Anyone who knows the voice acting world knows of Matthew Mercer. In anime, his work can be heard in the English dubs of mega-hits like Attack on Titan, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Naruto, Hunter x Hunter, One Piece, as well as some small show you may have heard of about dragon balls. In gaming, he’s ubiquitous, having appeared in series that include Resident Evil, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog, Overwatch, Fortnite, and even League of Legends.

And then, there’s Critical Role. The premiere name in Dungeons & Dragons media, the web series turned production powerhouse has spanned three campaigns plus one-offs, airing hundreds of episodes over thousands of hours across YouTube and Twitch, itself spinning off into comics books, podcasts, animated series and more. As the main series’ Dungeon Master, he’s one of the creative forces behind the brand, culminating in 2019 when he took on the role of chief creative officer for Critical Role Productions.

All this is to say that the guy’s got a voice, both a famous and influential one at that. Which is why it’s downright crazy that his latest voice — the newly resurrected Demon King, Ganondorf, in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — may be his most vital yet.

Having grown up playing the games, Mercer, 40, eventually cut his teeth in behind the camera as a co-creator and director of the web series There Will Be Brawl, a ridiculously low budget dark satire of Nintendo IP. Little did he know that this would be a dry (word to remember) run for things to come.

When Nintendo launched its final trailer for Tears of the Kingdom in April, fans were weak for the shocking reveal of Ganondorf, not just returning, but arriving in a newer, sexier form. Originally teased as a crusty corpse, this new version of the Demon King was aptly dubbed as “well hydrated,” himself the perfect balm for thirsty fans. With that reveal came the inkling of a familiar voice, which sparked further fervor online, when it was revealed to be none other than Mercer himself.

Ahead of the game’s release, Rolling Stone sat down with the actor to discuss the origins of the casting, his approach to the role, and his reaction to the “reaction” online.

What has the lead up to this game’s launch been like for you?

Extremely wild. You know, I’ve been doing voiceover for quite a bit of time, and my love of voiceover came from my love of games growing up anyway, so getting to be a part of any franchise that means a lot to me is ever a strange experience. And this is just another one of those… probably like one of the wildest ones, both just the anticipation of wanting to play the game and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the box on my doorstep for my preorder, but also just getting to hear the reactions of people who get to enjoy the story.

Wait, you haven’t played it yet?

I got to demo a little bit, very little bit, like [the] first couple hours the game, and it’s very, very cool. It always feels special when you get a little sneak peek at things a month or two in advance.

This game, this is one of those games that me and my wife played together so we’re both like — for Breath of the Wild at least — we were both deeply steeped in from, just our own separate fandoms colliding, and then being able to do this together. So, my excitement is palpable, and even just getting the small taste that they had in advance, I was just frustrated that was that all I got. So excited to get to the rest of it.

So how did you get involved with Nintendo on Tears of the Kingdom?

This came about as an audition that found its way to me. It was, I think, a combination of reputation in the industry, and them casting a wide net to possible talent to portray this role. [There’s] a certain level of expectation and specific casting requirements on their end that they’re looking for. And so, I know that they were casting a wide net, and I was very pleased and honored that they have reached out to me to send in my audition for this role.

[There] was no character name but the art was included, and I immediately knew who it was. Upon seeing the art, I was like, “Oh, my goodness. Don’t fuck this up, Matt.” Spent a good few hours honing what my best interpretation would be, and sent it off and hoped for the best. And about a week or so later heard that I had booked the gig and proceeded to scream and run through my house.

But this isn’t actually your first time playing Ganondorf, is it? What’s it like returning to this character over ten years after your web series, Let There Be Brawl?

It’s absurd. It doesn’t make any sense! Technically, I guess I’m reprising the role [laughs]. I [grew up] up such a huge Zelda fan. Played the original when I got my first Nintendo. When I was a kid, I used to play the sidescroller sequel and enjoyed it even though it was… you know, a “debated divergence” from the series’ themes and style from the first one. I ate the Nintendo cereal when I was a kid. I was deep even back then.

And so, as the years went on, getting to make this web series [that] I did ten years ago, it was very much a satirical take on the Smash Bros. / Nintendo universe [with] a live-action, film noir crime drama vibe. And in this particular story, Ganondorf was one of the four major “mafia dons” of the Mushroom Kingdom. My interpretation of him in that was very inspired by Bill the Butcher from Gangs of New York. [I] really enjoyed bringing Ganondorf to life in that series, and never would have anticipated all this time later, I would have the opportunity to formally step into the role as like — I think — really the first official English voice of him in mainstream Zelda media, which is… I’m still processing it.

Bill the Butcher is a great reference point. Are there reference points for what you tried to bring to the audition and, ultimately, the recording for Tears of the Kingdom?

It was trying to come into a place that kind of hit all the marks of the character of Ganondorf for me. He’s threatening, and he’s cruel, and he is the “Bandit King.” He has gotten where he’s gotten through the story and the history of his world through extreme aspiration — and through very effective use of power and tyranny. But he does it not because he’s some brute; he sees himself as a king. This isn’t something that he just wants for the power, he deserves it. And there is a confidence and a regality to his cruelty. [It was] wanting to hit those threads to where he is imposing, but not uncontrolled. He is confident, he is… cool, in ways. And because of the circumstances, when you have seen in his arrival in his story, there’s also the opportunity to be extremely shriveled [and] dehydrated as well [laughs]. Getting to play with the space of a very shrill, withered, but still creepy version of that persona. Those are all the things that I was trying to wrap up in my audition and it seemed to find some purchase with the folks at Nintendo, both America and Japan, which is cool. That’s the cool thing! Like, this wasn’t just the decision of a handful of people here on the U.S. side, [all] of us had to go back into Japan to the official Zelda team.

So, it’s a huge honor. Huge honor.

Ganondorf is parched.

Nintendo of America

What was the security like around the script? Was it like Marvel, where they have snipers who will come for you?

[Laughs.] The security was on the higher end of any of the video game projects I worked on in the past. Every document that I received that included audition materials, any sort of art reference, any sort of actual scripts were all watermarks and had to be destroyed, and confirmed destroyed, deleted and gotten rid of after we finished each stage of the recording.

Very Mission: Impossible.

Oh yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a few Nintendo snipers [in] the hall. The last thing you hear is [emulating Mario],”Let’s a go,” and you’re gone.

Despite being the most famous Zelda villain, Ganondorf doesn’t appear in that many games. Which portrayal is your favorite?

[There’s] something about the legality of his presence in Twilight Princess that I really liked. But Ocarina of Time, to me, is still the quintessential Ganondorf. [He] looks a little scrappy, while still being regal — which I like. [It] was also like the first really cool humanoid Ganondorf, the first real Ganondorf appearance that stuck with me and that was a large part of what we base our web series version off of as well.

I like the thicker, bulkier ones — and actually the designs for the new game look freaking cool and kind of like a fun merger of all of the designs in a way — it’s like a culmination of all the different Ganondorfs that we’ve seen throughout the games, which I think is really cool. There’s something about that original Ocarina of Time Ganondorf design that I fell in love with.

He had something of a Dark Jeff Goldblum aesthetic.

I like that! Oh man, you’ve delightfully colored my historical opinion on that design.

“Dark Goldblum” version of Ganondorf, as seen in Ocarina on Time.

Nintendo of America

You announced your participation on Twitter that day after the final trailer revealed Ganondorf. What was that feeling like?

Oh, it was such a weight off my shoulders. We as voice actors, our career is continuously suffused in nondisclosure agreements. At any given point in time, we are under a dozen or so. And a lot of projects we finished recording, we don’t get to see released until a year or multiple years, sometimes, depending on the project. So, we kind of are used to sitting on them and forgetting about them if thou will.

This project because of what it means to me, because of what Zelda means to me, and the character, is definitely a lot of building anticipation for what it was going to come out. I didn’t know if they were going to be releasing trailers with clips of Ganondorf and so I had no concept of what to expect. And as they began to tease out these lines, people who were familiar with my work, were able to kind of suss out and figure out that it might be me playing Ganondorf in this game. [Each] trailer that dropped, my name would trend. And that was a new experience in my career.

And they’re trying to out you.

[It] was just everywhere. People I knew would come up and be like, “So that’s you in the trailer, right?” And I just have to sit there and be like “No, I don’t know you’re talking about,” and it was that whole day, I was actually with my wife preparing for [Creator Clash], and people there were coming up to me and asking me. [And] knowing that I would have a month to wait on that, it was crushing me. It just felt like a useless formality at that point. The scope of attention that this game was getting, and the people that had figured out that it was me voicing the character, it would have made waiting another month to reveal the reveal that much more anticlimactic.

But thankfully, Nintendo, that very same day, essentially, or later that evening, emailed and said you can go ahead and talk about it. So, I was very thankful to not have to carry that burden over the next month. It was a huge release. And super exciting.

The biggest takeaway from the last trailer was just how sexy this new Ganondorf is. What’s your take on being a “thirst trap?”

Let’s be clear: Ganondorf? Always kind of a thirst trap, but this was leading into daddy mode. It’s cool, because I’d seen some of the official art early in, but I hadn’t seen that piece of official art. And they all looked really cool but they’re all very much, the design art, the three-quarter view, the behind-the-scenes stuff. That piece of art has this sort of like swooping in like, [deeply voiced] “Hey, baby,” kind of vibe to it. It looks awesome but I didn’t expect quite that much of a universal “vapors” crumble from the internet. And it was very funny. And it was very confusing to a lot of my friends who were both like, “I’m really attracted to him… but it’s also Matt,” and I will get so much mileage out of teasing them for that. I’m excited for that. No, it was unexpected, but very, very amusing. And what can you say? Everyone likes a hot bad boy.

Pictured: That piece of art.

Nintendo of America

People have dubbed him “rehydrated” or “well hydrated” Ganondorf. How do you stay hydrated in the booth?

[Laughs] Well hydrated… My main form of hydration in the booth is probably I’d like some simple lemon chamomile tea. If not some throat coat? No, it’s not very scandalous.

What’s your Ganondorf’s musical profile?

Man… There is a difference between his vibe versus what’s a good vocal warmup for his timbre. For my vocal warmups, I tend to lean to get a little weird and obscure here. I tend to lean into some Mr. Bungle songs because Mike Patton’s vocality on some of those tracks hits a very wide spectrum, which is great for warmups and I’m just a huge fan anyway. A little Type O Negative to really kind of smooth into those deeper notes. As far as his vibe, I know it’s overused in some action films, but there’s some great Zeppelin that kind of fits that “tyrant in battle” vibe, which I kind of dig. I’d probably go into some Nine Inch Nails as well.

Your Ganondorf likes Trent Reznor.

I’m just saying! We got some “March of the Pigs.” Sticking with the pig theme, we got “War Pigs,” also a great classic Ozzy track.

It’s the perfect “Ganondorf Pig Playlist.” [Ed note: Ganon’s true form is usually depicted as a demonic pig.]


Ganondorf is your high school boyfriend who loves Nine Inch Nails and Type O Negative.

Obviously, the community was rocked by the recent leak of the full game online. What’s your reaction to something like that so close to the end zone?

It breaks my heart because, if anything, so many people have put their heart and soul and their life behind making this as exciting as possible for everybody at the same time. Hundreds and hundreds of people, both in Japan and in America and abroad, who have all contributed to this singular exciting celebration of this project and this world and this story. And it’s just kind of… it’s a slap in the face. To that [endeavor], to me, if you’re such a fan of this series, that you’re excited enough to want to even try to do that? [If] it’s just to challenge yourself for whatever reason, that’s one thing, it’s another to then go ahead and try [to]disseminate that online and essentially spoil and ruin a lot of the hard work these people put into it.

I find that deeply disappointing, I really do. In instance of any game or any project that people are putting their passion behind. But this project in particular — just because it means so much to me — if someone were to tell me, “I have an early version you want to play it?” I’d probably say no, [because] I wanted to be part of the cultural moment that the people who’ve been creating it want it to be… if that makes sense.

What does that moment look like to you?

I hope that everyone gets to enjoy immersing and losing themselves into the land of Hyrule once again. I hope that for those who are new to the series, this is a wonderful introduction to exactly how beautiful and immersive and whimsical that [Zelda] can be when it’s at its best. And for people who have been with it for as long as I have or in between, welcome back. And I really hope you get to enjoy the culmination of so many people’s hard work, you get to enjoy the culmination of a lot of stories that have been kind of threaded and built through so many things through the years.

And for me, specifically, I hope to make you proud. This is really important to me; The weight of it is not lost on me at all. And me and the team I’ve been able to work with bringing Ganondorf to life with this game are extremely proud of what we’ve done. And we hope you enjoy.

Don’t fuck this up, Matt.

I wake up every morning saying that to myself.


The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is now available for the Nintendo Switch.