A lot of people in life speak in one tone, and you simply cannot do that as a voice actor. You have to try higher pitch, lower, sideways, all different ways of talking.
I do commercials and on-camera work in my own voice, but I am best known for the kids’ voices that I make up for characters in Japanese anime translated into English. I’ve concentrated most of my work in the voice arena because it’s just so fun.
The story behind finding my kid voices is that I graduated from college and thought, “I miss my family. I’m going to talk to my agent and see if I can get any work in Texas.” So I auditioned at the Funimation studios based in Flower Mound, one of the biggest distributors of anime in the United States. They dub Japanese cartoons into English, and at the time, they needed a little boy voice.
I thought, a boy voice? I don’t have any kids in my life. I have no idea what to do. Then all of a sudden a boy voice came out. I don’t know where it came from. I had never practiced voices before, ever, in my entire life.
Now that I have a 7-year-old son, it’s so much easier doing the child voices because I have all the nuances of his speech patterns that I’m able to draw upon.
I recently finished working on a TV series called Barakamon where I voiced one of the two main characters, a little girl named Naru Kotoishi. She is adorable. I saw how messy she was with her little pigtail situation and her haphazard outfit, and I noticed that her parents didn’t try to rein her in; they let her run free. So that gave me more freedom with my voice to be as wild as she was.
Naru is a version of my son, Cyrus. He, too, is extremely curious and excited about everything. Cy pops out everywhere all the time, just jumps out and scares me. The other day, I said, “Cyrus, where are you?” And he said, “I’m here.” I opened the pantry and he jumped out grinning and laughing.
Having a child truly has helped me have empathy for people. So when I have a character that’s very sad, for example, it’s a lot easier for me now to reach all of those emotions than it was before. When I was in an anime movie called Wolf Children, I voiced a little boy named Ame, and he was very sad and nervous. About that same time, my son was scared to go to kindergarten, and I was able to draw on all of those feelings for this little character.
This summer I was in the Bahamas on a tiny island. We chartered a boat and the captain flipped out when I told him what I did. He knew all of my shows. Then almost the whole town came to my house to get autographs and pictures with me. There are all kinds of anime fans, all the way from 10-year-olds to people in their 50s – normal, everyday people.
When I was maybe in the fourth grade, I was in love with The Simpsons. I had no idea that Bart Simpson was voiced by a woman. I was so creeped out when I learned. I was like, noooooooo. I don’t know why it freaked me out, but it did. Now here I am, doing the same job.
People want to hear a messier speech pattern for kids than for adults, and they want to differentiate between boys and girls. Boy voices are a little more guttural, and they’re a little bit saltier. They’re deeper and they’re rougher. Girl voices are higher and clearer. Although the directors on shows are very helpful, when it comes to the voices, I’ve mostly just had to wing it.
I have been coached on noises. So if I’m drowning, they give me tips on making better drowning noises. If I’m in a bubble, I learn how to speak from the bubble with my hands in front of my mouth. These scenarios actually have happened to me, in the booth, believe it or not!
Anime is way more technical than regular acting. I have to match my voice to the mouth-flaps of the character and get the timing right. I may go super-huge on one line, but if it doesn’t match those flaps and if it doesn’t time out right, then I go back to zero.
I’m able to do what I do because of my professors at Cal Lu. They gave me confidence in my skills, and I know my training was the very best.
As a result, I have found an art form that I can use on a daily basis and that fuels my passion for acting. I love my job and it doesn’t take me away from my family for long. I’m able to balance my career while being a good wife and mother, so at this stage in my life, I feel very well-rounded and hopeful for more fun and adventure in my future.