Super Charles Martinet: The Voice of Mario Brings Joy to Fan Expo St. Louis (Interview)
Even if the name isn’t familiar, the voice most likely will be. After all, Charles Martinet has given the iconic Nintendo character Mario his trademark sound for more than 31 years.
As I answer my phone in anticipation of Fan Expo St. Louis, a comic and pop culture convention returning to the area for the first time since 2019, I’m greeted by a voice that takes me back to my childhood.
“Hello Super Kevin! It’s-a me, Super Mario, woo-hoo! You’re number 1!”
I was introduced to the world’s most famous plumber on the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, back in 1989 – back before he found his voice. But it was a computer game called “Mario Teaches Typing” where I would first hear the voice on the other end of my phone, calling me all these years later.
“I crashed an audition, and went in for this real-time animation system which we ended up calling MIRT – or Mario in Real Time,” Charles tells me. “And they didn’t know whether it was going to work or not, but they wanted somebody who would talk and be entertaining and silly. My only direction was to make up a voice, make up a video game, and start talking. And whenever you run out of things to say, that’s your audition. And I never run out of things to say, because I was having so much fun.”
The first time Charles got to experience an audience interacting with his now-iconic Mario voice was at Winter CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in 1992.
“Incredible memories were created. And that was the thing, you know, when you’re walking along and all of a sudden, Mario, the character you know from a game says, ‘Hello there, how are you today?’ It’s quite a wonderful surprise. And people – especially kids – they just talk straight to Mario as though they’d talked to him their whole lives. And it’s a beautiful thing. It’s another reason I say do what you love to do in life.”
It became instantly clear while talking with Charles that he loves his job, and bringing joy to people around the world for the past three decades. His philosophy of positivity and being kind started back in acting class, where he met someone with a stutter who he will always remember.
“For me, doing comedy without ever being hurtful is extremely important,” says Charles. “My first acting class, I met a guy with a stutter who said he was at a comedy club, and the comedian picked him to embarrass. And he ended up with a stutter the next day. And I thought, okay, I’ll never be harmful in my comedy.”
Going back to Mario Teaches Typing, the voice actor says he saw parts of the script that could be changed to focus on what the user had accomplished, rather than where they were falling short.
“When I first saw the script and you know, he says, ‘Oh, you failed, you should try again.’ And I said, ‘Well, can I change that line?’ Because I’ve been doing this improv for five years and I love Mario to be joyful, and happy, and loving all the time. And respectful for everybody – especially for children. So what happens if they don’t hear, ‘No’ or ‘That was bad, or ‘You failed’? But instead, ‘That was great! But I know you can do even better. Let’s try again!’ And that really helped me cement in my mind what I really wanted to do with the character – to keep him pure and wholesome, and really positive and loving, and respectful of everybody.”
Charles says when he first got the job, he wasn’t familiar with Mario or Nintendo. His gaming experience had mostly been with games like Pong, Asteroids, and Tank. But all that changed when he was sent an NES.
“They sent me a system and I played until like 5 o’clock in the morning, I was having so much fun! So, you know, it was like, ‘Wow, this is great!’ It had Duck Hunt on it, and Super Mario Bros. It was hilarious, just so much fun. I loved them. You know, so much love goes into those games – the music, the graphics, all the characterizations. Really, it’s a labor of absolute love. And it takes years, I’m sure, to do that much work.”
Fast forward to 1996, and Super Mario 64 was released for the Nintendo 64. It was the first Mario game to feature 3D gameplay, and revolutionized the gaming world and 3D platformers as we know them today. And so many of the iconic lines and sounds Mario is known for were created for that game.
“It was so lovely, when I got that phone call from someone at Nintendo. ‘Mr. Miyamoto wants you to play Mario in a game.’ I went, ‘Woo hoo!’ I got to take five years of improv that we had done at the Consumer Electronics Shows and press events, and then put that into a game. What if he’s really happy? ‘Woo-hoo!’ Well, what if he’s like, ‘Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow,’ you know? Just to be able to put those things in, ‘Thank you very much for playing my gameses.’ You know, there was so much fun in that session, and then to see the game live – and play it live – was just amazing! And then of course, people loved the game. It sort of changed everything.”
And with that newfound love and popularity of the character, came more and more fans dressing up as Mario and friends, and recreating the voice that Charles had given him. Being at shows like Fan Expo where he can interact with them is an experience the actor loves.
“It’s just so adorable, you know? You have that wonderful adventure at the shows, meeting fans of Mario like me. It’s just the greatest,” he says. “Since I’ve done it for 31 years, I hear, ‘You were the voice of my childhood,’ from people that are 50 years old, and, ‘You are the voice of my childhood,’ from people who are seven years old. It’s just absolutely adorable.”
What started out as creating the voice for Mario expanded over the years into doing voices for Wario, Luigi, Baby Mario, and the list goes on. Charles would go in and out of character throughout our interview, bringing a smile to my face as he does for the fans he meets all over the world. While impossible to choose a favorite game or version of the characters, he has a list of several experiences he loves.
“Mario Teaches Typing taught me to really define the character. Mario 64 launched it into this new world, that has just been spectacular. I love Galaxy and the Mario Kart games, Mario Kart Double Dash. I love Odyssey – I think that’s a phenomenal game. And the Galaxy series… and Sunshine was one of my favorite games ever. That that one was just a terrific game. And of course, Super Mario 3D World,” he says with a laugh, and makes a cat noise. “That was hilarious!”
On what makes these games so special, Charles says they make long-lasting memories that we associate with different parts of our lives.
“It really is true of these games, they mark a chapter in your life that you just love every minute of it,” he says. “You get to these levels, and you can’t get through – aargh – and then you go back to it, and go back to it. And just like life, if you’re determined, you get through it.“
It’s clear from speaking to him that Charles loves every minute of what he gets to do for a living, and he encourages people to do what they love and follow their dreams. His positivity is contagious, as he tells me more about his mantra.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in the world, and that’s what I just always wish for everybody. For me, I didn’t know what I wanted to do – but I knew I wanted to be happy in my work, to love what I did and be happy in life,” he sincerely tells me towards the end of our conversation. “I receive so much gratitude at these shows, but really, what I do is so small compared to all the engineers and all the people – we all deserve gratitude for what we do,” he says.
Charles says these conventions like Fan Expo are such a unique and positive way to share similar interests with others, and he loves how much fun he has at them.
“That’s why the Fan Expos are there, it’s all about fun. How many times in your adult life do you get to go out and meet people with the same joys and passions? I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, like Mario and Princess Peach that met at a convention, and started chatting because they’re in cosplay and they end up in a relationship. Some of them end up married, and they bring little Marios to visit me. It’s it’s absolutely enchanting.”
On what makes these games and the character of Mario so beloved and timeless, Charles had this to say,
“The music is so fabulous. The graphics, the the plot lines, and the just the pure fun and and joy of it. For my part, I really try to make the character full of love, and happiness, and joy. And for that to be what comes out all the time – the joy and happiness. The courage, facing a challenge with a “Let’s-a go!” I tend to be more Luigi: “Uh-oh! Mamma Mia!” But I was a second born son, my brother is more of a Mario-type – just run straight through the window if that’s the way outside… The characters themselves, I think are marvelous. I think everybody can relate to Luigi and Mario. And I like the harmlessness of the villains, Wario and Waluigi. All the stuff falls back on them, I think that that’s a lovely design.”
Charles tells me he loves traveling all around the world, and is grateful that his work allows him to go on adventures to new places and meet so many wonderful people. He brings his optimism and positivity with him everywhere he goes, and can’t wait to see everyone in St. Louis this weekend.
“We’re all in this beautiful adventure together, and life is short. It sure happens fast. You better be enjoying it as much as you possibly can.”
Meet Charles Martinet at Fan Expo St. Louis May 13 -15 at the America’s Center Convention Complex. Tickets are availble for admission, as well as for autographs, photo ops, and more at fanexpohq.com.