Zach Callison provides the voice of Steven Universe for the animated series of the same name. You can see the person behind the voice at the Tulsa Pop Culture Expo.
Callison will be among celebrity guests at the pop culture convention, scheduled Nov. 2-4 at the Renaissance Hotel. He attended his first San Diego Comic-Con five years ago and started being a regular on the con circuit around 2015.
He also does a lot of fan meet-and-greets at nonconvention sites because he is touring with his music. A singer and songwriter, Callison released a debut EP earlier this year. Details: zachcallison.com.
Before a Q&A, here’s a quick intro: Callison, who just turned 21, grew up in a neighboring state.
“I’m an L.A. boy these days, but my family loyalties and my sports loyalties are firmly in St. Louis,” he said.
Early acting gigs were at St. Charles Community Center and Lindenwood University (he handled kid roles that college students were too old to play) and the MUNY, a St. Louis amphitheatre, where he was in “Oliver!” and “The Wizard of Oz.”
Have you been able to identify why people love Steven Universe?
“There are so many reasons. One of the most predominant factors is it is exceptional storytelling in a noncondescending way. What I mean by that is it is technically a kids’ show. It is for kids, but it is accessible to everyone and loved by a much older demographic as well because it doesn’t tell the story like it’s telling the story to kids. It just tells the story and it makes it relatable to a wide swath of people.”
“Also, you can’t say that without also touching on the subjects it addresses — the advocacy for all different types of people, the difficult subjects it is willing to tackle regarding relationships and how people treat each other and love and hate. It almost normalizes it for kids because it tells them these messages and puts these messages in but does it in a way that doesn’t talk down to them. It just tells the story and frames morality in the way that it exists in the world of the show. That’s why I think it’s appreciated by such a wide swath of people and just the fact that the music and the animation is done so well by an impeccable team. It’s really a great recipe.”
As Steven Universe, who is your favorite gem to work with?
“That’s picking (between) family members, man. I can’t choose between the main, original three crystal gems, because that would be ridiculously unfair. I will say, not picking favorites, we were really thrilled to have Jennifer Paz, who plays Lapis, and Shelby Rabara, who plays Peridot, join the cast on a more regular basis. We love them to death. They are awesome to work with. Really funny. Just bringing them into the family, it widened the pool of people involved with Steven Universe in a regular fashion and that was really nice to have.”
Some of your first voice actor work was for a Scooby Doo project and you were a kid at the time. Were you pumped to be involved in something Scooby-related?
“I was 11 or 12 when I did it. It was one of my very first real gigs. I grew up on Scooby Doo. Heck, my mom grew up on Scooby Doo. It’s a classic. I was in the booth with Tom Kenny for the first time and Frank Welker as well. I think that’s the only time I got to work with Frank. That was after he took over the role of Scooby as well, so watching him switch between Fred and Scooby mid-scene and do all that work, that was super informative for me as a young voice actor. To be a part of something that I would’ve watched at that age was really surreal as well.”
Do you love voice actor work more than on-camera work or your music, or you just can’t choose?
“For the longest time, (voice acting) was all I was doing just because I wasn’t booking on camera and then I started booking on camera again, doing my Amazon show and doing ‘The Goldbergs.’ Voice acting is something I love doing and I want to continue doing, but it’s not really where my eyes are right now. It’s something that I really enjoy doing, but it’s such a small time commitment that I feel antsy if I don’t fill my time with other things.
“I’m constantly going hard for on-camera auditions and taking acting classes again. I never really stopped doing that for any long period of time, for on-camera stuff, just to keep working that muscle. The music is also probably my main chunk of time right now. ... This tour has been insanely good for getting music out there. The shows have been something truly special, so I really believe this right now is what I need to be focusing my time on because it’s the most fledgling thing in my arsenal at the moment and I need to get it up to speed with the rest of everything else.”
What’s a question you’re guaranteed to get at every convention?
“Some people ask me if I like working on (Steven Universe), which is a weird question to me because I act and I perform and I do all the things that I do because I love them and if someone is in the industry, it’s pretty much a certainty that they love what they do because, if they don’t, they never would have made it in the first place. So on the surface I ‘get’ the question, but on the other hand it is very strange to me that (it wouldn’t be obvious), given how much we talk about it, that it wouldn’t have been covered already. But if anybody is wondering, yes, I do love it on the show.”
What’s something you wish people would ask about, but they never do?
“People have started asking me about my music lately, which makes me overjoyed. I love hearing about that. I would love to hear about it more just because it’s new and it’s something. (Show creator) Rebecca Sugar is to Steven Universe what I am to my album. We are the creators, the writers, the producers. We have a hand in every aspect of it, which is something new for me. Because of that, it’s deeply, intently personal to me. So when people ask about it, that brings me a lot of joy. A lot more people have started to ask about it, which is really cool. I wouldn’t say that it’s never talked about.”
What’s the best way to describe your music?
“It’s theatrical, emotional and extremely dynamic, from the highest highs to the lowest lows. The album is framed in a storyline that is a sort of a retelling of a real story in a real period of my life and it’s delivered in a way that sort of bridges very cinematic epic rock with musical theater aspects with a little hip hop-style storytelling.”