From Ninja to Hiro: Big Hero 6 Star Ryan Potter On Becoming a Disney Sensation

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It all started with a flyer at his kung fu class—a flyer that Ryan Potter simply shoved to the bottom of his bag after his instructor handed it to him.

It wasn’t until his mom found the paper advertising the Supah Ninjas casting call and asked him about giving it a try and “seeing the Hollywood experience,” that Potter even gave auditioning a thought. At the time, his main thought was: “I’ll miss a day of school, so it’s perfect.”

Four years after the audition, Potter, now 19, admits that he never dreamed of being an actor. His career aspirations were to be a baseball player, firefighter, or martial artist. But landing a lead role as a ninja on a Nickelodeon show can change one’s mind.

“I realized how fun it was, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m just going to do this as long as I can, because it’s such a fun job,’” Potter recalls. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

His theatrical chops playing Mike Fukanaga in Supah Ninjas led to a recommendation to Disney, where casting directors were searching for an Asian American lead to play Hiro Hamada in the animated movie Big Hero 6. Potter turned out to be the perfect fit and received an offer just two hours after one audition.

Having only been in front of the camera, this first voiceover project was as challenging as it was exciting. A crucial element to this kind of acting, Potter learned, is that “there’s a certain energy you have to project in every type of emotion, every type of scene, and every line, for the audience to connect to that character.”

“This being my first voiceover, I think that was something I had to learn on the job,” he says. Almost as an afterthought, he adds, “But I guess I did alright.”

If “alright” means beating out the highly anticipated film Interstellar in the box office and becoming the number one animated movie of the year, we’d have to agree.

Part of what Potter appreciated so much about the film is that its characters’ ethnicities are never addressed—in a good way. It’s simply a part of who the characters are. As he wrote in reply to a congratulatory email from Disney after opening weekend, “…because of how colorblind it is, kids are going to be able to see a film that represents society—a film that represents society by not making fun or pointing ethnicities out. It’s just what it is.”

For all the film’s smashing success, we like that Potter has remained grounded—or that he has chores like the rest of us. “I still have to clean the cat box and take out the trash,” he says.

Surely, his humble roots play a role in keeping his head on his shoulders. Potter recalls a lesson he learned from “every single Japanese cartoon, television show, movie, anime, or manga” that he’s ever encountered: “It’s the mentality that you can’t let things go unresolved.”

That’s precisely the determination he’s applied to his work, whether the project at hand was Big Hero 6 or a Wong Fu Productions music video for Kina Grannis. “If I set my mind to something, I’ve got to get it done,” Potter says.

As for what he’s celebrating right now, besides Mochi’s Celebration issue? “I’m moving, so right at this moment, it’d definitely be for having just the garage left to pack,” he says immediately. But as his chuckle subsides, Potter admits that he’s got quite a few things to be grateful for. Yes, Big Hero 6 may be the number one animated film out right now, but he says, “…the project itself—the fact that it celebrates diversity” is an important factor. “I’m celebrating the fact that we’re celebrating.”