How Rick and Morty’s New Stars Get Into Character
Stepping into the two lead roles of the massive sci-fi show is no easy task.
Imagine a man in his mid-20s with an easy smile doing a few breathing exercises before jumping up and down and squealing like a pig as if his grandpa just let him get stung by some kind of alien bug. Now imagine his boss chuckling fondly on the other side of the glass pane dividing the recording studio. That’s now the life of Harry Belden, a young Chicago actor who did mostly local TV work on shows like Chicago Med before miraculously landing the role of hapless and high-pitched teenager Morty Smith on Adult Swim’s hit show Rick and Morty.
“The hardest part about voicing Morty is ensuring that the character lives on in as seamless a manner as possible,” Belden tells Inverse. “Making sure that all of the fans that watch the show are getting the same experience: still laughing at and relating to this character. That's my mission, to embody Morty and get his voice as close as possible and have his spirit.”
Series co-creator Justin Roiland voiced both characters for the first six seasons, but Adult Swim fired him in January 2023. Showrunner Scott Marder and co-creator Dan Harmon spent six months sifting through thousands of auditions to land on two actors: Belden as Morty and Ian Cardoni, who now voices grandpa Rick Sanchez.
Belden and Cardoni have done very few interviews since assuming the roles of the title characters for the start of Rick and Morty Season 7 in October. But now, just ahead of the season finale, they open up to Inverse about landing their dream jobs, replacing Justin Roiland, and how they manage to get these two strange voices just right.
Harry Belden as Morty Smith
At 14 years old, Morty has a high-pitched voice that’s prone to cracking frequently. It has a sort of wavering uncertainty to it that reflects the character. Though he’s become more sure of himself over the years, Morty is short, prone to panic, and often winds up the butt end of the joke. One episode in Season 7 opens on the titular duo returning to the garage. Morty says, “Wow, another adventure where I went up an ass…”
In a Zoom group interview that included Executive Producer Steve Levy along with Chris Parnell and Sarah Chalke, who voice Morty’s parents on the show, Harry Belden says his mission is to embody Morty and “have his spirit.” He’s initially conservative when describing his process for getting into character, and more than willing to slip into a Morty voice on cue.
“Aside from all my typical vocal warm-ups, I'll usually stick my head up like that and [slips into Morty voice] like, point up, you know? To just sort of send everything up and forward. That's how I get in the vibe. I also always say, “Okay, I get it!” right before our sessions, because it puts me in the Morty pocket.”
Steve Levy is quick to interject here: “He also jumps up and down. Scott Marder likes to make fun of his vocal warmup where he’s just jumping up and down and doing these high-pitched noises.” It’s a strange but charming ritual that clearly works, particularly given all of the turmoil Morty’s been through over the years.
“I get a lot of flack for that,” he says. “It’s very funny hearing everyone laugh at it though!”
Harry emerged rather late in the casting process. Scott Marder said it was “after we exhausted every resource.” There were multiple rounds of auditions testing the limits of what the voice actors were capable of. “Picture a Zoom waiting room full of people in yellow T-shirts and lab coats,” Belden previously told The Hollywood Reporter. They’d get unpredictable prompts like “What if Morty wasn’t quite as submissive, but he was really dominating and angry here?” or, more importantly, “What if he was being a bit cold and calculated, much like a certain Morty who wears an eyepatch?”
Just as Rick conveys a variety of emotions depending on the circumstance, Morty might panic in the face of danger or maintain a cool head in a firefight against aliens. There’s also an infinite number of Morty variants out there in the multiverse, including Evil Morty, who popped up in a major role this season when Rick confronted his longtime nemesis Rick Prime.
“I think it's just a mindset thing,” Belden says when asked about voicing different Mortys. ‘You know, who's this Morty? What's his deal? Is he within 99 percent of our Morty or is he a complete 180 like Evil Morty? It's just like any character you know, digging into their backstory, their motivations, their environment, and just kind of letting that flow through you and channel that into whatever it winds up being.”
Ian Cardoni as Rick Sanchez
Grandpa Rick’s voice is an enigma, deep and croaky like a humanoid frog with phlegm, bile, and booze simmering in the back of its throat. Every word grinds like a tiny chainsaw. Getting control of that chainsaw is a feat unto itself.
Ian Cardoni, as it turns out, was one of the very first auditions that Marder heard. A Boston native who started acting at a young age, Cardoni has done a lot of voice-over work in recent years. Like many applicants, he had “major flashes of Rick,” but the trick was testing their stamina and range.
“The happy challenges that I have with Rick are taking these extreme situations and vocal ranges that are called for in these scripts and remaining in a grounded performance, one that's relatable and speaks to his emotional truth,” Ian Cardoni tells Inverse. “Even through a yelling, screaming fight scene, I always want to bring his humanity to the role. That’s the balance that I'm trying to strike.”
Whoever voices Rick needs to be able to drunkenly blubber, scream obscenities, burp, and explain highly complex scientific concepts at a rapid pace. Earlier this season in “Air Force Wong,” we watched Rick struggle to contain unbridled rage as he contextualized his emotions in a healthy way. One week later, Rick was frothing at the mouth screaming about his “world-famous spaghetti” made from the guts of suicidal aliens.
Asked about the challenges and approach he takes to the character, Cardoni comes across like a seasoned professional. Vocal coaches worked with both of Rick and Morty’s new stars, teaching them that the voice is an instrument like any other.
“My process involves a lot of vocal care and extensive warm-ups and vocal rest after a session, really taking care of the instrument, and just fine-tuning my ear to the many sounds of Rick so that I can hopefully be seamless and grounded,” Cardoni said. “And then there's, of course, a few launch point lines that get me right into the character and bring me right back to the sound of Rick.”
Cardoni wouldn’t reveal what they were, but chances seem high that it’s just screaming for, “Morty!”
“It is a joy to voice Rick Sanchez,” Cardoni said. “The role is more accessible to me just coming in as a fan. And then being able to step into it professionally, I had an advantage knowing the journey this character has already been on to help me serve the journey ahead.”