Scott Adsit may be best known for his role as hapless TV producer Pete Hornberger on NBC’s 30 Rock, but he’s won a legion of new admirers by voicing one of the most distinct robots to ever appear on screen — Baymax, the inflatable caregiver turned superhero star of the Oscar-winning Big Hero 6. By turns hilarious, heroic, and touching, Baymax and his friend Hiro Hamada provide the heart and soul of the first Disney animated film based on a Marvel Comic. I sat down with Adsit to discuss how he came to be cast in the film, his ideas for Baymax’s future, his lifelong love of comics, and his next animated project, Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks.
Nerdist: The last time we spoke, you told me you were a huge comic book fan. Was Big Hero 6 a dream project for you?
Scott Adsit: Yeah. Like the director, Don Hall, I grew up on comics, Marvel comics especially, and Disney. So bringing the both of them together in an animated project was absolutely unique. I just love every aspect of this movie because of that.
N: What was it about your work that prompted the filmmakers to consider you for the voice of Baymax?
SA: Well, I was doing one night of a stage show in LA while I was visiting from New York, and there were two casting agents in the audience that night. They weren’t looking for anything, just entertainment. They heard my voice and thought Baymax right away, for whatever reason. I guess I’ve got kind of a benign, normal voice. They called me the next day. I don’t know if they’d ever seen 30 Rock or heard my Adult Swim voiceover work, but they called me and I went in for this hour-long audition two days later.
N: How did they first describe the character to you?
SA: They talked about his bedside manner and the fact that he is huggable and benign, and personality-wise he’s meant to be an anti-robot, like the actual technology he’s based on. There is actual inflatable robot technology being developed at Carnegie Mellon and MIT, for caregivers who can touch patients without harming them with metal parts. So they described that to me, and they said this was someone who was meant to be a very comforting and quiet and benign companion, to essentially help people who need to move from one place to another or be rolled over, or be comforted. So that’s where Baymax, in this iteration, came from.
It’s different in the comics. he’s primarily a warrior in the comics, and they found this technology at Carnegie Mellon and changed what Baymax is. They said he was someone you’d want to have next to you while you were sick. So I put on my most benign voice and added the rhythm of an automated phone system.
N: So you didn’t need to bother looking at other screen robots?
SA: I’m a big movie fan, so I know a lot about movie robots. And this one was unique, I’d never seen anything like it. And I know that it is kind of a post-modern film in that Tadashi or whoever designed Baymax would be aware of what a robot voice is, and he’d want to avoid that.
N: You’ve produced and voiced your own animated projects for Adult Swim. Did that make this an easier task than it otherwise might have been? Most improv comics aren’t necessarily used to working alone in a recording studio.
SA: Well it gave me the confidence with the mic, I think, Adult Swim. Because with Adult Swim, the people who create and produce the shows are pretty autonomous. And being one of the creators on that show I felt very confident with what we were doing because we were allowed to do it. So when I got in the room at Disney, it was pretty daunting to be surrounded by all the history, but there was a welcoming, and my confidence slipped right in. I was happy from day 1 because I’d had the experience at Adult Swim that was so positive.
N: Hopefully we’ll get a chance to revisit the world of Big Hero 6 in some form or another. Are you up for more Baymax? And, as a writer, do you have any ideas about where you’d like to see him go next?
SA: I don’t know anything about new projects or sequels, because I don’t think anybody at Disney knows that yet. They’re still recovering from the four years it took to do this, and I think they want to reacquaint themselves with their families. But as far as doing something new with Baymax, I’d love to see him in a triage situation. Where he actually is applying his medical knowledge and skill in the field to someone who is injured. I’d love to see what happens there.
N: As for his superhero side, are there any additional powers you’d like him to acquire?
SA: He’s pretty well-equipped right now. I don’t want to give him too many powers — you get the Superman effect then. I can’t think of anything right now. I like him as he is. [Laughs]
N: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?
SA: Yeah. [Laughs]
N: The last time we spoke, you mentioned your favorite comic book was writer-artist Walt Simonson’s 1980s run on Thor. Is that still the case? Are you primarily a fan of ‘80s Marvel?
SA: Well that’s when I rediscovered comics. Walt Simonson’s still top of the list. But I love John Byrne’s run on Fantastic Four. I love Stan Lee’s run on Fantastic Four. The things you’d expect, like Sandman. But I was a big fan in the ‘80s of The Hulk, with [artist] Sal Buscema and [writer] Bill Mantlo. Those are still the top ones for me. And I love any Alan Moore, except when he does comedy.
N: Yeah, Alan’s a man of many talents, but… [Laughs]
SA: Yeah, his drama is amazing, and his storytelling and his structure is really fascinating. But when he tells a joke it gets kind of corny. [Laughs]
N: Do you collect original comic art? Have you purchased any of Walt’s Thor pages?
SA: I tried to get commissions out of him! He’s the nicest guy in the world, as I’m sure you’ve found out, and he loves to talk about anything you want to talk about; and he’ll do it for hours without any sign of being disinterested. He’s a great guy, and I talked to him about doing some commissions through a friend, and he said, “I would price it out of whatever price range you are in. Because I like working on projects I need to finish. [That’s] my actual job.” So he charges people for commissions with what he calls his “angry fee.” [Laughs] It’s what his anger is worth, the frustration he has not getting to work on a project he has a deadline for. The price of his anger during that week is x amount of dollars.
N: That’s a great idea. We should all have an anger fee. [Laughs]
SA: I know. [Laughs] It’s a great concept. But I think he’s always gonna be out of my price range because I think he just wants to stay out of my price range.
N: Are there any recent titles you’ve enjoyed?
SA: Hawkeye I like a lot, and Simonson’s new thing that he did with Laura Martin and John Workman. It’s called Ragnarok, and it’s about the mythological rather than the Marvel Thor. And it looks fantastic.
N: Oh yeah, that one does look amazing… You have another upcoming animated project — the series Harvey Beaks. What can you tell us about that?
SA: Harvey Beaks is for Nickelodeon. It’s a very, very well-written new cartoon about a family of birds, and especially about Harvey, who’s the little boy, and his two friends from the forest, who are troublemakers in a very funny and crazy way. I play his father; and I’m only just now seeing the finished product. It’s beautiful and it’s really, really well-written. I love it. It’s really cute, but it’s really smart.
Then I’m in a pilot that’s on Amazon Prime right now called Salem Rogers, which is a comedy with Leslie Bibb and Rachel Dratch. And I’m in several movies that haven’t come out yet. One’s called Fangirl.
N: You also have a Christmas film with Brian Posehn.
SA: Oh, Uncle Nick! With Brian and Missi Pyle and Paget Brewster. Brian is the lead and he is going to Christmas at his brother’s house, and his brother’s new bride and her daughter and son. And Brian finds himself very attracted to his step-niece, who is nineteen years old. And it causes conflict. [Laughs] It’s really dark and very, very funny. And Brian is just great.
N: One last question — if you could pick any character in the Marvel Universe for Baymax to team up with, besides those in Big Hero 6, who would you pick?
SA: Devil Dinosaur.
N: That’s a unique choice. [Laughs]
SA: Or MODAM.
N: Another interesting choice. Why those two? [Laughs]
SA: Because Devil Dinosaur has never had a good relationship with robots, and I think that this could be the start of something beautiful. And MODAM is a scorned woman. I think she lost the man she was made for, and she’s half-machine as it is. So I’d like to see what kind of romance could develop between MODAM and Baymax.
N: That makes perfect sense. [Laughs] Thanks for your time, Scott. And thanks for Big Hero 6!
SA: Oh, thank you. I’m glad you liked it!
Big Hero 6 is now available on Digital HD, DMA and a shimmering Blu-ray combo pack, which includes the equally awesome Academy Award-winning Feast, along with deleted scenes and two featurettes: “The Characters Behind the Characters” and “Hiro’s Journey,” hosted by Jamie Chung (the voice of Hiro’s adrenaline-junkie teammate Go Go Tomago). Here’s an excerpt from the latter featurette, focusing on the animation of Baymax.