I don’t think even Critical Role fans could have imagined in their wildest dreams what was in store when The Legend of Vox Machina animated series premiered on Prime Video over a year ago. What originally began as a simple role-playing game between friends has evolved into an expansive world branching out into various forms of media. Vox Machina Season 2 picks right up where we last saw the titular group of misfit heroes as a sinister group of dragons known as the Chroma Conclave rear their ugly heads. It’s up to the intrepid team to once again save the day.
Ahead of Vox Machina Season 2, we had the chance to chat with Critical Role founders and cast members including Taliesin Jaffe (Percy de Rolo), Ashley Johnson (Pike Trickfoot), Liam O’Brien (Vax’ildan), Travis Willingham (Grog), Marisha Ray (Keyleth), Sam Riegel (Scanlan Shorthalt), and Matthew Mercer (various). During our virtual interviews compiled below, the team discussed a variety of topics such as the fantastic guest stars, the collaboration process as well as teases for what’s to come.
Taimur Dar: It’s really interesting to see how you’ve adapted the first campaign into animation such as incorporating the Slayer’s Take story into the larger Chroma Conclave arc. How did you go about plotting this season and the larger storyline of Vox Machina?
Matthew Mercer: The challenge when you’re adapting a story that takes place over hundreds of hours of gameplay is how do you do that in a way that feels honest and natural. For all of us that’s part of the challenge and an exciting challenge. We sit around and plot out the story arc as we want it. And then we discuss what our favorite moments are and things that are important to include and we can bring in from other facets of the story that we had to pass over because of the expediency of the narrative and how we can fit them back in a way that feels natural. So we can incorporate things we missed that may have happened before the Chroma Conclave such as the Slayer’s Take stuff. It’s part of the fun process of adaptation. It’s a challenge but a challenge we’ve all been thoroughly enjoying.
Travis Willingham: It’s something we revisit constantly through the production of a single season. It’s not a one-and-done for us. I’d love to say that we write it once and record it and then it’s off to get animated. We’ll frequently start at the beginning and by the time we get to the end of the season we are going back and changing things in earlier parts of the season. Not just to make the entire season work and feel better but also because we’re hoping to do this for seasons to come and set things up down the line. We love getting together and throwing it against the wall and constantly massaging it until it’s as good as it can be.
Dar: I feel like between The Boys, Invincible and now Vox Machina, Prime Video has the market cornered with shows pushing the envelope. Was there anything that caused concern for the powers that be or that you had to change or tone down, particularly for Vox Machina Season 2?
Sam Riegel: Heavens, no! Amazon has been 103% supportive of this show the entire time. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a note to tone anything down. If anything, at least early on, they were pushing and encouraging us to go further. Like those other shows you mentioned, I don’t think the stuff we do on The Legend of Vox Machina is gratuitous or unearned. It all comes from a place of fun, character and story. We get to have these great wild moments because our characters are so wild.
Dar: Even before lockdown, coordinating large group voice recordings was difficult. Nevertheless, there’s definitely a magic that happens when you have voice actors in the same room. While you likely couldn’t record together, could you still find same that magic and energy?
Taliesin Jaffe: Thankfully we can predict and understand each other’s characters. We can imagine what the other actors are going to do. We’ve been playing these characters for so long. There were occasions where we could get a couple of people online. For very heavy scenes we could play off each other over the internet. I would have loved to have everybody in a room. We’re experienced and we’re kind of built for this emergency. I forgot that that happened while I watched the show.
Liam O’Brien: It’s definitely sad to lose the group reads together. Luckily, we’ve been able to do that more in recent times. We do try to record together at least in pairs or sometimes trios. I think I did a trio one time. So we have our partner to rely on. It’s not drastically different from the make-believe we do at the table or the make-believe we’ve done in VO booths for years. If Marisha and I had a scene together as Keyleth and Vax, we would be logged in together in separate “shoe boxes” and she would be right there with me when I needed her to be in the “dream space.” It’s always better to get us all together because it’s like our time at the table. We crack each other up and feed off each other’s energy. But we had each other for when it really mattered.
Dar: Vox Machina Season 2 has some fantastic guest stars some of whom are your friends and colleagues like Will Friedle and Troy Baker. Were there any actors who delighted you to work with or blew you away in their performances?
O’Brien: Henry Winkler is delightful as Pop Pop.
Riegel: There are a lot of good guests this season. We got our second hobbit [Billy Boyd] to come in. Lance Reddick plays Thordak and makes him wonderfully insane. There are a lot of good guests this season. We’re very excited Will Friedle and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn got to reprise the roles they originated in the live play series. And we have familiar friends like Robbie Daymond and Fred Tatasciore and Sumalee Montano.
O’Brien: We’re spoiled for choice because our friends are so talented!
Dar: I gotta ask about getting Cheech Marin to voice a character familiar to fans in a drug-induced sequence in Vox Machina Season 2 that’s completely on brand for him. How did the inspired idea of getting Cheech Marin happen, even for just a few lines? I don’t suppose we’ll be hearing his voice again next season?
Marisha Ray: We’re just going to have to do more drugs to bring him back!
Riegel: Yup! It’s a very unique scene. There’s not many actors out there when you think “drugs” they pop into your head. But he’s one of them and I think he’s proud of it! He was such a good sport to do it. He knocked it out of the park. I would hope we get to see him again later in the series.
Dar: Besides acting, most of you have writing experience in some form or another so it’s not surprising that Sam and Travis teamed up to write some episodes themselves. I’m curious if any of you have been yearning to take a stab at writing a full episode of Vox Machina in future?
Mercer: Totally! Many of our cast have bantered the idea and those who have the inclination and time will have the opportunity. That’s kind of the challenge. There’s a lot of things going on simultaneously. But I do know a lot of us are very excited to possibly get a crack at the direct writing process. We’re also involved in the writing process already. With a script it’s just a step further.
Ashley Johnson: Maybe Season 12.
Willingham: That will be the one that’s just images.
Johnson: A “Terrence Malick” 20-minute episode that’s just hands going through the wheat.
Dar: For you Travis, what was the experience co-writing with Sam?
Willingham: Oh boy! Throwing Sam and I on a script is a recipe for madness and chaos! It’s so great because Sam and I have a very shared vision for what the show can look and feel like. When we get onto an episode there’s really nothing crazy to it. We divide up acts or particular scenes and then we write our own stuff. We come back together and we crisscross. We review each other’s stuff and punch that up and make suggestions. Iron sharpens iron. We just work it until it’s in a place where we think it’s good. And that’s just the beginning. We have other writers and of course Brandon Auman, our fantastic showrunner. And then it goes to all of the cast who are executive producers on the show and they do their dialogue pass and review what their characters are doing and throw in their notes. It’s a constantly evolving process and something we’re never precious about because it’s going to go through so many iterations. Working with Sam is the absolute best. When we started our game one of the things we looked forward to the most was making each other laugh. We’re just trying to put each other on our heels and keep each other guessing. That’s exactly what the writing process is like.
Dar: Songs are a major part of Vox Machina. You keep up Scanlan’s trademark hilarious ditties but you also have some really beautiful pieces. Sam, what’s your approach to the songs?
Riegel: The songs on the show are co-written by me and Peter Habib [and] Neal Acree does the score of the show. We knew that Scanlan had to sing in the series so we decided to write all these little ditties for him. Some longer than others. This season we really got a great opportunity because we got to show some of the other cast members singing either in the episodes or [during the] credits. I hope we get to keep doing that further into Season 3. In fact, I know that we will! I want to hear Marisha sing in an episode at some point as well.
Ray: Better have those margaritas prepped for that session!
Riegel: And auto-tune!
Dar: For those who know the source material how do you keep viewers on their toes?
Ray: It is an adaptation so I think that is important to keep in mind from the beginning. Some things aren’t necessarily going to be the same from the campaigns. Some of that was out of necessity because you’re taking 4-hour episodes and condensing them down into twelve 22-minute episodes. Of course, as you mentioned you want to keep everybody on their toes and guessing.
Dar: Once you succeed in television, it seems the logical next stop for a property is a feature length film. I’m sure this series has kept you busy enough as it is but has the prospect of Vox Machina animated movie been discussed or an idea that excites you?
Johnson. That would be so fun! I think we talk about this all the time. If we put it out there in the ether and talk about something, sometimes it ends up happening. For all of us, just seeing this story that we’ve all created and built together come to life in any form is just such an incredible and surreal experience.
Willingham: I think before we get to the feature length film we have to do Critical Role: The Larp, Critical Role: The Musical and Critical Role: The Water Park!
Jaffe: We’ve done a whole Briarwood arc in four and half hours. So we’re ready for Briarwood in two hours and fifteen minutes. I feel like we could get that down!. Let’s tighten it up! It was a little loosey-goosey.
Willingham: The really interesting thing though is that there are so many campaigns that we’ve been able to participate with in so many different miniseries with Exandria Unlimited. There are lots of stories to choose from and tell. We’re hoping this might lead to other things and we’ll be able to fill out the rest of the universe. That’s a very exciting prospect for us and keeps us driving harder on these episodes.
Dar: What can you tease for Season 3 to excite fans?
Ray: We’re jumping ahead so far!
Willingham: Everyone dies!
Johnson: It was all a dream! [Laughs] There’s going to be music and a lot of us may sing.
Jaffe: I’m excited to see new places in the world. We’re going to visit our old favorites but we’re also going to get out and see a little more of what’s out there.
O’Brien: In Season 2 and Season 3, the bad guys are not pushovers.
Riegel: There’s lot of dragons and they will be a force and a foe that Vox Machina has never seen and experienced the danger before. Fans will see other realms and other dimensions. They’ll get to see the characters level up and power up with new magical abilities and weapons that makes one character go real fast like Sonic the Hedgehog.
O’Brien: Gotta go fast!
Riegel: And there’s lots of butt stuff!
Willingham: The beautiful thing is that it was really nice to have two seasons to unfurl the majesty of the Chroma Conclave arc because there are so many mini character arcs that happen within that larger arc. I will say as a tease being able to revisit those arcs and storylines is not just about bringing those moments that our existing fans know. We are on a mission to freshen it up and give it a new look and perspective so we can keep our existing fans on their toes.
Mercer: This is high fantasy swords and sorcery and there are many conventional ways that heroes tackle conventional genre. Vox Machina is a very unconventional fantasy group and they certainly tackle some challenges in some very unconventional methods. There are definitely a number of moments I don’t believe I’ve ever seen done in this genre both at the table when we did it and even further when we made it into a cartoon!
The Legend of Vox Machina Season 2 premieres on Friday, January 20 on Prime Video.