Otakon 2014: Linda Ballantyne, Katie Griffin, and John Stocker on the 1990s "Sailor Moon" Dub
Long before Before VIZ Media’s reacquisition of Sailor Moon and even before its arrival on DVD in the early 00s, the edited DiC / Cloverway English dub of the seminal magical girl show was making its mark and enrapturing a generation of fans in the course of a tenacious run on television. At first, a 65-episode run ran in syndication and then on the USA Network in the United States and on YTV in Canada. Afterwards, funding was found to dub the remainder of the second season (AKA the episodes comprising the ending of Sailor Moon R) . In 1998 Sailor Moon became a landmark addition to Cartoon Network’s Toonami action block, leading to English dubbing for third and fourth seasons Sailor Moon S and Sailor Moon SuperS that were broadcast beginning in the year 2000. Today, that old adaptation is the stuff of fond memories for many, and at Otakon 2014 three of its key players were present to reminisce about their experiences with it: veteran voice director and actor John Stocker and voice actresses Linda Ballantyne (“Serena” / Usagi / Sailor Moon) and Katie Griffin (Rei / Sailor Mars). The Sunday morning of the convention the trio graciously took the time to hold a press conference where they discussed their experiences with Sailor Moon and its first English adaptation, their thoughts on VIZ’s brand new English dub, their take on the nature of the voice acting business and the animation industry now and then, and more. An edited transcript of their Q&A session follows.
TOONZONE NEWS: For Ms. Ballantyne & Ms Griffin, when you were performing your roles for Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars, what was your perception of the personalities of these characters that you were bringing to life? And to include Mr. Stocker, when you were voice directing what did you think was critical for the actresses of the scouts to get across in their performances?
KATIE GRIFFIN: That is a very good question – how much coffee have I had yet? No, just kidding. When the series first started, it was my very first anime cartoon voiceover. When I first got there, I had no idea what was happening. I saw a tiny bit of what was happening from the Japanese [version], I saw how awesome Mars looked, and I had no idea what I was going to do. When I auditioned for it initially, we didn’t really know too much about the series. We didn’t know from an episode-to-episode basis what was happening in the series. The only thing I can say to that is that when we were finding voices, Karen Bernstein – who played Sailor Mercury – and I both had incredibly high voices, so we had to separate our voices. I didn’t really fall into Mars and Rei and figure out how she was until about ten episodes in. That she was awesome, meant business, all that. It took awhile for me to settle in, because it was very fast.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: It was also your first voice!
KATIE GRIFFIN: Yeah, so I was terrified and it was a learning curve. Everything for me was watching and wanting to do a great job and not having enough time to just say “this is who Rei is.” I had no time for any of that, at first it was just “do, do, do!”
LINDA BALLANTYNE: It was very fast, everything happening with Sailor Moon. It was get it out, get it done as fast as possible, time is money, the more lines you can spit out in one day the better it is for us so go, go, go. So for me, I was taking over for Terri [Hawkes] and it was immediately “sound like Terri, sound like Terri, go go, no, again, again – louder, younger!” So I wasn’t concentrating so much on the character as trying to sound like her. I was kind of freaking out, quite frankly. It took me a little while, but finally I realized I had to settle in and make choices of this character, who was such a great character and I hadn’t really stopped to consider all that she had to offer. So for me, the choice became, “this is a teenager. What are teenagers? Teenagers are crazy, they’re insane people” – I know because I have three of them, three teenage daughters at home right now. So this character became this crazy, goofy young girl who so desperately wants to be old and mature. And that’s what I started playing with. I wanted to be goofy because they forget and still do play and then all the sudden they’re making themselves look like adults and they’re not. I wanted to play along with that.
JOHN STOCKER: You would like challenges about voice directing in general, but this one was over and above. As Linda said, we were somewhat budget challenged, so everything was done in a tremendous hurry. Remember, this was twenty years ago. We waited for UPS to deliver elements. It was flown in, there was nothing. It was a non-technical world at that time, so the pressure was even greater. My toughest issue was finding context, that’s the primary thing a voice director has to deal with. If you don’t have everyone in at once – and we didn’t, it was very often performer at a time – I had to know the script and know when someone answered so it’d sound like an answer. When a performer is taking a handoff from the previous line or handing off to the next line, I’ve got to make sure that dialogue and all those lines flow contextually. We recorded in chunks, we’d do block recording. We’d do, say, all of episode 27 and then we’d do a few lines from 29, and then some pickup lines from 4 that needed to be redone. And then they’d have something that was out of order, and it had to be episode 51 that was done before, and we’d do some of those lines. The performers, bless them, were like deer in the proverbial headlights because they didn’t know what was really going on. All they knew was they had to come in there and say, “Hey, get out of there!”, “Hey what’s happening here!”, to know how to cry, to know how to yell. My job was to get all those scripts and do the best job I could, and sometimes I’d get those at the very last minute as well. I’d have to do a speed course on understanding the flow of the show and the dialogue.
JOHN STOCKER: Of course I would have to do that as well because no matter what character you’re doing, gradually throughout the recording of various episodes, you tend to come back to the default position of your own voice. So I’d always have a reference so I could say “you’re not on voice today, here it is.”
Q: Did you expect that 20 years later, you’d be sitting here talking like this and that it’d be such a huge success internationally?
KATIE GRIFFIN: This was completely unexpected. I don’t think any of us had any idea of the impact that Sailor Moon would have on generations of people.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: I’m not sure we even fully understand the size of it to this day. I actually get goosebumps. When we go to a city we’ve never been to people are recognizing us on the street, and you don’t recognize voice actors for the most part.
KATIE GRIFFIN: Even crossing the border – not so much this time, but when we went to Los Angeles I swear. Every single time you go across you’re always terrified of the border, it’s “oh, I won’t say the right thing and I’ll be strip searched”. The last time I went he [the border agent] was a big, husky guy, and he said “what are you doing.” “I’m going to a convention.” “What kind of convention?” “An anime convention.” “What is it like?” “Years ago, I did a cartoon and it was Sailor Moon-” “I watched Sailor Moon!” It is insane. If I’d known this, I’d have used that Sailor Mars card a lot!
JOHN STOCKER: Let me also say that a general rule of thumb is that you never know what’s going to be successful and what isn’t. This was so revolutionary, we had no way to even contextualize where it sat. There was nothing before this to give it a place, you know what I’m saying? Even to this day, I know we’ve all worked on shows where it’s “this is so beautiful, it has great actors, it’s going to go for years”, and it’s cancelled after the first season because of poor ratings or change of ownership. And some things we’ve worked on where we think, “this is the worst!” but it runs for five years. There’s no way to gauge. All the psychiatrists, psychologists, educators and social workers in all the shows now with all the producers and all their experience: it’s a big crapshoot.
Q: What helped you get into character? Did you have any rituals you did before recording?
LINDA BALLANTYNE: Well I was always losing my voice because it’s so high…so I was constantly walking around my house practicing, and my little one year old would go behind me toddling around behind me going “AaaaAAA, AaaaaAAA, AaaaaaAAA” and I’d be like “are you making fun of me?” You also get a line that sets everything, all the mechanisms in your body to the character. It doesn’t matter what character you’re doing, you pick a line that gets you to this place. Just that one line will give you all the muscle memory you need to shrink into whatever you’re doing. Mine, I think was “Oooh, Darien, oooh, you’re so romantic!” If I tried to find another line, I couldn’t quite get there. So you just have that one line, and like John said they’d have a reference for you and you’d listen to it and go oh, that’s my line.
JOHN STOCKER: We’d pick a quintessential line early on in the recording that truly epitomized the character’s delivery, and we’d save that as a reference and we’d play that back for the performer if he or she wasn’t getting the line.
Q: Sailor Moon is often cited as a “girl power” show. What is your perspective on Sailor Moon and the Sailor Scouts being strong female heroines?
KATIE GRIFFIN: First of all, I feel like we were one of the very first shows, other than Wonder Woman, that came out [like that]. I think this is why it’s so popular as well. You’re so used to cartoons where it’s a guy hero running in and saving the day – although there was Tuxedo Mask, whatever. But you have five scouts with different personalities, and we’re all kind of awesome and having each other’s backs and having that dynamic of friendship and loyalty, all these strong characteristics that everyone could relate to: girls, guys, everybody could relate to the different personalities.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: There’s five very distinct personalities and I think each person could identify with one of them: “I’m the bookish one,” “I’m the hot, sexy one,” “I’m the tomboy,” “I’m the goofy one.” Not only that, they could say “that’s so you!” to your best friend. “You’re Rei,” “You’re Lita” [Sailor Jupiter / Makoto], they pick one. Or a lot of people come to us and say “when I was growing up, I didn’t have any friends. I was an outcast, I lived in a small town”, whatever the story was. They said “the characters in Sailor Moon are what I was looking for in friends, I was waiting my whole life.” This always makes me cry. And then they’ll say to us, “I found that person that I wanted to be my Rei,” or my Lita. And it’s so lovely to hear all that. That, I think, was what was most important about those characters.
Q: What was a favorite scene to record from the show, or a favorite moment?
KATIE GRIFFIN: Favorite moment for me, because it was my first. I was also training in kung-fu at the time, so I went to Chinatown in Toronto and I walked into this store and everything in the store was Sailor Moon. I had no idea, I was just so happy to be there to begin with. I looked around and there was a wall of Sailor Mars, and I went nuts. I was scooping things off the shelf and I got up to the front and went “I’m Sailor Mars, I’m Sailor Mars! And the guy looked at me and backed away slowly. *room laughter* That was the best thing. I remember getting home and saying “Mooooom, like what I got!” So I have a shrine of stuff over the years, because it’s been so long. I have two young boys at home and they just don’t understand. They’re like, “Bring more Star Wars.” I’m like, “No no, Sailor Mars…”
LINDA BALLANTYNE: I would say my favorite part – probably, there’s a lot, it’s hard narrowing it down – was my most unfavorite part: getting the part. So I’m at home, I get this call. “OK, you’ve got Sailor Moon.” And I went, which part, because they’d also been auditioning for a few others…my husband and his buddy were in the basement and I went downstairs and sat on the stairs and said, “I just got Sailor Moon, I’m Sailor Moon!” And my husband went, “Way to go, babe!” And his friend said, “You’d better be good, because my kids watch.” And then the bottom dropped out of everything. I’m like, “Oh my God, I’m Sailor Moon. Oh my God, I’m going to be the other Barney in The Flintstones.” When you watch The Flintstones, there’s two Barneys. Growing up I’m watching The Flintstones, going “I HATE that Barney, oh God, it’s that Barney I hate!” That was the terrifying part, it was like, “Yaaay! – oh God, what have I done?”
JOHN STOCKER: Mine actually was [from] the genesis of the show as well, when the first voice director was relieved of his duties.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: He was not so relieved, I believe.
JOHN STOCKER: He wasn’t relieved, but he was “relieved”. The producer turned to me – I was doing a lot of voice work in Sailor Moon, because of my capacity for doing a lot of different voices. I was the guy they’d call in and I’d do three lines as a doctor, four lines as some voice behind a curtain, six lines as a pizza delivery boy or something. I happened to be in the studio at the time, and the producer turned to me and said, “I have relieved the voice director of his duties, would you like to be the new voice director?” I’d never voice directed in the industry before. At that point I’d spent over twenty years doing voice work, but that was the first offer to be a voice director. I had only moments to make the decision, because that’s just the way she was. There wasn’t time to really think about it, I simply took the big step and thought, “Why not?” It was somewhat cathartic for me because I went on to learn a great deal more, but I learned so many of the basic principles of how I do a whole color coordination, color coding for my voice directing, so that I don’t get confused because I am easily. I learned the basic precepts from this producer, so it turned out to be a wonderful turn of events in my life.
Q: Who did you guys fanboy and fangirl over growing up?
LINDA BALLANTYNE: Guy Lafleur. He was my favorite hockey player from the Montreal Canadiens. I loved Guy Lafleur because I’m Canadian and I love hockey. One day someone followed me up and said “Guy Lafleur’s right around the corner from where you’re working, he’s signing autographs.” So I waited in line and was told you can’t get an autograph without buying the book. So I’m like, “Give me the book, I’ll spend $30.” As soon as I got up to the booth, I’m shaking and fangirling on Guy Lafleur: “You might as well make this out to your best fan ever, because I’ve got all your hockey cards, I even have your record!” He put out a disco album on hockey tips. So like, “The most important thing in hockey is to shoot, shoot, shoot!” He looks at me and goes, “You bought that? What are you, crazy?”
KATIE GRIFFIN: I watched a ton of cartoons when I was growing up. Bugs Bunny of course, Smurfs, ThunderCats, I’ve watched everything. I did fangirl over Jackie Chan, Jet Li, I used to have 100 Golden Harvest productions because I was obsessed over kung-fu.
JOHN STOCKER: If I had to pick one it was, strangely enough, a voice guy: it was Mel Blanc. That was mine.
Q: Have any of you seen the new Sailor Moon series [Sailor Moon Crystal], and if so what are your thoughts on it?
JOHN STOCKER: We saw a couple episodes of the redub at Anime Expo in LA. If that’s the reference you would like, we can absolutely talk about that.
KATIE GRIFFIN: None of us have seen Crystal in Japanese.
JOHN STOCKER: Are you interested in hearing our comments [about the redub premiere]?
Q: Of course, certainly.
JOHN STOCKER: First off, the cast is very strong. I like that there’s a really good chemistry. They were all there and there was good chemistry with us. A lot of us got to meet each other during that time. Not that chemistry necessarily makes for a good production, I don’t always believe that it’s chemistry that makes it good, it’s individual guys or gals who are talented. But it’s always nice to see the chemistry, and it is there and the production is strong. It’s different, but I think underlying it they’ve got the same kind of drive we had. And listen, it’s still Sailor Moon, how much can you change really in terms of attitudes? The characters have certain attitudes that they need to duplicate that we created, we were the foundation and they were building on it. You can’t stray too far from that. The only thing I don’t like with Crystal is the elongation of the characters, I didn’t like it, I thought they were a little spidery.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: The day we saw the new redub, Katie got into a car accident on the way there.
KATIE GRIFFIN: I was not driving.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: We were all pretty panicked about her, thinking, “What’s happening, is she OK?” We were very worried, so we didn’t really sit and take in that much. Katie finally arrived-
KATIE GRIFFIN: I checked in, because they said, “Do you want to go to the hospital?” just to get checked out and I’m like no, just take me to the [event].
LINDA BALLANTYNE: And then she got there, she sat down, and I said, “Are you OK?” And she’s shaking. “No, no.” “Do you have to leave now?” “Yes, yes.”
KATIE GRIFFIN: Cause you’re on adrenaline. I hadn’t been in a car accident since I was a kid. It wasn’t a serious car accident, but it’s that moment of – we were T-boned, for one thing. It was just that moment of getting out of the car and going no, “I’m good, I play hockey, I’m fine, I’m fine, let’s go.” It’s like, you’re all on adrenaline and then they were playing the new dub and I’m trying to be polite, and now I look like the jerk. Look at Sailor Mars sauntering in, the old Sailor Mars, here she comes. But really, I had no choice. Because they did that whole look, people in the audience, “Why did she show up so late?” But that’s why…so long story even longer, I didn’t really get a chance to see it. It kind of looked great from the three seconds I saw it, but I didn’t see much.
Q: Getting away from Sailor Moon, as voice actors you’ve been involved in other franchises like the Avengers and X-Men. In the case of Mr. Stocker, you were in the Super Mario Bros Super Show as Toad, which is awesome to me because he was such a fun comedy relief character. How familiar were you with these various franchises the three of you have been involved in, and which of those was the most fun to do?
JOHN STOCKER: Thank you for the Toad mention, it was fun and I worked with some fine people, some of whom are gone now unfortunately. The one that stands out for me is Beastly from Care Bears. Simply because in the “old days” of animation, beyond Warner Bros and Disney, when animation started to really blossom Canada was – and still is – a huge production center for animation. There was a company called Nelvana and Care Bears was one of the first series that came out. It still runs today, I know, because I still get these small residual checks for $4.73. But that’s OK, better than not getting $4.73. It was the early days of animation, and the pool of performers was considerably smaller. The whole attitude was very different, and of course now the whole idea of 99% of all animation is to sell merchandise. It’s how long you can keep it on the shelves, that’s the critical thing. In those days, it was not. You can still buy Care Bear dolls, but that’s it really, there’s very little ancillary merchandise. I got a chance to really work and create that character with the voice director, who was also the producer of the series. It was, “Here’s the picture, what do you bring to this?” Today, I’m told specifically, “This is what we want.” It’s not just the round peg in the round hole, it’s how big is that [hole]. They look for people who fall right into the character they want. In those days, you were molded and you had a chance to create the character. So I got to create the voice through a process and the laugh I developed and it’s become iconic. I’m very pleased with that accomplishment, I loved to do it.
LINDA BALLANTYNE: Avengers [United They Stand] was awesome to get because it was the very first one I ever got, and my brother was a huge comic book fan. I say, “Rob, Rob, I got a cartoon.” He said, “What is it?” “The Avengers.” “Which one, who are you?” “The Wasp!” “It’s Wasp, not The Wasp!”
KATIE GRIFFIN: Totally Spies was amazing. In Braceface I got to play a really bad character, Nina Harper, and she was so fun. Redakai I did, I don’t know if anyone knows Redakai here, it was a brief moment in time. But I remember John coming in – and we had so much fun, because we were the bad guys – and John came in and said “they’re not doing well with the toys.” And this was after season one, we were in season two. The kiss of death.
JOHN STOCKER: They were in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart.
Q: This is a follow up to that question – Katie, you’ve been in a lot of commercials. Can you answer that question as far as commercials are concerned?
KATIE GRIFFIN: I just shot a commercial up in Canada where they flew me to Mexico City, and it was for the Canadian Real Estate Association, where a swat team moves in and we were terrified because we didn’t use a real estate agent. We did it on our own but no one told us it was a drug lord’s house. When we went there, I had a blast. First of all they flew me somewhere, so that’s always fun. And Mexico City in January, crappy Canada was freezing, so I’m already giddy. And then we have these guys – in Mexico City they had a helicopter, it was heavy duty military stuff, it was the coolest thing. It did scare the crap out of me, it wasn’t even acting. They busted down the door, came through a door, me and my fake husband and bolt out of bed and the SWAT guy says, “You didn’t know this was a drug house?”
Q: My question is for Linda Ballantyne. About your “I’m Just Sayin” podcast, you’ve had a pretty wide range of guests on the show. Have you had a favorite experience from that, and is there something you’d like to do you haven’t done?
LINDA BALLANTYNE: I loved having Alan Doyle from Great Big Sea on, because he is just my honey and I’d never met him before and quite frankly, I think he loves me. My favorite singer ever, I love him, that is definitely a highlight for me. We had it on Sirius XM, so it wasn’t just a podcast, and we took the summer off. My co-host actually just phoned me before I left: “We gotta start talking about what we’re doing in the fall, we gotta get things going, we’ve got to find some guests!” That’s the part that I hate, trying to find the guests.
Toonzone News extends its thanks to Linda Ballantyne, Katie Griffin and John Stocker for their time. For more coverage of Sailor Moon at Otakon, check out the press conference with Stephanie Sheh, Robbie Daymond and Viz Media’s Charlene Ingram for discussion of the new English dub of Sailor Moon and more.