The duo behind Rick and Morty‘s new voice leads are breaking their public silence on what it’s been like to take over two of the most popular characters in animation.
Ian Cardoni (Rick) and Harry Belden (Morty) beat out thousands of potential candidates vying to take over the titular roles that were previously voiced by series co-creator Justin Roiland before he was ousted from the series in January. Below, the previously unknown actors reveal their behind-the-scenes journey — from their first auditions to struggling to pull off their respective characters’ voices to dealing with fandom reactions. Though they’ve now had the roles for months, when being interviewed via Zoom last week, Cardoni and Belden came across like a pair of giddy Rick and Morty superfans who still feel like just won the lottery.
“It’s been super surreal waking up every day,” Belden says. “For the first month [after landing the role], I genuinely kept asking my girlfriend if that had really happened, if I was indeed the new Morty. So, to keep having that realization that, ‘Yes, this is real, that you are playing a character you’ve watched and loved for years and been a huge fan of,’ is indescribable, and brings such joy.
So tell me about your respective backgrounds.
Belden: I’ve done some voiceover work, primarily commercials. Most of my work has been in Chicago theater and the odd role on some of the Chicago shows — like Chicago Fire or Chicago Med. So doing full-on animated character voiceover work is a new world for me.
Cardoni: I’m Boston, born and raised. Started acting at a very young age. I’ve been acting and doing a lot of voiceover primarily for the past few years — usually in the promo side of things. But doing voices and impressions and creating characters was always something that I did for fun.
So, when you first heard that Justin was stepping down and that the Rick and Morty producers would be looking for new voice actors, what’s the first thing each of you thought?
Belden: “I got to jump on this.” I emailed my agent and said, “If you got any requests for this Rick and Morty thing, I do a decent Rick and Morty, so I’d love to be considered and to send them my stuff.”
So, you’d already practiced doing the voices on your own.
Belden: Oh, yeah. I think like most fans, I had done impressions of Rick and Morty for fun with my friends. And over time, I guess I was doing it enough that it turned into something that I thought I could really do.
Cardoni: Same. I already had an impression reel that I had given to my managers that included Rick and Morty voices. But as Harry mentioned, it was, “Wow, this could be a big opportunity, I think I could do these voices.”
So both of you went out for both roles.
Belden: Most Rick and Morty fans don’t just imitate one of them. Ian and I have laughed because I thought my Rick was a lot stronger than my Morty, which shows how much I know.
Cardoni: And I thought during the audition process that my Morty was getting stronger. So, during the process, we were both up for both.
What were those early auditions like for you, Ian, when compared to other voiceover work you’ve done?
Cardoni: This audition process was certainly different from any other audition process I’ve been a part of in the past, even just for the sheer length of it. My first submission for this was in mid-February, and [I got the role] in early June. In between, there were many rounds of auditions. What’s typical for auditions is you do the work and then wait for response while you try to put it out of your mind and move on with your life. But this was many rounds of getting closer and closer and closer to the possibility of it, and it was harder to contain my excitement.
And Harry, what were they like for you having not done this before?
Belden: Very similar to what Ian described. It was easily the longest and most intense audition process I’ve ever been a part of, but it was also the most fun. The people running the auditions kept throwing curveballs at us — things you’d never hear these characters doing — just to see if we could stay in character.
Co-creator Dan Harmon and showrunner Scott Marder told us they put you guys through this rigorous and exhausting process, trying to nail every potential nuance. What are examples of some of those curveballs?
Belden: Like, “What if Morty was just channeling Rick here?” “What if Morty wasn’t quite as submissive, but he was really dominating and angry here?” “What if he was being a bit cold and calculated, much like a certain Morty who wears an eyepatch?” You could tell they were having a lot of fun with us.
Cardoni: There was a session with Scott where I had to do some matching to Chris Parnell’s character, who had voiced his half of a combined being. That’s a skill to match existing animation but also match the timing of another actor without that actor being there. Also, towards the end, they brought in a vocal coach for us to work with — even before we were cast. What that showed me is that as rigorous and exhausting as that process was, they were looking out for us. It was a preview of how supportive and how conscious they were of not hurting our voices or going overboard.
I’m picturing one of those old-school audition hallways except it’s lined with young guys muttering their Rick and Morty impressions waiting for their turn to go into the room. Please tell me this happened.
Cardoni: If you picture The Citadel of Ricks, that’s not not far off. But these were, until the very end, remote auditions.
Belden: So just picture a Zoom waiting room full of people in yellow T-shirts and lab coats.
So, as you were going through this, what did you think your odds were of getting the role?
Belden: I don’t think about stuff like that. I can’t think about that.
Cardoni: I kept coming back to how excited I was as a fan to get the chance to step into that role, to be able to say, “Wow, I could step into the shoes of this iconic character I’ve known for years.”
Belden: I was just like, “No matter what happens from now on, I can always tell people I got to audition for Rick and Morty,” and that’s pretty cool.
You guys are too mentally healthy for Hollywood. What was it like the moment you got the role?
Cardoni: I remember getting the call from my agents, and my wife was there, thankfully, to make sure I didn’t fall over. It was a thrilling moment, a dream come true as an actor and as a fan.
Belden: This is a literal dream come true — like I’m pretty sure I had this dream at one point in my life [to do this show]. My agents actually tricked me. They said, “We have this weird project, can you Zoom with us?” I’ve been with them for six years, and they’ve never once wanted to Zoom with me. I told my girlfriend, and she kind of had an inkling of what was going on and was eavesdropping on the Zoom. As soon as they told me, my girlfriend was completely sobbing. Then seeing her crying was like, “Oh, this is real, I heard them correctly.”
And what was it like meeting each other?
Belden: I was so excited. We’d been hearing each other’s names and producers kept joking that they were going to keep us separated for as long as possible on purpose just to drive each other crazy. So, when I first met Ian, I felt like I already knew him because I just heard so much about him, and I had eavesdropped on some of his lines. It was like like meeting someone I’ve known for a very long time.
Cardoni: Which was evident by how often he called me “grandpa.”
There have been no end to the comments — mostly praise of the new voices and, in some cases, criticism. What’s been that like for you?
Cardoni: I try to avoid that. My focus has been on doing the best voice I can. I avoid going down any rabbit holes online. As a fan, I know this show touches people worldwide, and the characters mean a lot to the fans. I share that love of the show and care for the character. Wanting to be my best Rick is with me every time I record.
Belden: I’m not allowed to look at the online comments. My girlfriend won’t let me. So, I’ve had blinders on through this whole process. I completely understand people being nervous. Change is scary, especially with something so iconic that many people love. But nobody is going to be a harsher critic than yourself. So, I’m striving to be the best Morty I can be.
Speaking of being your own critic, is there any aspect of your performance that you still feel like you’re trying to get right?
Belden: If I start zeroing in on tiny little aspects of my voice, I’m going to drive myself crazy. I leave it to Scott and [producer] Steve Levy to tell me if something sounds off, and then I work on it.
Cardoni: When we are recording, it’s not in a vacuum. Everybody on the team is listening and giving guidance. One thing I will say is I listened to myself on the earlier tapes from the beginning of summer, which were still in the editing phase, and I was able to say, “Hey, I think I can top what I gave you earlier, can I have another crack at it?” I’ve definitely settled into a way of working which made the voice more accessible. So, we’re constantly improving and growing and listening and hoping that we grow with the show.
Belden: Our vocal coach likens vocal cords to muscles and something we’re training week after week. So, yeah, listening to our initial recording sessions compared to nine weeks later, you hear a big difference and can tell that our voices have gotten a lot stronger and more comfortable in these roles.
What was the toughest aspect to get right for each of your respective characters?
Cardoni: I’m sure you mean vocally, but more than the voice itself, it’s doing justice to the writing we’re given. Everything in the script is so deliberate and intentional. We’re not always privy to where the story is going to go, but there is a story that we’re responsible for telling, and each time I record that’s the chief responsibility in my mind. But vocally, during an early session, I got the note that I needed to be more of an asshole to the other characters. Having to open up that side of myself to access those parts of me that live in Rick and vice versa was my big challenge.
Belden: The writing on the show is so tight and so precise that I read the scripts and get lost in the story. It’s a challenge to remind myself, “You might want to do it this one way, but let’s make sure we explore all the possibilities.” For me, vocally, it was the f-word. I had a little bit of a vocal dip going lower on the “u.” So, I spent dozens of hours and dropped thousands of f-bombs, drilling the f-word over and over and over again. Also, something that surprised me about Morty is how multifaceted he is as a character. When I was reading the scripts, I could see Morty playing a scene so many different ways. There was a fairly long scene between Rick and Morty we did a couple different ways because we genuinely didn’t know what the most honest reaction for Morty would be. So, we tried one way that was solicitous and sweet and another that was confrontational and angry, and afterward thought, “Both of those are both great.” I don’t know which we’re gonna wind up using.
You’ve mentioned meeting the other producers, Dan Harmon told us that largely avoided the hiring process and didn’t even want to meet the new voice actors. [“I was removed from it until the late stages — and part of that was a selfish emotional conflict on my part — but it ended up helping us because of the scientific practicality of the process,” he said. “It was very difficult, even in my short time at the end of this assembly line, where your ears very quickly get so confused when you’re trying to tell the difference between a 9.5 and a 9.7 on a ‘Does this sound like my friend?’ scale … I didn’t want to even know their names.”] But you eventually met him, right?
Cardoni: We met Dan this summer initially, and we saw him again at the premiere. So, we’ve had some time to chat with him, and he is just as supportive as everyone else on the show and a real collaborator.
Without giving anything away, the latest episode left things in a pretty interesting place. What can you tease about what’s to come?
Cardoni: I think the latest episode leaves a lot of questions as to where these characters could go. I think the only thing I’d say is there’s some pretty exciting places where the story will be taking us. There’s some excellent adventures that I think the fans will really enjoy, and new twists and turns.
Belden: Season seven is the best Rick and Morty has ever been — the writing is top-tier. We have felt so welcomed by the production people working on the show, but also by the fans, and the online community have been so welcoming and supportive. We’d just like to say, “Thank you.”