Actor, producer, and writer, Yuri Lowenthal, has a real gift for bringing multifaceted characters to life, he also understands the fundamentals needed to create a gripping narrative.
As human beings, we are shaped by those integral and formative moments we experience not only in our childhood but throughout our whole life. For Yuri, the American artist grew-up living a nomadic lifestyle due to his father’s government job, spending time in different US states and even West Africa. During this time, he developed a love of superheroes, sci-fi, anime and all things fantastical. However, it wasn’t until Lowenthal’s senior year of high school that he took a drama class and discovered an intrigue about the art form. During his time at college where he majored in East Asian studies and also took theatre classes in the early 90s, Lowenthal spent a year abroad in Osaka, Japan. An experience which would impact his personal and work life consciously and subconsciously.
After graduating in 1993, Yuri spent the next two years in Japan and worked for the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET). What started out as intrigue pivoted into a full-on passion for acting as the actor immersed himself in Japan’s drama scene, working with a different array of travelling theatre production companies. Fully determined to become a full-time actor, Yuri headed back to the States and spent time in New York before deciding to head to the bright lights of Los Angeles. On the way to LA, there was a quick pit stop to get hitched to his now wife, Tara Platt, an extremely talented actor and writer in her own right. Once in LA, in an effort to make more money whilst still taking on live-action roles and theatre jobs, both Yuri and Tara spontaneously went a workshop that specialised in voice-over acting. It was an extremely important moment which would help Yuri and Tara’s careers moving forward.
Over the last 28 years, Yuri has pursued his passions and cultivated a noteworthy career. Since that initial workshop, Yuri has gone onto provide voices for an array of animated television shows and video games. You may recognise him as the voice of Sasuke Uchiha in Naruto, Ben Tennyson in Cartoon Network’s Ben-10 or as the Prince in the 2003 game, Prince of Persia: Sands of time. Did we also mention he played Superman in an animated film? These are only but a few examples of the varied work Yuri has taken on throughout his career so far. Apart from the steady voice-over work, Yuri has constantly evolved as an actors and writer. Yuri and Tara set up a production company entitled Monkey Kingdom Productions (US), a studio which they have used to create many different live-action projects related to their passions.
In 2018, the voice-over artist took on another iconic character, the role of Peter Parker AKA the web-slinger, Spider-Man. The New York-based superhero is easily one of the biggest and most recognisable characters in Marvel’s comic book lore and in modern pop culture. Marvel’s Spider-Man (created by the brilliant team at Insomniac Games) was an exceptional hit, one that really understood the character and his universe. It also gave Yuri and the cast to show off their acting chops. It was an emotive and exciting rollercoaster. The Playstation exclusive has sold over 33 million copies worldwide. Now, as an established actor that is still somewhat underrated when it comes to the mainstream masses, Yuri is finally on the cusp of receiving far greater recognition than ever before. It’s all thanks to the highly anticipated release of the biggest video game of 2023, Marvel’s Spider-Man 2.
With its tag line of “be greater, together”, the latest instalment is proving to be a thrilling narrative-driven story, one that builds on the previous two games’ strengths. This time around the story’s tone is far darker, the stakes are higher, and both Peter and Miles will face some of their hardest battles yet. Their relationship will be put to the test as Peter becomes consumed by the symbiote before they face-off against the monstrous villain, Venom, as well as many other rogues from the Spider-Man universe. Yuri, has brought his expertise to the role yet again, delivering an emotive, funny, and captivating performance.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine’s Cameron Poole, Yuri Lowenthal discusses Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, acting, his time in Japan, and more.
Yuri, thanks for chatting with 1883 magazine. First of all, how are you doing today? I know it’s 3:30pm where you are and you’ve been doing a day of press so I hope it hasn’t been too gruelling.
I’m doing good. I’m just eager for the game to come out so that people can finally play it and I can finally not have to keep secrets anymore. I hate that.
Thank you for staying up late [for the interview] but you’re a music guy. Right? You’re used to staying up late.
Yeah, I am! So when this article goes live, Marvel’s Spider-man 2 will be out in the world. Would you mind sharing how you think this game has brought you closer to the team that has worked on it and how it has pushed you as an actor?
I think it’s no secret that I have loved working with Insomniac, both before Spider-Man and certainly since [the] Spider-Man [games]. Their attention to detail and their care with storytelling and… the people who work there are all so exemplary, I’m always honoured to work with them. I think I have jokingly suggested to them that if they just wanted to put me on retainer, I would only work for them and nobody else and I’d be okay with that. But that’s not the way this business works.
The more you work on something like this, the deeper the trust gets over time. So I think going the pre-Spider-Man games to the first Spider-Man game, then the Miles game and then now this one, we’ve only learned to trust each other more. Possibly to their detriment they have allowed me a little more leeway with suggesting ideas when I’m recording as I feel I’ve really come into my Spider-Man-hood.
Occasionally, I will suggest quips and things like that. At least on the surface, they’re very open to that and then I’m sure as soon as the talkback goes off, they’re like ‘burn that take let’s go with the original’. But no, it’s been a delight working with them and I can feel the trust growing and growing.
But as far as how this game has pushed me, the interesting thing with going into this game was… I knew going into it that we were going to be interacting with a Peter affected by the symbiote for better or worse, mostly for worse. I don’t think that’s a surprise. Any actor will tell you that when given the choice to play a villain we always jump at it. What I was unaware of and where I really had to do some growing was in trying to take Peter who is who not selfish at all, he always puts everyone else before himself, he is your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. He is the king of kindness. I mean, you know, he punches back guys sure, but that’s what we want. But to take him out of what is so inherently him, forced me to grow as well.
Both, you know, as an actor but also with his team. Once again, building trust because we had to make Peter unlikable. We had to make Peter selfish. We had to make Peter mean and violent and those are things that we didn’t really have him do before, and are not inherent to his nature. So I would find myself at the end of those types of recording sessions, physically and mentally exhausted because it was such new territory and it was so different. It was such a shift like we really had to force him in that direction. It wasn’t just a leisurely walk across the street. It was fundamentally changing his character and also tracking that that arc, that journey for him. It wasn’t just like when he has the symbiote, a switch is flipped and he’s this other thing.
He becomes something else over time. So it starts at one level gets worse and worse and his character, his behaviour changes throughout [the story]. So it required a lot of monitoring on the part of the performance director Chris Zimmerman, who would always keep me on track as to where we were in that journey. It required a lot of pushing and forcing things that didn’t feel safe and that didn’t feel normal for Pete. So I had to trust them that taking him in that direction at the various stages was not only okay but was required by the story and required, I think stretching on all of our parts.
Peter and the symbiote is such well-known part of the character’s lore. There is such rage in your voice when you deliver certain lines. I know you researched a few addiction cases but did you channel or pull from anything else in particular to help you get to that place? Because like you said, after those recording sessions, you would feel exhausted, so to get into that frame of mind you surely must have had to tap into something else?
Yeah…we’ll take a bit of a personal angle on this and especially because you’re a music guy as well. My best friend who was in a band, he was a musician, he had a drug addiction. He suffered from addiction for many years. He died several years ago, but unfortunately I had to be witness to a lot of behaviours as he was my best friend. So, as far as case studies go that was my biggest one. You know, because I knew him before the drugs. So in a way, he was my Peter before the drugs, and then he was my Peter with the symbiote. I could see how one could become the other even though it seemed antithetical to who that person was originally.
And here’s the thing about drugs that I’ve learned, in the beginning, they’re great you know what I mean [laughs]. There’s no downside to those beginning experiences. Pete feels like these new powers will make him a better Spider-Man. He’s still got his optimism. He’s still got his original mission. He’s still got all his morals. He’s in control and now he has these powers with which he can do greater good. But obviously, we must pay the price for all those thing and it happens at least with drugs fairly quickly. There’s not a huge honeymoon period, and then the balance of power shifts. And you start doing things that are antithetical to who you are, and that are not at all who you were before.
We didn’t want it to just all be a downer ad again, we didn’t want it to just be a flip of a switch that is suddenly flipped, and it he goes from one thing to another thing. There’s a journey to that and the beginning, quite honestly, it’s very exciting for Pete and hopefully for the player as well. But then things turn as they always do, and we have to find our way back. I’m glad that in this story, Pete finds his way back because I have witnessed unfortunately that not all people do. So it was nice to tell a story where somebody can come back from that, I guess.
Sure, just as a side note, I appreciate you being open and genuinely sincere there. So thank you for sharing. It’s not easy losing friends.
Anyway, moving on, I know this interview is very Spider-Man centric chat but I promise we’re here to talk more than just that. As someone who’s a multi-disciplined actor that has spent time in NY doing theatre work, that has done Voiceover work in numerous games + animated shows, as well as being an author, production company owner, and screenwriter, is there a certain sector that excites you the most at this point in your career?
It’s always hard to choose. I would argue that even before I was an actor, I was a writer and that was probably where I fell in love with storytelling. You know, I love movies. The first way that I learned I could create my own stories was writing them and then I fell in love with acting at the sort of at the end of high school and into college. I never really looked at it as a career path. I just always assumed that it was something that I would enjoy and either give-up to pursue real life or just always kind of have on the side. After sort of going down [the route of] what I thought was going to be my career as I kind of went into the family business, my dad was in foreign relations and I was on that track as well and I worked for two years for the Japanese government; While I was doing that, I would come home from my endlessly sort of bureaucratic job to then spend all my free time working with theatre companies. Like Japanese theatre companies, Australian Theatre Company, French theatre companies in Japan and [we would make] stupid movies on hi8 cassettes with my friends that were modelled off whatever It was we were watching at the time.
I found that it was just that had become so intoxicating that I knew I would have to try it. So after a couple of years, working for the government, I said, ‘you know what? this kind of work will be here for me, if I try this other thing, and it doesn’t work out’. I just don’t want to look back in 30 years in a dead end government job and wonder what might have been. So I left that job and I went back to the states and spent six years in New York, you know, doing off-Broadway theatre, experimental blackbox theatre and then ended up moving out to Los Angeles with my then girlfriend, who by the time we moved to Los Angeles, was my wife, because we got married on the drive out in Las Vegas. Yes, it’s endlessly romantic and proves that the Vegas weddings sometimes actually take because we’ll be celebrating 22 years at the end of this year.
Thank you. And then I came out to Los Angeles to be a movie star like everybody else and I’m so grateful that I was able to find this. When I say this, I mean voice acting, because it has opened so many opportunities to me that would not have been afforded me in the on-camera or the theatre world. [Those worlds are] based so much on ‘you look like this. So this is what we’ll consider you for. Somebody who looks like that’. Whereas, in voice acting, if you can create that character with your voice, it doesn’t matter what you look like. So, it’s definitely been very empowering in that I’ve gotten to play a lot more of the kinds of roles that I always wanted to play. Whereas, in the film and TV world, I was not always allowed to do that because you have to be given a different kind of permission for that. It’s also why my wife and I started our own production company, so that we could start creating the projects that [we love], and basically give ourselves permission to play those roles and write them. We’d make them into whatever form they became, whether that was a play or web series or a movie.
Yeah, it’s been a heck of a journey and I still love all of those things. I know you said what part do you wish you were you were focusing on more, I feel they’re all parts of a whole. When I’m only doing one of those things, I feel the other parts atrophy a little bit and I feel like I want to get back to them. It’s been a long time since I’ve done a play. But when you’re raising a seven-year-old it’s hard to say, ‘I’m gonna be going to be gone for six weeks of night rehearsals, sorry, you’re on your own kid’. Not that he’s on his own because my wife is there. I just don’t want to burden her with him this whole time. I’d still love to be doing all of them. I’ve jokingly said to friends that I’m in my Elijah Wood phase of my career in that I could see myself not being any happier than just making like ridiculous, low-budget horror movies with my friends.
Just because I am a genre guy, I love horror, sci-fi, fantasy, superheroes and luckily in this voice acting world, whether it’s animation or video games, I’ve been able to explore a lot of that. It has definitely afforded me that. So I don’t know that I’d be able to pick any one because I love what voice acting has become and that we do get to do a lot of performance capture for these games. So it is like doing theatre again or like shooting a movie.
For a lot of the cinematics in Spider-Man, it was all actors on a stage together playing out those scenes. I just hope I get to keep doing all the different things that I love. It’s hard to pick just one. A lot of people are like, ‘where you are in your career right now, are you just happy to do that? Because you’ve become successful?’ Yeah, it’s great, I love it but every now and then I want to get back to the other things that lead there.
I welled-up with tears as I completed Spider-man especially when Aunt May dies, spoiler alert [laughs]…
The game has been out for five years, I think you are safe but yeah. [laughs].
And I think that’s a real testament to the cast’s acting talent as well as the brilliant writing from the insomniac team. Are there any moments from Spider-Man 2 where you’ve really been emotionally taken back by the story or your character’s actions?
Yeah, that is the beauty of the writing you’re talking about, Insomniac’s care in storytelling. Any actor will probably tell you that our job becomes much easier when the writing is great [laughs] and that’s definitely been the case with Insomniac. Although I tell you, it did give me a case of the nerves a little bit because there are moments in Spider-Man 2 that hopefully will resonate as strongly as the example you just brought up and others from the first game. I know how affecting some of those scenes were and so I felt pressure to do it again in the second game which you should never try to put that kind of pressure on yourself for anything [laughs]. You should always let it be whatever it’s going to be. But I will say I felt some pressure to do that and they’ve definitely brought it in the writing again.
They took the time to to noodle it, sometimes we would try things and then they would come back to them later and they’d say: ‘this didn’t quite work out exactly the way we want it to. You know we’ve done a little bit of rewriting and we’d love to try it again’. You don’t get the chance to revisit things sometimes if they’re not working out. You just have to ship them as they are but they took their time and they really care about story and then the human moments in a game that arguably in the hands of, certain other companies, they might not have paid as much attention to that sort of thing. As far one of the pieces that needs to go into a game like this, I believe.
So, I tried not to work myself up too much basically and to come in open to what the other actors were going to bring on the stage and to sort of let that guide it. I will say, this is much more and I think it’ll come become evident when people are playing the game, that that first one was more a Peter centric story and then the next one was obviously a Miles centric story, and this one really is very even handed as far as that’s concerned. It is not one character story over another. Miles shares just as many of those moments as Peter does in this game I think and we’ve introduced the Harry element, and MJ has her own arc in this as well. I think [Insomniac] didn’t want to shortchange anyone and hopefully that comes through. It certainly felt like it did when we were making it.
Now you’ve made numerous projects, where would you and Tara like to take Monkey Kingdom Productions (US) to next. What’s the next goal?
The next step, we’re trying to get feature funded that was the brainchild of Tara’s that has evolved from a web series we did called What A Lark that came out several years ago. It’s growing pains for Monkey Kingdom Productions. I’ll be honest, this is Monkey Kingdom Productions US, there is a UK production company called the same name which is not affiliated, but in the past we’ve always been a scrappy production company. A production company that has always found a way to make our projects with the resources that we could muster. We’ve gotten to a place now where the types of projects we want to produce require outside funding.
This means we will require other people to also believe in what we do and to help us fund it. That’s the learning curve that we’re in right now because we’ve never had to ask anybody else really. We’ve done some crowdfunding but we’ve never had to really go out and look for funding. So we’re learning how to do that now. So that’s the next step for us. In a mercenary way, we’re finding somebody else to help pay for our projects because they’ve gotten too big, for better or worse, but mostly for the better.
I went to Japan for the first time ever earlier this year for a press trip and after it ended I took some time off work and just spent a week on my own exploring. It was incredible. As someone who has a deep affinity for the country and as you spent a lot of time out there studying and working in the JET programme in the 90s, how do you think your time in Japan has impacted you personally and professionally?
First, I’m jealous that you got to do that and we could spend the next hour talking about Japan. I still am so in love with it. You know, here’s the thing it has definitely affected me personally, I fell in love with Japanese culture and history when I was much younger. From Sunday’s watching Godzilla movies to growing up in America’s craze with ninjas, Samurai and that part of the the culture in the history. You know, all theTV pop culture I was immediately taken with that, and it then grew into something else as I learned more about it and wanted to learn more. I started studying Japanese in school then went ahead and did my junior year abroad in Japan because I knew from experience that if I really wanted to learn the language, I was going to have to spend some time there.
That junior year abroad in Osaka and then the two years working through the JET Programme, with a local Japanese government office in the Shiga prefecture will always be some of the best years of my life. I mean, Japan was a magical place for me. I think travel is good for everyone. I think it makes you into a better human being. I have no scientific basis. It is not grounded in scientific fact but I believe that to be true. As far as how it might affect one with their career, I know it has affected me but I could not have told you when I spent my time in Japan, this is how it’s going to or I believe that by doing this that then this will get me to a certain place. I think that people who lead interesting lives make interesting actors. I think people with interesting backgrounds make interesting actors. I’ve often told people who want to get into acting and want to follow that path…. Classes are great, study is great, training is great, but it’s not the be all and end all.
Everybody’s like ‘what classes should I take? I’m in all the classes right now? I want to take more classes. What can I study?’ And I said, ‘study is great and you should do some of that. It’s invaluable but you also have to go live a life.’ I believe travel is part of that. In many ways while you don’t need to speak Japanese to get into dubbing the English versions of Japanese anime for example, It did give me a little bit of [an] extra [edge]. When I first got into that work, it gave me a little bit of extra insight and then because one of the coordinators from a show that I was working on, then was helping to coordinate some Japanese talent for something over at Warner Brothers, she knew I spoke Japanese and that was my entree to over to Warner Brothers. It was the first time I worked with Andrea Romano, it was for a series of episodes of Teen Titans. It was Teen Titans Trouble In Tokyo and they needed smaller characters and background voices for the Japanese characters.
The next thing I did for Warner Brothers was Superman and Legion of Superheroes and so I don’t know that I would have gotten there without that thing. But here’s the thing, you never know what that thing’s gonna be. So, I just recommend you know people who again, want to get into it and want to know what to do, just live a life and do things that are fun for you and that are fulfilling. You’ll find I hope, I believe, that those things will only affect you for the positively and later in life, professionally and personally, in ways that you couldn’t possibly predict when you’re doing them.
Would you be able to recall how you felt when you first heard Tony Todd as Venom?
I was so thrilled. I remember Bryan Intihar (Creative Director at Insomniac Games) coming to a performance capture shoot like he always does and he sort of was like “hey, I want you to hear something”. We instantly went off to the side, he pulled out his phone and played some test lines they had recorded with Tony as sort of an audition. I heard that iconic ‘we are Venom’ line that he did and I just lost it. He was looking at me the whole time [laughs] and Bryan’s like, “Right, can you believe it? I think Tony Todd is our Venom”. I then said: “you’re absolutely right, Tony Todd is our Venom and I’m only sorry that I didn’t think of that sooner.” Sometimes the most obvious things you don’t get until they are shoved in your face.
But I had worked with Tony not that long before and luckily had gotten over some of my fan girlish love of Tony, so I was just so happy because it was so perfect. I had recently worked with him and we had a good rapport in a previous project that we worked on right before this, DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, our characters have a very similar relationship in both DOTA and Spider-Man 2. So we’d already kind of established that relationship as well but I love Tony dearly and once you meet him and get over the idea that candy man is standing in front of you, he is just such a such a delightful professional, kind, giving, cool cat.
I’m curious, you mentioned in a previous interview that your dad really instilled a sense of responsibility in you at a young age, and you mention how you may have taken this on “too hard” and you “feel it too deeply”. Given how you have played Spider-Man and Superman, two character that people love fiercely.
How do you cope with that pressure to deliver on these iconic roles you play? I mean now you’ve done two Spider-man games I would hope you no longer feel imposter syndrome, but I get it, I’m the same and feel it too within my line of work. You should hype yourself up my friend!
I know and I know impostor syndrome is real, I am still terrified. There’s a part of me that is, when we were making Spider-Man 2 I was like “Ah, you know, I was able to do it that first game but I’m just gonna ruin it the second.” These thoughts are not healthy, Cameron, but they still do pop-up, especially after being a nerdy little kid comic-book-reading kid from way back, these characters mean a lot to me. I also know they mean a lot to people. So it is hard for me not to feel pressure when I take on iconic characters like that. The way I cope with that is by trusting in the people that I’m working with. Trusting that they chose me for a reason, that many people have played these characters before and many people will play these characters after me, however, they chose me specifically for a reason for this specific incarnation of that character. It’s the only way I can get through it.
I also need to realise that whenever I think I’m just going to wreck it, that implies I am the most important part of that. I can’t forget there’s a story team, an animation team and all of these other people contributing to it. I have to remember that. In many ways my role is but a small part of that whole. So, whatever it takes to get me through the experience. I’m happy to take that. So trusting the people I’m working with is something I’ve really had to let hit home for me and settle into.
What does your son think of his parent’s jobs?
Yeah, it’s tough, I think because when he was very young I used to, without really thinking, say: “Hey, buddy, Daddy’s got to go to work. So I won’t see you today. Daddy’s Spider-Man today” and I would go off to work not thinking that maybe in his head at that age, he thought I was really Spider-Man. Going out to do Spider-Man things [laughs] which you know, in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t think that through because I’ll let that be whatever it was going t be for him. Now he gets it, he’s seen behind the curtain, he understands. He’s watched a lot of shows, played games with both our voices in it.
He’s playing the first Spider-Man game right now, which is delightful because he gets mom and dad in the same game. While we’re not pushing him into any type of entertainment career, he is exposed to it all the time and has expressed an interest in it. I’ve said: ”Look, buddy we’re never going to push you into this. But if it’s fun for you, and you want to try an audition sometimes, you can do that.”
I’m not going to lie he has auditioned a couple of times and in one instance he ended up playing a character in something that I was working on, that was a younger version of me. The character I was playing and had a five-year-old version of that character and he ended up playing it. It’s delightful at least to me, but I think he’s pretty over his parent’s jobs. I don’t know, I’ll ride it as long as I can, he likes the characters I play but I’m sure at one point he’s going to be like: ‘Dad, you’re just not cool’ and he’s already far cooler than I am anyway, so I’m sure that time is coming.
Finally, why are you excited for fans to play Spider-Man 2?
I can’t wait for people to play this new game because so much has gone into it. I just want people to finally know what we’ve been working on. I want people to see these characters that we established in the first game growing and doing different things. Let’s be honest, everybody wants to see Venom. I’m just excited for them to really dig into that and then to be surprised by all the other stuff that they did not see coming that ended up working their way into this game.
Amazing, It’s been great to chat.
Thank you for your research, can I say how much I appreciate that you did research before this!
It’s my pleasure, I know when you do so many interviews to promote whatever project you’re working on, it can often get tedious and boring very quickly when being interviewed. So your time is not lost on me. Funnily enough and without me even knowing sometimes, I grew up with a lot of your work. I watched Ben 10 as a child, I played Prince Of Persia, I watched Naruto etc. So, it has been real fun.
Certainly, well I insist that we do a follow-up because you brought up Japan, I rarely get to talk about that. So, in whatever capacity we can, I’d love to revisit with you.
Definitely! Thanks again, Yuri. Chat soon.
Absolutely, thank you so much, Cameron.
Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 is out now. Follow Yuri Lowenthal by clicking here.
Interview Cameron Poole