Interview with Monica Rial and Chris Patton
Date: 2006 September 21st Thursday [4:18] | Posted By: Azure
Thanks to those lovely people at Amecon as well as the voice actors themselves donating their time, I was able to interview voice actors Chris Patton and Monica Rial.
Chris Patton has played roles such as Sousuke Sagara in Full Metal Panic and Sasame in Pretear; Monica has played many characters including Towa in DNAngel and Hyatt in Excel saga she also writes ADR scripts for anime such as DNAngel and Madlax.
Chris Patton first started acting when he was nine, he didn't specifically know that he wanted to be a voice actor although he did had a strong interest in cartoon voices. Monica Rial studied ballet, tap and jazz from the age of four until eleven, when she progressed to musical theatre because she "got too loud" for dance (which coincidentally is how she first met Chris).
Theatrical acting is very important for actors, even for voice actors, as Chris explains:
"I think it's extremely important, I think it's the best discipline any kind of actor can have; voice or otherwise. You'll never make good money doing theatre it's the best training ground there is."
He further explained that theatre trains the voice and gets it in great shape, teaching a person how to really use their 'vocal instrument'. Monica added that theatre also teaches you how to project your voice and use your body to convey a character, which also ties into voice acting.
"...When you get into the booth and you have a very shy quiet character, I'm going to record a little into myself and keep my hands close to my chest and [let my body] actually effect the way I talk."
She also says that just as improvisation is important in theatrical acting, it is also an incredibly valuable skill when voice acting. Voice actors start doing 'Walla' which consists of all the background voices; Monica's first role was on Nadesico;
"Matt [Greenfield] told me 'talk for two minuets straight' and all I knew was that I wanted the Jovians to go home. So I was saying things like ' Go home Jovians! We hate you! That was my test to see if I could cut it."
Chris Patton's first voice acting job was on Master of Mosquiton, when Matt Greenfield asked him to adlib in a high standard English about being on a ship for two and a half minutes, so Chris tells us he talked about his bad mother in law whom he made up on the spot. Monica also tells us improvisation is important when lines don't fit and you have to rewrite them on the fly. Chris also says if you do this well then you get a reputation as an effective actor, the more you get done in time the more that a company will want to work with you.
Voice directors are the people who work with voice actors and direct their performance (hence the name). The effect they can have depends on several variables, such as the director themselves, the character in question, and the actor(s) themselves. Sometimes a character will come naturally to a voice actor that they don't need a lot of direction. For example Chris explained that for a role he was currently casted for, that he was directing himself, for the most part, since he related to that kind of character well. Monica explains that for a role she is currently performing, the character is so different from what's she's done before that it's really good to have some direction, especially when first developing her interpretation of the character so that she can make sure she has the right range and emotion for the scene. Chris echoes this sentiment:
"When we did the first Full Metal Panic, Don Rush and I worked for a long time on how Sousuke was going to sound, his voice patterns, changes in delivery and ups and downs. Now that we're on Second Raid the third show I could go in with just an engineer and do it by myself, because I lived with Sousuke for so long."
Voice Actors and their characters
Chris admits that Sousuke is almost the exact opposite of his natural voice. Where Chris's normal speech pattern is very expressive,Sousuke is almost monotone, with emotions that only manifest themselves every so often. Now, however Chris has so much experience with the role of Sousuke, he feels as though he can almost just 'channel' him.
"It's like those FMP characters just live inside us now, because we'd thought they'd go away but they just keep coming back!"
Chris further explains that when you have a lot of experience with voice acting you develop a muscle memory that allows you to find a specific character voice again. Chris explains that at FUNimation they use a process called "hear and repeat," at the start of a session they often get a voice actor to repeat a line while comparing it to a recording so you can match your voice. Monica adds that with voice acting you really need another person there to check that the voice is recording the same way.
This familiarity with characters doesn't mean that it's always easy to get right back into character. For example when Chris reprised his role of Ayato Kamina for the RahXephon movie he found it quite challenging, since it had been such a long time since he'd worked on the series. The character used a specific part of his vocal range and had a lot going on emotionally. Adding further difficulties, the movie was particularly challenging since it was a retelling of the entire series in two hours. For Monica who played Haruka she had a different experience. Since there were changes to her character plot she was able to start fresh.
On a personal note, I couldn't let Chris go without talking about Pretear, a personal favourite in terms of dubs. Chris plays Sasame, a bishounen who hosts his own radio show:
"My favourite part of Pretear, 'coz it's such a fan servicy pandering thing is when Sasame is like ' put your lips together and blow, I thought how many fifteen year olds just started quivering! I felt so dirty recording that!"
He adds that it was a show he really liked.
Anime on TV
The growing popularity and influence of anime has meant that titles which Monica and Chris have worked on are now airing on TV, which of course includes the wildly popular Full Metal Alchemist, Chris explains his reaction to watching it on TV:
"I loved watching Greed's last episode on TV (on Cartoon Network) and it was awesome watching that, I was signed onto instant messenger watching that and right when the episode ended all these I.Ms popped up! Full Metal Alchemist in the States in so big as far as I'm concerned he's [Greed] the most badass villain in anime history! It was so fun to get to create a voice for him."
Monica adds that she was looking forwards to a new series licensed by FUNimation titled Shin-chan which at the time of this interview hadn't begun airing in the U.S. This time the dub won't be edited, but rather "played up" Monica explains:
"...Cartoon Network even helped with some of the scripts, so it's even more foul than before they've kept in all the fart and pee jokes."
Getting recognised in public
With the rising popularity of anime in the states, voice actors are becoming increasingly recognized and well known, especially when introduced at opening ceremonies for the numerous conventions they attend. They are of course familiar faces at anime cons but now anime is creeping into normal every day life, Monica explains:
" My brother thinks it's funny whenever we go into best buy or one of the big stores he'll walk through the anime section and ask me to 'Take a look at this!'"
Chris weirdest experience was at Borders,
" I was at the CD rack and this guy was at the CD rack kind of stalking me and he asked if he could help me. I was looking for a meditation CD, and he all of a sudden got really enthusiastic about helping me and he goes into detail about different CDs, and then he goes to register and says 'There's no one at the register here let me check you out!' and so I start paying. Then he asks 'Are you Chris Patton? I recognised your voice!'"
They explain that they don't usually expect to get recognised outside the conventions, but that it does happen every so often. Monica jokes that a lot of the Dragon Ball voice actors will sometimes go up to children and scare them!
The expansion of anime
There are several new companies opening up or taking on anime, which is bound the effect the industry that brings up some concerns for both Monica and Chris, Monica explains:
"I think they are going to flood the market, and some of these companies aren't focused on anime for the anime fans they are focused on anime for TV
You have a lot of American markets realising 'hey this stuff makes money! So let's utilize it to make money off of it, they see things like Yu-Oh-Oh! and Pokemon and think it's the norm."
"I think that tends to lend itself to lower quality automatically, because it becomes all about doing it faster to get it on TV, rather than focus on the artistic side,there are companies like ADV and FUNimation who want to put out quality products, but there are some really good people that work on some of those [TV edited] shows."
Sadly both agree that while there are some talented people who work for those companies it looks likely that there will be more companies focusing on TV edited shows. They are positive though about what companies ADV and FUNimation are doing, adding that the audiences they go for are often different.
Anime for the older fan
Somehow this leads us onto the discussion of dubbing hentai Monica jokes:
" That's gotta be easier all you have to do is moan!" ( Chris Patton then demonstrates).
Joking aside it raised an interesting point, have Monica or Chris played roles that made them feel uncomfortable? Chris gives the example of Gantz:
" Sure there I've done roles that make me feel uncomfortable, but I look on them as a challenge. Gantz made me very uncomfortable, but the moment ion Gantz when Nishi goes on that eight minute rant on everyone telling everyone in the room why they are a piece of s**t, I was in such a foul mood that day and I came in a vomited out that monologue and I felt soooo good! And it played really well on the show I have to admit!"
He then went on to talk about Kekko Kamen, for those of you who don't know Kekko Kamen is an anime about a heroine who fights evil naked except for a mask and boots:
"I played perverted teacher Ben, and that was the sickest dude I've ever played but it was really funny but it was so sick!"
" You weren't the one on the receiving end! It didn't bother me and it wasn't hentai, at the same time I was playing the victim, (she gives some examples) there was some plot!"
We wanted to know if Monica and Chris had any voice acting heroes Chris answered first;
"None of them are in anime (laughter), seriously anyone I looked up to in voice acting I looked up to before I got into anime. They [anime voice actors] are all my peers and friends. I know some of the best people in the industry as far as anime goes. For me the heroes are people like Dan Castellaneta, Hank Azaria a lot of the Simpsons and Family Guy people.
Monica echoes this:
" Pretty much the same, Simpsons ,Family guy , Beavis and Butt-Head!"
But interestingly Chris leaves off Mel Blanc who many consider a favourite:
" You know I'm not as impressed by Mel Blanc as a lot of people are, as I've gotten further into the business I've learned more about him, it's funny when you listen to his voices a lot of them sound the same, and he uses a lot of trickery like slowing down and speeding up the tape. The thing you have admire about Mel Blanc, -and I'm basically stealing my words from Scott McNeil here- it's not so much the different voices he could do it's the life and three dimensionality that he could infuse in those characters."
Demo Reels and Auditions
Many voice actors use demo reels, which contain samples of their work to get auditions. Anime companies don't always use this method with many preferring to get actors in directly, Chris explains:
"In Texas [ADV and FUNi] the anime companies aren't so much looking for a demo reel as they are seeing what you can do in person but there are some anime companies that look for demo reels.
Really all you need in a demo reel is about a minute and a half of four solid different voices. They don't have to be four drastically different cartoony voices, they have to show different levels and facets of your voice."
He then went on to explain that the demo reel he did for his agent, he has an advert for a theme park that's really high energy, it then has an HIV ad that's really serious and then something else that's medium. He sums it up as ' quick and varied.'
Vocal Warm ups
Vocal warms ups are important for actors to help get the best out of their voice and take care of it. Monica tells us that she tries to go as low as she can and as high as she can. Both agree that they sing a lot, with Chris admitting that he often sings in the car on the way to the studio. Monica went on to say that a big mistake is not warming up the lips or other parts of the face. Chris explains further:
" After about four or five hours something really weird starts to happen which you never really think about, you actually get muscular fatigue in your mouth and jaw muscles and you start saying things like this ' uh wait uh F**k!' The first time it happened to me the director said to me' You have oral fatigue!' and I said ' Uh What I don't do porn!' but he was like ' no really after a certain number of hours your muscles get exhausted."
He then explained the best thing to do then is to take a break and massage the face or open and shut your mouth slowly. Monica gave an example that happened in Negima when playing Kazumi
" Everything she says is very forward, and I don't talk that way and it was like my lips were falling asleep!"
Sometimes there are days when directors just send them home, Monica admits she once went up to the studio with laryngitis hoping to at least use studio time to record walla but was sent back home again anyway! Chris says it's probably only happened to him four or so times in eight years.
Writing ADR scripts
ADR stands for Audio Dialogue Replacement or Audio Dubbing and Recording, which is a technical term for dubbing.
Both Monica and Chris have written scripts for anime dubs but interestingly they had very different reactions.
Monica speaks scripts out load to test if the lip flaps work (lip flaps are when an animated character opens or shuts their mouth). Even if something sounds right in the head, it may not sound right out loud. She also explains that knowing other voice actors vocal patterns really helps, for example if a voice actor is known for speaking fast then she knows to write more dialogue for them.
Scripts also need to be written to make them as easy for voice actors to record, for example she tells us it's best to avoid sentences that end with an s or with alliteration, Chris adds:
" It's killer on the microphone, the more 's' you say they bleed through."
Chris Patton trailed script writing on Gantz, but found it not to his liking:
"Writing of ADR scripts is the most arduous thing I've done in my life, and I hated it. For what it was worth I was good at it but it wasn't working! It was just killing me."
Advice for aspiring VAs
The first thing Monica and Chris say to aspiring voice actors is: ACT! Chris elaborates:
" You'd be surprised how many kids we meet, who say how can I become a voice actor and they're about fifteen. So I ask ' Have you ever acted before?' and they're like 'No!' so I ask ' have you thought about doing theatre?' and they're like ' theatre, no!' ' Have you thought about taking acting class?' 'No!' And I'm like voice actors more than half the equation is acting.'
Both agree that people who say they can do loads of voices often approach them, but they say it doesn't help without acting training and a willingness to perform.
Monica suggests practicing with animation on TV with the sound down or writing your own scripts, so you aren't just mimicking.
" The hardest part of the job is filling the lip flaps with good acting, with a realistic acting intention.'
They also say that a good sense of rhythm is important so there are a lot of voice actors of are comedians or have been in a band.
About the UK
We couldn't let them go without asking about what they thought of the UK Chris is very keen:
" I wanna live here, I knew it was going to be this way I just prefer the UK to America I really do. I'm not much of a patriotic America, I know it's a great land of opportunity and you really can follow your dreams there, and I salute the people who come over there and work their asses off. I love the UK, I've only been to Birmingham and Leicester [i.e. the town which hosts Amecon], but I love it here, all my favourite bands are here and I love the architecture. The fandom is funny, you guys are a lot more polite the first night we were here were going to be like 'who cares about American voice actors?' but we've been really impressed with the response, no one has been rude or crossing boundaries or trying to grab your junk! All this stuff happened, we've been stalked drugged, jumped on.
You don't get that here people are polite people ask ' can I have a hug you?' which is totally cool."
Chris also adds that there's an appreciation but it's more laid back, people can say 'hi' and carry on walking.
As we said above thank you to Amecon, as well as Chris Patton and Monica Rial who generously gave us their time, they as well as fellow guest Greg Ayers worked really hard all weekend. This interview was conducted as a joint effort between otakunews.com and the Voice Acting Alliance.