’ll get cast. You’ve just got to be good and ready for it. So yeah, I would say it’s just the mental fortitude to live the life of an artist and not put all my eggs in one basket and not be sad if I don’t get a job. And when I do, I live in the moment, celebrate it and be excited and enjoy the ride, which is super-cliche but it’s true. If you can be comfortable when life is uncomfortable, you’re going to be OK.
ANIMESUPERHERO: I know you’re also a martial arts movie fan so I wanted to pick your brain on what would be your top 5 martial arts movies.
ADAM McARTHUR: Oh man. I have to pick five?
ADAM McARTHUR: I could easily pick ten. OK…I’ll do it where I don’t pick any that have the same actor so you get a taste of different actors. So, I’m going to say Legend of the Drunken Master with Jackie Chan. I’m going to say Kung Fu Hustle with Stephen Chow. I’m going to say…Kids from Shaolin, which is kind of obscure but it’s an early Jet Li movie. And I’m going to go out on a limb…I mean, you won’t do this on many people’s top five. These last two you’re not going to see on many other top five lists, but it’s because I’m trying to give you a really wide variety that are fun. I’m going to say Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Arguably there should be a Bruce Lee movie in my top five, but I’m not going to pick a Bruce Lee movie like Enter the Dragon or what not, I’m going to say Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story because then you can get a taste of all the Bruce Lee movies. And….OK, one of my favorite movies of all time is 3 Ninjas (laughs), which is like totally like Home Alone meets a martial arts movie, but I loved it when I was a kid so I have to say it. I have to say 3 Ninjas. So those are my…Surf Ninjas. Dang it! That would have been in my top five too, but no. I’ll stick with 3 Ninjas.
ADAM McARTHUR: Most of the stuff is NDA’ed out the wazoo. Season 4 of Star vs. the Forces of Evil is coming in 2019, I think. There’s a couple other things, so you know you can follow me on social media, and as soon as I can talk about some of the cool stuff that I’m doing, I will post about it and keep everybody updated. My Instagram is @ninjamac, and my Twitter is @_AdamM. But as of now, season 4 of Star is coming. We’re working hard recording those as we speak.
AnimeSuperhero would like to thank Adam McArthur for taking the time to talk with us, and to the team at Katz Public Relations for arranging it. You can follow Adam McArthur on Instagram and Twitter, and at his official website. Season 4 of Star vs. the Forces of Evil is currently expected to premiere in 2019.