A Weekend with Charles Martinet
I had the honor of meeting Charles Martinet, the voice of Mario, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, and so many other video game characters, at Indy PopCon 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. The following is a brief testimony of my experience followed by a transcript of several panel interviews with Charles Martinet.
My Magical Experience with Charles Martinet
I felt nothing but excitement knowing that I was finally going to meet the man behind the voice of Super Mario, Charles Martinet. Ever since I had first heard him in Super Mario 64, I have been a huge fan of his work. That iconic voice saying “Here we go!” and “Wahoo!” has echoed in my ears throughout my many years of gaming. He was one of my childhood heroes, and the opportunity to meet him fulfilled one of my biggest dreams in life.
As soon as I walked up to Martinet, he greeted me with the most wonderful smile. I told him how much he and his work meant to me and he gave me such a sincere “Thank you.” He is a truly happy guy, with much more energy than you could imagine for a 60-year old man. He is very animated when he talks, raising his arms, making faces, and shouting with elation. He is also very kind to his fans, providing plenty of inspiration and hope.
My wife and I were able to interact with him all weekend, participating in a photoshoot with him (in which we donned our Mario Bros. hats!), conversing with him at his booth, and attending panels in which we could ask him questions. Charles Martinet was kind enough to record the following message below:
This means so much to me because it’s the voice of Mario acknowledging who I am. I have big aspirations in my life. This grand meeting with Martinet is an important stepping stone in the journey of my life. To hear Mario saying all of this fills me with confidence and gratitude. Everything that Martinet says in the video truly reflects how I feel about you all. You really are the best: to read my articles, comment with such kind words, and converse with me. Your support means everything to me, and I want you to know that Mario says, “You guys are number one!”
Panels and Interviews
The following are some stories that he told to start off his panel, followed by answers that he gave to the audience’s questions. Please enjoy learning about Charles Martinet!
On His Start in Acting
Charles Martinet was originally going to be a lawyer at UC Berkeley. He was inspired by whom he thought was the greatest political science teacher in the world. However, when he tried to take a class from him again next year, he couldn’t get a single class. Martinet wanted nothing but him, and was devastated. So he left.
A friend of Martinet later asked him to take an acting class from him. Martinet believed he would absolutely never, ever take an acting class because he was shy. Nevertheless, he was somehow convinced to take the class. Students were to give monologues from the Spoon River Anthology about different ways they had died. Martinet was extremely terrified, and his body was shaking nervously as he gave his monologue. He was convinced everyone would be laughing following his performance. Instead, they looked at him, applauded, and said, “The amazing thing about what you just did is, you’re the only one who wasn’t nervous.” Martinet laughed, and was able to shake less as he continued doing more monologues throughout the class.
One day, his college was performing A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Martinet believed he was perfect for the part of Oberon, and worked hard to audition for him. He was so excited, believing he had gotten that role for sure. To his surprise, he didn’t receive any parts at all. He attributed his desire to learn how to be an actor to this “wonderful failure.”
Martinet studied theater, speech, and everything else voraciously. One day, a Berkeley representative came to the school for apprenticeship auditions. He auditioned with his original monologue for Oberon, and got the apprenticeship! From there, he continued to pursue acting for many more years.
On His Start with Voicing Mario
Martinet began doing corporate videos on the suggestion of a friend. Satisfied with how much more it paid than theater, he pursued more, doing about 600 of them. One day at a session, he was asked if he knew how to do voice-over. Learning that he could make even more money doing those, he declared happily that he was a voice actor!
Sometime after, Martinet got a call from a friend suggesting that he crash a certain audition. He followed the suggestion, even though he had never crashed an audition before. Once he got there, he asked if he could do the audition even though the casting director was already heading out. They informed him that he would be auditioning for an Italian plumber from Brooklyn. He was then told to just make up a voice and start talking until he ran out of things to say, and that would be the audition. In his head, he thought, “I can talk without stopping.”
When thinking about what voice to do for the audition, he wanted to make a nice and fun voice especially since it was for children. He decided to use a voice similar to one he had previously done for Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew and make it younger. He was still nervous about the video game aspect because he didn’t know much about video games aside from Pong and Pac-Man. Regardless, once he was asked to start, he immediately used what is now the iconic voice of Mario. He talked on and on about random topics using the voice. He dragged it out because he was never told to stop. He was finally told to stop talking when there was no more videotape left. The casting director said that they’d “be in touch,” which Martinet implied to mean that he was likely never going to hear back again.
As it turns out, the casting director got on the phone with Nintendo and told them that he found their Mario. He sent only Martinet’s long audition tape to Nintendo. The rest is history.
Interview with Charles Martinet
Note: The following is a transcript comprised of two separate panels at Indy PopCon 2016. One panel starred Charles Martinet exclusively, and the other featured three other voice actors, Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Jennifer Hale (Samus Aran), and David Eddings (Klaptrap; Gearbox Software). For the purposes of this transcript, only Charles Martinet’s answers are included. Different people in the audience, including myself, asked the following questions. For the most part, the answers are Charles Martinet’s words. The questions and answers are only edited if a) It was a personal matter regarding the interviewer or Charles Martinet, b) He repeated his answers earlier in the panel, or c) It was irrelevant crosstalk between Charles and another panelist, interviewer, or himself.
With that said, please enjoy the transcript, and please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Q: Have you played the Nintendo games you’ve starred in, and which one was your favorite game?
Charles Martinet: First of all, yes, I play the games – not very well. I’m really fantastic at getting to that level where I find out that the princess is not in this castle. I’m not very good at getting past that. Once I get [to] the first one…. I can get to the second castle sometimes, [then] the third castle, but I’ve never once rescued Princess Peach. (frowns and droops head) But one day, I will watch somebody do that! (laughs)
If I play Smash Bros, I’m the guy in the bubble coming back 2 or 3 times. I don’t even know what’s happening in that game! I forget who I’m playing in that game! It’s funny, because when I play the games, I do all the sound effects. I go, (Mario voice) “OW OW OW OW OW OW OW!” And when I’m playing Galaxy, I’m going like this (pretends to hold Wiimote and Nunchuk and leans way over to the side). I can’t not do that!
Favorite game of all time? That moment with the dancing in Super Mario Bros. Wii. I also love (makes cat paws with hands) “MREOW” in Super Mario 3D World.
Q: How often do you play Mario games?
CM: I play not everyday, but every time a new game’s coming out, I play with that game. Like, I play with Zelda. I love to know what’s going on.
Q: How did you come up with the other Mario characters’ voices?
CM: I did this Mario real-time thing for several years — 5 years before the game — and we were doing tours around the country. I’d go around, and all we had was Mario. I had these things glued to my face — surgical glue, surgical tape — and then we’d go through this [process]. I would move, and it would make these little rollerballs move. This mask was [attached] to my head. That would go through a supercomputer — we had dry ice and the supercomputer because it was crunching so many numbers. The character [on-screen would go], (Mario voice) “Hello, I’m-a-Mario!” So I’m talking to young kids (in Mario voice), “Hello, you have a blue shirt on today.”
This was at a Wal-Mart in Arkansas. The kid would ask, “Hello, Mario. Can I talk to your brother Luigi?” (blank stare) (Mario voice) “Ehhhh, hang on a sec. He’s a bit shy. He’s in the kitchen making spaghetti meatballs. Hang on a sec. I’ll let him know. Hey Luiiiiigi!” And so I couldn’t move my mouth [because the Mario on-screen would move his mouth too], so I go, (without moving mouth in Luigi voice), “Yeah, what do you waaaaant?”
(Mario voice) “My friend here, he wants you to come and say hello.”
(Luigi voice, mouth barely moving) “Tell him I’m too shy. Besides, I’m in the kitchen making spaghetti meatballs.”
(Mario voice) “Oh, he said he’s in the kitchen making spaghetti meatballs.”
The kid said, “Oh pleaaaaase?”
(Mario voice) “Oh pleaaaaase?”
(Luigi voice) “Sorry.”
So I would do this whole monologue….
In that process, I’ve created this entire imaginary [family]…. Luigi’s in the bedroom. Dad’s in the den. (Italian Wario-like voice) “Don’t touch-a that remote controllo, I’m using it.” Mom’s in the kitchen making spaghetti meatballs. So when people ask [about them], I go, “Hold on a sec.”
(Mario voice) “Hey, momma. You wanna come out and say hello?”
(Italian mom Mario-like voice) “Oh yes, you little handsome-a plumber boy! I can’t! I’m in the kitchen!” So that’s how I did Luigi (and the imaginary family’s voice).
Then one day, I was at the Consumer Electronics Show, and there was Wario on the set. [They said], “Hey, we want you to do Wario.” I look at this character, and he’s angry all the time. So I’m like, (Wario voice), “Oh have a ROTTEN day!”
Then I did Mario Tennis, and there was this wonderful character, Waluigi. (flails arms around and says in Waluigi voice) “Waaaaaaah! Self-pity!” The emotions have to be real, and these nemeses have to be the opposite of the happy, joyful, fun-loving Mario, which is this angry sort of thing. [For Luigi), he’s a little bit shy, so the opposite is a little bit of self-pity.
Then… I had to do Mario and Luigi: Partners in Time, and there were the two little babies. It was so cute, aww… (Baby Mario voice) “Mamma mia.” So sweet. And then, (makes Italian-like gibberish noises from Mario and Luigi series). They just told me to keep playing with it and having fun. It was so great.
Q: How often do you record voices? How often is it reused from an older game?
CM: I never know how many games they’re going to do. This is a huge year. Zelda’s 30 years old. The Zelda stuff looks awesome. It’s just unbelievably magnificent. They have a library of a million sound effects of the things that I’ve done. But we often record new things because there’s a new aspect of the game, new action, new elements… So I’m recording all the time. It’s a wonderful variety of experiences. I can’t tell you what’s coming. But I can tell you you’re going to have so much fun. It keeps getting better! Like life!
Q: Out of all your voices, which one is your favorite voice?
CM: Absolutely no question, Mario! I love it. Because to do a character, you need to feel that emotion. Total elation, total joy, total love, total fun, total respect, total innocence. It all clicks inside of me. The ultimate joy is doing Mario. I dream as Mario. I’m often flying over lakes and rivers and outer space. The character’s like a real aspect of me.
Q: What has been your favorite role outside of the Mario universe?
CM: Honest to goodness, I love every single thing I ever get to do because, it’s all, “Come and play the new toy in the sandbox! So I love everything. I love doing Paarthurnax [from Elder Scrolls]. It was really so fun. I was reading the dragon speech, and you get to this thing on the TV, and I would absolutely have no idea [which dragon name it was]. And so, they would call the writers and say, “Was it [this name] or [that dragon name]?” and they would say, “No, it was [this dragon name].” It was so much fun. It was so cute to do that! It was a whole language, and I got to speak it and forget it!
Q: What was it like working on an indie game like Bit Trip Runner 2 [in which Charles played the narrator]?
CM: They were so nice. These are the nicest guys in the world. They said, “It’s so great to work with you,” and they brought me [a gift]. For the second game, I was in London, and I was staying in a friend’s house. It was a church converted into a house. And I was in the bedroom, and I put the covers over my head, put them on the telephone, and did the session underneath this bed in a church. You don’t get to do that everyday! That was so fun, and they are so nice! I sure hope another one comes out, because they’re great, terrific people. Every experience is great.
We’re the luckiest people in the world. That’s why I say, “If you want to drive trucks, drive trucks with joy and passion in your heart.”
Q: How do you feel when your character is going to die? Note: Directed towards other panelists, but Charles Martinet chose to answer as well.
CM: I do Mario in real-time, so that kids can talk to Mario at the Nintendo World Store. And this little child comes up to Mario and says, “Mario, when you die, do you see God?” You know, I’m willing to talk philosophy with anyone at certain times, but at that second, I said, (Mario voice) “No, I just go ‘WAAAAAAAH!’ And then I press start again!” (laughs)
Q: What’s the funniest thing that ever happened during your career?
CM: This is not really funny, but I was doing Luigi. I was getting excited as Luigi, and I literally hit my head onto the microphone. Then, I went, (Luigi voice) “I bumped my head.” (laughs)
Q: Do you have a favorite story about Nintendo or about anything else?
CM: One of the things was when I got the phone call saying, “Mr. Miyamoto wants you to play Mario in a game. I was like (makes excited noises). I was so ecstatic. And then going in and doing that session. For 5 years, I had been doing a real-time animation system. So all of a sudden, there I am going into the studio, and they’re wanting me to do the things I’d been doing for 5 years and adding to them, (Mario voice) “Mamma Mia!” and “Here we go!” Seeing the animatics, seeing the video games for the first time, and seeing Mario moving the way the artists had created it was absolutely magic to me.
Everyday’s a different, wonderful experience. I was in Australia, and these 5 boys came into the GameStop that was there and said, “We want you to sign our foreheads.” I said, “What do you mean? All I have is pen and marker!” And they said, “Yeah!” So I did it. (laughs)
Life is such a great gift, and every experience is so wonderful. The great thing about humanity is that we all go through the same things together…. The common bond of humanity is our hearts. We all get there to experience the joys and sadness. So I appreciate so much when I have those one-on-one connections. — This little boy today, with a Mario balloon — and I said, (Mario voice) “Oh, you have a Mario balloon! I’m-a-Mario!” And he goes, “Yes, he’s on your t-shirt. And also, you have Yoshi on your t-shirt.” He’s like 3 years old, and I’m like, this is the most golden moment of my life! Everyday has moments like that! Just thinking about human connection, it’s so great.
Q: Are there any particular moments you’ve had working with other voice actors?
CM: In the old days, when I used to do more cartoons, television, corporate videos, there used to be rooms full of actors. The only time I get to see actors nowadays is when I come to cons like this. I did have a wonderful dinner last night with Nolan [North], Jennifer [Hale], Tara [Strong]… Oh, I love actors. I don’t get to see them because when I work, I work alone in the studio in a box. I have the producer and director. We have wonderful rapport and creativity. But you don’t get to bounce things off other actors like in the old days. It’s different.
Q: What do you think of some of the other portrayals of Mario like the Super Mario Bros. Super Show or the Super Mario Bros. movie?
CM: I love actors, and I love artists. I love everybody’s interpretation. I love Mario art. I love people that are inspired to do art because I think creativity inspires creativity. I don’ think the script in that Mario movie was great. But I thought Bob Hoskins did a wonderful job — not portraying him the way I would – but he’s him and I’m me! I thought John Leguizamo did a wonderful job. Now, how he ended up with the princess in the end… (raises arms in confusion and shakes head) I don’t know! But I love interpretation. If you asked Shakespeare, “What do you think of the way people perform your plays?”
He might go…. “Oh roller-skates… I like roller-skates.” It’s all wonderful.
Q: Would you ever be interested in doing a Mario Bros. movie, and do you think Mario would do well in the movie format?
Charles Martinet: My life is such a joy. I’m filled with happiness and joy. I get to travel the world. I get to meet wonderful people in places like this. If somebody calls me up and says, “We want you to come into the studio and put a cap on your head and say, ‘Whee!’” I’ll go “Whee!” And I’ll be so happy to go do that.
So would I be happy doing a Mario movie? It would make me ecstatic beyond belief. Because I love working with Nintendo. I work with the most wonderful people, and I’m sure that they would get the most wonderful people to work with. And it could be a project that I could do for many weeks. And so I’d be ecstatic doing that, but I’m also happy anytime they call and say, “Come on up and do a voice in a game.” I’m like, (Mario voice) “Woohoo!” So thank you, I would absolutely love it, and I love everything I do.
Q: Would you be interested in doing a fully voiced Super Mario RPG?
CM: The great thing about my relationship with Nintendo is total trust. If Mr. Miyamoto said, “I’ve been talking with the creative teams, we want to do an RPG fully voiced,” then I would say, “Woohoo!” If he said, “We want to do an RPG with no voice,” I would go, “Whoo!” Of course, if I get to play in the sandbox, I’m happy. I’d say, yes, like I’d do a movie or anything else. Whatever they call me for, I’m ready.
Q: Besides Mario, are there any Nintendo games or franchises that you particularly enjoy?
CM: I love Zelda, and I love Kirby. There’s something about a big pink furball that gets to eat a lot. I love it. Wait until you play the new Zelda. It’s so amazing! It’s a fun and funny amazing adventure!
Q: What are your opinions on Sonic the Hedgehog?
CM: Sonic the Hedgehog. Who’s that? (laughs) I love Sonic. It’s a funny thing. I love that we got the Olympic Games now, and Sonic and Mario are playing the Olympic Games with all these other characters. There was a day when Sonic and Mario were fighting for first place. It’s like, “Oh my gosh. What if Sonic becomes number one?” At Nintendo, everybody there loves making video games. Everybody there plays video games. There’s a passion and joy for video games like nowhere else in the world. That joy, that passion, and that love for making great games is what helped the company endure for all these years since 1985, and before that when they made all the great games from before. I love that Sonic and Mario are playing now. It’s great. (laughs)
Q: You have voices for Baby Mario and Baby Luigi. Do you have voices for Senior Citizen Mario and Senior Citizen Luigi?
CM: (Mario voice) “Wahoo!” (falls asleep and snores) I am convinced that when I’m 97, that that’s what I’ll be doing. (Mario voice) “It’s-a-me, Ma…” (falls asleep)
Q: What are some of your other hobbies?
CM: I travel. (repeats this phrase 5 more times). In the last year, I’ve been to: Bali, Indonesia, Borneo, Malaysia, Thailand several times, Myanmar, Lao, Cambodia, Vietnam North and South, China 7 times. I just got back from Peru, on a mini-trek to Machu Picchu, and I did a show there. I’m going to Ecuador this year, and also to Abu Dhabi. I love travel for work. When I’m not traveling for work, I travel for pure joy and pleasure.
Q: If you could create any character in a video game, what would it be?
CM: Mario. I love this character. I try to be more like him in my real life. Facing challenges with kindness, agility, and love. Everyone loves the people they’re close to. The true content of your character is how you are with people who really mean nothing to you and can’t give you anything. [I do all these characters], but I try to be Mario, and be nice [in real life]. It’s a good lesson in life.
Q: What is one thing you like about each of the characters you voice?
CM: I love their innocence and joy. I’m a big believer in life…. It’s amazing because everybody goes through hard times. Everyone can be cynical. It’s their option to choose innocence. I fully believe that adults can choose innocence. I don’t want to believe in the memory of pain or scars of the past. I want to live right now in the joy that I’m in. I want to be in the present.
I try to create all my characters out of joy. There seems to be a valid creativity theory that you create from the lack in your soul. It’s the loss in you….. that will never be fulfilled. Out of that, you create because your drive is there…
I love the purity of every character. And every character that I’ve tried to do, I try to do it with great clarity and purity, but from a position of innocence. So even [with] my “villains” like Wario… [He says,] (Wario voice) “Have a rotten day!” All the humor is going to come back at him.
It’s an interesting dynamic. I love creation from innocence. As an adult, I love choosing innocence, and connecting and realizing the beauty, joy, truth, and goodness of every person and every life. I try to instill my characters even if they’re like, “Bip!” I want that joy… that spark.
Q: Is there something you’ve always wanted to say to your fans that you haven’t gotten to say until now?
CM: (smiles) I love you.
Q: Thank you very much!
CM: Thank you so much! Live your dreams. Yahoo!
I want to end on this very important and special message from Charles Martinet.
On Life and Dreams
CM: I could never say I [grew up thinking that I] wanted to be the voice of Mario. But I could always say that I want to be happy. And I want do what gives me joy, which is making other people have joy and have a sense of fun. It’s what I wish for absolutely everybody here. My wish is that you live your dreams, and you live your life, and that you decide what it is that gives you joy and gives other people joy.
Life is very much like a video game. You choose who you’re going to be in the morning, — who your character is – and you go out into the world. As you’re traveling along in your world of your day, making choices and decisions – picking up these weapons and putting those ones down and deciding where you’re going to walk through instead of fight trough – Eventually, you’re doing this for a long time, and then you discover that’s [your] destiny. [You are] the hero of [your] game. Because life happens so fast! There’s no time to waste. You have to start having fun. You have to start living your life. You gotta start loving.
If you want to be loved, go out and love. If you want work, go out and work. You do those things that give you joy. If you wanna be a voice actor, yes you can be a voice actor. You can go and learn about voice acting and do that stuff.
Mainly, be happy. If you’re focused on being happy, then that’s where you’ll be. I knew that I didn’t want to just work for work’s sake because that’s what my dad did, and he hated it. I knew I didn’t want to make that choice. I wanted to be happy. And [now] suddenly, I’m an actor.
Live your dreams!
Thank you very much for reading!