Sam Witwer needs no introduction. The Star Wars fandom knows him as a leading voice within Lucasfilm animation. Most famously known for providing the vocals for Maul in The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels, Witwer’s talents far exceed into every corner of entertainment that one can imagine. The DC fandom knows him for his villainous roles in Smallville and Supergirl on television. Witwer aims to bridge the two culturally dominant worlds of fantasy together in his latest project- DC Universe All Star Games.
The game show, which had its premiere on the DC Universe streaming service 3 weeks ago, is executive produced by Witwer and fellow Star Wars alumn Freddie Prinze Jr. The two assemble along with fellow Rebels costar Vanessa Marshall, actress Clare Grant, and WWE superstar Xavier Woods to play the RPG DC Heroes. All episodes are directed by long time fellow geek Jon Lee Brody. Witwer skills as game master lead the story on a rollercoaster of twists and turns. Quite unlike the common game show, this is an ode to fans of all kinds of RPGs. There is no catch, just talented people coming together to play games for the camera. The results are unsurprisingly worth the time.
We were lucky enough to have Witwer for an exclusive interview. We go into the history of RPGs, how a show as unique as All Star Games even came to be, and his personal connection to DC comics. The crossover into Star Wars and season 7 of The Clone Wars could, of course, not be left out. Read it below!
DF: You are an ace of all trades having worked in film, television, animation, and different formats of gaming. You are also even a musician! You have expressed your love of various RPGs plenty of times before, but what was it about this opportunity of DC Universe All Star Games that made you decide to undertake it?
SW: Freddie (Prinze Jr.) is a friend. Vanessa (Marshall) is a friend. Clare (Grant) is a friend. Clare, I’ve actually gamed with just randomly here and there. Xavier (Woods) is a friend of Freddie’s. A new friend of mine. What it comes down to is, as you get older you get busier. Your schedule gets a little bit more filled up, but if someone can come up with sort of a professional excuse to get together with your friends and game you just say, yes. It’s that simple.
DF: That sounds about right.
SW: You know what I mean? This is the kind of thing that somehow when we were all younger, we all had time to just do these things. Somehow when you’re older, it’s hard to have everyone’s schedule line up. But if you can come up with sort of a professional excuse, then weirdly it’s easier to get everyone in the same room and do it. So really this is more about hanging out with my friends than it is about anything else.
DF: Right. I was going to ask how you assembled the cast, but it seems like you were all very connected. It’s interesting because you really don’t get to see that a lot on TV. People who just happen to know each other get the opportunity to sit down and just play. Almost unheard of.
SW: We all enjoy spending time together and I know them well enough to where I felt like I knew what kind of characters they would enjoy playing. The big question mark for me was Xavier. I didn’t quite know what he would want to play and I made a guess and I dare say it worked out. He absolutely kills it.
DF: He really does. Everyone fits into the roles naturally. How did the opportunity to even produce a show like this come about? Did you pitch it or did someone come to you?
SW: Freddie pitched it. We had done this Star Wars role-playing game on camera for GEGG WARS on Youtube. We set no expectations for it. It was simply like, hey let’s get the Star Wars Rebels cast together! Tiya Sircar was out of town. We got the entire cast of Star Wars Rebels, except for her, and we just played the Star Wars role-playing game. A lot of them had never really done this kind of thing before, this RPG thing. We had so much fun that basically Freddie was like, “Well, I’m going to look for opportunities, like pitch these things because that was really, really fun”.
SW: The only thing I think going in to work for DC is that I did a little bit more prep than I did when we were just messing around playing Star Wars. I felt the obligation to sort of come up with a story that I would want to watch on a DC animated film or something along that sort of narrative quality level. That was what I was shooting, but I don’t want to sit here and be like, “My stuff is as good as”. I’m just saying that was what I aimed for. I felt the need to come up with a really compelling story if we were going to do this.
DF: It’s really surprising that we don’t have more content like this because the world of RPGs is so massive. A lot of people don’t realize it though. It really has withstood decades of storytelling. Do you think that there could be room for more shows like this?
SW: Oh, sure. The thing is, this is still new. Obviously, RPGs are not new. They’ve been around for about 50 years when it comes to what grew into the modern RPG world. While the idea of RPGs has been around forever, the idea of broadcasting them and making shows out of that, especially game shows, is still relatively new. Matt Mercer and the Critical Role crew really blazed an incredible path for people to follow. Now that they’ve done that, there isn’t an excuse for anyone. If you’ve got a good story and a good group of people, you may as well. There’s nothing stopping you from putting it on YouTube.
DF: Exactly. Why not put it on TV or streaming even?
SW: Yeah, weirdly. It’s such a strange thing. If you were to bring this up even five short years ago, I’d say “Who wants to see that? I want to do that, but I don’t know if anyone would want to see that”. Again, the sort of precedent has been set, it’s still a new precedent, but people are doing this. I just admitted publicly on Twitter that I hadn’t really watched what we did until recently. The second episode was out, I should probably see a little bit of this. Because I hate watching myself. I hate it enough when I’m playing a different character. I get really uncomfortable with me just being me. So, I watched a little bit of it and was delighted with what I saw.
SW: “Oh my God, this is really rather entertaining. It’s actually really fun”. I was so happy with how they cut it and the elements they added, the little stock footage stuff, the music stingers, and the sound effects. It was like we were really all in tune. I really have to thank DC for getting on board with what we were doing. It was funny when we were shooting this, it’s such a new concept that when I would ask for something like “I need this and that “, a bunch of people would give me these looks of like- okay, well we don’t know, we don’t get it, we don’t know why you need that. They were like, “we don’t understand what you’re doing, but we’re going to take you at your word so we’ll help you”. That level of cooperation seems to have really paid off because I really like it. I really enjoy watching it. It’s hilarious.
I really credit the players for being so hilarious and clever. But I really want to thank DC for how much they cooperated, how much they got on board with what I was saying and what we were doing. They really just facilitated and helped. What’s really cool is I’ve seen a lot of these people since shooting and now they get it are like, “Oh yeah, we’re totally on board”. The cool thing is they just took it on faith that it was going to kind of work and just did their jobs really well. It’s really cool when people are good at their jobs and make great editorial decisions. I was very, very happy with it.
DF: That’s great to hear because it fits really well in the TV format. Again, it’s surprising that nobody else has done it yet because I can see people tuning in on a weekly basis. You get engaged just like if you were playing RPGs in person, you get really sucked into it. You spend hours sitting at a table with friends. When you make it into the show, you basically have like a whole season’s worth of material and you don’t realize it.
SW: I’ll tell you what that is. That is definitely one of the challenges because when you do these games with your friends, you can mess around. You can do whatever you want and sort of free-form a lot of stuff. When you do it and it’s going to be broadcast, there really does have to be a structure in place. You know what I mean? It’s not that things can’t go off the rails, which they surely do go off the rails because it’s an unpredictable thing. The players do stuff that you don’t anticipate, but you have to have some sense of pacing. You have to a sense of how the story is going and just make sure that the things continue to be interesting from an outside perspective, not just from a player or game master perspective. I’m sort of flying high because I just watched some of this recently and I’m very happy with how this went.
DF: That’s great to hear. You have a long personal history with DC. You have roots going all the way back to Smallville to most recently playing a huge foe on Supergirl. What is it about the DC property that keeps you coming back?
SW: I like both DC and Marvel for sure, but I’ve always preferred DC. Superman, I mean god he’s the prototype of everything, like all superheroes. I rather like the challenges that character faces. The statement of a guy who could kind of do anything but limits himself because of a moral compass. I really like that. Then Batman comes from the other side of the tracks from a lot the challenges that he faces in the way that he goes about it. I mean everyone watched the Adam West and Burt Ward Batman series growing up. You get acquainted with all these characters and villains like Catwoman, the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, and etc.
But when 1989 Batman came out, I picked up stuff like Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. It just swallowed me up as a kid. I was just like, “Oh my God, I’m a Batman fan now”. I just lost my mind for what was going on and read everything I could get my hands on when it came to Batman. Which led me to late high school when my buddy and I on Christmas day were there when Mask of The Phantasm came out in theaters. Maybe I’m drawn to the pulp fiction roots of some of these characters. Batman has stuff in common with The Phantom and The Shadow and these pulp detective type weirdly cool stories.
SW: Then, of course, the Wonder Woman show just had the best music. The Wonder Woman theme is infectious and amazing. Even as a kid, I couldn’t turn it off the moment that music came on. You know the idea of people dressing up in costumes and doing stuff is on the surface, pretty ridiculous. But I liked the way it’s characterized within DC. I hope that we brought some of that fun to, well I guess we’re not quite- I’m not gonna say anything!
DF: Yeah there are plenty of surprises in store for All Star Games.
SW: Yeah with the DC stuff, there was definitely some fun to be had. Because I wanted to keep it small and manageable and give it somewhere to go, I felt strongly that it would be fun to have a group of kids or teenagers. The reason I grabbed on to that idea was that when this DC heroes RPG was out and we were all kids playing role-playing games, we weren’t necessarily very public about that. You know, if you were going to go and ask a girl for her telephone number and say “Hi, I play D&D“, it wasn’t cool back then. We were so concerned with social acceptance and how to get along with our peers and the weird hierarchies involved there.
So I thought, why not make a game about that in the DC universe? That’s really going back to who I, Freddie, and all those people were when we were younger. It was the idea of giving the characters something to hide, giving them secrets that are all different from each other. It was very fun, again, totally informed by the fact that all of us RPGers walked around with secrets of our own when we were kids. I mean we couldn’t even tell adults about it! If you told an adult that you played D&D or DC Heroes, they were like “Oh, so you worship the devil and are driving yourself insane from this hobby! We learned from the Tom Hanks movie Mazes and Monsters that just broadcasted on TV”.
SW: “We’ve learned with absolute certainty that if you play RPGs long enough, you will not be able to determine what is reality from fantasy and will become confused. You’ll think you are your character and then you’ll wander off and try to kill yourself”. That was what role-playing games did. So we were hiding this little nerdy hobby from our peers. We were hiding it from our parents. Bringing in some of that into the game was appropriate. Bringing that to the characters, giving them some secrets to hide.
DF: Absolutely. There is something about comics and RPGs that we can all relate to. They give us reasons to keep going back. It’s crazy how this program is coming out on the heels of Clone Wars. That just shows how unique your repertoire is. There has already been widespread praise from fans and audiences of all kinds What’s going on in your mind knowing that there are both your episodes of Clone Wars and more All Star Games just around the corner?
SW: I guess I didn’t really think of it that way. Especially since with DC Universe, we were doing it with Freddie and Vanessa. Even Clare was a character on Clone Wars! She was one of the Bounty Hunters with this weird plant that would snatch people up. So yeah, we have Star Wars alumni in this DC project.
DF: Yeah its really timely.
SW: Yes, absolutely. Totally exciting! I’m just kind of a huge geek and any opportunity to take hobbies of mine and make it part of my living- make it part of what I do professionally, I jump on it. Star Wars is like my favorite thing ever. So the fact that I have been working with the Star Wars folks for over 12 years now is insane to me. These people still feel like they have use for me. It’s crazy. With DC, again, I just worshiped this stuff when I was younger. If I could go back in time and tell my 11 or 12-year-old self what I was going to be doing for a living I think he would lose his mind. He would absolutely not be able to conceive the fact that anyone would want to broadcast themselves playing an RPG this efficient in public. He would be under the impression that they would take you away in a padded van to some equivalent of Arkham asylum.
The Star Wars stuff is equally strange that I should be involved in. Getting to play a villain in a Star Wars movie and stuff like that. Weird, weird stuff. But I will say that for Clone Wars and All Star Games, the best is yet to come. There are some moments we are saving up. I wanted to make sure that you see a story build and go somewhere with some really good payoffs. That’s exactly how Dave (Filoni) feels about Clone Wars. There’s a momentum that builds and the best stuff is in fact saved for last. The best episodes of All Star Games are the last, the best one is probably the finale. The best of Clone Wars I think is possibly the last arc we do. So I’m looking forward to both of them.