An Interview with Voice Actors Ben Diskin and Brian Beacock
Date: 2011 July 25th Monday [16:37] | Posted By: Joe
Every now and again at Otaku News, we like to interview voice actors, the very people who provide the voices for anime. At the May 2011 MCM London Expo we were lucky to catch up with Ben Diskin and Brian Beacock.
The MCM Buzz team joined us later in the interview and also pitched in some good questions.
Otaku News: Hello Ben and Brian. It's great to meet you both! Let's get started, what roles are you both known for?
Ben: I've done Stitch for Stitch! anime, I did Syzal in Bleach (I was the second voice), aside from Naruto Shippuden, various monsters on Kekkaishi.
Brian: I kinda started in the business doing Takato in Digimon Tamers, then moved on to Bokomon and Agumon later on for another Digimon season. Recently, I've done Sakon and Ukon in Naruto, Yumichika in Bleach, Walter in Durarara!!, Rivalz in Code Geass, Lloyd Irving from Tails of Symphonia. A bunch of video games, things like that.
ON: How did you get into voice acting?
Ben: I got into voice acting when I was about 6 years old. I had representation with an agency literally before I was born, my parents were both actors. Their agent said, hey when your kids is born can we sign him up? And they said sure!
I've been doing regular on camera stuff as a little kid for a while and they said
Hey why don't you come into the booth? (I didn't know how to read yet). We'll tell you what to say and you just say it into this microphone, OK Benjy? And I'm like "OKAY" [Ben say's this in a cute kids voice].
So that's how I got my start. I'd have my first actual animated series by the time I was 10. It was based on the Problem Child Movies. I don't know if they were out here in the UK, but it was pretty popular back in the States. That was the first time I knew what it was like to do a real show and I was hooked, I thought it was so cool.
Brian: I started probably about 12 years ago. I was doing a play, a one man show where I played about 38 different characters, with no costumes, one set and I just had to do everything with voice and a friend of mine Mary Elizabeth McGlynn was directing the first Digimon. She saw the show and thought maybe you can come in and audition for this part of Takato? So this was my first experience, I've never done anything like it before. I got that part back in 1998 or 99. It just snow balled from there. Not having and agent, not having any experience, just being the right voice type back then is what got me in the door and then just learning along the way.
ON: What sort of big challenges or difficult roles have you had to portray as voice actors?
Ben: I'd say the hardest role, at least vocally that I'd had to portray would be Venom from Spectacular Spider-Man. He's a symbiote that covers the character of Eddie Brock. So they'd have me do the Eddie Brock voice, then they'd play it in the headset and I'd have to reloop that with the symbiote voice which is extremely throat intensive, it's got a lot of changes in pitch, it sounds really weird. They would sync that together. Then on top of it in certain points Venom would open up a second mouth on his stomach. So they would say, OK, we were going to have a total of 4 different tracks going in, so we'll need you to do about 10 takes of every single line in both voices a total of 4 times. So by the end of it, it was a 5 hour session of me just screaming my guts out. I was actually so messed up from that I couldn't speak straight for a week. At every audition people would look at me with this look of pity like "Are you OK? Would you like a lozenge? Are you alright? Can I get you anything?" And I was [wheezing and grating] "No, it's fine, I mean you can just pretend that I don't sound like this and you'll get an idea". And they're like Oh my god, what the hell?! That was the toughest one for me I think, defiantly by far.
Brian: For me it's kind of the same. The hardest part about voice acting is when you do a video game, which has all the fighting effects or the fighting efforts. At the end of the session your throat is quiet raw. I've survived that. They call me leather lungs. Which is nice, it has nothing to do with the throat. That's maybe not the hardest part. I'm doing this one show Mix Masters and I play 6 characters on the show already and the director when he finishes the session decides he wants to throw more characters at you. So I've done anything between 10 to 15 characters in this single session and you run out of voices and you run out of things to do with your voice, so you start asking your director, can this one be from Texas? Or can this one have a lisp or anything to attach to the voice to make it sound different because a 25 year old guy begins to sound very similar unless you add something distinctive about it.
ON: What sort of roles would you like to play in the future?
Ben: I would love to play more demons, even though it's really hard on the throat, I get a kick out of it?
ON: You like being the baddy?
Ben: Oh yeah! Being the evil one. The good guys, that's fun, that's cute, but being that bad guys, that's where it's at. I would like to do more villain work personally.
Brian: The villains are fun, you can do an older thin voice, quiet, whispery that's always exciting. I like doing shows that occasionally allow me to sing because I'm originally a singer. There's a couple of fun anime stuff that's allowed me to do that. That's cool because not a lot of people can do it, you can show off a bit in the booth if you can come up with a melody. I enjoy that.
ON: What sort of anime do you enjoy, apart from ones you've been in?
Ben: My personal favourite anime to do this day is Death Note. I get a huge kick out of that. I think I've seen the final episode, about 15 times.
ON: Who would you like to play in Death Note then if you had the chance, if they redubbed it?
Ben: If they redubbed it, I don't think I'll get cast as it, I'll be honest. I would have loved to play L. I just love that dude. He's just so freaking awesome. He's incredibly brilliant and just fun. I liked what the original actor did. I thought he did a flawless job. I don't think I can improve on that.
Brian: I don't necessary have a particular show, but there's certain types of anime and animation I'm drawn to and that's more the story and the character based stuff not necessary just the fighting. Digimon, Digimon Tamers in the beginning was a great story and I did a show recently called Gormiti, which I think only played in Italy. It's created by the French, played in Italy, dubbed in English, it's very odd. But it was again, story based, fun characters, I'm more attracted to that to watch.
ON: Have you got any advice for aspiring voice actors?
Ben: Keep at it. The best advice I can give is don't give up. This is one of those weird businesses where once you break into that little tiny inner circle, where you're one of those guys, the go to guy, it's amazing. Until then though it's a constant non-stop struggle. I've been doing this for 22 years and I'm still not a big name in the voice over industry. It's really hard to break in. Just don't give up, keep going and don't let anybody tell you that you're not good, you don't do enough voices or anything like that. There's no limits. Just keep at it!
Brian: I want to second that. I think I have gained more from tenacity than I have from luck. Also putting it out there, letting as many people out there know what it is you want. You're not going to get anything unless people know what it is that they can offer you. You make 15 phone calls a day, something's going to happen, someone's going to call you back. Then have something to back it up. Even if it's not a great demo, if you can do some great particular voices, someone day there's going to be a job where people are going to want you. If all these people around your inner circle know what it is you do and what you want you're going to be the first person they're going to call.
ON: What about inspiration, who has inspired you as voice actors?
Ben: Well, I wouldn't say specific voice actors, but every cartoon show I watched as a kid, and I ended up working with a lot of those actors who did those shows.
"Oh my God! That's Rob Paulsen who did Raphael in the Ninja Turtles, that I watched as a kid."
So, they're all fantastic. Frank Welker who's been doing this since god knows when. Cree Summer, Dee Bradley Baker all the greats in voice over are really impressive for a reason. It's always inspiring to work with them or just hear their work.
Brian: One of my first shows back in the day was with Sid Caesar and Carl Reiner, I don' t know if you know them, but they created Television as we know it and they did a lot of radio stuff. Now anime and cartoons. So I was the new guy in the room and I was terrified to be among these greats. So they were huge inspirations. The ones now, Seth MacFarlane who's on a lot of American Television like Family Guy and stuff, it's amazing how many millions of voices he can do. And completely different, you actually see a video of him doing the voice. How can that voice be coming out him when you've just seen that other voice come out of him?! So that kind of genius is very inspiring.
MCM Buzz: Are any of you guys into music / singing? As you're really talented with your voice anyway.
Ben: I'm a horrible singer, I'm almost proud of how bad I am. It's great if you can do it, if you're a good singer and also do voice acting, then why not. They go together really well. If not, well that's why they have to hire other singers, that's why Aladdin's voice suddenly changes when he starts singing and then goes back to normal when he starts speaking.
Brian: I think so very much, music has been a part of my life for my entire life. My first real job was Les MisÚrables on the national tour in San Francisco, so singing has always been a part of my life. It helped me with voice acting, especially if you're doing sound a likes, because it's all music. How high it is, tenor, alto, or whatever, so it always helps me in the booth.
MCM Buzz: Is there any difference doing Japanese anime that American animation?
Brian: It's interesting if you're going to original animation, then all you've got is the words on the page. So based on the character do whatever you do and they're going to animate to that. There's a sense of freedom to that. The skill set in a lot of the foreign dubbing stuff is that you have match the flaps as well. That's what they call the [mouth] flaps of the existing animation with the translated to English script. So you've got these huge restrictions put upon you. Then to add the character voice that you've already established, the situation, the drama of it, or whatever and the timing of it all. It becomes really difficult to get across the emotion in the minimal amount of flaps, you've got to do. You're just running down the page, there's no rehearsal. You look at the line and you run down the page. It's a great skill to have, but it's difficult.
MCM Buzz: When you record the anime, how do you do your lines? Do you do the whole scene in one go?
Ben: If it's anime, there's almost no way to do that, some people kind of can, we call that chasing picture. So that basically means if you see the character running you have to [Ben makes panting noises then makes a effort sound as if vaulting over something], that we can do. But if it's a whole bunch of lines, no. Maybe two at a time max, but otherwise it'll get out of hand. Then you have to redo a couple of takes. Usually it's one line at a time, make sure everything syncs up, they even have to slide stuff into place.
ON: Have you had to change any scripts to match lip flaps?
Ben: Oh yes.
Brian: Too short, too long.
Ben: I have a great story on that one. My first anime ever was one called Blood+, it was based on Blood the Last Vampire Movie. That script for the first 10 or 15 episodes was horribly underwritten. There'd be 20 mouth flaps and the character would say "Hasegawa".
So we go, Ooookay. So let's have a pow-wow. This is neat as I get to be part of the creative force! Yay!
Everybody in the room, the line producer, the director, the sound guy, me, would toss out ideas. How you think we should fill this out?
Other times you get huge amounts of dialog in 3 mouth flaps and oppress it all.
Some of this almost on the fly rewriting of the dialog.
Brain: Typically we have on staff the Japanese translators. But there are times when we're in the recording studio when if there's a word we don't know how to pronounce we'll do it 5 different ways. How many different ways can this be pronounced. Or what does this mean? Is it cultural or whatever? So we throw a bunch of things out and they send it back to the directors, and they say no this is completely wrong, redo it. So we're brought back to the studio to fix it.
Otaku News would like to thank Ben Diskin and Brian Beacock for being such great interviewees, along with the MCM Expo team for arranging the interview.
Brian Beacock can be found on-line on Twitter @BrianBeacock