Before his on-screen career took off, Thomas Middleditch made his name on the comedy stage. A seasoned improv vet who cut his teeth in groups like The Improvised Shakespeare Company and most recently as half of the world-traveling troupe of “Middleditch and Schwartz,” the actor is now amassing a resume of roles for which he’s heard but not necessarily seen.
In lending his voice to one of the main characters on the new Hulu animated series “Solar Opposites,” Middleditch is tapping into that anything-can-happen improv energy. It’s just that, in these spurts, that happens in a recording booth instead of in front of a live audience.
“Animation is the closest to that because, essentially, you’re in the booth and if you’ve got something that you want to riff on or go somewhere with, you have total freedom to do it,” Middleditch told IndieWire. “With film and television, you have to keep it much more connected to the character you’re playing and keep it grounded.”
“Solar Opposites” centers on a group of aliens, forced to flee the destruction of their home world and make a new life on Earth. Middleditch plays Terry, the enthusiastic lieutenant of the group who’s far more interested in figuring out human culture than the group’s other adult figure Korvo (voiced by Justin Roiland, who co-created the series with Mike McMahan).
“Terry’s very silly and there’s not a filter on him like, say, Richard from ‘Silicon Valley.’ Terry just gets to blurt out ridiculous stuff. And because it’s an absurd kind of show, you can go pretty weird with it,” Middleditch said. “Not only is he really emotional, but he can be kind of stream of consciousness. A lot of times, he’ll have these chunks of dialogue and I’ve got to say it really fast because that’s the pace of the show. But then also, once we’ve got a couple as is, you can just go on these long rants. And since it’s audio, you can pick and choose one of that rant you want to put in.”
When Middleditch did his initial round of recording for the series, he knew what the intended character design for Terry would be like. But due to the demands of the animation process, there were plenty of story ideas in “Solar Opposites” that just existed as words on a page. For a series that incorporates so much intricate detail in the final product, part of a voice performance is having faith that those words — beyond just the dialogue — will have an endpoint that all comes together.
“You can read the scripts and visualize what’s going to happen, but animation scripts are so crazy. They have descriptions of action and they make very little sense, especially in a show where there’s super crazy science fiction stuff. It just feels like magic. And you’re like, ‘OK, I’m sure the animators have it all figured out because I don’t understand what’s going on,'” Middleditch said.
Part of cultivating that trust is knowing that the flow of ideas doesn’t have to go in just one direction. Middleditch previously worked with some of the “Solar Opposites” creative team when guesting on a Season 3 episode of “Rick & Morty.” He also voiced the main character on the Disney XD series “Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.” In each case, Middleditch says that he felt free to pitch ideas. Even if it was something as simple as the way Terry would stand in a “Solar Opposites” scene, that freedom inside the booth made for more than just offering up his voice.
“You have as much contribution in animation as you want to,” Middleditch said. “They’re all the type of creators that just want the funniest, most cohesive product in the end. It’s a very freeing two-way street.”
Regardless of the character, Middleditch knows that voice work isn’t something to take lightly. “It’s surprisingly exhausting. After you’ve done a bunch of episodes, you’re gonna get in your car and just be like, ‘I can’t even talk,'” Middleditch said. “It’s just like any other acting. The more you embody the character, the more you commit to it, the more you lean into it, the freer you’ll end up being.”
“Solar Opposites” still has plenty of runway to work with. It’s been renewed for a third season and production is underway on Season 2. Middleditch has already done some recording for those new episodes — even though he says he has an admittedly short memory when it comes to character dialogue, that just ends up in him being even more surprised when he watches the final product.
“What I really loved about Season 1 is how they mixed these one-off plotlines, married with this whole arc of The Wall, this big thread,” Middleditch said. “It’s such a vision and I’m just here to play the part. You’re at a low level of perspective when you’re voicing animation. You get the scripts, you don’t really know how it’s all gonna look you do your part. And only when you start seeing the show, you’re like, ‘Oh, wow! They put everything together.'”
“Solar Opposites” is available to stream on Hulu.