Between such roles as the diminutive talking reindeer Chopper in One Piece, the wolf-deity Holo in Spice and Wolf and young boys like Ciel Phantomhive in Black Butler, voice actress Brina Palencia has had a career as diverse as it has been prolific in recent years. Her major roles include Natsuki Shinohara in the movie Summer Wars, Rei Ayanami in the Rebuild of Evangelion film series, Clain in Fractale, Lyuze in Casshern Sins, Ryoko in Okami-san and Her Seven Companions, Juliet in Romeo X Juliet and Maho in Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. Palencia is also involved in ADR directing; the English dubs she’s overseen include School Rumble, D. Gray-man and Tsubasa. A singer herself, Palencia’s credits as music director for English versions of anime theme songs include Dragon Ball Z Kai, Negima!? and Sasami: Magical Girls Club. Toonzone News was able to sit down with her to discuss some of her many experiences.
TOONZONE NEWS: You’re a singer and you’ve been involved in some music directing, creating English cover songs for anime like One Piece and Negima. Can you talk about your experiences working with other musically talented actors and actresses to create those?
BRINA PALENCIA: I got my degree in music from the University of North Texas and it all started with Beck, because I was one of the singers on Beck. I did not adapt any of the lyrics, that was all Mike McFarland, he was the music director for that one. We had such a great chemistry and we worked really well together; he asked me to take over some of the song stuff for him whenever he didn’t have time. From there I got more and more people asking me, and then Mike would always recommend me to other directors to do the music directing portion, and from there I’ve become one of the primary ones. It’s pretty much Mike and me that do it.
BRINA PALENCIA: Oh my gosh, yeah. Everything on that show, but Moon on the Water was definitely my favorite. I love that show, it was my first role as a lead female. That show has a lot of sentimental value for me.
TZN: How is the decision made to do these English songs? Is it always a case where they come to you and say “hey, could you do English for this?” or does it ever start on the other side where you say “this could work really well in English, let’s adapt it”?
BRINA PALENCIA: It depends. I’m not usually the one that makes the call as far as what gets adapted but typically it’s either because it’s a show that’s going to be on air – like One Piece used to be on Cartoon Network, so they dubbed the songs to make it more appealing to American kids, I guess. The other thing that I’ve noticed is if it’s a character singing within the episode, like with Rosario + Vampire. I was the music director for that and my character sang, and all the other characters sang. But as far as theme songs I really don’t know, because I know with Fullmetal Alchemist they didn’t dub the songs and that was on Cartoon Network as well. And there are a lot of anime that went straight to DVD that they still dubbed the songs on. So I really don’t know who makes the decision on that and why. It might have to do with budget, I’m not really sure.
TZN: You’ve done some ADR directing also. Have you found that your perspective on acting has changed as a result of being on the other side of the mike?
BRINA PALENCIA: Absolutely. I feel like I became a significantly better actor when I started directing. I remember thinking I was always so jealous of voice actresses Monica Rial and Luci Christian, and then my first thing to direct was Moon Phase. Watching what they do and how they do it and just the humility that they have and how well they take direction, it really taught me how to go about it. I learned so many techniques from them, I could pick up on how they were matching the mouth movements so easily. It was just so helpful to see how they did stuff; I don’t think I would be where I am now if it weren’t for the fact that I got to direct people like that.
TZN: Is there any directing work that you’re particularly proud of these days?
BRINA PALENCIA: School Rumble will forever and always be my baby; it was the first show that I got to cast and do from start to finish. My friend Brandon Potter, who played Harima, we’ve actually been friends since we were in high school and he was even the minister at my wedding. He was the one that married my husband and I. So, it was really cool to work with him in that capacity. It was really fun, it’s such a fun show. I love working on comedies, they’re just really uplifting and fun and cool.
TZN: Are there any outtakes or funny moments from your acting or directing experience that just stick in your mind?
BRINA PALENCIA: I can never think of anything really good but I think the best blooper that I’ve ever done was when I used to work for Gamestop TV. There was a line that was supposed to be “You can race up to seven of your friends!” and I said “You can rape up to seven of your friends!”
TZN: Oh dear.
BRINA PALENCIA: Yeah, turns out that was not the right line, so we had to do that one again. That’s probably the worst complete flub that I’ve done.
BRINA PALENCIA: I just recently did a show called Audubon, which is a collection of short plays that take place in a car. And I did the one called Funny, which is essentially a fifteen minute monologue but I do have a scene partner that plays my Mom and is driving me home from rehab. So that’s the last play that I did, but that was a few months ago and that was the first play that I had done in five years at least. I primarily focus on voice acting and on-camera film stuff right now.
TZN: How would you compare and contrast voice acting with performance on the stage?
BRINA PALENCIA: With voice acting, it’s difficult to get to really know your character and dive into what makes them tick and learn their motivations because it’s so quick – we don’t get to see a script at all until we step into the booth and do the scene for the first time. So it’s really hard to get the meatiness of the character, whereas on stage or on film, you get the script way ahead of time and lots of time to prepare and really get to know the character and come up with a backstory. So it feels a lot more like you’re creating the character. With voice acting, it’s been done before [in Japanese] and we’re just trying to match that as well as we can while still bringing our own personality and perspective of it. Honestly, voice acting in a lot of ways is more difficult because you don’t get that time and you don’t get that prep, but as an actor you still want to bring that level and that depth to the character.
TZN: Is it exclusively the directors who are giving you context or do you get to have a look at footage?
BRINA PALENCIA: It depends on the director. There are some directors that give you videos to watch before you come in, but that’s rare. Usually you have to really rely on the director to mold you into what they want the role to be.
TZN: Speaking of theater, there was a time when anime and theater converged a bit with studio Gonzo’s Romeo X Juliet; they did a very fantastical take on it. How was your experience getting into that?
BRINA PALENCIA: It was really cool. It was fun being directed by J. Michael Tatum, because I had directed him in School Rumble and Black Blood Brothers before that. So it was really fun to get to work with him in that capacity. He had directed me in Aquarion before that as well, so it was fun to come back to those roles. He was so passionate about the project and knew Shakespeare inside and out, so it was easy to trust him and let him take the reins. Juliet was a very well developed and written character with so many layers to her, so it was really fun to get to dive into that.
TZN: You’re also Rei in Rebuild of Evangelion. I’ve seen past remarks about how at first, she and the original TV show were generally very new to you. With two movies finished now, what do you make of the character at this point?
BRINA PALENCIA: I love it and I love the show, it’s so fascinating. That’s an instance where the director did not want me to see the previous dub because he didn’t want it to influence my performance. And so I’m still a little bit in the dark as to what happens. He’s told me about a little bit of what’s coming up but – it’s fascinating, there’s so much to it that’s kinda difficult to wrap your mind around, but it’s so beautiful and there’s so much going on that it’s intimidating but also exciting at the same time.
TZN: In contrast to Rei another recent performance of yours was Holo in Spice and Wolf, a character I’ve found interesting – she’s generally coy and willful and confident, yet as the show goes on we see there’s a lot more going on. So when you’ve got this character with this range of emotions, in your mind how do you become a character like that?
BRINA PALENCIA: I actually based the way that I approached that character – typically I try to base it off the Japanese seiyuu, but in this instance I based it off Katharine Hepburn. Actually Jamie Marchi was the first director on that, and she and I came up with that idea together. Katharine Hepburn is such an amazing actress and she has that confidence, but at the same time she can be very coy and demure but so brazen at the same time. She had the right duality that I think Holo needs, and so we completely based it off of Katharine Hepburn.
TZN: So what’s next for you? Are there any projects you’d like to plug?
BRINA PALCENIA: I’m actually producing a web series called The Troubadoors and it features my character Kagura4221973 from the interwebs. It’s a musical and I’m writing all the music for it; every episode has a new song about a new holiday. The Troubadoors go door to door singing about a new holiday every week. The first episode comes out Labor Day, so you guys should definitely check that out. We’ll be selling the songs on iTunes so if you like the music, you can go buy it immediately.