Mario voice actor Charles Martinet’s retirement is ‘end of an era’

Mario voice actor Charles Martinet’s retirement is ‘end of an era’

Jeremy Siege: You’re listening to Morning Edition.

Martinet as Mario: It’s me. Mario.

Siegel: And that right there is one of the most iconic voices in video game history. You might know him as Mario, but that voice, it belongs to a real person. Charles Martinet has voiced the character for the past three decades. When he took the job, it was just a funny voice for a funny little game. But Mario and Martinet paved the way for an industry that is now larger than Hollywood and the music industry combined. This week, Nintendo announced that Martinet is retiring. I chatted with Washington Post gaming reporter Gene Park about Martinet’s legacy.

Park: Charles Martinet is a very interesting character. He started out studying international law decades ago, right. But then he eventually kind of fell into studying theater and he went to schools, various schools around Europe. And he eventually got a heads up that a company was auditioning for an Italian plumber from Brooklyn. And Charles thought, “Hey, why don’t I give it a shot?”

Martinet as Mario: Oh, mamma mia.

Park: And he decided to kind of really lean into, like, the stereotypical Italian voice, give it a real cartoony flavor. And he just got it. Mario is basically kind of a hero in the classic sense of Don Quixote — except he’s actually a hero and there actually is a princess to rescue — where it’s just a classic boy rescues princess story. And it’s it’s very, very strange that the hero’s journey of a video game is encapsulated by just a rotund plumber from New York who is really good at eating mushrooms and eating various vegetables to gain different powers.

Martinet as Mario: [Laughter and video game sounds]

Park: So it’s very, it’s a very strange question to kind of literally explain what Mario is, because so much of it is about magic and wonder and mystery and just not questioning the kind of kookiness that you might see and just rolling along with the punches. And that’s what Martinet’s voices would help guide you through. Like, it was always playful. It was always encouraging. And that’s why no matter what happens in the Mario game — and there’s so many random things always happening in a Mario game — Martinet’s voice was always there to kind center everything together, pull everything together.

Martinet as Mario: Hello, here we go.

Park: Martinet’s first voice as Mario was for the Super Mario Brothers pinball arcade game, and he also did the voice for Mario in Mario Teaches Typing. But everyone’s first real introduction to Mario is in 1986 for Super Mario 64, and that was the launch game for Nintendo’s third console, the Nintendo 64. And that was when you hear traditional “wahoo” and “yahoos.”

Martinet as Mario: Yahoooo.

Park: Having played Mario throughout all my life, I’m 42 years old. My first exposure to Charles Martinet’s voice was Super Mario 64. And it was incredible to see just how perfect it was, you know? As soon as I heard it, I’ll just say, yeah, that’s exactly how I figured Mario would sound. And nobody questioned it. Nobody thought about it. It was just natural and it just fit perfectly.

Siegel: Has there ever been a character or a voice that’s been more important to video game culture, you think? That that’s more instantly recognizable?

Park: That’s true. I don’t think that that there’s a voice that’s more recognizable. Back then, there weren’t that many video games that had voices. You know, it wasn’t really until Metal Gear Solid in 1988, that a video game would have a full audio production with a full cast of voices talking to each other, having monologues and dialogues. But with Mario, it was just a breakthrough in terms of sound. It felt like video games had left the silent film era, you know, and entered into what would be just countless chattering among video game characters.

Martinet as Mario: Whew! I’m a tired. Let her go. Ooh! Mamma mia. Okey dokey. Oof!

Martinet as Mario: After interviewing many voice actors in the video game industry, especially for folks who have acted in film or in TV or in other voice acting productions, it’s very different for video games because again, Mario only yelps and goes “woohoo” and many of his audio tics are done through player action, as you said, and they have to be responsive to player action. So a lot of voice acting requires not just saying lines of dialogue, saying lines that, you know, explore more about the character and expose more about the character and let us learn more about the story. But they have to also voice different actions.

Martinet as Mario: Yech. Woah! [snoring] So long a Bowser. Thank you so much for to playing my game.

Park: There is a whole gamut of different Mario games that expand through different genres. There’s, of course, Mario Kart; Mario Party, which is a board game; Mario Tennis; Mario Golf. And all of these are just part of the video game atmosphere of sounds, you know, and it’s really hard to imagine video games without Mario’s exclamations kind of guiding people through. So that’s why I feel like Martinet’s retirement is really an end of an era for many people. It’s been over 30 years, or about 30 years, since he started doing it. And it’s time for him to retire.

Martinet as Mario: [snoring] Night, night. [snoring] Ah, spaghetti. [snoring] Ah, ravioli. [snoring]

Siegel: Gene Park, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me about this. It’s been a lot of fun.

Siegel: Gene Park is a reporter for The Washington Post. It is unclear at this point who will be voicing Mario next. You’re listening to GBH’s Morning Edition.

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