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NYAF2009: Toon Zone Interviews "Soul Eater"'s Laura Bailey & Travis Willingham

With dozens of titles between them, Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham are clearly battle-scarred veterans of the anime voice acting scene. Both kicked off their careers with parts in Dragon Ball Z, and have gone on to give voice to many of the most popular characters in anime today, with Bailey providing the voice for Tohru in Fruits Basket, Trunks in Dragon Ball Z, Lust in Fullmetal Alchemist, Henrietta in Gunslinger Girl, and Shin in Shin-Chan, as well as the title character in the Bloodrayne series of video games. Willingham’s credits include Portgas D. Ace in One Piece, Col. Roy Mustang in Fullmetal Alchemist, Ginko in Mushi-Shi, and Amagiri in Darker than Black. The two are also in the upcoming anime series Soul Eater, with Bailey playing meister Maka Albarn and Willingham playing the werewolf Free.

Both actors were at the New York Anime Festival for FUNimation’s Soul Eater panels and signings, and we were able to get some time to talk about their roles in Soul Eater and voice acting in general.

Totally the Awesome in real lifeTOON ZONE NEWS: Were either of you two anime fans before you got into the business?

TRAVIS WILLINGHAM: I definitely was. I was a huge Dragon Ball Z fan when it was on Toonami. I used to watch it in college with a bunch of my friends and kind of geeked out when I saw Laura’s name in the credits during one of the episodes. I called her up through my agent, freaking out and wanting to know how I could get on the show that I was watching (laughs).

LAURA BAILEY: And I barely knew him at all. We were with the same agency, and I was like, “Who is this?” and he’s like, “It’s TRAVIS!!! I saw you on Dragon Ball Z!!!” (laughter)

WILLINGHAM: I hounded her for two years (Bailey laughs). I was like, “Let me audition for your show, please!!”

BAILEY: I watched a lot of Sailor Moon, and I watched some Dragon Ball Z before I started recording on it. One of my friends’ little brothers was a huge Dragon Ball Z fan, so we always watched it whenever we were over at her house.

TZN: How did you guys get the roles in Soul Eater? Did you have to audition?

BAILEY: Yeah, we both auditioned for it. Zack (Bolton, ADR director for Soul Eater) sent us the files, because we live in California now, so we had to record it where we live and send him the files of our auditions. It kind of sucks, because if you’re doing it in person, then Zack can give you feedback and let you know whether or not he wants a different take or something. You kind of have to just rely on yourself when you’re auditioning in another location.

WILLINGHAM: You get four or five characters and you’re pretty much shooting from the hip. Sometimes, you try and look it up online and see if you can get a character reference and see where it’s at, but most of the time you don’t really get a lot of feedback, so it’s either hit or miss.

Eat this!TZN: How easy or hard was it for you to get into character as Maka and Free?

BAILEY: Maka’s pretty cool because she’s this fine line between really tough and really girly, so sometimes she girl’s out and gets all giggly and everything, and then becomes bad-ass again and waves her scythe around. So that’s interesting. Zack was really particular when we first started the series about making sure it was subtle and he wanted it just down to earth. He didn’t want it to be too over the top, so we were really trying to rein it in for those first few episodes.

WILLINGHAM: My part’s much smaller. I was just excited to be a werewolf.

BAILEY: (Laughing) He’s a big werewolf!

WILLINGHAM: I’m a big werewolf. When it comes to vampires or werewolves, I definitely side with the werewolves. And an immortal werewolf, at that. That’s how Zack actually told me that I was Free. He said, “You’re going to be an immortal werewolf.” (Laughs). “Thank you so much!” No, he’s just fun. I’m just glad I get to howl and growl and stuff.

TZN: Have you guys finished recording the entire series already?

BAILEY: No, we’re pretty far into it. We’re in the 20’s now as far as recording goes, so I’m actually kind of sad. We’ll probably be done with the series before the end of the year. It was nice because we hadn’t gotten to see any of the show before today. This was the first time I got to see the first three episodes, so it’s nice to see how it’s actually coming together. See the rewards.

TZN: About how long have you been recording the show?

BAILEY: I guess we probably started toward the beginning of the year. Maybe in April or May, something like that. It’s been a very fast recording process. Usually with a series of this length, you take a little bit longer, but they really wanted to get Soul Eater out faster.

WILLINGHAM: Right. They recognized how popular it was and they wanted to make it accessible.

EAT it! Eat it NOW!!!TZN: What do you think has changed in the way you are approaching your character from when you started doing the role?

BAILEY: Well, I’ve definitely become more comfortable with her. And just watching the first episode to see how she’s grown as a character from there to where we are now in the series. I mean, I think now, Zack trusts that I know where the character is going, so he isn’t trying to say, “More subtle. More subtle. More subtle.” Now it’s, “I know you know where this is going,” so he’ll trust you more on that.

WILLINGHAM: Again, being a smaller part…I heard the Japanese seiyuu and he sounded really creepy and deep, so right off the bat I wanted to sound really creepy and dark and scary, and he was like, “You already sound really creepy, dark, and scary, so do that thing where you’re FUN, creepy, dark, and scary,” so I had more fun with him.

BAILEY: And really, once you see just a little bit of the show, you might think that it’s a lot darker, and then watching more of it…

WILLINGHAM: It’s so funny.

BAILEY: …it’s got all this really fun and crazy stuff that happens in it, too, so it does affect the way you approach it because you don’t want it to go too creepy because it ruins the whole mood of the show.

WILLINGHAM: That was my first time watching the first three episodes. I was laughing out loud at parts.

BAILEY: Yeah! It was great!

TZN: How much formal training have you guys had as actors? Did you go to school for it?

Also totally the Awesome in real lifeWILLINGHAM: (stuffy) We attended Carnegie-Mellon and Circle in the Square. (laughs) No, we didn’t do that.

BAILEY: You have your…bachelor’s in theater?

WILLINGHAM: Yeah, I have a bachelor’s degree in theater performance, so I went to four years of college for it. Did the whole regular stuff in high school that all the other nerds do.

BAILEY: I started to go to college for it, but I started recording Dragon Ball Z when I was still in college. I started recording Dragon Ball Z right out of high school, actually, so I ended up not finishing my theater degree because I was recording too much, and so I couldn’t keep going to class.

WILLINGHAM: Because you were already working.

BAILEY: Yeah, I know. I missed a recording session because I had a test in college. I got a phone call from Barry, who was one of our producers of Dragon Ball Z, and he said, “This is for real. This is a real job. You can’t not come because you have a test. You need to make a decision and say what you’re going to do,” so I had to stop.

WILLINGHAM: Otherwise, it’s just learn on the fly, because even in formal training, like, in college, there are no anime voice-over classes.

BAILEY: Yeah, they don’t teach you to dub in school. It is a learn-as-you-go thing.

WILLINGHAM: They might glance by voice-over. They might talk about dialects, or how to speak into a microphone…

BAILEY: Breath control…

WILLINGHAM: …but it’s not like this. It’s not matching lip flaps, it’s not any of that stuff.

BAILEY: Which is why the anime voice-over community is so small because it does take a different sort of talent to do it.

TZN: I remember one other person I interviewed saying that anime voice actors are the best cold readers in the business, because you have to walk right into an audition and see the character and just go.

WILLINGHAM: Absolutely.

TZN: How do you guys approach that as actors? What are the tips and tricks and things that help you do that?

BAILEY: The more experience you have, the better you get at it. One of the things I used to do when I was first starting was that me and Colleen (Clinkenbeard, she used to be my roommate) — we would read novels to each other out loud. It teaches you to trip less over your words. If you’re cold reading, a lot of times when you’re reading out loud for the first time, you’re stumbling over words because you’re unsure of what you’re saying.

WILLINGHAM: You’re saying the line as you’re getting to the word for the first time. You don’t even read it ahead of time, sometimes.

(
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE)
BAILEY: And sometimes that comes back to bite you in the butt, like certain words…can we say one of your words? Pretty please?

WILLINGHAM: Uh-huh.

BAILEY: A word that was in the script was “awed,” “A-W-E-D”…

WILLINGHAM: …and I managed to fly through the sentence and get to the word and come up with “a wed.” (laughter)

BAILEY: I am so a wed of this! (laughing)

WILLINGHAM: I also managed to come across the word “compromise” and managed to say “comm promise,” (laughing) to which the director looked at me in horror. “Oh, I’ve hired an idiot!” (laughter) It’s common knowledge among most people in not only in anime, but in regular pre-lay animation or video games — they call anime the boot camp for actors because there’s so much of it and you need to be on the ball, that it really sharpens your skills.

Can your screen handle this much Awesome at once? CAN IT?!??TZN: What’s the one thing that you know now that you really wish you knew at the start of your careers?

WILLINGHAM: To relax. Just to relax. I was so worried about screwing things up being a Dragon Ball Z fan that when Fullmetal Alchemist came around…I go back and listen to the first couple of episodes, and I think, “Ah, I sound SO uptight! I sound so NERVOUS,” but it’s just something that comes with time.

BAILEY: My advice would be to protect your voice. Protect your throat. I started in DBZ, and of course, I didn’t know where I would be 10 years from then. Trunks seriously scarred my vocal cords, and doing Kodocha and playing Sana, where she screams all the time and talks mile-a-minute…that damaged my vocal cords, too. Had I known that in advance, I would have definitely taken more care of it going into the sessions. Now if I’m recording, I’m constantly drinking water all in the session, just to make sure. Honey tea.

WILLINGHAM: First aid survival kits for your throat.

BAILEY: Yes. I mean, your voice changes the more you record, and I’ve definitely become more raspy than I was back in the day.

WILLINGHAM: Oh, yeah. Chris Sabat had a low voice and now his voice is REALLY low.

BAILEY: Yeah, from doing Vegeta and Piccolo and doing all those power-ups and…it really does change your voice.

TZN: Which character you’ve had to play is the most unlike you?

BAILEY: (laughs) Well, I play Shin-Chan, I’m Shin. (Laughs) So he’s…a bit different than me. I don’t like to talk about poop on a regular basis.

WILLINGHAM: Sure you do! You like to talk about your…(laughter) tummy clock.

I played an entourage named Iggy in Ergo Proxy, and he was a big 6’5″ robot who was programmed by his owner to sound sort of like an effeminate butler, so (in character) “All he cared about was going to see shoes. I’m going shopping.” I don’t really care about shoes (laughs) as much as he did.

TZN: What’s the most memorable time you can remember when you looked at something you had to do in the booth and just said, “What the …?”

(CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THEIR RESPONSE)
WILLINGHAM: Well, it was in a show called Glass Fleet.

BAILEY: Oh, God! We both were in that show!

Feel my...what?WILLINGHAM: We were the leads, and I played a character named Cleo who had a harmonica, and when he wanted to be EXTRA dramatic, wind would blow through his hair, he would twirl his harmonica in the air and snatch it, give a look to the camera and go, “Feel my wind!” And on paper it says:

BAILEY AND WILLINGHAM: “Feel. My. Wind.”

WILLINGHAM: And I looked at the director, Chris Sabat, and I was like, “….are you KIDDING me?!? How can I say this and still be cool?!” And he says, “I don’t know, man, just try.” (laughs)

BAILEY: And then, later on in the series, because my character is really cold, and she’s warming up to Cleo, she finally looks at him and goes, (in character), “I can feel it. I can feel your wind.” (laughs)

WILLINGHAM: Apparently, Cleo has the worst gas in the galaxy.

BAILEY: That was a hard one to get through.

TZN: We had some funny reviews for Glass Fleet.

BAILEY: Oh, I’m sure!

TZN: What are you guys working on now?

BAILEY: Well, we’re both working on a ton of video games.

WILLINGHAM: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is also dubbing at FUNimation. I’m also working on a new pre-lay show, The Marvel Superhero Squad, which is on Cartoon Network Saturday mornings and sometimes before kids go to school. I get to play the Hulk and the Human Torch, which is awesome. I get to say, “Hulk smash!” and yell a bunch, talking about vocal cord damage, but I was excited to do that. We’re hoping that show does well. That’s exciting.

BAILEY: I don’t know what I’m allowed to talk about, unfortunately. I have a new animated feature coming out early next year. It’s a sequel to one that came out a couple of years ago, and I don’t think I’m allowed to say what it is because it hasn’t been announced yet. Which is sad. And a bunch of video games coming out next year, which of course I’m not allowed to talk about as well. All these non-disclosure agreements. But we’re going in in a little bit to keep recording on Soul, and we’ve got another show that we’re working on that I’m excited it’s been picked up for a third season. That’ll be good.

Toon Zone News would like to thank Laura Bailey and Travis Willingham for taking the time to speak with us, and Jackie Smith from FUNimation for setting up the interview on a seemingly impossible time schedule. Soul Eater will be coming from FUNimation in 2010. Visit Laura Bailey’s official website at www.lizardbee.com. Willingham is on MySpace, and apparently also has the support of a whole entire army behind him.

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