Big Hero 6: Baymax Returns (premiering on Disney XD on November 20th) marks the launch of Big Hero 6: The Series, which officially debuts in 2018, and picks up with 14-year-old tech genius Hiro (voiced by Ryan Potter) as a new student at San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, determined to rebuild his personal health companion Baymax (voiced by Scott Adsit). But like with any teenager, Hiro’s overconfidence and penchant for taking shortcuts leads him and the newly minted Big Hero 6 team – Wasabi (voiced by Khary Payton), Honey Lemon (voiced by Genesis Rodriguez), GoGo (voiced by Jamie Chung) and Fred (voiced by Brooks Wheelan) – into trouble.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Khary Payton talked about how he came to be voicing Wasabi for Disney XD, why this group of characters is perfect for a TV series, taking a cue from Damon Wayans Jr. (who originated Wasabi for the feature film) while making the character his own, what he most enjoys about Wasabi, why the cast typically doesn’t get the opportunity to record their voice performances together, how this team will evolve, and why he’d want his own personal Baymax. He also talked about what it’s been like to be a part of The Walking Dead (where he’s played Ezekiel), and the similarity between the two series.
Collider: The Big Hero 6 movie was definitely left in a way where there could easily be more story, but with no announcement of any future films, it’s very cool to get to see more from these characters on TV. Why do you think this is the perfect story and group of characters to have a TV series?
KHARY PAYTON: I’m excited about it coming back, and I’m really excited about it coming back in series form. I feel like there are so many stories that you can tell with those guys, and limiting it to just one sequel almost feels like you’re doing it a bit of a disservice, in terms of just the amount of story that you can tell. I must have watched Big Hero 6, the movie, 100,000 times because it’s just so much fun. It’s a beautiful story about family, and they’re superheroes. With this job, I’ve somehow found myself playing Wasabi. It’s crazy! I remember when the movie first came out and I was thinking, “Wow, what a different silhouette of a robot.” The simplicity makes him not only cool, but endearing.
Since you didn’t voice this character for the movie, how did you come to be voicing him for the TV series?
PAYTON: I was doing this job, Teen Titans Go!, and the casting director was looking for a replacement for Wasabi. I was available, and I had just started working for Disney doing The Lion Guard on Disney Junior, playing Rafiki. I started working for Disney Animation a lot, and they started bouncing me around to different shows. They saw the similarities between Cyborg and Wasabi. They’re both very animated characters, who wear their hearts on their sleeve. You’re never wondering what it is that they’re thinking because they’re either freaking out, or they’re really happy, and you know exactly how they feel. They just wanted me to bring a bit of that flavor to Wasabi, in this version. I really wasn’t trying to do an impression of Wasabi, at all. I just wanted to give him my own take.
Did you go back and listen to what Damon Wayans Jr. did when he voiced Wasabi, or did you feel like you had freedom to make the character your own?
PAYTON: Actually, they gave me a lot of freedom to make the character my own. Of course, I did take a cue from Damon Wayans Jr. because he did such a great job and it was such a great mix, with the other five characters. I’m coming into this and most everybody had been a part of it, so I didn’t want to upset the apple cart, but I was at least given enough freedom to be able to play. Being on the TV show vs. the movie, I’ve had a lot more time to play Wasabi already. He’s an integral part of the movie, but not a huge part, and he gets a little more time in the TV series, to be able to play around.
What do you most enjoy about getting to voice this character, and how do you most identify with him? What do you like about Wasabi?
PAYTON: I love his extreme nature. He doesn’t have false opinions about things. I wouldn’t call him opinionated, either. He just likes things in a certain place. He’s a little bit OCD, and his fears come from statistical analysis. He’s like, “Listen, this is a bad idea. I’m not afraid just because I’m afraid. I’m afraid because the numbers say that this is a bad idea.” I love that about him. It gives him something to always be trying to overcome. The thing about a hero is that they throw statistical analysis to the wind sometimes, to save the day.