Zeno Robinson is an American voice actor who is known for his work on the Cartoon Network’s Ben 10 series and other animation hits such as One-Punch Man and Cyborg 009: Call of Justice where here he voiced Cyborg 008 / Pyunma. For Disney he has voiced Randy Robertson on Marvel’s Spider-Man and earned a recurring role on Big City Greens as Remy Remington.
It’s his role as the suave and sophisticated Lando Calrissian in the LEGO Star Wars animated series “All-Stars” that brought us together however. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Calrissian is a legendary gambler, smuggler, pilot and card-player and is considered Star Wars royalty and has achieved legendary status.
In the films he has been played by Billy Dee Williams and Donald Glover while on TV and video games, Williams provided the voice for content such as Star Wars Rebels, Droid Tales and The Freemaker Adventures.
However, when it came time to depict a younger Lando in this new series, creators Bill Motz and Bob Roth went with a familiar voice, Robinson.
We had the chance to speak with Zeno recently where we discussed eating pizza, sounding like Donald Glover and The Freemaker Adventures.
Hi Zeno! Tell me about your relationship with Star Wars and was Lando Calrissian in your radar at all prior to this job?
I've always been a Star Wars fan. My dad is a super connoisseur of old movies, so one of my earliest memories was watching Star Wars with him when I was little and having no idea what was going on. One of my favorite toys growing up was a young Boba Fett from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (although I wish it were Lando now!) I don't think I became a super fan until I actually sat down and binged all 6 Seasons of The Clone Wars animated show, and then seeing John Boyega in The Force Awakens really hit home for me.
Professionally, Lando Calrissian wasn’t really on my radar prior to this, mostly because whenever Lando appeared it was Billy Dee Williams who kind of always stepped in to do the part. When I heard about All-Stars, I wondered if Donald would do the same thing, but if he didn’t, I certainly hoped I would get my chance.
Actually, when I got my audition sides, the character’s codename was "Lance Chrisliac" and as soon as I saw it, I went, “LANDO…IT's LANDO!”
What was it about Donald Glover’s take on Lando in Solo: A Star Wars Story that you think was so special? And was the intent to be Lando as we now know him? Or was it to play Donald playing Lando? Or are they synonymous now?
Honestly, I kind of think Donald stole the movie for me! I loved his take on Lando; it was so smooth and charming in a way that's completely different, yet reminiscent of Billy Dee's take on the character. He's a bit funnier this time as well, and that’s just because Donald's a funny dude. And his sense of style!
I wanted to know more about where he came from and how he ended up where he was. There's something really magnetizing about the performance. It was interesting listening to how Donald even changed up the cadence in the way he spoke. He really committed to the part and I have a ton of respect for that.
I should probably start off by saying that Donald Glover is a legend to me; he's my favorite artist and one of, if not my biggest inspirations for my career, so it was incredibly important that I got this right. If he ever heard my performance, I wanted to be sure he could be like "Yeah that was in good hands." Even kind of stepping in his shoes was kind of surreal and breathtaking.
Honestly, my intention was to play Donald playing Lando all while staying as faithful and canonical as possible to the source material for the fans. I knew I could voice match Donald, but could I voice match his take on Lando? And I guess I can say this now, but Solo wasn't out yet at the time we recorded so I had no idea if he did anything different than his usual vocal placement. I was kind of shooting in the dark and hoping I got close to what he did in the movie by the time it came out.
So, just to make sure I had all my bases covered, I did everything Donald said he did to prepare and study for the role; which was going home, ordering pizza, and watching "The Empire Strikes Back" I thought maybe if I matched Donald, with a sort of Billy Dee Williams inspired cadence and coolness, I'd get something like what Donald might have come up with.
I listened to a lot of clips of Donald as well, from his voice over performances to my favorite episodes of Community, just to make sure I had his voice down (or at least something close to it) and combine that with Billy Dee's coolness. A lot of his Solo interviews helped as well.
At the end of the day, I decided to try and "be cool about it" so I really hope it's synonymous. Who knows, if the movie had come out before the recording of All-Stars, I might've done something different to try to sound closer to that performance. So, maybe it's a good thing that we weren’t able to see the film.
Did you have any prior knowledge of The Freemaker Adventures and their history? Were you aware that you were contributing to their history in a significant way? Bringing Lena and Pace to the Wheel, the moustache bit, even helping them adopt the “Freemaker” moniker, these are big Freemaker tropes!
Actually, a fun fact is that I made it to callbacks for Zander and Rowan when they were starting the Freemaker Adventures! So of course, when I received the script and read that it’s Lando who helps them come up with the name “Freemaker” I was like "YOOOOO WAIT THIS IS THE STORY OF THEIR PARENTS!"
So, it was really cool, and honestly such a great way to weave a story. They did the next episode, “Scouting for Leia/A Mission with Maz” right after mine in the studio, so I got to hang around and see more of the evolution and it was genius. I really hope Bill and Bob get to do something else in a pocket of Star Wars because that kind of storytelling is so entertaining to me.
Even though Billy Dee Williams voiced Lando, have you seen the Freemaker episodes with Lando in them?
When I was doing my research I watched the clips of Billy Dee's performance from the Freemaker Adventures, looking for a frame of reference. I was trying to see if there was anything I could glean from the episodes at all in relation to the one I'd be doing. I tried to factor that into my performance, but I also didn't want to stick too close to it. I love Billy Dee's dedication to the character and that he makes time for it.
Tell me about your day in the studio, who was there, working with Bill and Bob, etc…
I honestly spent the first half practically with my phone glued to my ear playing a clip of a Donald Glover “Solo” interview, so I could have it as down as possible. Of course, Bill and Bob were there and they were incredibly nice and enthusiastic about the project from the get go. We got to reconnect through the Freemakers, and they kind of hinted where they were going with the show as far as the Freemaker family was concerned.
They actually had a reference clip for me from the film that they wanted to play! I was excited because it felt like I was getting this sneak peek at Donald's performance in “Solo” before everyone else, and it would give me the perfect frame of reference. Unfortunately, there was a problem with the file, but Bill and Bob had a lot of confidence in me and were like "Yeah we think you're right on the money anyway so just do your thing"
I recorded with Jasmin Savoy Brown (Lena), Abigail Marlowe (L3), Corey Burton (Awan Zek) and AJ Locascio (Stormtrooper) and it was incredibly fun. Group recordings are always fun. As soon as we started recording with Corey Burton playing Awan Zek, and getting into that gritty alien voice, it felt like I was instantly transported into the Star Wars universe.
They played my reference, and everyone was super receptive to it, which gave me the push I needed to just relax and do my thing. I super sunk into it, and even ad-libbed a few things with Abigail that made it into the final cut. I honestly felt like I was Lando, it was amazing.
Bill and Bob were super cool and were incredibly fun guys to work with. They kind of just let us do our thing and would only steer us in a direction when they needed to. One of the fun bits on working on this episode was how we were gonna pronounce "Falcon" of Millennium Falcon, because Harrison Ford would say it like "Fawlcon" sometimes. We had lots of laughs during recording.
Have you seen the show, or at least your episode, and what did you think?
Yeah! I’ve seen my episode and have been keeping up with the rest. I think it all came together so well! I had no idea that the graphics would be THAT good. I mean, I knew they would be good, but not THAT good.
I was incredibly impressed with my performance. During my first viewing there would be some moments and some lines where I would literally go "Whoa. That was like, SPOT ON. Is that ME?" Since “Solo: A Star Wars Story” is out now and I’ve been able to see it, I feel like I got it pretty close!
Some parts I ad-libbed and threw in there. Little bits like when talking about the corusca gem run and Abigail goes "…and I refused to do it" and I responded with "Yes she did, ALRIGHT LET’S GO." That "yes she did" part was an ad lib. And the "I'm trying to save our skins! Well my skins your bolts." line was also an ad-lib. It was really cool seeing that the guys liked those so much that they kept them in the final version. It was an honor and I hope I get to do it again someday, if Donald is too busy that is!
I wonder sometimes if Donald ever saw the episode or my performance, if he'd think it’s cool? Or just comment on the fact that there's a person out there that can sound like him, and how weird that might be? I'm incredibly honored and blessed to step into such an iconic role and I’m forever thankful that Bill and Bob trusted me with it.
Any message for the fans?
God is great, and I love you all! As I keep repeating, I'm incredibly honored and blessed to be here, and I hope you all liked my take on Lando! Never give up on your dreams! May the Force be with you! All that good stuff!
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