Behind the mic with ‘The Hollow’ star Adrian Petriw
There’s a lot that Adrian Petriw loves about voicing Adam, one of the lead characters on Netflix’s new animated series The Hollow.
The Hollow follows a trio of young people – Adam (Petriw), Mira (Ashleigh Ball), and Kai (Connor Parnell) – after they wake up in a doorless concrete cell with no memory of who they are or how they got there.
Petriw is a veteran Vancouver-based actor whose voice credits include Ken in multiple Barbie movies and the titular characters in Scout and the Gumboot Kids and Iron Man: Armored Adventures. He’s been ride-or-die for cartoons since he first heard Mark Hamill voice The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series (“It was so moody and rich,” he recalls in a recent phone interview. “It was the first cartoon that I remember feeling that the stakes were high, and I got scared”) – and he had an equally visceral response when he read the first script for The Hollow, 10 episodes of which hit the streaming service earlier this month.
“I like that it’s spooky, I like that it’s mysterious, and I like that it’s serialized in the same way that we can sit down and watch House of Cards and get engrossed in something and have it go to the next episode,” says Petriw.
But mostly, Petriw appreciates that The Hollow “gives kids a lot of credit in terms of the themes,” he says. “So often in animation, you get re-directed and they’ll say, ‘You have to do that line less angry or a little less scared; you can’t quite go there emotionally because it will upset the kids,’ and yes, in some cases, that's true, but what I loved about The Hollow was it goes, ‘You know what? I think kids can handle a little bit of fear and a little bit of mystery and a little bit of not knowing what it’s like not to know.’ I liked that it raised the stakes, and in a way that it works.”
Petriw’s actor origin story is at once distinctly Vancouver and wholly unique. He was eight-years-old and had just finished up a day on the water off of Vanier Park when he was drawn to several nearby giant circus tents while his family packed up the car.
Those tents are now iconic: they’re where Bard on the Beach brings Shakespeare to Vancouver audiences each summer. But back in 1995, they were still a relatively new and unfamiliar sight, and they drew Petriw in like a siren song.
“I ended up somehow walking into the green room tent, and it was during a production of Hamlet, and I remember it was the scene where Hamlet confronts his father’s ghost,” recalls Petriw. “The ghost is up on the stage with this booming voice, ‘Swear!’ And I could see, just from behind the tent, the actor playing the ghost up on stage in makeup and I remember getting goose bumps. My jaw was on the floor, and I said to myself, ‘I don’t know what is going on here, but this is what I want to do with my life.’”
Ultimately, another one of the actors spotted Petriw, and Bard on the Beach Artistic Director Christopher Gaze walked the eight-year-old back to his family and offered them all free tickets to see Hamlet the following night. “I didn’t understand the language, but it was so well done that I understood emotionally what was happening, and I got the story, and I got everything from the smell of the stage to the lights to the actors’ voices,” says Petriw. “It really did imprint on me.”
From there, Petriw worked on his craft, via Bard’s summer camps and various workshops and classes around town. It was his mother who suggested that he pursue voice work, which he did, although this was long before there was an abundance of voice acting classes on offer in the 604.
“There would be the occasional workshop that would come to town so I’d get on the mic for five minutes and get some pointers, but I had to learn through trial and error,” says Petriw. “I’d prep a script and go to an audition and I would just poop the bed and they would usually very generously give me feedback [like], ‘You need to give it more energy, you need to understand that everything is coming out very one-note and in your audition you have to show that you can give this character emotional variety throughout a series,’ and things like that.”
It took a year, but Petriw finally had a breakthrough moment while preparing an audition for the role of Hawkeye in a Marvel straight-to-DVD film called Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow.
“I remember reading the sides and going, ‘I know this, I know the energy they’re going for, I understand the character,’ and I let my imagination run wild,” says Petriw. “I let go of thinking too much about technique and I just went in and thought, ‘If there’s anything I know, it’s this genre and this type of character,’ and I ended up booking it. And this ultimately led me to Iron Man two months after that, and I booked the role of Iron Man, and while it wasn’t a big break, that really cemented for me that animation was in fact the avenue I wanted to take.”
One of the most impactful roles of Petriw’s career came into his life during the saddest of times: in 2015, shortly after his mother died.
“I had talked to my agent and I said, ‘I don’t know what headspace I’m going to be in and I don’t know if auditioning is going to be possible in the next little while, and I just don’t know what I’ll be able to do, but if you want to pass things along to me, I can always take a look and decline as we go,’” says Petriw. “He was so supportive. It was a couple of days after my mum had passed away and I get this email from my agent. He said, ‘I thought you’d want to take a look at this, and I hope you’re okay.’”
Petriw opened the script, which was for the lead character in a CBC series called Scout and the Gumboot Kids. He was immediately, and profoundly, moved by the conceit of the show – which emphasizes mindfulness and nurtures an appreciation for nature – and Scout's gentle and inquisitive spirit.
“For my mom, kids were the most important thing in the world. She loved children, and children loved her, and here I was, all mixed up, and I started reading this, and here’s this little mouse and he’s telling kids, and me, too, to breathe, and to take in a breath of air, and be mindful and be present,” says Petriw. “I really connected with him, and I really loved the guy.” Petriw quickly put an audition on tape, eschewing a squeaky mouse voice in favour of speaking from his heart, and two weeks later, learned that he’d booked the role.
Scout and the Gumboot Kids is an undeniable hit: it airs in multiple countries, earned endorsements from The David Suzuki Foundation and the UCLA Global Media Centre for Social Impact, and won five awards at the 2017 Leos, including Best Children’s Program.
Adds Petriw: “Our heart goes into some of these characters and the work we do, too, and sometimes it’s just that: it’s going, ‘Oh, man, he’s speaking to me and speaking through me.’”