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Tyler the First: Chatting with Tyler Merna, Star of Disney Junior’s ‘Sofia the First’

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Tyler the First: Chatting with Tyler Merna, Star of Disney Junior’s ‘Sofia the First’
Photo Source: DouglasGorenstein.com

When it comes to casting kids roles for animation, I always prefer to cast a young actor instead of an adult to voice the role. Just watch “The Incredibles” and listen to the energetic vocal performance from Spencer Fox, who voiced the role of Dash back in 2004 at the tender age of 10. And if you tune into “Peter Rabbit” on Nick Jr., you’ll hear the voices of Jake Lucas (Peter Rabbit), 11, Sawyer Niehaus (Mittens), 10, and Josh Colley (Pig Robinson), 12. The authenticity young actors bring to voicing these roles is unique and natural. 

This month, I caught up with my friend Tyler Merna, 13, who’s about to premiere as Prince James on Disney Junior’s top-rated animated series “Sofia the First.” He’s also featured in my book “Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room.” 

Jen: We first met in 2009 when you were only 8 years old. I was casting Disney’s animated feature film “Frankenweenie” for Tim Burton. I was so impressed with the natural texture in your speaking voice.

Tyler: “Frankenweenie” was my first voiceover audition.  I had no idea how much fun it would be.

Jen: Then, in 2011, I cast you in the animated movie “Savva.”

Tyler: I was touring as Michael Banks in “Mary Poppins" and we flew in for the day to record the role! 

Jen: When did you decide to start pursuing voiceover more seriously? 

Tyler: My family and I started spending more time in L.A., and you introduced us to Melissa Berger Brennan over at CESD. She immediately began sending me out on voiceover auditions. 

Jen: And now you are voicing Prince James on Disney Junior’s “Sofia the First!” Tell me about the casting process. 

Tyler: I first auditioned for Prince James (Sofia’s brother) in March 2013 over at CESD. I had no idea how long it would take to hear back. Six months later, Melissa called and sent me over to meet the producers. I read two different scenes. My little sister Reese is a huge fan of the show and I’d already watched the show so much with her. When I went to the final audition at Disney she was like, “You better get this!” She was ecstatic when Melissa called to tell me I got the role. Reese told all her friends immediately!

Jen: Prince James sings too, right? 

Tyler: Yes. I had just sang the national anthem at a Lakers game, so we sent that video over to Disney. 

Jen: So what have you learned since voicing the role? What is different now from when you started? 

Tyler: My character requires a lot of energy in every episode. I move my hands a lot in recording sessions. I was moving so much that they decided not to have me wear headphones because I was banging the headphones all around. 

Jen: Sustaining energy is hard in a recording session, isn’t it?  

Tyler: Yes, and it’s challenging to stay in character for that long when you are recording by yourself. 

Jen: Do you always record alone? 

Tyler: Sometimes I record with the other actors. I tend to get through the lines a lot faster when I record alone. 

Jen: What have you learned from this experience? 

Tyler: Improv is a huge part of voiceover, especially during ADR sessions. All of ADR is improv. 

Jen: What’s your best advice for actors who want to get into voiceover?

Tyler: You have to have a lot of energy and really like doing it, because otherwise it won’t be fun. My friends think it’s so easy. “You just read the the script.” I thought it would be easy but I was so wrong. It takes so much focus and energy. It’s really hard. You also have to bring something original to the table. The producers want you to bring not just yourself, but to also play creatively in front of the microphone and not do only what they ask you to do. 

Jen: “Sofia” airs on Disney Junior and is one of the top shows for kids ages 2-11.  Are you expecting to get stalked by the show’s fans once your episodes start to air? 

Tyler: It’s already starting! Every little girl wants a photo with me! 

That’s all for now. Until next month. Over and out.

Jen Rudin is an award-winning casting director and author of “Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room.” (Harper Collins/It Books, 2013). Visit www.jenrudin.com and follow @RudinJen.

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