Scott Menville on How ‘Stretch Armstrong’ Compares to His Other Heroic Characters
You may not know Scott Menville by his given name, but there’s a great chance you know his voice. More specifically, you probably know his voice through characters like Robin in both Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!, the title character in Jonny Quest, and literally hundreds more credits over his career. Currently, Menville provides the voice of both Doctor Otto Octavius on Disney XD’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and as the lead hero of Netflix’s Hasbro hit Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters.
It’s that super-stretchy superhero series that became the focus of my recent chat with Menville. We talked about how earlier roles in his career helped to inform his take on Jake Armstrong, a.k.a. Stretch, his incredible co-stars, and how he manages to keep his characters separate and unique. We also dug into the fact that Stretch Armstrong is a truly unique creation that’s only loosely based on the novelty toy of the same name and how that freedom gave Menville and the creative team lots of room to play around in. And while he couldn’t say much about either the future of Stretch Armstrong or any details on his upcoming animated feature Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, Menville did reveal what aspects of his work he’s excited for fans to see in the near future.
How did you come to be involved with the Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters project?
Scott Menville: I auditioned. Then I didn’t hear anything and forgot all about it. A year later my agent called and said, “Do you remember auditioning for something called Stretch Armstrong over a year ago? Well you have a callback to read for the producers.”
At the callbacks (in the same studio where we would ultimately record the entire series) they mixed and matched us with other actors to do chemistry reads—to see how we played off each other. If my memory is correct, I believe it came down to about 8 or 9 final actors for the three main characters (Jake/Stretch Armstrong, Ricardo/Omni-Mass, and Nathan/Wingspan). The producers and our voice director, Collette Sunderman, kept switching up the groups of three, mixing and matching us with the other actors for the other roles. I’d be in the booth and read with one set of actors who were reading for Omni-Mass and Wingspan, and then those guys would go out and wait in the lobby while I read with the next set of actors reading for Omni-Mass and Wingspan. Then I would be sent out to wait in the lobby while another actor would go in to read for Stretch. Then they’d shuffle the order and bring me back in to read again.
What was your honest reaction to hearing that Hasbro was attempting to adapt the Stretch Armstrong toy? Did that perception change once you saw the script?
Menville: Immediately, from the audition scenes and from the character design, it was apparent that this was a completely new and fresh take on Stretch Armstrong. It was obvious right off the bat that this version was going to be a really cool project.
How does Jake/Stretch compare to some of the other main characters you’ve played? How do you keep them separate in your performances?
Menville: I have played the title character, or a lead character, in several animated series over the years. Sometimes it’s easy to keep a character separate from other characters I’ve done, and sometimes I have to get a little more cerebral to figure out what separates them. For instance, in some ways, Jake/Stretch is similar to Robin, who I voiced on the original Teen Titans series. Robin’s parents are dead, which shapes who he is. Jake’s mom is dead, which shapes who he is. Robin is disciplined, and pushes and drives himself to be better. Jake is disciplined and pushes and drives himself to be better.
So I look at the differences between them. Robin intended on being a hero, and has trained and trained for it. Jake is accidentally thrust into the situation of reluctantly becoming a hero and he has to figure out what that means.
In relation to my vocal performances, Robin is headstrong, and skeptical, and has a hard time trusting anyone, so his voice is measured, guarded, and sort of pinched and steely. Jake/Stretch is more wide-eyed and trying to figure out life, so his voice is more open, with more inflection.
How does Jake/Stretch fit into the Flex Fighters team? How do the other members make him stronger, and vice versa?
Menville: The other members make Jake stronger by showing him that it’s OK to lighten up sometimes and to not be so rigid—to be more flexible. He makes them stronger by calming down Ricardo’s pride and helping him see that it’s okay to be a bit more humble and rational, and by helping boost Nathan’s confidence.
One of my favorite elements of the show is when we get to see our three heroes just trying to navigate their way through the everyday pitfalls of being teenagers in high school.
Can you talk about your fellow cast members, especially Ogie Banks and Steven Yeun? Do you get to record alongside them or is it all separate?
Menville: Ogie Banks and I have been friends for years. We’ve worked together in the past in guest roles on animated series, and then a couple years ago as regulars on an animated pilot that didn’t get picked up. Ogie is a bright light of smiles and happiness and he makes me laugh. He was just texting me some funny messages today. He’s a talented cat and it’s always fun to work with him. He and I recorded side by side for every episode. I think our real life friendship helps with the chemistry of our characters being friends. Between takes we’d mess with each other, writing notes on each other’s scripts or tearing off pencil erasers and flicking them at each other, or him explaining to me why he loves Judge Judy.
I met Steven Yuen on Stretch Armstrong, first at those final callbacks. When his location shooting schedule for other projects permitted, he was there with recording with us for some of our sessions. He’s a cool guy and down to Earth. He gets a lot of the funny lines in the show and his delivery makes them even funnier.
Wil Wheaton plays Jonathan Rook on the series. Wil and I have been pals for years, we’ve worked together before, and he was always there in studio recording every episode with us, so that was fun. Wil is great.
Spoiler Alert! Skip past the next two questions and answers (do not read) if you have not yet watched Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, Season One.
Are you excited to potentially have Riya/Blindstrike (Nazneen Contractor) join the team if there’s a Season 2?
Menville: Nothing has been announced yet, but I think it would be awesome if Riya/Blindstrike were to join the team. Adding a new hero to the team–a female hero to a trio of males–would make for an interesting dynamic. She’s got awesome skills. And her costume looks cool. And Nazneen is a sweetheart, so it would be fun to work with her again.
How do you think the Flex Fighters’ crime-fighting adventures will have to change now that they’re outlaws, if there’s a Season 2?
Menville: They already struggle to keep their Flex Fighter identities a secret from their families, their peers, and their classmates. If there’s a season 2, it could be interesting to watch them try to keep Charter City safe while simultaneously having to hide from everyone in Charter City.
Looking back on the many shows that you’ve acted in, which ones are most similar to Stretch Armstrong? What makes Stretch unique?
Menville: I’ll leave the comparisons up to the viewer, because to me, every show I work on is unique for different reasons.
One thing I love about Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is that there are so many strong female characters, as well as strong characters who are people of color. Whether good or bad, heroes or villains, it’s great to see a lot of different people represented in powerful roles.
Also, while each episode can be viewed on it’s own, they are all part of a larger story that plays out over the season. This is the first series I’ve been a part of that is written with an overall arc for the season, so I think that’s pretty cool.
Out of all the shows you’ve ever worked on, are there any you’d love to see get a modern reboot?
Menville: Years ago I was a series regular on a brilliant primetime animated series called Mission Hill. To this day it remains one of my favorite projects I have ever been a part of. It was the brainchild of two super-talented writer/producers from The Simpsons (Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein). The scripts were hilarious, the character designs were artistically unique, and the cast was stellar. It was ahead of its time. But it was poorly marketed and no one knew about it. It was cancelled after only a few episodes. Thankfully, after all these years it still gets mad love and respect from a loyal cult following. And the entire series lives on in DVD and sometimes on Adult Swim. If they were to do a reboot of Mission Hill I’d sign on in a heartbeat.
What was it like getting to play a unique take on Doc Ock in Marvel’s Spider-Man?
Menville: A unique take is a good way to describe my characterization of Doctor Octopus, and that came from sheer blind luck. When I auditioned, the project was top secret at that point in time. It was listed under a fake title with a fake character names. I was not given any sort of artistic rendering or character design. I had no way of knowing I was auditioning for Doc Ock, much less Marvel’s Spider-Man. All I was told was that I was reading for a 19-year-old high school teacher named “Professor Harrison”, and I was given a description of his personality. So I based my voice characterization and attitude on that. It wasn’t until I booked the part that I was told I was playing Otto Octavius, a.k.a. Doctor Octopus. In hindsight, I’m glad that it went down that way. Had I known I was auditioning for Doc Ock I probably would have done something more predictable, which ultimately wouldn’t have been as unique.
It has been great playing Doc Ock and working on that show! I get to play a lot of heroes, so it’s been fun playing a villain. We did full cast records, so I got to play at the mic next to so many of my talented pals.
What are you most excited for fans to see in ‘Teen Titans Go! To the Movies’ this summer?
Menville: There’s so much I’m not yet allowed to say about Teen Titans Go! To The Movies. But I will say that we’ve had a blast working on it, and there are some great musical numbers in it. I’m fired up for people to see it!
Season 1 of Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is on Netflix now, Marvel’s Spider-Man airs Sunday mornings on Disney XD, and Teen Titans Go! To the Movies opens July 27th. Catch Menville in all of them!