EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: VFS Acting Head Omari Newton and the cast of Netflix’s "The Dragon Prince"

By VFS, on January 17, 2024

Voiceover’s impact on the acting industry is undeniable. Beyond Disney’s hit animated films and the massive video game industry, voice acting has an impressive reach within the creative industry. In recent years, we’ve seen film & TV legends start their own podcasts, including the highly-addictive ‘Office Ladies’ and ‘WTF’, and even be featured on audiobooks (we know you’re all thinking about Michelle Williams on Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me).

Netflix’s Emmy Award-winning The Dragon Prince (currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes), is just one example of a creative work where voice acting performers have truly mastered their craft. It also doesn’t hurt that one of the lead actors is Vancouver Film School’s very own Head of Acting for Film & Television, Omari Newton!

The Dragon Prince, co-starring VFS Acting Head Omari Newton, is hailed as “a captivating fantasy adventure”.

Created by Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond (another VFS alum!), The Dragon Prince is a mesmerizing animated series set in the fantasy world of Xadia. The series follows human princes Callum and Ezran and the Moonshadow Elf Rayla who seek to end a thousand-year-old conflict while taking care of an infant Sky Dragon – the Dragon Prince. The series features the voice acting talent of Omari Newton, Sasha Rojen, VFS alum and former Instructor Jason Simpson, Paula Burrows, and many others.

We are thrilled to announce that in addition to the following interview, VFS will be hosting the cast of The Dragon Prince on-campus in Vancouver on January 28 for a Q&A panel: The Craft of Voice Acting. This roundtable is being run in tandem with our All Access Pass event (more on that below).

Hosted by Omari Newton (Corvus), the panel will also include Sasha Rojen (Ezran), Paula Burrows (Rayla), Jason Simpson (Viren), and Jesse Inocalla (Soren) as they discuss the process of voice acting, working on a hit Netflix series, and more.

As mentioned, we were able to chat with this cast in advance of the Q&A event on the voice acting industry, their process as actors, and more:

How did you land your role on The Dragon Prince? Does your process differ between live action and voice performance?

ON: The auditioning process was fun, if fairly intensive. I initially submitted a self-tape for a different role before being offered Corvus. Initially, Corvus was supposed to be a smaller supporting role, but his role has grown significantly. You never know what a role will grow to. I LOVE voice acting. I find it much more enjoyable than any other form of acting. There is something about telling a story with your voice that I find liberating.

SR: This was a huge role for me; I had never done voiceover before and I was only 9, so I would say it was very challenging at first. But as the recordings progressed, they said I was really good and that made my day. I find live action easier as it allows me to express myself physically, not just through my voice. It's hard to portray certain emotions just using your voice so that was very difficult. However, I love voiceover way more.

PB: I originally didn't submit an audition because I wasn't feeling confident. I ended up having an in-studio call back before being cast which was as fun and scary for me as I was very green to voiceover. I don't treat my scripts very differently in terms of choices, but I definitely spend more time playing with my vocalizations and "finding the fun" in my voice. I always need a big physical warm up to be ready for a voiceover record.

JS: I initially read for a couple of characters. There was no show title or character names, and only a vague idea that the show was fantasy-based. The role I eventually booked was the ‘King’s Advisor’, and it was 2 or 3 lines. I got the call in the 11th hour that I booked it, and I was very excited. With voiceover work, there’s a ‘safety' of not being seen, only heard. This means, for me anyway, a complete freedom to be as open as possible. The Dragon Prince has really allowed me the opportunity to embrace that openness, that freedom to be truly vulnerable in the work.

JI: My journey started with an audition for a project that I had next to no idea about. The show was under a codename and all I had to work with were character names and descriptions. I auditioned for literally every role I thought I had a shot at, which resulted in a callback and eventual booking for Soren, and an absolute heart attack when I found out exactly what the project was and for whom. My acting process is similar for both live action and voiceover; ask the big questions about the character and take a shot at it. I find the voiceover process so much more liberating. I think especially in Vancouver there is a “need” for talent to look a certain way and there are some tremendously talented performers in the community who don’t get seen in film and TV because they look a certain way. I think voiceover levels the playing field.

Why do you think there is such an appetite with audiences for programming that prominently features voice acting performances?

ON: I think that voice centred work appeals to a broad spectrum of the public due to the many mediums it is applicable to. In animation alone, there is work for fans of all ages and all different genres of storytelling. The same can be said of audiobook narration and video games. Our current culture is one that is constantly moving, and voice work can easily be enjoyed while being integrated into our regular lives.

SR: Animation is less limited than on-camera. I feel that animated shows bring more nostalgia, relatability, and comfort. If people are fans of a show, they will look for podcasts, books, etc. for more entertainment. Furthermore, many people have a lot of appreciation for animation because it also takes so much time and effort to make it happen. Animation is created by hands, not by cameras, and these graphics can't move without the use of so many people working on one specific scene.

PB: I think we ultimately have an easier time picturing ourselves within these types of storylines.

JS: I would certainly credit the growing community of incredible actors doing the work. The legends who came before, that set the strong foundation, those that have been in the field for decades, maintaining the integrity of the work, and new people coming up and having to meet those standards in their own work. There is certainly more attainable work out there now than ever before and it’s a good place for new actors to grow and hone their skills.

JI: I think there will always be an appetite for art that ignites animation. There’s a reason books like The Lord of the Rings and Alice in Wonderland retain interest many decades after they were first published. They make us wonder, they make us gasp with awe at remarkable sights, they fully invest us into their universes, and I think that is something distinct and unique to our work as voiceover performers. When the performance is good, it’s truly something special to watch.

Paula Burrows, Jack De Sena, and Sasha Rojen have performed on The Dragon Prince since the series’ early days.

The Dragon Prince is an Emmy Award-winner (Outstanding Children’s Animated Series) and currently sits at a staggering 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. What do you attribute to the show’s success?

ON: We are incredibly blessed that the series has such a wide appeal. I think credit goes first and foremost to our amazing series creators Aaron Ehasz and Justin Richmond – the latter of which is a VFS grad from our 3D Animation & Visual Effects program. Additionally, the rich animation and vibrant performances that colour this rich fantasy world make for such a compelling series. It's no wonder the show is both popular amongst fans and critics alike!

SR: I think a lot of it is due to the whole cast, crew, and animators – especially the creators, Aaron and both Justins. Some of the creators and a voice actor were also involved in Avatar: The Last Airbender which has a huge fan base.

PB: Can I be totally biased and say ‘the great storyline’? The nuances of the characters, their earnestness for their causes, and yet their fallibility. The inclusiveness. The beauty of the created worlds and how thoroughly they are realized. There is so much to love about the show.

JS: Storytelling! Our writers are brilliant. They give us this material that is so rich and vibrant; the actors can drop instantly into these beautiful characters and live these lives. The writing forces us to be on top of our game. It’s an easy step for the audience to connect with that truthfulness and happily disappear into that world as well.

JI: The Dragon Prince is, to me, an especially unique project because of the level of collaboration and ingenuity involved in the production. When I first signed on to the show, I received an email from Aaron and Justin asking me for my thoughts on the first four episodes; they wanted us to be as much a part of the process as we could be, and I’ll always be thankful for that collaborative spirit. I also think the willingness of the team to let the show grow with its audience is a brave and powerful choice and will really make these most-recent seasons sit with the fans for years to come.

Tell us about your experience working on The Dragon Prince. What are some of your favourite memories?

ON: I have only positive memories. What stands out most is how welcoming and talented the entire team is. I was initially nervous about working with Aaron Ehasz, who is such a decorated artist. My nerves were settled soon after my first voice session by the warm and inclusive environment they created in the studio. This spirit is also reflected on the show, which features characters from a broad range of ethnicity, gender, ability, and sexual orientation.

SR: I like when they used to make fart jokes. I was just a kid and they always used to make sure I was happy. Everyone is very lenient and supportive of me. They would always find a way to help me, so I never had to struggle with the work.  Basically, the cast and crew were part of my upbringing. The whole crew has seen me through my awkward phases, kid phases, and as the person I am today. I had the greatest experience in acting that I could ever ask for.

PB: 100% the people. Everyone is fantastic. I've never felt so cared for and included in a creative experience. I've learned so much from these people. I do have a great memory of us attending San Diego Comic-Con and there not being enough seats for all the people who wanted to attend, so Aaron (who is always so empathetic) had two girls who were cosplaying come sit on the stage with us during the panel because they were the only available seats.

JS: My favourite memories revolve around the people I work with. Working beside an actor who is absolutely knocking you over with their performance; hearing the writer crying in your headphones as you deliver a line, travelling with the cast to conventions to represent our show, and meeting the thousands of people who LOVE it. That is such an honor, and incredibly humbling.

JI: My experiences have genuinely been nothing but good. Loads of laughs and fond memories from our ensemble recording sessions, getting to travel to conventions with my friends and meet the amazing and dedicated fans of the show. I think one of my absolute favourite memories was from Anime Weekend Atlanta in 2019, when Aaron and Justin decided to do a special live screening of S03E01. The cast sat amongst the people attending the panel, and it was a really special and magical moment seeing exactly what we’d done, and how much people truly love what we’ve made happen.

What is the most important lesson you have learned as an actor throughout your career? Any advice for the aspiring actors who will attend the All Access Pass event?

ON: Work hard, show up early, show up prepared to work, and to have fun. A career in the creative industries is incredibly rewarding, despite the ups and downs. If you keep improving, and enjoy what you do, you give yourself a great chance to have a flourishing career as an artist.

SR: I’ve learned that its ok to mess up, be a mess, be nervous, and not know what you’re doing. I’ve learned that the people I see on TV are real; they are humans too and they go through the same feelings and experiences. I’ve learned that I love acting and every aspect of it, even if I think that some days I don’t. I would tell aspiring actors to never give up; it’s a cliche, but it’s true. You will get turned down repeatedly, more times than you can count. The trick is to stay confident and look forward to the next role. There will always be a perfect role for you, it’s just up to you to find it and fight for it.

PB: Resiliency, commitment, and training are more important than inherent talent. Don't listen to anyone that says you can't pursue more than one passion at a time. Our industry is unstable, so as much as you can stabilize your life to allow you to keep enjoying your craft the better. You are in trouble if you stop having fun.

JS: I’ve been teaching this craft a long time (I started at VFS 24 years ago) and something that I was taught early is humbleness. When we are humble, we put others before ourselves and become better scene partners. We listen more and our responses are more honest and connected. We approach the work differently when our ego is not front and center. We are all on our own journey, and if we are lucky enough, we get to share that journey as often as we can with other actors in front of the camera, a microphone, or on a stage.

JI: The best advice I have ever received (forgive the morbidity of it) is “Nothing Matters” – but in a liberating sense. Stop trying to impress casting, directors. Stop doing this job for anyone but yourself and your art and you’ll find your work becomes light, freeing, and fun. Let yourself be unique, weird, messy, strange, impolite, unpredictable in your art and show the world what YOU in particular have to offer. You don’t control how much you book, but you can control how much you enjoy the work you do.

VFS All Access Pass is an opportunity for aspiring creatives to experience VFS’s industry programs.

Looking to train as an actor? Or perhaps the cast of The Dragon Prince simply have you inspired! If you have an interest in acting, VFS is hosting All Access Pass on January 28 in Vancouver –  your exclusive backstage access to VFS’s Acting for Film & Television program.

You’ll meet Omari Newton to learn about the variety of disciplines in the program, participate in a Q&A with the cast of The Dragon Prince, experience jaw-dropping motion capture and green screen demos, learn how to conquer the audition room, and more!

About the event, Omari commented: “I am excited for Vancouver's extended film community to enter our space and see the amazing facilities and resources that VFS has to offer. From our motion capture volume Beyond Capture to the numerous film studios located on campus and our world class team of artists and educators still working within the industry, VFS is truly a one stop shop for production and performance. We want to get the word out that we are not only a school, but a motivated creative collaborator. We are hungry to connect with creatives at all levels to assist in launching their careers.”

So, if you live in Vancouver or will be in town on the 28th, reserve your seat here to meet the cast of The Dragon Prince and learn how VFS can power up your acting career.

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