A Conversation With Cherami Leigh

Interview with a Voice Actor of Anime and Video Games

Following its inaugural event in Melbourne during 2016, Madman Entertainment’s ‘Madman Anime Festival’ (#MadFest) has hit the road, travelling to three states in Australia this year. Following what seems to have been a well-received leg in Perth, there is now less than a month until the festivities begin at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre in South Brisbane, Queensland. 

One of the festival’s major draws for me are the anime feature film screenings, with Australian premieres of the English dubbed Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Japanese voiced Black Butler: Book of Atlantic. Quite fittingly given her role as Asuna in the Sword Art Online and Elizabeth in the Black Butler series, one of the festival’s major guests will be English voice actor Cherami Leigh – who over her many years in the industry has provided her talent to many memorable characters across anime and video games. As one of the festival’s major guests, attendees will have many chances to meet her throughout the weekend, whether during panels or through an autograph signing session.

With a month to go until the festival, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Cherami Leigh – about her upcoming visit to Australia, insights into the voice acting industry, and her advice for those looking to break into voice acting. You can read this full Q&A, below:

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With the Madman Anime Festival next month, are you excited about heading Down Under for the event?

So excited! This will be my third time to visit Australia but my first time to see Brisbane. I have heard so many wonderful things, and I have had amazing experiences each time I have gotten to travel down under so needless to say, I couldn’t be more pumped. It’s also a big weekend with some really great premieres and I can’t wait to see fans I’ve met before and meet some new faces! Usually on these international conventions, I feel like we become more like family- so I’m very excited about that.

Over the last decade or so, you have provided your voice to well over one hundred different characters in anime and video games. What compelled you to enter and subsequently remain in the voice acting industry all these years?

I definitely have been very fortunate to get to work on the projects I have. And I am so lucky to work with some very talented people along the way. When I started acting at 6 years old, I didn’t plan on being a voice actor. My only goal was to be on Barney. I didn’t end up working on Barney but I did end up working on radio commercials, animated projects and work for Radio Disney. In fact, I still work for them.

I fell into anime/ dubbing after I graduated from high school and I had an audition for Peach Girl at Funimation. I got cast and was embraced by this amazing community and at this point- I think they’ll have to kick me out. The voice over community honestly feels like family- they’re very supportive, everyone loves to help one another- it’s such a gift to be included. Not only actors, but directors, writers, producers, casting directors, animators, game developers… the list goes on and on.

There is so much talent, and so much passion and joy because we all love what we do. It’s an infectious energy in this industry and I don’t think I would want to do anything else. Even if I wasn’t an actor- I would still be involved in the industry as an agent, casting director, whatever. I just love it.

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You have been involved in a number of the “simuldub” projects over the last few years. In your experience, how have these recording sessions compared to doing ADR for just a show’s home video release?

I have worked on a very small amount of simuldubs- compared to some of my other colleagues. Funimation has done a large number, and since I am now primarily based in Los Angeles, it limits what I can work on in Dallas because the simuldubs move at such a rapid pace when it comes to the production schedule.

I have written for a simuldub show and there was no wiggle room on the deadlines- because the director needed the scripts so that they could get the actors in the studio, cast new actors if needed, and get to know the material quickly to deliver the best product. Often times with simuldubs, directors and actors don’t know what journey the show and the characters will take- which can make things tricky because there is no way to plan for a “big reveal” of a character or a “gut punch” of an ending.

It used to be for a home release that we would have a contract of 4-6 episodes to record by a certain date, usually a couple weeks. And now they have 1-2 weeks to record one episode- but if an actor is sick, out of town, working on another project or loses their voice- that can derail recording and cause a lot of stress. So the directors/producers of simuldubs are under an immense amount of pressure/stress to deliver a solid dub with limited time. I have so much respect for what they do.

You have voiced a diverse range of characters over the years, spanning different ages, time periods and mannerisms. How do you go about adapting your voice to each role?

If it’s a different accent or period-  I will reference films or historical footage to get the vibe of the era. But that’s the time when I really rely on the director and the creative team to help me navigate- because even within a specific era- location, status, occupation, background, even the look of the character will inform the voice. If it’s simply a character that exists in a fantasy world with no context for guidance- personality, look and context of what they want and how they fit into the world help me decide how I want to voice them. I would say the biggest informant would be the script though- do they use slang, are they more verbose, or guarded, etc. Once I read the script the voice usually comes out and then I tweak it from there.

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You have recently been involved in a number of video game dubs, including those for Persona 5, Nier: Automata and Akiba’s Beat. From your experience, do these recording sessions differ much from those for anime?

For a video game, we usually don’t have any animation to match flaps for. In some cases, we do, but it’s only a couple of scenes. So it can sometimes feel like you’re creating in the dark- because you often record alone, and have little context of what’s happening. I love recording for games- it allows my imagination to create the world I’m living in based on what the director and creative team is telling me. And then when I see it in the game- it’s cool to see how similar/ different my interpretation was from what they described. Game sessions usually move quicker because of the limited animation, but there are still a few sessions because there are so many hours of gameplay we need to record.

As one of many storytelling mediums, is there anything special you think anime offers which other formats may not?

Anime is such a fun medium to work in, because there is such freedom. Things can be completely absurd and yet the message relayed can be so grounded in truth and relatable. I think it also allows for human nature to transcend language. Anime is translated into so many different languages and yet the story remains intact (hopefully). I love that it connects us to cultures we may not normally be able to experience, but it also speaks to us in a way that is so honest and at its core- not so different from what we may experience. It reminds me that no matter where we are in the world- we aren’t so different after all. I think that’s kind of magical.

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What advice do you have for those looking to enter the field of voice acting?

I would advise taking as many classes as you can- cold reading classes are so great, voice and diction, improv, I even think that dance/ movement and music are influential because it gives you a sense of rhythm to help you match the flaps of the animation. It also gives you great body awareness which is important when you’re doing fight scenes or falling down stairs or climbing up a mountain in a scene. You can’t actually complete the action since you have to be stationary to record, but you have to make it sound as real as possible.

I also would recommend working with an agent or helping run an audition for community theatre or working behind the scenes as a PA on a film. It will give you a greater scope of awareness for the industry and a greater appreciation for what everyone else does.

I would also encourage someone to make sure they LOVE this business. It’s hard sometimes, and there’s lots of rejection and you can feel devastated at times. I know I deal with that. But I always ask myself “if there is anything else that I could be happier doing?” and the answer is always “no.” As hard as the lows may be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. And I think that has to be the mindset if you want to work in this industry full time. Because it’s a mind, body, spirit investment of yourself.

One final question, out of the characters you have voiced over the years, are there any you found particularly memorable or enjoyable to record for?

Everyday I get to go to work- be it an audition or a job- I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to play that character, even if it’s just for that day or those few minutes. And because of that, honestly, there is a memorable moment for every single character. There is always that one line or that one scene (usually more) where I fully connect with that character and feel so grateful for the gift of getting to play them. It is also amazing how they show up in my life at the times they do- playing these characters have helped me make major life decisions, process the death of a loved one, and even just deal with helping me get through the day by giving me a dose of self confidence. It’s the best therapy ever. I’m also pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to wield a sword, be a super hero, build robots, or have friends that were actually celestial bodies otherwise. So I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Thank you very much for your time!

Special Thanks

Once again, I would like to thank Cherami Leigh for taking time time out of her schedule to respond to these questions, and providing such interesting insight and commentary.

I would also like to thank everyone else involved in making this Q&A a reality!

About Madman Anime Festival

You will be able to see Cherami Leigh and a number of other special guests on Saturday 10th June and Sunday 11th June 2017 at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre in South Brisbane, Queensland. For more information on events, tickets and special guests – visit its official website.

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Sam
Founder of The Otaku's Study. I have been exploring this labyrinth of fandom these last fourteen years, and still nowhere close to the exit yet. Probably searching for a long time to come.
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