It’s about being your truest self. That’s the journey: learning to look in the mirror, loving and respecting that reflection.
It seems that film adaptations of video games never come quietly, and things didn’t exactly get off to a flying start where a certain side-scrolling adventure from the early 90s is concerned either. The kerfuffle that erupted with the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie—a design gaff of the blue speedster displeased enough “hedge-heads” to warrant a retooling—cast a pall over its release. Few could’ve predicted that it would then go on to notch the biggest opening ever for a video game movie, or that it would spawn a sequel—or a trilogy, or a spin-off that’s now headed for Paramount+.
The first Sonic the Hedgehog movie saw the blue blur (voiced by Ben Schwartz) and his human companion Tom (James Marsden) team up to defend Earth against the dastardly moustache-twirling Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) and his trusty henchman Agent Stone (Lee Majdoub). The sequel picks up where things left off. After being banished to Mushroom Planet, Dr. Robotnik is back, this time with an echidna that’s as strong as Sonic is fast, Knuckles (voiced by Idris Alba), in tow, in search of an emerald that possesses the power to both build and destroy civilizations.
Anthem reached out to Majdoub, the franchise’s latte-serving fan-favorite, to get the lowdown.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 hits theaters on April 8th.
Hi, Lee. So I checked out your Twitch channel the other day.
That’s something you took up during the pandemic, is that right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I took it on, I think, once the summer hit in 2020. I had some fans reach out and they were like, “You’re so active on social media, and we know you like video games. Have you ever thought about doing something on Twitch?” And I’d thought about it, but never really gone for it. I started on my PS4 camera, and once the pandemic kind of stuck around, I invested in a PC and the whole setup. I really enjoyed it. Do you play video games at all?
This is super lame, but these days, I mostly play puzzle games on the indoor bike.
In my teens and early 20s, I always felt guilty whenever I would play video games. It’s like, “Oh my god, I could be doing something better with my life.” [laughs]
But they’re so much fun!
And now it’s another way of engaging with people, having a good time, and just being positive and supportive on there. It’s good, man. It helps to blow off a lot steam when I’m feeling creative.
How often are you on there?
It’s so rough, man, because I was on pretty consistently and now it’s kind of whenever I have the time. It’s like I’m busy, or sometimes it’s just about mental energy, you know what I mean? Things don’t take as much as they used to anymore. You wake up and you’re like, “I’m already tired, man.” [laughs] “I’m tired from waking up today. I don’t know if I have it in me.” But I try to whenever I’m like, “Cool, I’ve got some energy. I don’t have much going on today. Let’s hop on and put a blast out on Twitter and Instagram.” Whoever joins, joins, and we have a good time.
You’re really engaging, and you created a welcoming space. The platform suits you.
I try, man. So many people feel unheard. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that there are so many people in the world that feel as unheard as they feel, including myself. Coming up, you don’t see people that look like you, or you get made fun of for being an immigrant. And then you add to that LGBTQ+, BIPOC, being a woman—all these reasons to get kind of judged. I wanted to create a space like what I thought I needed coming up. What I still need sometimes, you know? It’s great. What’s mind-blowing is that, on Twitch, you’re prone to getting some trolls every now and then, but it kind of self-regulates, which is really nice. I’ve got a few mods there, but they don’t really have to speak up or anything. If some negative people hop on, being inappropriate or whatnot, the chat’s like, “Look—this is not the place to do this. If you wanna come enjoy yourself and feel a part of this community, welcome. If you just wanna say mean things, this isn’t the place for it.”
It’s unfortunate that comes with the territory.
Especially if your viewership expands. There are streamers I watch and it’s insane the negative people they get in their chats. Everybody wants to be heard, and they’re willing to say anything.
So you’ve been all around. You’re from Lebanon, and you’re a Canadian citizen. You’ve also lived in Rome, Los Angeles, and Switzerland. You speak French and Japanese. Very worldly.
Yeah, I was born in Lebanon. I moved to Italy when I was a baby. I mean, not by myself.
Right, with your tiny suitcase.
[laughs] At one-month-old, I knew how to stand, so I packed up my bags: “I’m outta here. I can’t deal with this anymore!” No, my parents moved us to Rome and Italian was my first language. Then we moved to Geneva, Switzerland, which is French-oriented so I started to learn more French and English in school there, and Italian started to kind of dissipate. Then we moved out to Ottawa, Canada, where the focus was kind of Arabic and a bit of Italian at home, but French and English predominantly. Same thing in Montreal. Then I moved out to L.A. and I took six months of Japanese in college. I grew up watching anime and reading Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, so I always kind of found myself attracted to Japanese culture. I wanted to learn the language a bit and caught onto it pretty quickly. But after university, you know, you gotta practice the language. I mean, I still remember certain things: “Hi, how are you? Here’s my card.”
“Where’s the toilet?”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So there was language and having to adapt to different cultures. Looking back on it, I’m grateful I had those experiences. But while I was going through them, it was really tough, right? Because it takes a couple of years to lock in a good, solid friend group and figure out your place. And then you gotta move again—start all over again. I think the toughest move was when I was 18, moving from Montreal to L.A. ‘cause that’s when I really thought I had hooked in. That was a very, very tough transition. Not knowing what I wanted to do in life and not knowing what I wanted to study, that was a few years of just feeling directionless. And then I started taking some acting classes while I was studying engineering. I was like, “I think I figured out who I am. I think I figured out what I wanna do. Now I want to pursue that.” I ended up finishing school so I would be able to pursue [acting] full-time. And after I graduated, I moved back to Canada.
What’s your first memory of wanting to act?
I know it’s cliché, but I remember my dad getting his first camcorder and being fascinated by it. I was dancing around, jumping around—“Dad, look at me!”—and putting on little musicals or plays at home in the living room for the family. It just never occurred to me that this was something you could actually do, you know? But I was always artistic—drawing, painting, sketching. That’s actually what I wanted to pursue. I wanted to pursue product design ‘cause an uncle of mine had done that, and he was helping me put stuff together. Also, my parents’ concern was that there were no guarantees in the arts, so you gotta think of something to do with the sciences, which is worldly. No matter where you move, math doesn’t change. But two years into college, and like I was saying, feeling directionless, it was one of my sisters actually, who said, “Look—you always wanted to. Take some [acting] classes on the side. Worst case scenario, you realize you don’t like it.” At the time, it was a way to express myself, and then I realized, “Oh man, this is what I wanna do for the rest of my life.” And because I was in the States on a visa, I realized I can’t drop out of school because then I gotta pick up and go. The quickest way to pursue acting full-time was to graduate university as quickly as possible. Once that came into focus, I started to ace classes, taking the max amount of classes allowed through spring, summer, fall, winter—just nonstop because I wanted to get out of university and pursue acting. At the same time, that’s when I got into Groundlings. Funnily enough, Groundlings was actually my dad’s idea. He was like, “I was researching some stuff and there are some people who have gone on to SNL from that. You’re funny!” So I went and auditioned and got in. That was a big, big moment for me. I had a lot of support there, and I started to realize for the first time that there’s something in it for me.
Was there always a comedic bent to acting that interested you most?
Growing up, I was always super energetic, always getting called hyperactive and being told to calm down. I think people always thought I was pretty funny in a sense. When I was a kid getting picked on, humor was a great way to ward off the bullying. But yeah, I think I was always drawn to comedy. Jim Carrey was a big inspiration to me. Thinking back, the actors and their work that my dad introduced me to—Gene Wilder, Peter Sellers, Robin Williams—I was really fascinated by because they could do both. Looking at Gene Wilder’s work, it was super high-energy, but you always bought that it was real and that this person exists. It’s the same thing with Jim. I buy that Ace Ventura exists in this world. I always found myself drawn to actors like that and what they were able to do. I think [comedy is] more expressive, especially when it comes to improv.
I can only imagine Jim Carrey is the dream improv partner. And like you’re saying, he goes both ways, and exceptionally well. For all things slapstick, we also get The Truman Show. I’m even remembering that track he did, “Phantom Regret,” off The Weeknd’s new album.
I heard that track!
He just seems hyperaware, and he’s sharp as a tack.
That was huge for me, too. Besides the amount of incredible work that he’s done and that range—Ace Ventura, The Mask, The Truman Show, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, The Grinch, and now with Robotnik—it’s extremely wild to see how grounded it all is. So there was inspiration in the first place, and then as time progressed, videos started to come out of him in interviews, where he talks about that pursuit of constant learning: “Who am I? What’s my place in the world? Focus on being a good person. What’s meant for you will come to you. Stop running towards all that material BS—there’s more to life.” I found those things really helpful because I went through those periods, right? I think we all do in some way, shape or form, trying to figure out where we belong and who we are. We all go through dark periods, and hopefully, we get out of that or work towards getting out of that. There are so many people I found myself being drawn to who have that in their story, where it’s about trying to give back and trying to inspire and trying to show people that there’s more to life than the hustle of the money, the house, the car. I mean, which is still tough at times, right? Because it’s like, “Oh man, I gotta make some money!”
I understand that you were originally set to play more of the straight guy to Jim’s Robotnik. When were the doors opened to you for more play, to veer off from what was scripted?
I mean, Jim is already coming in with that, right? You hire Jim to do his thing. When I auditioned and booked it a month later or something, I didn’t know that Jim was going to play Dr. Robotnik. I started getting that information slowly. My first day on set was shooting the scene where we come up to Major Bennington [Neal McDonough] on the baseball field, and there was one moment where we had done all the takes and Jim started to throw out a few suggestions. That’s when it felt like, “The door is now open for me to have a conversation with him and Jeff [Fowler, director].” So Jim is doing his thing and Jeff is giving me permission like, “Okay, you know that we’re not gonna use that take, but find it.” So you figure, “Oh okay, we can play. We can discover. We have the time to do that.” It’s very different from TV, where there’s way more of a time crunch, where you’re getting maybe three takes for whatever coverage they’re looking for and then we’re moving on. On a feature the size of Sonic, you’re afforded a little more time to figure it out. That continued to evolve through conversations with Jeff, and Jim and I had a little bit of a chat on set. He would come up with ideas and he’d be like, “Feel free to respond. Do your thing.” As my relationship with Jim built up, the Robotnik and Stone relationship evolved as well. You could see everybody around us starting to go, “Oh my gosh, this was not what was on paper.” Like you said, Agent Stone was originally there to give [Robotnik] someone to talk to. Now he’s this admirer. [laughs] It was also fun to find those moments where Stone is judging Robotnik a little bit. So it was fun, and the doors were even more open coming into the second one. I felt a little more confident, too, because I knew what the relationship is. Now the job is: how do we evolve it from here?
You previously compared Robotnik and Stone to Mr. Burns and Smithers. That’s brilliant!
I mean, kind of! Right? [laughs]
It’s a particular dynamic. I know fans love to ship them, but more explicit I think is their codependency. I cracked up when Robotnik is banished to Mushroom Planet at the end of the first one and you see that he’s carved into a rock—a goofy placeholder for Agent Stone.
That’s a huge win for Agent Stone, right? And Agent Stone doesn’t even know that happened.
It shows how much Stone really means to Robotnik.
Exactly, exactly. Especially considering that Robotnik has that line earlier: “I won’t miss you when you’re gone.” And then the moment he’s alone, Robotnik has carved out an “Agent Stone” stone.
Is something like that scripted?
I think a lot of the Mushroom Planet stuff wasn’t scripted initially. I think a lot of the bones were there for the Robotnik stuff and then Jim comes in and builds on top of that. It’s quite incredible.
Do you and Jim talk about all the fan art that Robotnik and Agent Stone have inspired?
We talked about the fan art that came out of the first one a little bit when we shot Sonic 2.
There’s a lot of it.
So much. I’m constantly blown away by how much fans like that dynamic, or the character of Stone, to the point where they want to draw or paint—almost yell about it from the mountaintops.
That’s of course something you can’t predict as an actor: how fans respond. I would think those things, what the fans embrace, have a way of working themselves back into sequels.
I can only speak for myself and my process and what I go through. I put a lot of pressure on myself to, number one, deliver. But I’m also always thinking about the fans. I’m always thinking, “Who’s watching this?” When we were shooting Sonic 2, there was a part of me that was always questioning, “Are they still gonna be onboard?” Because you gotta be careful in trying not to one-up everything. A lot of the greatness that happened on the first one came out of being grounded and genuine and responding, and from a safe space of creativity. The last thing you wanna do is to come in and try to fabricate moments because you think, “This might be something they want to see.” You just never really know, you know? So there’s definitely that challenge of, “How do I live up to what has happened in the first one, and how fans perceive the character?” In every role that I’ve played, specifically later on in my career where the characters are a little more instrumental to the story, I always think, “Who does this character represent in the world?” and “Who does this character represent to the fans and to the audience?” I try to stay true to that, rather than trying to have my moment or whatnot. Ultimately, you just gotta let it go, right? You gotta breathe, show up, do your work, be ready, and be open and available.
Were you at all surprised by the success of the first movie?
No, I wasn’t surprised. What I was surprised by was the hugely positive response to the dynamic between Agent Stone and Dr. Robotnik. And that’s still surreal. The second one’s coming out and there are still times where I’m like, “Did I shoot the first one? Am I a part of this world?” [laughs] “Is this for real?” But as far as the success of the movie as a whole goes, I wasn’t surprised. Maybe it’s because I’m a fan myself. I grew up playing Sonic on the Sega Genesis, I had watched some of the animated cartoons, and I knew how big the fanbase still was going into the first one. Also, it’s so well taken care of, man. Jeff and Toby [Ascher, producer] and the writers, Pat [Casey] and Josh [Miller]—all of them love Sonic and know Sonic. It seemed like everybody that was involved was a fan of it in some way, shape, or form. It was really cool to come onto the first one and be on this huge budget project. I had heard from fellow actors about their past experiences on big productions: that it could be a nightmare, that half the time nobody knows where the money is going. So I was like, “I’m gonna go on set and not expect anything. No one’s gonna remember me so I’m just gonna sit in the corner.” It was the total opposite of that. It felt so intimate. I felt so well taken care of, and I saw that Sonic as a brand was so well taken care of.
I remember you saying that, when the sequel was first announced, you didn’t know if Stone was coming back. That would’ve upset a lot of fans, and we probably would’ve ended up in a situation similar to what happened with Bender’s voice actor on the Futurama reboot.
Right, right, right. Well, I had high hopes. What I was hearing was that everybody involved wanted the character back, but it was just about story. Story was the priority. I remember talking to the writers and them telling me, “We’re trying to figure out how to get Stone in this. But we don’t know if it’s gonna work with story.” And I told them, “Guys—story is the most important thing. I feel so grateful that you’re thinking of me. I’m putting it out into the universe, and we’ll see what happens.” And then to see him brought back, and in the way that he’s brought back, is really cool.
I could sense that you were genuinely a fan of the original games because you had talked about loving Knuckles even before the sequel was announced. I also realized that you and Idris Alba actually worked together on another film years ago: The Mountain Between Us.
I haven’t seen it. Did you cross paths on that one?
We crossed paths very briefly. You’re the first person to bring this up! I played a very, very small part. Idris’ character in that film is a doctor at a hospital and I was there as an Arabic translator for one of his patients. Idris comes down the hall and chats with the patient and I say a couple of words and that’s it. But before we did that scene, [Idris] did pop in, and he was very sweet and very kind. He was in the zone, too. And then when I found out that he was voicing Knuckles, that was really cool. And it took me a second, right? I had totally forgotten that happened because I was very anxious on that day of filming: “Oh my god—improv. I haven’t spoken Arabic in a while. More words? Oh geez… Oh god!” [laughs] Just in my head, you know? The trailer is the first time I heard Knuckles’ voice. I was like, “Damnnnn! That sounds so gooood!”
You probably don’t run into the voice actors very much during production on Sonic, right?
No. I believe the majority of the recording gets done after we shoot the physical stuff. I obviously met and chatted with Ben [Schwartz] after we wrapped on the first one, and hopefully, our paths will cross again. Colleen [O’Shaughnessey] and I have exchanged messages on Twitter and stuff like that ‘cause I was so excited that they brought her onboard to voice Tails. She’s so great. It’s really cool that they’re treating this franchise and the Sonic family and the fandom so well.
It really is a franchise now with Sonic 3 in development and a series going to Paramount+.
Yeah, the Knuckles series is gonna be really cool. I have no idea what they’re gonna do, but…
So what can you tell me about Agent Stone and where we find him in the sequel?
There’s not much I can tell you that you haven’t already seen. I think he’s been pretty down since Robotnik disappeared. He’s trying to get by and do the best he can. He’s a barista at the Mean Bean Coffee Shop. Obviously, he’s super excited when Robotnik does come back and he’s ready to do whatever is asked of him. And then as everybody has seen, Knuckles is with Robotnik all the time. I don’t know if Agent Stone is exactly the happiest about that. [laughs] But we’ll see!
Did you create your own backstory for Agent Stone?
With most of the roles that I play, I do try and figure out a history or a background. A lot of the time, it doesn’t end up being written about so it becomes my own private thing. It helps to figure out the motivation for the characters a little bit more: what they represent and why they’re doing what they’re doing. And if the history starts getting written about and it’s not in line with what I’ve come up with, then it’s also my job as an actor to develop that: “How can I take what I’ve come up with and create parallels to what they developed or informed me in the story?” I think the most I did that for a role was on The 100. I played a character named Nelson and there wasn’t much history on that character. So I came up with a lot. And when we’d learn a little bit more about him, I was like, “Okay, a lot of this lines up.” I could just tweak it for myself and it still made sense. So for me, it does help. And with Stone, it’s a little bit tricky because I have ideas, but you also don’t want to put yourself in a box. What if you end up finding out later that he’s an alien?
Sonic is a thirty-year-old property now. Isn’t that wild?
That’s so crazy. That’s so cool.
Time is something that you touch on on occasion, as it relates to overcoming personal demons or traumas, to be better, which is always a work in progress. In a broader sense, I guess what I took from that is just the importance of being kinder to ourselves as well.
Yeah, what I’ve learned is that—whether you’re healing trauma or working to get better through counseling, therapy, whatever it is—nothing’s ever gonna be perfect and you’re never gonna erase the trauma completely. It’s about how you work through it and learn to accept it. Whenever a bad habit pops up, it’s about becoming better at recognizing those actions, whereas I used to beat myself up with a lot of negative talk. I mean, it still creeps up, but I spot it quicker now and I know what to do about it. So it’s not that it doesn’t affect me. It just gets easier and easier to be like, “Maybe I need to sit down and do some writing. Maybe I need to treat myself. Or maybe this voice is popping up for a reason, because maybe I have gotten a bit lazy when I shouldn’t have. And maybe I could’ve been more compassionate with myself in the way that was addressed.” Hopefully, it’s always an evolving relationship that you have with it and it gets better and better. I don’t know if it will ever fully go away for me. It’s just about learning to be more patient. And with other people, too, right? It’s about being more compassionate with yourself and with others.
Growing up, I don’t remember actors discussing this kind of stuff quite so openly.
Of course not. I always thought actors were perfect. Their hair was perfect. They had no problems in their lives. You could never attain what they have. As time progressed, more people started to talk about it like, “I have feelings of worthlessness. I have substance abuse issues,” and all these things. And you’re like, “Ohhh. You’re a human being?” We’re all just human beings. Life can be hard, you know? It’s just about being your truest self. How can you be true to you and be true to others? That’s the journey: learning to look in the mirror, loving and respecting that reflection.
The first Sonic was so much about friendship and finding your place in the world. Maybe those themes carry over into the sequel, but what would you say are predominant?
I think the second one is still about trying to figure out your place in the world. What do you stand up for? What do you want to represent? I think that message is quite prevalent in the second one. Sonic has grown up a bit and there are new challenges that he goes through. There’s a bit of a chip on his shoulder and he has to work through that, and learn the lessons he needs to learn.
There’s a lot of uncertainty in your business. Is there a sure thing that has come to light over the years that could only come with experience—something that you can really get behind?
When your priority becomes about healing, about getting better, about trying to help others, and about being compassionate to yourself, things start to work themselves out. That’s something I still remind myself of, and it’s something I try to talk about with others—actors or anybody. It’s not necessarily about having a positive outlook, because it’s tough sometimes to always look at things positively when life happens to you, right? But you can experience hurt and still put out love and compassion. So whenever I fall back into the fear of, “What am I doing with my life? What’s coming up next?” and all that uncertainty, what really helps is to remind myself of those things. Life might not turn out the way you anticipated, but it will work out. You just gotta trust in that.