'Skylanders Academy,' based on the popular video game, premieres on Netflix October 28th.
Based on Activision Blizzard’s pioneering video game franchise, Skylanders Academy follows the heroic adventures of Spyro (Justin Long), Eruptor (Jonathan Banks), Stealth Elf (Ashley Tisdale), Jet-Vac (Ellis Greg) and Pop Fizz (Bobcat Goldthwaite) as they travel the vast Skylands universe, protecting it from evil-doers. As darkness begins to threaten the balance of peace in the Skylands, Master Eon is forced to assemble a ragtag group of heroes to protect the universe from evil-doers Kaos and the Doom Raiders. Using their unique blend of personalities and elemental-based super powers, Spyro and his fellow Skylanders are called upon to set aside egos as they come together to maintain harmony and balance in the land.
I recently sat down with showrunner Eric Rogers and stars Ashley Tisdale and Harland Williams and discussed all of the important issues of the day from Channing Tatum’s eyes and Cher’s makeup to John Boy’s mole and Ashley’s Narcos addiction.
What drew you to the series?
Harland: When they told me about it and they told me it was full of all these crazy, nutty, otherworldly creatures, that’s right up my alley. I was like, ‘let’s do it. I want to be one of these wacky characters.’ The game is out of control. It’s full of energy and comedy and great characters.
Ashley: I’ve always been a huge fan of animation. I’ve been doing it since I was ten. I have a niece who’s six years old. Skylanders is such a huge video game. With Eric as the showrunner, I was always a fan of Futurama. I was excited to help make this world come to life.
I know the series is its own universe, but is there pressure making something based off a video game? Is there an added pressure? Or less pressure?
Harland: I don’t think so. When you go into the recording booth, it doesn’t matter about the world that’s already been created – even though it’s a great world. You just inhabit the character. You kind of become the character. You don’t have a choice about the world around you because you just have to become his voice, his persona. You just have to go where the worlds pull you. It’s a fun adventure every episode.
Ashley: It’s been such a great environment from the start so they help create the character with you. I like to do different voices for each character. For Stealth Elf, I was trying to something that was believable in a sense. She’s this crazy ninja warrior. She’s tough but she’s still pretty vulnerable at times. We have such a great director so it’s always so much fun.
And a great showrunner.
Ashley: And a great showrunner!
Eric: I’m usually there with them. I sit there with the director and provide as much help as they need. These guys are awesome. They’re such pros that we don’t have to do a lot of, ‘let’s try it like this.’ They get it. They get it right away.
There’s not a lot of, ‘that’s perfect, but do it again.’
Eric: Sometimes when you’re playing a video game character, it helps to see the character, like Hugo.
Harland: I didn’t see him finished until probably months in. I had seen some rough drawings, but I have to tell you, it was the difference between seeing Cher with her makeup and Cher without her makeup. When I saw Hugo fully rendered, I wanted to go buy a pet mole.
Eric: Wait until you see the character. He’s very mole-like.
Harland: Did you ever see The Waltons?
A long time ago.
Harland: Remember John Boy and the giant mole on his cheek? It sort of felt like that but with legs.
Eric: The character he plays, they’re called Mabu. They’re basically the humans of our world. He plays one of the fee main Mabu that we have on the show. When you see the character, you’ll know exactly what he means.
What did you think when you saw your character Ashley?
Ashley: She’s such a bad ass. I thought she was super cool. The color and the animation itself is just so beautiful.
Netflix is becoming such a huge platform. What are the advantages of having a show on Netflix versus a regular broadcast network for instance?
Harland: It’s like injecting a need and only putting in a little bit of syrup. With Netflix, you can put the needle in and take all the syrup at once. You can binge watch and instead of waiting to get hooked on a show, you can watch them all and decide if you like it. It’s a new and neat approach to viewing. Anyone can watch it, but with kids, it will be interesting to see how they take to binge watching a cartoon like this. The advantage of Netflix is you can throw the bait on and hook them real quick.
Ashley: I’m a huge Netflix fan. I don’t watch TV as much, but I will binge watch the whole season of Narcos when it comes out. It’s where our industry is headed. I’m excited to be working on something for Netflix.
I love talking to actors about how they started. What drew you to performing?
Harland: It was just the ability to step out of reality. Reality can be a real mind bender sometimes as George Kennedy said in Naked Gun 33 1/3. You can step out of your life and become these characters that resonate with people. Maybe they will touch someone after you’re long gone. I grew up watching Laurel and Hardy. These people aren’t here anymore, but they still touch your life and influence you. Through acting, you can pay it forward a bit. Also, it’s fun and I get to meet pretty girls like Ashley.
Ashley: I started when I was three years old, so I didn’t know anything different. I just fell into it honestly, but I fell in love with it. I had a normal childhood as much as you can. I went to a regular school my whole life. I love being on stage. I did Les Miserables when I was eight. I started TV when I was ten. I’ve done other things, but there’s no other joy than when I’m playing a different character or performing on stage.
So if either of you weren’t performing, what do you think you might be doing?
Harland: Ashley you better go first.
Ashley: I don’t know. I think I’d be writing. I’m not even a good writer so I don’t know why I’d think that [laughing]. I’m a creative person so I’d be doing something creative. I’m not just acting now. I have a makeup line and a clothing line. I like being creative no matter what area it’s in.
Harland: At one point, I actually considered going into marine biology. It might sound ridiculous, but I don’t know if there’s anyone who loves underwater creatures more than me. You have an octopus with eight arms. Then you have a hammerhead shark with eyes wider than Channing Tatum’s. I would have been happy with anything – Taco Bell. I love that meat. I’d probably go in early and warm my feet in it.
So if you do a charity thing at Taco Bell, I’m not eating the meat.
Harland: For sure.
Eric: We could have a Skylanders/Taco Bell tie-in.
Have you don’t any underwater excursions?
Harland: I have. This summer I went scalloping down in Florida. I was in Indonesia not too long ago chasing after giant manta rays.
I know you don’t really work together, but do you have any funny stories to share?
Harland: Billy West did the voice of Stimpy. Sometimes, we’d be in the waiting room, he likes to chat. Even when he’s done his session, he’ll come out and chat for like 20 minutes. I’d just look at him and tweak a little button in my brain and I imagine he’s talking as Stimpy this whole time. To me it’s funny. I see no one in this room is laughing.
Eric: That’s why we brought Billy on the show. His work on Futurama was extensive. Getting him on this show was a priority for me. He’s non-stop entertainment.
Harland: I can’t look at him without thinking of Stimpy and that brings me a lot of joy. There were a few times when I’d slip a few [Ren & Stimpy] lines out and he didn’t catch them. I’m hoping he does Stimpy for me someday.
Ashley: I don’t know if it’s funny, but I did record with Jonathan Banks one time. I’m a huge fan and didn’t even know he was in the show. When I first saw him in the studio, I’m like, ‘that’s Mike from Breaking Bad!’ We normally record by ourselves, but with scheduling or something, we were recording together. You get nervous. You get a little intimidated. You’re like, ‘I hope I say this line right.’ There was a part where I had to sneeze, so I had to keep sneezing over and over. He thought it was the funniest thing ever and started laughing hysterically. I was proud of myself for making him laugh.
Eric: That was a really funny record because Jonathan was really warmed up to her. We don’t get the chance to put actors together in the booth very often. When we do have the chance, it’s very exciting for us on the production side to act off each other. Watching those two have a blast together is something we want to do more of. It brings a new energy out of the actors when they’re together.
That leads me to a sort of technical question. I know you normally can’t have actors together in the booth because you can’t get clear audio. How were you able to get usable audio?
Eric: What you do is have the actors play off of each other and you get the vibe for what the scene needs. Once they feel comfortable, then you isolate them and have them to each line one at a time. Later, we will build it together to make it sound like everyone’s having a laugh riot.
In your own words, why should people see the show?
Harland: For me, it’s got three things I like. It’s got great energy. It has really fun comedy and action and it just has a really incredible look. This really pops. It almost looks 3-D. It’s eye candy and I think people are just going to love it.
Ashley: I second that. It just has amazing actors. It’s really entertaining and fun and I think kids are going to love it.
Eric: I think we’re doing something with the serialization of the show. I don’t think there’s anything like it in kids animation, like the binge worthiness. We’re making a show where you can watch episodes 1-13 in a weekend and there’s a through line in all of the episodes. It rewards the fan who wants to take it in in one fell swoop. I think it will reward fans.
Skylanders Academy is available on Netflix October 28th.