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Magical Girl: Toon Zone Talks to Saffron Henderson

Voice actress Saffron Henderson has done a lot of work, but she may be best known for her work as young Goku/Gohan on Dragon Ball Z. And what does she think of the fact that she had a central role in what just might be the single most popular anime series of all time? “Rather cool,” she tells Toon Zone. “I hadn’t thought of it that way before.” And with the growing popularity of anime and the rise of specialized programming blocks (like Toonami) and cable channels (like The Anime Network), she notes, there are “more opportunities for the shows to be enjoyed.”

Saffron recently agreed to do a short Q&A with Toon Zone.

Toon Zone: How did you first become interested in voice acting?

Saffron Henderson: It was a totally natural evolution. I’ve been singing in the studio since I was about ten, and I acted in TV and film for several years as well. The same guys I sang jingles for asked me to read radio spots, and as the animation community in Vancouver evolved, so did opportunities for actors who were comfortable in the studio. I quickly realized how much I loved the work and the people I get to work with.

TZ: Are there any actors/actresses who have influenced your work, either in whole or in a specific part?

SH: There are so many great actors and performances that we all can’t help but draw from. This question always stumps me–in my head are visions of everyone from Peter Sellers to Elmo. You know? Many vocal heroes!

TZ: Some voice actors say they feel very protective of their characters. Do you have strong feelings about your characters, either positive or negative?

SH: I’ve definitely felt protective over the original young Goku and Gohan characters, as well as a few others along the way. But there are some that have been rather empty personalities or tortured souls whom I don’t hang onto or find myself wanting to think about much. I didn’t expect to feel much about Lieutenant Noin in Gundam Wing, because she seemed so straight and serious, but she really grew on me, and I liked her more and more as we recorded.

TZ: Why was that?

SH: I thought she herself warmed up as the series developed. I wished her relationship with Zechs had bloomed more, but who could imagine them sharing laundry and registering for wedding gifts? Wrong show. And not nearly as romantic.

TZ: You have played in a wide variety of series that appeal to very diverse audiences, from Hamtaro to Gundam Wing. How do you adapt to such variety? On the more complex series, do you keep close track of continuity and plot developments?

SH: For the Oxnard-ish roles I ad-lib more, am playful with the vocal characteristics, and enjoy the lighter writing. The more complex shows like Gundam Wing are trickier. There’s much more discussion of story and motivation because the episodes are ongoing “soap” style dramas rather than “sit-com” style as with Hamtaro. I don’t try to follow every plot detail, but I do go into a series with an understanding of where the character is heading. I’m more interested in the relationship/character details than the situational ones.

TZ: When playing a pre-teen male character, is there anything you have to do differently than you would if you were playing an adult female?

SH: Yeah, I have to gargle with salt water later! Kidding. But I do often wind up using a lot more texture and squeezing my chords a bit for those little boy sounds. Far more physically tiring, but they often give me energy with their quirky little personalities!

TZ: Who was your all-time favorite character to play?

SH: I have a very soft spot for Goku and Gohan. And another one for that little puffball named Oxnard.

TZ: Are there lines from any of your series that you yourself consider especially memorable or amusing?

SH: First thing that comes to mind: There was one scene where Gohan said “Huh?” underwater. No one else but me and the engineers will remember it, but the way it came out still cracks me up.

TZ: There are rumors that another actress is taking over the role of Sota and other characters from Inuyasha. True?

SH: It’s true, and it’s all a location issue. I’m in LA and I volunteered to fly back to Vancouver every couple of weeks to record as needed, but the producer didn’t even want to consider the hassle. Oh well.

TZ: That’s an interesting problem. The voice-acting industry does seem to be both fragmented and concentrated in certain areas. Do you think that this geographic concentration in places like Vancouver and Texas benefits or limits the industry?

SH: Toronto’s pretty busy too, isn’t it? I think it’s healthy that all the shows aren’t crammed into one community. It gives us voice actors options as far as where to live, too!

TZ: Are there any parts that “got away”: parts in series or movies that you tried for but didn’t get? Are there any series out there that you would like to appear on, even if only a bit part?

SH: Hmm. There must be hundreds that “got away”. I don’t often look at it that way, though. I get excited enough about a role to do my best audition and then let it go. I’ve never watched a show and felt any kind of regret that I didn’t get the part. I try to remind myself that my life and career do not hang on whether or not I’m chosen for any job.

I will say that I was sad to be re-cast in Dragonball Z when I went away for six weeks. After I got married I had to stay in the US until I had the paperwork to go back home and be legal in both countries. Long story. It actually really sad to say goodbye to little Gohan and that someone else was going to have the pleasure of being my favorite little Sayan.

As far as shows that would be fun to appear on, I’d have to say South Park and Sponge Bob look like they’d be pretty hilarious experiences!

TZ: What can you tell us about your work in Everquest 2?

SH: That game is huge! I got to voice lots of characters, which was great fun. The player encounters a vast range of characters, from ethereal high elves to giant ogres. The game is constantly being updated, so there shouldn’t be any boredom factor.

TZ: What are some of your other upcoming projects?

SH: One of the shows I’ve been working on is called Zatch Bell, directed here in LA by Jeff Nimoy. I play Sherry. I’ve been doing some games lately (one role is Black Widow for The Punisher), and working on selling a project that my sister and I created.

TZ: What do you do outside of work?

SH: I’m afraid I’m quite a bore–I love to read, play trains with my two-year-old, play word games, be outside (preferably on the sand), write songs and demo them, shop, mentally re-decorate our place, plan parties…

TZ: What’s the oddest non-acting job you’ve ever had?

SH: Hmmm. Weird thing is, I have very little experience outside of ‘show biz’, but some of the jobs I’ve had within the business include being a showgirl (not nude, don’t worry!) in Spain when I was seventeen. And then there’s being the back end of a reindeer at the Elks Hall one Christmas season.

TZ: If you couldn’t be an actor, what career would you like to try?

Psychologist. And since I’m diabetic, I’d specialize in treating people with chronic diseases that require daily maintenance. I think there are so many people that could use help.

TZ: I know of at least one actor who says he likes to read and make up voices for comic books, as a way of keeping supple and challenged. Do you do anything similar?

SH: Yes. I think it’s actually a great way to learn the craft too–you can even do that with the comic strips in the paper. I like to turn the sound off on the TV and create characters, or watch shows with great performances and see how a certain vocal quality is produced. Then I try for myself. I’m glad no one can hear that.

TZ: What sort of career advice would you give to anyone who aspires to work in the voiceover field?

SH: Well, it really comes down to feeling connected to people who know the business and trust you enough to hire you or recommend you. You can achieve that “connection” by doing workshops (check them out beforehand, go by word of mouth, be careful!), making a great demo tape with someone experienced guiding you through, probably getting an agent, probably joining whichever union applies to you (unless you prefer to work non-union, but eventually that’s usually less rewarding). As you can see, there’s some legwork involved. But it’s great fun–just have a great time getting into it and then once you’re there you could be paid to play!

TZ:Thanks, Saffron!

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