What do Suzaku from Code Geass, Simon from Gurren Lagann, and Sasuke from Naruto have in common? They share the same voice actor for the English version of these characters – Yuri Lowenthal. We had the opportunity to ask Yuri a few questions about his latest role in Afro Samurai (Jinno / Kuma), and also about voice acting and his career in general. From his answers, he certainly seems to have plenty of good humour and a definite willingness to learn. He even learned how to spell favourite in proper English!
How did you get into your line of work? Did you stumble upon it or did you get up one morning and think voice acting was your choice career?
I started as an on-camera and theatre actor. I had always been in love with the many products of voice acting (mostly in the form of cartoons and video games) but never really thought of it as a possible career path until I moved out to LA where that work was a bit more available. I took a class to learn more about it, recorded a demo reel to send to potential agents and employers and started working slowly. The more I worked, the … more I worked.
Yuri your back catalogue of voice acting is, let’s be honest, huge! What would you say was your favourite role and what was the worst? Is there a role you don’t particularly like, but with a character you liked?
Not sure I understand the whole question, but I will say that it’s almost impossible to pick one character as a favourite. Or even a favourite. SOME of my favourites include Superman from Legion of Superheroes, Ben Tennyson from Ben 10 Alien Force, The Prince from the Prince of Persia VG series, Kamal from ilovebees, Sasuke from Naruto, Yosuke from Persona 4, Suzaku from Code Geass, Simon from Gurren Lagann, Haseo from the .//Hack G.U. games, and of course Jinno/Kuma from Afro Samurai. Do you see how this is a hard question?
Oh, and I can’t really think of a character that I absolutely HAVEN’T liked.
What are the differences in voice acting for a videogame and for animation?
There are several, but some of the most important are: the fact that with videogames you are almost always recording by yourself, so you have to use your imagination even more because you don’t have any other actors in the room to feed off of; you have to record a lot more efforts (fighting and exertion sounds) for videogames; and oftentimes, you are recording from a script that has only your lines on it, so you must trust your director to give you the background and context for your actions.
Can you highlight the differences (in voice acting) between a Japanese anime and an American cartoon, if any?
Most of the time in recording original or pre-lay animation you get to record in the room with the whole cast. And you obviously don’t have to try and match the character’s mouth movements. Dubbing anime is actually much harder and requires different techniques, a good sense of timing, and a powerful imagination.
What was your funniest moment on voice acting? What about your saddest one?
I have funny moments all the time, thanks to the people I work with. They make me laugh. We probably goof off a little more than we should. I have, though, at times, become overwhelmed with emotion and started crying in the booth. It only happens rarely, though. Mostly we laugh a lot.
In Afro Samurai, you work opposite Mark Hammil and Samuel L Jackson. Did you meet them? What is it like to work with them?
“Opposite” is an interesting term. And one of the funny things about voice acting. I didn’t meet Sam until a couple of months ago at the release party for the Afro Samurai video game, despite the fact that I had been working opposite him for years, oftentimes in very emotionally charged scenes. When I met him I said something like, “Hey Sam, you’ve been kicking my ass for the last three years so I figured I should probably come and introduce myself.” He laughed. He’s a cool cat. Now Mark Hamill I’ve worshipped for years, we’ve worked on several projects “together”, and I’ve still never met the guy. One day…
How’d it feel to work alongside Johnny Young Bosch?
Warm, cosy. You know he’s kind of a Power Ranger in real life.
How difficult is it to work in the current economical environment? Did the credit crunch hit voice acting as well?
It’s hit everything in varying degrees. There’s less money to go around, so there are fewer projects in production and they’ve all shrunk their budgets. Luckily the entertainment business in general feels the crunch less I think because now, especially, people need an outlet, an escape, and we help provide that for them. I think it’s a very important service, actually.
Which way do you see anime going in the States and Europe?
Unfortunately I see anime in the States and Europe going to countries where dubbing can be done for cheaper. I’m not saying you’ll always get the same quality, but I think it’s gotten harder for companies to compete here in the States, especially with free Internet dispersion of the content. It’s sad, but such is the way of the world. Things change and we’ll have to change with them.
What was it like to work in Gilmore Girls? Do you like cooking yourself?
Gilmore Girls was fun. And yes, I actually do like cooking. Very much. But I REALLY had fun working on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles recently. You can check my episodes out online, where they are being dispersed freely…
The Hollywood “Walk of Fame” – sometimes, they give a person 2 different stars. One for the actual person, and one for their character. But they’ve only done this twice, firstly for Jim Henson with his Kermit the Frog, and secondly for Mel Blanc with his Bugs Bunny. What do you think about the recognition of the voice actors? Do you believe there are voice actors who can get the recognition Mel Blanc had?
I think so, but I also think that the public’s perception of voice actors will have to change, and it probably will eventually. It’s interesting to see that video games made more money than movies in the U.S. last year and yet no one would recognize Dee Bradley Baker, Rob Paulsen, Fred Tatasciore or John DiMaggio walking down the street. Guys (and gals, trust me, lots of gals) like these are the Brad Pitts and Angelina Jolies of the game world. It’s weird.
Do you get a lot of fan attention? Do you like fan attention?
I mostly get fan attention when I’m at conventions and such because, as I mentioned before, not many people would recognize me on the street. Sure I like fan attention. Who doesn’t? Because I’ve been a fanboy all my life, I always want to give myself completely to each and every fan I encounter. It can be exhausting because of that. It’s odd sometimes being on the other end of fandom.
Finally a random question: We heard that you’re a Dr Who fan, so who is your favourite “Doctor” and why?
Not so random at all. I’m a big geek, so it’s all part of my game. I started with Tom Baker and he will always be my favourite. I knitted a 12-foot scarf in defence of this. But I must say that David Tennant is absolutely glorious and I may be in love with him. Can I say that on the Internets?
Thanks to Farhana from MVM for arranging this opportunity for us, and many thanks to Yuri for answering all our questions. Afro Samurai: Resurrection and Afro Samurai: Director’s Cut will be out on the 27th April 2009.