[Interview @ AWA 2009 Day 2 (Saturday)]
(Photo Credit: Noodle)
Zippy: Alright this is Zippy here, and The Cay, and we get the great pleasure to be here with Vic Mignogna. How are you doing today sir?
Vic: Zippy and Cay. It’s good to be here with you guys! Thanks for having me. I’m doing great. Keeping busy.
Zippy: Oh I’m sure your schedule’s gotta be pretty crazy. [Laughs]
Zippy: I know a lot of people, obviously anime fans, know a lot about you, but if you don’t mind maybe hitting some of the highlights of your roles that you’ve done?
Vic: Well let’s see, I’ve been voice acting for over 10 years, I’ve done over a 100 series and video games, and I guess probably some of the best known roles that I’ve worked on are Edward Elric in Fullmetal Alchemist, Tamaki Suoh in Ouran High School Host Club, Hikaru Ichijo in Macross, Fye in Tsubasa, Dark in D.N. Angel, Ikkaku in Bleach, [and] probably several that I’m missing right now. I always blank out whenever somebody says “name some of the shows you’ve done” I’m like I… I… can’t think!
Zippy & The Cay: [Laughs]
Vic: …Kurz Weber from Full Metal Panic, Kugaji in Saiyuki. I’m currently working as Death Scythe in Soul Eater, and [I’m] just very very grateful to be given the opportunities I’ve been given. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s a lot of work and it’s very tiring, but it’s really fun and I’m really grateful.
Zippy: I know some of those are personal favorite roles [of mine] too.
Vic: [Interjects] Broly in Dragonball Z! How could I forget Broly?
The Cay: I did not know that you [voiced] him till you [mentioned] it at your panel last year.
Vic: Yeah he… [chuckles] he still makes me shudder to think of him. Hard voice to do you can imagine.
Zippy: Oh definitely.
Vic: I’m a little guy, and he’s a very big guy.
Zippy: Well just going back in your history then what got you into acting in general?
Vic: Well I’ve been acting since I was very young. I mean I’ve always loved performing, and I’ve always loved theatre, that kind of stuff. And so I’ve been doing that since I was very very young, and a friend of mine about 10 plus years ago, in Houston, I was working with a guy on a video production and he says “hey, you’ve got a lot of experience in acting don’t you?” and I’m like “yeah, a lot of that”, and he said “you ought to go and audition for this place in Houston right here called ADV films. They do this Japanimation stuff and they need actors. They’re looking for actors to voice characters” and I was like “wow really? You mean like Speed Racer and stuff?” and he’s like “yeah yeah, that kind of stuff”. So I went and auditioned and at the time [and] I mean you could fit ADV in this room [Editors Note: think walk-in closet]. It was a very small little operation, but it was started by people who loved anime, who just wanted to bring anime to the English speaking world. So I went and auditioned and I got cast, and the first role I ever played was Vega in Street Fighter II. And then the next show came along and I got cast again, and again, and the next show, and the next show, and then I started doing conventions and I met people that worked at FUNimation in Dallas and they encouraged me to come up and audition for them and I did that, started working up there, [doing voices in] Dragonball Z, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Kiddy Grade, Spiral, and then Fullmetal Alchemist came along and then I started meeting people at conventions that worked in L.A., and they were like ”you should come out to L.A.” So I started going out there working on a lot of video games mostly, because they didn’t want to cast me in shows that had a recurring character because I didn’t live there, and they didn’t want to paint themselves into a corner [by] giving me some role and then I couldn’t be there the moment they needed me. So it started with video games and then more recently I’ve gotten to play roles that… I play a recurring character in Bleach, that’s recorded in L.A, and a couple of other big shows actually that have yet to be announced. That’s how it worked. It was quite by accident. I kind of backed into it, but fortunately I had already had the training and the experience in theatre that was very crucial to getting into voice acting.
Zippy: Now I know a lot of voice actors keep up with their theatre roots do you still get the time to do any of that?
Vic: Ohhhhh I wish Zippy! if only I had the time. I miss it a lot. I talk about that a lot with other voice actors actually at conventions like, “man I want to do some theatre again. I want to get back into theatre!” But there’s just no time. If you think about a theatre play you’ve got to rehearse, weeks and weeks of rehearsal. Then [there’s the] performance and the performances go on weekends, and even sometimes into the week for Lord knows how long. That’s a lot of time and unless you’re landing some big role on Broadway theatre doesn’t pay that well. So you can either choose to earn a living and promote your career in anime, or you can be in a stage play for six weeks and do nothing else. So as much as I want to do some more theatre, and I miss it, I don’t really have the opportunity with my current schedule to do it. I miss it a lot though.
Zippy: Well just a little after your transition to theatre, and your early anime voice work, do you kind of have a nostalgia for that? Just being a veteran now, and being able to get a lot more lead roles, what’s your kind of opinion…
Vic: [Interjects] Nostalgia? Do you mean nostalgia for my early work?
Vic: Nooooo… [Laughs] No I was just trying to get my bearings on exactly what voice acting was. It’s very different. A lot of people have interesting conceptions of voice acting and many of them are misconceptions. It’s a lot harder than people think it is, and there are even stage actors who do not make good voice actors, and there are certainly film actors who don’t make good voice actors, because we’ve seen their [work] and heard their work in animated features coming out of Hollywood and they’re atrocious, and boring, and flat. Just because you have tools to be an onscreen actor doesn’t mean those tools translate into voice acting. It’s a completely different set of skills. Same with stage work. So I would say that when I started out I was just trying to get an idea on how this worked, and I felt like I had an affinity for it, but still I don’t even want to hear my early work right now. I’ve come a long way in these years.
Zippy: Now getting into that, like you said yourself, you were aware of Speed Racer and I know you were a Sci-Fi fan so some of the circles may have touched before, but did you know a whole lot about anime other than that?
Vic: Speed Racer. Kimba the White Lion. I can think of a few animes that I watched all the time when I was a little kid. I didn’t know they were animes. I didn’t know they came from Japan. I knew that they had a weird animation style. They looked different than the other Western animation shows. They looked very different than Scooby Doo, the Flintstones, or the Jetsons. The voice work was very different too. There were a lot of things that were very stylistically different, and we really liked them. My friend and I would run around all the time imitating the characters on Speed Racer, because there was something so funny about the way everything was kind of over the top. You know when [the characters] would see something or be surprised they would go “AAAHHH!” “GASP!” and all these huge sounds and really melodramatic performances and stuff and we loved it! It was great but we didn’t know it was from Japan. So imagine my surprise when I found out as an adult working in anime that a lot of these shows that I loved as a kid were actually anime. One of the highlights of my career, if I may I don’t want to be too long winded here, but about three years ago they had the 1st Annual American Anime awards in New York City. They took fan votes from all over and they had like ten nominees for every category: Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Series, Best Short Series, Best Artwork, Best Packaging – all the kinds of things you would expect from an awards show. And I was nominated for Best Actor for Fullmetal and Macross and they narrowed it down from the ten using popular vote online from the fans to five finalists, and then a consortium of experts chose the winner. But several of us went to New York and here I am sitting in the audience in this ballroom, it’s all televised, it’s all fancy, and I’m sitting there and guess who’s sitting beside me, and I’m conversing with, and chatting with, and yucking it up with? The guy that voiced Speed Racer, [Peter Fernandez]
The Cay: Nice!
Vic: I mean talk about how surreal that as a kid I had no idea who it was. Who cares I mean when you’re a kid? You don’t. I didn’t even think about the voice of Speed Racer. That’s Speed Racer, that’s Bob Racer, that’s Spritle and Chim-Chim. I didn’t know who voiced him but now as an adult I learned who did it and here I was sitting beside this guy, and he actually went up and received a Lifetime Achievement award, brought it back to the seat beside me, and it was just really a neat moment for me to be sitting beside him, and actually to receive an award. I actually ended up winning Best Actor that year for Fullmetal, and so here I am sitting beside the voice of Speed Racer and we’re both holding our awards. You know it was just really… [Pauses] It was a highlight.
Zippy: That definitely sounds like a special moment.
Vic: My highlights aren’t about money. Highlights in my entire life, and my career, are not about “Well I finally made 10 million for a picture!” or “I booked a $30,000 print gig on the cover of US magazine.” It’s never been about how much money I’ve made, because I don’t make a ton. But I love what I do so much and the moments that mark my career are things that had nothing to do with some kind of financial success or reaching some huge pinnacle. Just those kinds of moments. Another highlight would’ve been going to a convention. It was a sci-fi/pop culture convention, so they had guests for anime, sci-fi, gaming, horror, comics and on the beautiful full color printed program on the front they had a character representing each of the different categories. Well I don’t know if you know this but original Star Trek is my passion. I grew up eating, sleeping, and breathing the original Start Trek. Captain Kirk. I thought I was Captain Kirk when I was a little kid. Kirk, Spock, McKoy all of them. [I] memorized the episodes. Well at this convention in Toronto, this multi-genre convention, here’s a picture of Alice Cooper, representing whatever – horror, rock; here’s a picture of Batman representing [comics]; here’s a picture of James T. Kirk, because Shatner was going to be there that weekend, and right beside him was a picture of Edward Elric representing anime. That is a significant moment for me in my career to [have] a character that I played side by side with one of my all-time favorite characters ever as a kid.
Zippy: That’s also pretty awesome.
Vic: Sorry I talked a long time. Don’t get me off [talking about] Star Trek or I’ll fill up every tape you have.
The Cay: [Laughs]
Zippy: Well then I’m worried about my next question because I was wondering had you been to any sci-fi conventions before [when you were younger]?
Vic: [Interjects] Oh gosh yes!!! You know what? You go to an anime convention and you see thousands of kids dressed as anime characters, right? When I was a little kid, it was Star Trek. My mom made me a uniform and I went to Star Trek conventions and met Scotty, and Sulu, and McCoy. That was my… I remember it like it was yesterday. In Pittsburgh, they’d bring in the actors from the show and I’m running around with a phaser stuck to my Velcro, the way it should be, on my black pants, and I was in uniform and I was in heaven because I’m looking around and I’m surrounded by thousands of other Star Trek fans. And you go into the dealer’s room and its “Oh look at all this stuff from Star Trek!!!” and you’re spending all your money like it’s burning a hole in your pocket and… and that was my passion. That’s why I feel like I understand anime fans. There are a lot of voice actors who are in this because it’s a job. They got a job, they’re actors, they got a job voicing a character, and they voiced a character, and it was a popular show so they get invited to conventions and they come and they’re like “Ughhh… I will do one hour of signing then get me out of here!” They don’t feel a connection with the fans. For me it’s very different. I understand what makes fans tick. I understand that passion that they have to use whatever skills God has given them: drawing, singing, writing, graphic designs, costumes, whatever it is that they have a passion for and they channel it into their love of anime. I understand that because I was that kid only for me it was Star Trek and then Star Wars. I mean as recently as three or four years ago I was in full Jedi robes that I own. I have a light saber collection at my house. [I went] to a Star Wars celebration in Indianapolis dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi. I grew the beard, everything. So I feel like there’s a real strong connection with the fans, and I think the fans sense that. I think they know that I love them and not only do I appreciate them for their support of my work, but I appreciate them for the particular passion that they have for what they love, just the way I was when I was their age.
Zippy: Yeah you speak of that passion and I know you see that today at so many cons and like you said whether it’s through music, art, [the fans] really just kind of take it to a whole new level. For you, was your Star Trek fandom then kind of the launching pad for your inspiration to acting? I mean if you can memorize that many shows it helps with memorizing lines.
Vic: Well it certainly… You know what? It’s funny you should say that because I would probably say… I wouldn’t limit it to an inspiration for acting, but I would make it a much broader inspiration. Star Trek was probably my inspiration to be creative. When I was 11, and 12, and 13, Star Trek was on at 5PM on Channel 11 everyday in Pittsburgh and I’d come home from school and I would get a snack and then I would lay down, I would sit on the living room floor in front of this little 19 inch television that we had, on the floor, and I would break out glue, and tape, and cardboard, and wood, and paint, and I would sit there while Star Trek’s on. I would put a cassette recorder in front of the TV speaker and record the episode, and sit there and build communicators and watch the episode like “Oh the phaser looks like it’s black on that one part. Ooh, there’s a dial in the back it’s silver!” and I would make drawings and I would build things. And then I would get my mom to teach me how to use the sewing machine and I would make my own costumes. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how they got the black collar so tight because you couldn’t pull it over your head if it was tight enough to be form fitting around your neck. I tried it; you couldn’t get it over your head! Then after loving [Star Trek] and having such a passion for it I realized that the original uniforms had a hidden zipper on this shoulder seam [points to shoulder]. It hooked up here and zipped right down here and opened up. And then I found out the reason they did that is so they wouldn’t smear their make-up. You could do your make-up and then just zip [the uniform] on. You didn’t have to worry about wearing your uniform the whole time or putting your make-up on and then trying to get your uniform on. Just unzip it. The more pictures I would look at I would see the little hidden zipper. So I would say Star Trek and Star Wars, because I was like 15 or 16 when Star Wars came out, inspired my creativity. It ignited [snaps fingers] gifts, creative gifts that I had, and we all have in some form. Maybe it’s photography, maybe it’s costuming, maybe it’s drawing or writing stories, but something sparks that when you’re young and you find that you have an affinity for it. For me it was Star Trek and Star Wars. Yeah definitely. And acting probably was probably one of those creative pursuits that came out of it.
Zippy: Well obviously you’re a voice actor so you see that side and also you’ve been a fan yourself, of many things, so you can see that side as well; how do you think you could help improve fans that don’t get the chance to do voice acting to kind of see your work? Because obviously there could be a lot of criticism one way or the other, and maybe we just don’t know what we’re talking about in some regards as to what goes on in the booth or in the offices?
Vic: The proof is in the product. I mean we all pour our hearts and our energies into recording a show. If you don’t like it that’s fine. God bless you. You are welcome not to like my work, or her work, or his work, or that show or that dub. That’s fine. It’s totally cool. We do the best we can. I love what I do and most directors will tell you that I’m a pain sometimes because even after I do a line that the director is fine with in my own head if I feel like I could do it better I’ll beg them to let me do it again and they’re like “dude it was fine, it was great, we gotta move on” and I’m like “please just one more, let me try it one more time,” because I want it to be the best it can be. Again it’s not about money. It’s not about anything but I want it to be the best it can be. But if you don’t like it that’s fine. If there are people that think I suck as an actor that’s fine; they are more than welcome to their opinion. And people come up to me all the time, they’ll be like “Umm… I don’t really watch dubs. I only watch subs so I don’t really know anything you do”. That’s fine. They expect me to go “What?!? You punk, you jerk, how come you don’t watch my stuff?” I don’t care. If they don’t like dubs that’s fine. I’ve always been kind of humored by the whole sub vs. dub argument, because you know what if you don’t like subs that’s fine but don’t trash the people that like subs. They have as much right to like what they like as you do, and conversely if you’re a sub lover and you don’t like dubs don’t be some elitist you think you’re better than everybody because you watch subtitled episodes. People are entitled to like what they like. So I don’t blame people, or I don’t put down or feel put down by people, that don’t particularly like my work or dubs. They’re free to like what they like. What I can say is that the people that I work with, everyone that I’ve ever worked with, loves what they do and they do the very best that they can with the show that they’re working on whether it’s an actor, or a director, or an engineer, whoever, sound designer, mixers. They do the best they can. After that point it’s released and people are free to like it or not.
Zippy: Well going into your role as an actor then I [suppose] for some roles, lead roles, you’ll probably get a lot of information about the character. Others not so much. So how do you each time try to get into your character? Is it method acting or do you have to do research?
Vic: You’d be surprised. Most voice actors do not get a lot of information about their character ahead of time and they don’t do any research about their character ahead of time. There’s usually not time. You get called and they say “we want you to come and audition for this show”. You don’t even know what the show is half the time. Half the time you just go in and then when you get in there and you look at the audition sides [which are portions of the script] then you’re like “oh ok the name of the show is” such and such “and I’m going to read for this character and I’m going to try out for this character, oh and I think I might try out for this character” and you go and audition. There really isn’t any time to prepare and you don’t know if you’re going to get cast at all much less what character you’re going to play so there’s no point in researching anything after you audition. The moment you get cast [snaps fingers] they’re scheduling you. I mean they’ll call you and say “alright you’ll be playing Death Scythe in Soul Eater. When can you come in this week?” [Laughs] And you start immediately. There isn’t time to do all the research. Not only that but the direction of the show and the characters are greatly determined by the director and his vision of what the show is. So you may really shoot yourself in the foot by going out on the internet and reading what a bunch of fans say about a character or what some fan wrote about a show. You may get the wrong impression of what the character should be and then you go in thinking you’ve got this character ready and the director goes “no, no, no, no, no, I don’t want that I want this” and suddenly all of your research was a waste of time. Plus you’re not just sitting around kind of killing time. You’re usually very busy so you don’t really have a chance to research much. You go in, you look at the characters face, and you start reading some of the character’s lines, and the director says “Ok this is this character’s deal. This is who he is. This is what his background is. This is what his relationship is with different characters.” and then off you go. Or you’ll go in and the director will give you some information and they’ll say “Ok let me kind of hear what you’re thinking for this character. Do a couple of lines.” And I’ll look at some lines, and I’ll do a couple of lines, and then he’ll go “ok drop the pitch a little bit make him a little bit darker.” [deepens voice] Ok. Or “make him a little bit more nasally and a little bit more slithery” [adds hiss to voice] Ok. And you dial in where the director wants the character to live vocally and then off you go. There’s not a lot of time for research, and planning, and studying up on a character or a show.
Zippy: Then with some of these characters that you’ve done, kind of like Ed and Tamaki, do you find yourself as you learn about them becoming attached…?
Vic: [Interjects] Oh yes, absolutely. That’s exactly what happens. As you learn about them you come to really love them and the more time you spend as that character you really become connected. I mean if you think about most anime characters, or, excuse me, most anime series are about twenty-six episodes long. There are certainly some really long ones and there are some that go for two seasons or three seasons but a one season anime’s maybe like twenty-six episodes I think. A lot of them are. Some of them are even less than that, 12 episodes or something. Fullmetal was 51 episodes, and a movie, and video games, and OVAs so I feel a particular connection to Edward Elric because I spent three times, four times as long playing that character as I did playing a lot of other characters. So the more you do a character certainly the more of a connection you feel to the character. With Tamaki I just fell in love with that show and that character particularly before the show was even licensed, and I tell the fans I made the cardinal sin of falling in love with this character and kind of getting fixated on wanting to play this character before there was ever even a chance that I would get to audition for the character. So I kind of felt like I jinxed myself by doing that but as it turned out I was blessed with the chance to play him and I loved that character and that role. I savored every line of Ouran because I knew “once I do this line, I’m one line closer to the end of this series and I’m not going to get to do that moment again”. So again when the director would go “Oh that was great. Let’s move on ” I’m like “Ooh! I had this other idea. Can I try this other reading, different inflection?” She’s like “Sure go ahead…” I just wanted to savor it and make it the best it could be.
The Cay: I was curious. You do a lot of video games, what’s the difference between acting for a video game and an anime?
Vic: Great question. Anime series are usually linear. You’ll record the first episode, then the next episode, then the next episode, and you can almost always follow a story arc and follow the character. Video games you hop all over the place and as you guys know video games have multiple possible endings. Your character could die in the first two minutes or you could play him through five levels. You have to record all of those possible endings. So it takes away that feeling of a linear story that you’re able to develop in anime. Also a lot of video games you don’t have to match the mouth flaps. You record ahead of time and then the work is done to match your performance. Well that’s a dream come true for most voice actors because one of the hardest things about voice acting is matching the mouth movements of the character. One of the hard things about video games is that you have to record all of the fighting sounds, all of the in game sounds, hundreds of them. Small kick, medium kick, big kick. Punched in the gut, big punch in the gut. Falling from 10 feet. Falling from 30 feet. Getting hit in the face, getting hit hard in the face. Pain sound, bigger pain sound, huge pain sound. Little death. Big death. And you have to do everyone of them 3 times so that they’ve got some variety to work with. Those are really hard on the voice and because you’re not matching picture they just put the thing in record and go “Go” and you have a script that literally looks like a chart and it’ll say little kick and you go. [Then] medium kick. You have to do them three times, and you just go right down the chart. And they get bigger and bigger and then small. Scared sound. Terrified sound. Small yell. Three second yell. Eight second yell. And there’s no time in between [sighs] to just relax, and you just keep hitting that larynx. Keep hitting that voice box. So video games in that way are really hard on the voice.
Zippy: Well that’s definitely something both of us were curious about, and it’s kind of a cool thing too that you can play yourself [in a game] too instead of just watching yourself [in anime]. Added dimension to your acting. I think I want to ask as our final question is there anything you’re working on now that’s coming up? This could be your music, your anime, just all of it.
Vic: Well first of all thank you for even mentioning my music. I’ve been writing, and singing, and producing music professionally for twice as long as I’ve been voice acting and it wasn’t until a few years ago though that some fans wrote me and said “we would love for you to bring some of your music CD’s to the convention” and I’m like “no you don’t. Aren’t you sweet. No trust me you wouldn’t be interested” Because it’s not anime. It’s not J-Rock, it’s not cute little girls [imitates bubbly J-Pop]. “It’s not anything you would equate with anime. You wouldn’t be interested”. “Oh yeah we would want to hear your music!” “Ok I’ll bring a few CD’s but I’m telling you.” So I brought some CDs and what happened? In like five minutes they were gone from my table. I’m like “woah that was weird.” So the next convention I brought more and they were gone, and I’ve been very very surprised and blown away and so grateful, SO grateful, that the fans have come to really enjoy my music. I have five different CDs now. I just released a brand new piano CD, instrumental piano music. I’ve got 3 vocal CDs and 2 piano CDs. Some of them have songs related to or inspired by anime series that I’ve worked on. I’ve done a lot of music videos. There are tons of AMVs that fans have made to my songs on the internet. I get fans writing me and asking me for sheet music. I get fans asking me if they can sing one of my songs at a school production or in their church. I’ve even started doing live full-on concerts at anime conventions and I never expected that. Again it was nothing I pushed. It wasn’t like “Hey guys try my music!” It was them coming to me going “we want to hear your music.” It never occurred to me that they would like it or that they would be interested because it wasn’t anime. I can’t quite explain it but I’m very grateful that the fans have really come to enjoy my music work, so thank you for mentioning that. I did just release a new CD of piano music, all original stuff. [ I ] sat down and played some very relaxing take the edge off after a long day kind of chill out [music for the] CD, and I’m actually working on another CD of dance remixes, like kickin’ rave remixes of some of my songs. I’m excited about that. I think the fans will really enjoy it. The cast of Soul Eater was just announced a few weeks ago. Very excited about that show. I’m excited about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. I can’t really say anything about it officially. There are going to be some announcements made in the next week or two from FUNimation, but we’re supposed to let them handle that so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m still working on Bleach. Several other shows and video games that I did that I’m not allowed to say anything about yet. You know how that is. I just recently experienced the lifelong dream of not only being in a Star Trek episode but directing an episode of a web based series called “Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II.” It’s on the internet, super high production value. My college degree is in film, so I love being behind the camera and shooting, editing, and directing. I made friends with these guys and last year I played a character in one of their episodes and this year I just directed one of their episodes. They’re online. Check them out at www.startreknewvoyages.com. So I’m realizing a childhood dream. It’s all based on the original series, so it’s all [reproduced to match] the original sets, and music, and costumes, and it’s amazing. The sets are like spot on. So I’m real excited to be a part of that. I’m going to be going up there in a few weeks to direct something else. So life is very busy. God has been very good to me, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given.
Zippy: Well thanks so much for speaking with us. It’s been a fantastic time, and I’m so glad for those fans pushing you to get your music out there because I know we’re fans ourselves.
Vic: I am very grateful to the fans. When I started in this business it was a little teeny niche market. Anime had not grown up and blown up into the huge thing it is today, and I am so blown away and consistently overwhelmed, and humbled, and grateful that the fans have been so supportive and encouraging of my work. So thank you and all of them.
Zippy: Thanks again.
The Cay: Thank you.
To find out more about Vic’s go to http://www.vicsworld.net
To check out Vic’s fan club go to http://www.risemboolrangers.com
To watch Vic’s work in Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II go to www.startreknewvoyages.com
(This interview was adapted for text and published here by permission of the Tokyo Tower show)