Regarding acting: “Don’t do voices, tell a story. Acting is living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” -David Sobolov
As a kid growing up in Canada, renowned voice-actor David Sobolov spent his youth playing pinball and watching Happy Days (1974-1984). He never thought he’d set foot in California, let alone work with Happy Days actor Marion Ross during his tenure portraying Drax in the Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) animated series. Sobolov has amassed an extensive list of character credits throughout his “unusually diverse career,” spanning through multiple fandoms, properties, and entertainment mediums. When asked how his career in voice-work started Sobolov replied “It found me.” He divulged that in the mid-90s he was touring, singing A cappella and playing the French-horn when an agent in Vancouver heard his voice and told him that he “should come do villains.”
David Sobolov: “Voice acting wasn’t something I ever thought of doing, but I didn’t want to keep hearing ‘Your voice is great. You should do voice acting.’ and not do anything about it. They kept encouraging me with paychecks, so I kept doing it.”
Sobolov started booking work fairly quickly, and over time he came to love the profession. He was cast on shows like Vortech: Undercover Conversion Squad (1996), Sabrina, the Animated Series (1999), and would go on to portray “an unusual version of RoboCop” in the animated series RoboCop: Alpha Commando (1998). He even ventured into ADR dubbing work on the anime title Key: The Metal Idol (1996). Sobolov’s first breakout character was Depthcharge in the acclaimed series Beast Wars: Transformers (1996).
David Sobolov: “For my audition in Beast Wars, the producers were so secretive about Depthcharge they took me into the corner of the room and showed me a drawing of the character from a sealed envelope for maybe ten seconds. Then I had an extremely long forty-five-minute audition; which never happens.”
During this time Sobolov also earned his earliest on camera performance for the motion picture Unforgettable (1996). He was background and “Ray Liotta gave [him] his line.” Sobolov recollects how in comparison to his voice work, this on-camera role with one line was “able to buy groceries and pay [his] rent for two months.” After a bountiful acting career in Vancouver based productions, Sobolov relocated to LA and started booking work mainly in video games such as Spawn: Armageddon (2003) and Rogue Galaxy (2005), among others. These parts led him to land the role of Lt. Vasquez in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) that would change his career.
David Sobolov: “Video games are a little more challenging vocally. In that particular show they gave us numbing lozenges so that we could finish the session. I lost my voice for six months and I thought my career was over. The whole upper range of my voice is gone forever, but I got enough of it back so that I could continue working.”
Sobolov admits that since that “videogame incident” he’s turned down audition opportunities because he felt his voice would no longer fit certain roles. Even with this career altering circumstance, Sobolov’s vocal prowess continues to be a fixture within the entertainment community. He’s personified multiple characters in various fandoms and fictive universe’s, including the DC, Marvel, Halo, and Star Wars franchises.
David Sobolov: “My voice hasn’t changed in conveying emotions in characters, but I think that it’s changed in how people will accept it. A much lower voice is usually only accepted for badass heroes or villains, there aren’t a lot of lighter characters that have my voice.”
Sobolov revealed how someone heard his voice in a casting office and asked him to read for the part of Gorilla Grodd for The CW’s The Flash (2014-). Sobolov went on to say, “how the role wasn’t widely auditioned for and what an opportunity it was to be cast.” He’s greatly enjoyed playing Grodd, expressing his affection for the character’s emotional depth and complex thoughts stating that “Something about Grodd is sad and quiet, until he screams.”
Sobolov divulged how some roles he’s played are given “a nice long journey,” while others, like The Arbiter in Halo Wars (2009) can be more challenging to play.
David Sobolov: “That [role] was funny because I was literally giggling after every take. He was so ridiculously evil and so far away from who I am, I didn’t relate to it, but I had to portray it.”
Over the course of his career, Sobolov has come to understand his own moral and ethical standards when approaching roles. He believes “There can’t be heroes without villains, but at a certain point it [can] perpetuate things in society that I don’t think we need to perpetuate.” Sobolov expanded this viewpoint, stemming from his experience working on the videogame 50 Cent: Bulletproof (2005). He explained how he was not given details regarding his role in the production until he arrived on set. To his dismay, Sobolov described the character he was slated to play as “a white man who was attacking black people.” It was a role he didn’t want to play or put into the world.
David Sobolov: “I made a decision that if the producers were people of color I would stay, but if the producers were white, I’d leave. One of the producers ended up being 50 Cent, and that’s what they wanted me to do. So, I stayed, but I didn’t like being that person and I regretted it.”
After that experience Sobolov has upheld his moral and ethical values when approaching jobs. He expanded on this philosophy by revealing how later in his career he was asked to participate in a role that would’ve “involved a rape scene.” Sobolov refused the part, stating that “it was violence towards women, and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
Sobolov went onto return to the Transformers franchise characters as well as the iconic Shockwave in Transformers Prime (2010). He remembers how there was “no drama involved” when auditioning for the famed Decepticon. It was “a huge challenge” for him to remain emotionless for his characterization. He stated how Shockwave was only allowed real emotion in the episode when “Starscream (played by Steve Blum) got all up in his grill.” Sobolov relishes this kind of collaboration because he enjoys performing in an ensemble setting. He went onto say how disheartened he feels because even when the industry was able, many productions don’t record in a group fashion.
David Sobolov: “Most shows will keep the actors in the lobby and just pull [them] in one by one to record. Which I think is a missed opportunity, because it’s better acting and better chemistry if you’ve got everybody recording together.”
Personal preferences aside, Sobolov is grateful for his career, and spoke about how he’s been enjoying his ventures into film-work. He’s been cast in Hollywood produced pictures, notably as Blitzwing in Bumblebee (2018) and the Centurion in Elita: Battle Angel (2019). Sobolov explained that usually when he provides vocals in film-work it’s the postproduction supervisor who takes him through the lines. However, he’s “been getting parts that are important enough that the director of the film will direct [him.]” Such as notable directors Travis Knight and Robert Rodriguez, respectively.
David Sobolov: “Robert Rodriguez and Travis Knight were super nice and inclusive. It’s been great as a voiceover actor to have direct access to the person responsible for all the creative decisions in the entire production and to be able to collaborate with them on that level.”
While portraying Blitzwing, Sobolov revealed how he was given creative freedom during his recording sessions by Knight to act his lines in varying ways. He was happy to be able to collaborate with Knight on that level because he would have chosen the exact same takes that were put in the film’s final cut.
David Sobolov: “I think that voice acting is just as important as the on camera acting, but some people don’t think of it that way. Travis Knight wanted a lot of choices. It tells me that he cares about the film. If you give directors many interpretations to choose from, then they can go any way they want because they have it.”
With a laudable list of acting credits to his resume, Sobolov has recently found himself shifting towards the next stage of his career, the director’s chair. He’s directed the short films Faithful (2013) starring Yuri Lowenthal and Tara Platt as well as The Dendros (2015) featuring John Saxon. He elaborated how directing is something he’d like to pursue more in the future. Be on the lookout for his upcoming short film ALL IN (2020) written by Kurt Morgan, Talon Warburton, and starring Ryan Colt Levy.
Sobolov concludes “A general thing in life, aside from acting, is that things happen. You need to realize what you can change and what you can’t. If you don’t accept what you can’t change, you’re stuck.”
Ryan Colt Levy: From New York to Los Angeles.
A Soul In Transit
Written By: Mitchell W. Maknis
“Acting or anything else is about telling a story and communicating an idea. I want to be able to express in a way that gives people some sense of peace, fun, or joy.”- Ryan Colt Levy
Ryan Colt Levy is an actor, musician, and storyteller who has quickly become a rising star within the voice-over community. He also is providing English dubbed performances for a variety of entertainment mediums. Levy breathes new life into characters by delivering his distinct vocals for live action and anime productions. In his colorful career Levy has portrayed such fan favorites as Squallo in JOJO’s Bizarre Adventure (2020), Jazz in Demon School Iruma Kun (2019), as well as providing additional voices in the acclaimed video game: Final Fantasy VII Remake (2020).
Levy was born into a family of art lovers. His parents were quick to expose him to the works of Charlie Chaplin and other motion pictures of the silent and modern era. Levy loved the realm of arts and culture and “became obsessed with performing and creating.” Later, he became influenced by videogames and cartoons. He spent his childhood drawing, writing, and filming his own “crazy movies” equipped with nothing more than his toys and a VHS camera. Realizing he could turn his favored pastime into a career, Levy followed in the footsteps of his mother by enrolling at the HB Studio in Manhattan. Although passionate about the performing arts, it became clear to Levy that he didn’t have the connections or resources to be able to continue acting as a practical career. This realization shifted Levy’s creative drive, and he fell sway to the lure of musical composition.
Ryan Colt Levy: “I became obsessed with music because it was so immediate; with music I could pick up a guitar, fumble through it and by the end of the day have a song. We had this cool community where everyone was jumping in each other’s bands, and even though we didn’t know what the hell we were doing, we created momentum for each other.”
Levy experimented with different musicians and musical styles. At fourteen, Levy, along with his colleagues, were financing their own records. After years of performing, He found his home by forming the musical group Braeves. They played together in New York for a couple of years, before Levy and his bandmates embarked on a new chapter. In 2015, they loaded their equipment into a van and moved their lives to Los Angeles. Levy accounted how the L.A. music scene was very welcoming, and Braeves was able to swiftly book shows and even garner some radio play. However, the band was faced with the bitter sea of reality: that although they were finding success as a musical group, they virtually had no money.
Ryan Colt Levy: “It can be so draining and exhausting to survive as a musician. We would do tours where we would drive around the country for two months and we wouldn’t get paid enough to make it to the next town on gas.”
To make ends meet, the members of Braeves found employment wherever they could. Levy worked part-time at a juice-bar where he’d cross paths with producers, who would often inquire if he was an actor. Levy, falling back on his “New York instinct,” didn’t take any of these encounters seriously. Even so, these serendipitous exchanges rekindled his love for the acting profession. Levy was working a full-time position at a stop motion animation studio, when he decided to put himself on acting websites to see if he could “find some student films to work on for fun.” Levy was surprised when he began to find himself cast in commercials and other acting projects. The universe began to course correct and Levy found himself part of a “massive layoff” at his full-time job and was suddenly unemployed. Soon after, Levy and his Braeves bandmates sat down together and “had the talk.” The group was feeling the fatigue of their musical vocation and after performing in LA for “a good three years” the members of Braeves decided to break up. In that moment Levy “had no job, no band, and to some degree, no identity.” Rather than turning to panic, in that surreal moment, Levy realized he was supposed to be acting.
Ryan Colt Levy: “It became evident that as much as we were struggling as a group to survive financially, individually we were all getting these opportunities for our lives to succeed in different ways.”
With his former passion rebirthed, Levy committed himself to recording and submitting auditions full-time. He understood that he was “investing a lot of time and money” into a business venture that he did not have guaranteed coming back. Even so, Levy persevered and while continuing his education in the acting field, He met and befriended fellow actor Talon Warburton. Warburton approached Levy for the opportunity to be cast in a short film that he had co-written with Kurt Morgan entitled ALL IN (2020). Levy was introduced to the film’s director, David Sobolov, and was subsequently cast in the independent picture. By the end of filming, Sobolov had been “championing [Levy] as a performer” and advocated him to pursue a career in voice acting. Levy took this advice to heart and after filming for ALL IN had officially wrapped, he enlisted Sobolov to aid in recording his voice demo.
Ryan Colt Levy: “Our working relationship together is really fluid, and I trust [Sobolov’s] judgement. I like his approach; he knows how to push and challenge me. I knew he would demand the highest quality.”
It wasn’t long after Levy finalized his improved voice demo with Sobolov that “the industry started to reach out and give [him] opportunities.” For Levy, recording studios have always been a home, so his return to the booth for his first ADR Dubbing session was akin to a homecoming.
Ryan Colt Levy: “I was oddly more prepared than I realized. I was lucky that I had a whole music career, so when I walked in the studio to record, I knew the room. The very first session worked so well that I walked out of the session thinking that they were either going to fire me because it ran too smoothly or that I had just found the greatest job ever.”
Levy provides vocal performances in distinctly different mediums; notably dubbing live-action roles for Encore Voices and recording for Bang Zoom Entertainment’s anime acquisitions.
Ryan Colt Levy: “For live action dubbing, it’s much more about nuance and being as realistic as possible to fit the body. Whereas, with anime and animation there is a freedom where you can take more ownership and use your voice to fill different gaps you wouldn’t normally do in a live action dub.”
His process for finding a touchstone for the vocal qualities of the characters he portrays is a collaboration. It reminds him of his improv/acting training; its part trusting your gut and part relying on the engineers and directors to give context. Levy’s ideology: “It’s almost like writing a song in a band, except the content is already written and now you just have to play it together.” One of his first roles at Encore Voices was playing the novice drug dealer Chino, in the live-action dub of the Netflix series, Drug Squad: Costa Del Sol (2019).
Ryan Colt Levy: “With Chino, I immediately felt connected to that actor. I understood what he was doing with his portrayal and I wanted it to be as much as an homage to his performance as possible.”
However, his characterization of the mischievous Jazz in the anime series Welcome to Demon-School, Iruma Kun (2019) for Bang Zoom Entertainment differs from the original version.
Ryan Colt Levy: “For Jazz, I don’t use the Japanese performance as a touchstone for how to approach the performance. I think I go in a different direction; I was so sure where it was coming from, that I already knew who Jazz was. When I imagine the misfit class in Demon School, I think of the Breakfast Club.”
Jazz reminds Levy of Jules, a character he dubbed for the live action Netflix series The Hookup Plan (2019). Levy holds The Hookup Plan in high regard for the fact that he got to “record in tandem” with his dubbing costar Alana Gospodnetich, who played his character’s love interest Elsa. Levy also confided: “It was so rewarding to be able to play off each other in the room together.”
Ryan Colt Levy: “To some degree Jules and Jazz are both close to me in personality. I really loved playing Jules because he’s a musician and a romantic at heart but has to put on a façade to survive. He is coming at it from this place of positivity and romance even if it’s in a saturated way.”
Levy considers every project he’s been a part of to be a gift and has enjoyed the obstacle course of playing a wide range of roles. For instance, recording the role of Squalo for JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure which Levy describes as “so adult, bombastic, and violent” and then within the same couple of months, singing Baby Shark: Wash Your Hands for the PinkFong brand.
Ryan Colt Levy: “It’s been incredibly uplifting and inspiring how the industry and the voice-over community have been so welcoming and supportive, it’s reminded me of how it felt like as a kid growing up in a community of musicians.”
Although Levy’s focus is his career as a professional voice actor, he hasn’t limited his talents to this one artistic avenue. Levy, taking a page from the Beat Poetry movement, also creates outside of the recording booth. One noteworthy project is a collaboration with longtime friend and musician Bryan Cho. Levy has been enjoying the reception for the single 02, which he had ghostwritten with Cho and was purchased and recorded by singer SUHO (EXO). He paints his own brand of “crazy abstracts,” and is in the process of writing and producing his own independent comic books.
Ryan Colt Levy: “In the long run, I would love to direct and score a motion picture and just keep telling stories in different ways. But for now, I’m personally so green as a professional voice actor that this is where I need to keep my energy and attention so I can be the best I can.”
For Levy, there is a reason why his band’s website is still intact. Braeves may be on an “indefinite hiatus” but eventually the group will want to make music together again. Spanning from his early years as a struggling musician in New York through his journey to become a professional voice actor in Los Angeles, Levy has realized “there is time.”
To keep up with the life and works of Ryan Colt Levy follow him on his social media platforms @RyanColtLevy on Twitter,Instagram, and Facebook. Be sure to visit his website www.ryancoltlevy.com to see his extensive list of acting credits and artwork. Also be sure to check his music at www.braeves.com.