Zeno Robinson is what you call a star in the making and in the past two years he has been racking up impressive roles to add to his ever-growing resume. Recently I had the pleasure of discussing his career with him. We talked about his role as a Black voice actor and his experience in this rigorous field.
Antravis: So, you’re the voice of Young Justice’s Cyborg and I must say you’re doing a great job but my first question is have you always interested in voice acting?
Zeno: I think I always wanted to be an actor first and voice over was the thing that popped off and came through that God put in my hands. But I’ve always wanted to be an actor and I’ve known that since I was little, because when I was a teenager I took a few classes and I knew then that. Voice over acting is one of the many factions of acting and it is the thing that I got the most success out of.
Antravis: So, with Young Justice, there was a bit of a reprieve period. There was a season one and then two and then after season 2 the show was cancelled which was in 2013. The news came out about season 3 in 2018 so how did you find out about the revival?
Zeno: I always was a fan of the show and I actually auditioned for the show in season one. I auditioned for Aqualad and Kid Flash and the show came out and remembered that it was the show I had auditioned for and it instantly became one of my favorite shows ever to exist. So I got the news from Eric Lopez (Voice of Blue Beetle) that the show had been revived and he was my first friend on the show because we were in the same agency. I remember meeting him in the lobby and he told me that he was Blue Beetle. We kept in touch and followed each other on Twitter and Instagram.
Antravis: And is that how you became involved with the show?
Zeno: Yes, that’s how I found out that the show was coming back but that was about three or four months later when they were already deep into records and the audition came up for Cyborg.
Antravis: I never knew that you interviewed for season one so when you did audition what roles where you gunning for?
Zeno: When I first auditioned the role, I was most excited about was Aqualad because that version of Aqualad had not even existed at this point. He was black, and he was already slated to be the leader from the audition set as opposed to Robin which is what you would expect. Just to see a young black Atlantean is different from what we normally see is why Aqualad in this form was all I wanted when it comes to representation. Aqualad was a young Black hero who also was the leader and those kind of risks is what Greg (Weisman) and Brandon (Vietti) does best and I really wanted to be a part of it.
Antravis: Besides Aqualad were there any other roles that you were possibly excited for?
Zeno: Well there was a part in season one where we see Rocket, so I was like Rocket’s here so Static has to be here somewhere and if they put Static in this show then OH MY FREAKING GOD, I have to audition for Static and…that audition never came my way!
Antravis: So, when you auditioned for Cyborg in season 2 did they tell you about they were introducing Cyborg into Young Justice?
Zeno: So when the audition came to me it was code named so the character wasn’t named Victor he was named something like Jack and they did not want anyone to know that Cyborg was going to be in the show. This is a standard policy that voice actors and even actors see a lot especially for Superhero movies because they don’t want anyone to know what they’re planning. I’ve worked on WB projects enough to know what their format looks like and when it was handed to me it was told to me that it was Warner Bros. New Media. The character description said he was 18 years old football star who got into an accident and now he has mechanical powers and I was like hmmmm….this sounds like Cyborg.
So when I did the audition I played it as Cyborg because it made the most sense to me. I didn’t know for sure that it was for Young Justice Season 3 until I got the callback where Greg and Brandon had me come into the studio to work with the director Jamie. Then Laura who was the production coordinator who had me fill out all the paperwork and I asked her who the producers were, and she told me that it was Greg and Brandon and I gasped because I knew it was Young Justice.
Antravis: So how does it feel to be the voice of Cyborg who is such a prolific comic book character that embodies Black representation?
Zeno: If I am being one-hundred percent honest, I did not think many people cared about Cyborg as I have seen now. I felt that in the grand scheme of Superheroes a lot of people liked Cyborg, but I didn’t think he was as popular as he is. I would say that it is very gratifying because of the foundations that were put forward it made things easier for me. We’ve seen other iterations of him in you know animated movies and in Justice League, but I wanted to portray my own take for Cyborg. It’s hard in an era where nostalgia rules a lot, so it was humbling that they loved it.
Antravis: With this iteration of Cybrog we don’t see the ecstatic, Boo-Yah Cyborg as much so where you worried that people weren’t going to like your version?
Zeno: I was definitely worried. I remember the night it aired I was very scared about how people would receive my Cyborg. I just knew that if I messed it up, it would follow me for the rest of the season. My thoughts were that they would say he’s too broody and too angry and he’s not as chipper as he usually is. I was also worried that some people would see my interpretation and say, “Oh this is not my Cyborg” and “My Cyborg sounds like Khary Payton” especially because Khary Payton is on the show. So, it was a big undertaking for me but I was also very confident in my role as an actor. It’s also cool that I get to share it with Khary Payton because he played my Dad and I felt that we were doing it together.
Antravis: He also voices Aqualad as well right?
Zeno: Oh yeah, he’s Aqualad, Black Lightning, and Brick. Yeah, he’s a lot of characters in the show.
Antravis: So how long does it take to record for Cyborg?
Zeno: Usually the recordings take in between two to four hours depending on how many lines the character has and the standard for about a 22-minute episode is about four hours. But I usually stick around to listen because it’s so interesting to be in that world with everyone else.
Antravis: Have you met Tara Strong on set?
Zeno: I did meet Tara Strong! But I met her in a very low-key manner, it was in passing. I was going in the studio and she was coming out and I think she was talking to Greg Cipes (Voice of Beast Boy). I was just like oh my God it’s Tara Strong, oh my God, oh my God, and I kind of said Hello and then I kept it pushing because I didn’t want to fan-girl on her. Also, in that particular instance she was deep into her conversation so she probably doesn’t remember.
Antravis: Well I know if I would have met Tara Strong I definitely would’ve fan-girled so I don’t blame you. So when I first heard your voice when you were voicing Cyborg and I thought it sounded familiar so when I looked you up on IMDB and I did not know you voice Alan on Ben 10.
Zeno: Yeah that was my first ever voice over job.
Antravis: How was that?
Zeno: It was the first monumental and fundamentally eye-opening experiences for me ever. It was an amazing moment for me. Voicing Alan was how I first learned how Cartoons were made so now when I watch a cartoon I know what goes into creating them. It was a very nerve wrecking experience for me to be around so many pros but that actually made it easier for me. This was before I knew who any of them were I mean I was in the room with Yuri Lowenthal, Greg Cipes, Ashley Johnson, Kevin Michael Richardson, Dee Bradley Baker. These are heavy hitters and I didn’t know who any of these people were, I also met Dwayne Mcduffie so that was monumental to me because he created Static. I remember showing Dwayne my phone wallpaper that at that time was Static and how much I loved the show.
That was also my first time working with Khary Payton because we were the Plumbers, he was Manny and I was Alan and it was amazing. That was one of the coolest experiences for me especially as a beginning actor. I remember waking up that morning when it aired and being like that’s my voice coming out of the TV is a moment I will never forget.
Antravis: That sounds amazing, but I also didn’t know that you voice Poncho and Carter Brown in Craig of the Creek, how was that?
Zeno: Well I played Carter first but initially I auditioned for the role of Craig, Bernard, and the Grandfather and then I got a call back. I really wanted to be a part of this show because it was about a young Black kid and he has two friends and they’re out in this kid utopia and this is genius and I wanted to be a part of the show. I’m going to be honest, I was so crushed when I didn’t get the role of Craig, but thankfully I got Carter, I was like cool I still get to be part of the show. So, when the audition for Poncho came along I kind of thought I wasn’t going to get it because I already voiced Carter. Poncho was one of the few characters that I really wanted to get, and I got. He’s been a blast to play and Phillip does an amazing job as Craig and I wouldn’t have it any other way
Antravis: I love the show it really brings a new perspective on how cartoons handle Black characters, speaking of that my next question is what has been the most difficult thing about being a Black voice over artist in this industry?
Zeno: I think the most difficult thing has to do with roles. The roles that you’re told you can’t play, the roles that you’re told you can play, and the roles that you’re handed knowing you can’t play. It’s such a dichotomy for Black voice actors because voice acting is supposed to be the medium where your race doesn’t matter but now we’re in the age of diversity and I am with that. I am with looking for appropriate actors to play appropriate roles because characters have cultural backgrounds that only someone from that same cultural background can fully grasp.
I think the hardest thing also is that it doesn’t always feel equal because my peers will get things that won’t get handed to me because I’m often put in the box of ‘the black guy, so I feel that it’s not equal in this industry. That’s my struggle, finding out where I belong and how to speak up for myself because I don’t have to play just the “Black Guy” but other roles as well and fighting for those opportunities and roles.
But, at the end of the day I’m content playing the Black guy because Black guys are cool and I am seeing more and more auditions for People of Color and I’m okay with that, but what I am not okay with is being put into a box and being told what I can and can’t play. Sometimes I get handed roles that I just cannot play like getting Terry Crews voice matches. Like I don’t sound like Terry Crews and there’s another guy out there who can naturally sound like Terry Crews. There’s only so much that I can naturally push until it becomes a caricature, but I love trying and attempting!
Antravis: So, do you think we will ever get a Cyborg Solo movie?
Zeno: I think it’s possible, if you had asked me before Doom Patrol came out I would have said no but people love Doom Patrol. I haven’t watched it yet, but I need to because I love Doom Patrol, I even have the new comics and they’re a fun read. Cyborg is in Young Justice and people like my take and everybody loves Jovian’s take and because of that love I think it warrants a Cyborg movie but probably not for a while, but I am definitely looking forward to it when it does happen . I think from a business standpoint DC thinks that if we put out a Batman movie and a Cyborg movie at the same time everybody would see the Batman movie because that’s what they know, so that’s why I think Doom Patrol is the best chance that Cyborg has at making a solo movie.
Antravis: So, my last question for you is what’s next for Zeno Robinson?
Zeno: I want to create. Hopefully I get to start writing and creating as an artist because I have a lot of ideas. I want to start writing and creating new shows and comic books and exploring a lot of possibilities. Acting-wise, I want to keep growing and keep studying and learning. What’s next is always a scary question, but I do know that I want to progress as an actor and a person.
From this interview, I can tell that Zeno is genuine when it comes to his love for voicing these characters and is dedicated to portraying Black Culture in the most accurate and positive light he can. The sky is the limit for Zeno Robinson and hopefully he takes us along on the ride.