She is Stephanie Sheh, just your anything-but-typical voice actress of Tharja, Dark Shadow! Other heroes she voiced include:
Not only does she do voice acting, but writing and directing as well. During Anime Boston, GamePress' Hakurai was able to sit down with Stephanie Sheh for an interview.
You’ve played anime characters that become role models, especially young girls and women over the years. That wide range includes larger than life characters like Sailor Moon, the misunderstood Mamimi, the timid Hinata. When you play these characters, do you feel pressured to get them right, due to the huge impact they can have on someone?
I feel pressured to get the characters right, regardless of the impact, even if it’s a villain that’s a bad role model. I started out as a fan, and I know that these characters mean a lot of to people, to the creators, and even to the original voices. I just want to do them justice.
I’ll say in terms of being a role model, especially after Sailor Moon, I’m just a little bit more cognizant of how I conduct myself outside in the everyday world. I have a little bit of influence; not a whole lot, but any influence I might have, why not try to do good? That’s my philosophy.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of casting Batman Ninja for the American audiences?
Batman Ninja is a property that Warner Brothers and DC are very passionate about, and they want to have very good quality control. For a lot of characters, I have to get approval of the voices from Warner Brothers. For a lot of the actors, some of them have played a certain role before. Without giving too much away, a lot of characters are in it. We have to double up on some roles that have to be approved, so that was a bit of a tricky process.
The one I’m really excited about is Tony Hale as The Joker, because he is amazing! He is such a sweet guy in real life, so normal. We were in WonderCon, and I had a cough and was sick for three weeks. We’re walking from the panel to the autograph area, and he was asking if I was taking my vitamins. He’s just such a down-to-earth, sweet and normal guy. To see him be The Joker is amazing.
I have worked with, and Michael has worked with, people like Yuri and Roger on anime type stuff, so we knew that ADR-syncing wouldn’t be a problem with them at all. The regulars like Tara, Grey, and Fred, they were awesome. (Fred was in Letter with Momo with us.) They’re no problem; they’re all pros.
I wish I could give a better story on how difficult it was, but it wasn’t. It was super easy!
Do you ever felt like you relate to a character more over time?
I don’t think ever felt related to Usagi except for her love of food. I’m not, well no, I’m a little klutzy. I break my ankle all the time, but I don’t think Usagi is really that klutzy. She falls over, but she dodges where she needs to dodge and tumble. I’m also a very good student and studied a lot, unlike Usagi. I didn’t have - I am not still with my high school boyfriend like we’re destined to be forever a couple. I’m not that similar.
Some of the other actresses felt I’m very maternal. I corral them when we’re out and make sure they’re okay. They’ll say that makes sense since there’s a little bit of that motherly instinct.
What do you think about the challenges of adapting a Japanese anime, versus creating a new character whole-cloth?
It’s interesting as an actor, the dubbing process is often a cold-read. You don’t see the script beforehand. The first time you see it is when you walk into the booth, seconds before they preview the line.
Back when I started, the releases were much further apart. It’ll be released in Japanese, then two years later it’ll get picked up. Usually you could find a version and watch the series to prep. Nowadays it’s so quick that it’s really hard to do that. Also, piracy affects the industry so much that I don’t choose to do that. I don’t want to give traffic to some foreign site that makes money off pirating.
You don’t have the freedom - you’re restricted by the mouth flap and also the face animation. If you have a moment where you felt like your character would say this aside a little snarky, but the character is smiling, you have to perform it as dictated to you by the number of mouth flaps. If you want to take a little bit longer, you can’t because you have to squeeze it in, or you have to stretch it out.
Sometimes your performance really depends on that. Certain type of reads go faster, and other types of reads go slower. if someone said, “Oh!” more excited then you tend to say the line faster. If you have to say the lines slow for mouth flap, there's only so much excitement, you can convey. It limits your performance in that way. So that’s like, the hardest thing to do.
When it’s original animation, you're so free to play. And if you're blessed to have a group record, it's even more fun, because you're playing off people somebody, reacting to the other person. It gets you an idea of the moment and you can play with it. And then also, like you can kind of improv lines, because the writers are usually in the room and they'll be like, “Yeah, that's good.” Or like, not stick to the script, you know, but at least you have that freedom. So it's the lack of freedom.
Do you care to elaborate more on your work for far on Fire Emblem and Nintendo in general?
Okay, so I know I do like several voices for Fire Emblem, but the one that I care about the most and most fun to do is Tharja. It's just so much fun. I don't usually get to voice the deeper, more evilly type characters. I'm usually get the more sweet, innocent, or klutzy ones. Amanda C. Miller always said, “Why don't you just tell your agent to book those auditions, because I really like your deeper voice better.” I was like, “No, I did Tharja, from Fire Emblem.”
I just have so much fun. In the recent games, it's on this other level where she's trying to be normal, but clearly, she's not. That just was so much even more fun to play. It's seriously one of my favorite roles for video games, ever.
And she’s so hot. Hats off to anyone who ever tries to cosplay her. There's been quite a few very successful Tharja cosplays. Bravo!
I read that in college was when you got your start. Could you elaborate a little bit about your time there?
Yeah. So I went to UCLA, and the way it started was I was writing for The Bruin, which was the UCLA School newspaper. My editor said, “Oh, this anime thing is kind of getting big. Do an article about the anime club.” I wasn't really into anime. Actually, I was, as a child but I didn't recognize that. I was way big intro Robotech and Voltron when I was much younger, but I didn't really equate it with anime.
I searched for the anime club and I couldn't find them. I went to the student body offices where they have all the club registry, and they gave me the numbers of the officers, but I guess they all graduated and it was the beginning of the year. The new officers hadn’t come in and submitted their info. I was like, “I don't think I could find this anime club!” And then I was walking the Bruin Walk on a Wednesday and they had this big sandwich board out and it's like, “Anime Club meeting tonight! 7 to 10pm.” Oh, and my article’s due on Friday.
It's like, “Oh man, I gotta go to this thing and had a midterm the next day. What are they going to do for three hours? Three hours is so long, that’s the longest club meeting ever!” So I showed up and I spoke to the President and I said I was from the paper and if anyone could make an announcement and let people know if we could interview some people. He gets up and he was like, “Hi everyone. We're watching Evangelion, Escaflowne, Slayers, and Marmalade Boy. Oh yeah, there's somebody from the newspaper, so if anyone wants to be interviewed afterwards just stick around.”
Then the lights dimmed and then they just like started playing anime. It was the very first episode of Evangelion, which ends in a massive cliffhanger; the second episode of Escaflowne, which also ends in a massive cliffhanger, where everybody's going to die. And then it was a Slayers episode that was in the middle but also was in a cliffhanger; and the middle of Marmalade Boy, but it was one of like the episodes with like, Kei the piano playing guy, and so you never know who's he gonna end up with. After it was over. I was like, “Wow, I'm going to come back next week.”
Then I interviewed some people. One of my good friends, still to this day and who later became my roommate, she was secretary at the anime club and I interviewed her. We bonded over how we all had crushes on Rick Hunter when we were children, Except she found Minmei annoying and I actually like really like Minmei. I wanted to be Minmei, but then as an adult and went back and watched it and was like, “Nooo, Minmei is annoying.”
So I strategically set out to befriend her because this girl seems to have a lot of anime, so I could like borrow all of her tapes, and all her DVDs-- wait no, back then, there were no DVDs (I'm so old). it was all these tapes and fansubs. Then we actually became real good friends and yeah so that was my thing, my gateway. Next year she ran and became president, and I was like a one of the librarians or secretary.
Do they still have that at clubs, now? Because back then, there were very little anime licensed at all. Aaaalll fansubs. And those poor secretaries would have this huge backpack and we have to lug it.
I would like to know what was the worst job you have ever had before entering the anime industry.
The anime industry has been pretty good. I can tell you a worst voiceover job. I’ve had difficult things happen, I got fired from one job. That was traumatic, but that also my fault. It was a good learning lesson. Sometimes bad things happen, but it's good for you. I never actually been like a terrible job. For the most part, it's been a good community.
I answered a Craigslist ad, and that was my first mistake, one time, for voice-over audition for a video game and then it turned out to be an adult-oriented game.
It was at somebody's house, and the audition was like in a cupboard in the kitchen. There was like a curtain and if I like peel back the curtain and there were cans of tomato sauce and corn and stuff like that. And then there was the microphone and there was no stand for the papers. There was like a cable running underneath, so the door wouldn’t shut. And the guys recording it were like all the way in the bedroom. So this like cable went all the way through the house.
I mean, I drove like 45 minutes to get to this audition that was like, way up in the valley. I'm there reading and it's seven pages and it’s all these different characters. At some point I was really getting frustrated and I was like, “Okay, hey you guys, I mean, don't you have enough stuff. I mean like for the audition.” You know what I mean? In terms of the audition stuff. They're actually really sweet, “Oh, it’s actually we're just having everybody record all the parts and then we'll just use the ones that we like.”
By then I was like only there's only two pages left, so I was like, “Ahh, I'll just finish it,” but I was really not happy. This was just so weird. Luckily it wasn't anything really pornographic. It was just like kind of sexy, “hey, come here” type of things. It wasn't noises, more like a Leisure Suit Larry type of game, where the guy tries to make it with different girls. I think Ron Jeremy ended up being in the game playing himself. I did the thing then slammed the door and ran out and left.
Months and months later I got a check in the mail for $40, and I’m like, “What is this check for? Who is this?” I didn’t recognize the company, and then I checked the notes. It was for-- I don’t remember the name of the game-- like big booty something something. And I was like, “Oh, it was that game, that I did in my kitchen cupboard.” I saw like clips of it online on YouTube, and the role that they picked for me was me doing an Indian accent. It was so random.
One of the shows you recently did, which still sticks out as one of the best jobs I've seen both in and out anime is Erased, and I would like to know how you went about with your portrayal of Kayo Hinazuki, who goes through so many moods and so many experiences, some of which are probably like the most horrible things that kids should never have to face.
I think a lot of that I owe to Alex von David, the ADR director. He was really good at guiding because he had seen the whole thing. He also refused to tell me what happened. It was such a mystery. I'd be like, “Wait, is that the killer?” And he’d just tell me, “No, you have to wait.” “Do I die now?”
It was tough because it was a natural feel tonally for the anime. But I really just relied on on him to kind of guide me through what was going on, in terms of the portrayal. I think that while Kayo was going through a lot, she kept a lot of stuff in. So it's a little bit easier to portray that I guess, then to try to sound realistically like a child and have a freak out, because children don't freak out the same way as adults.
What was it like having the opportunity to work on Your Name, which was already such a huge success in Japan?
I'm so grateful to have worked on that. It's a dream come true.
We didn't really know much about the film. I knew that they premiered the Japanese version at Anime Expo. A lot of people lined up and waited a very long time to see it, but I didn't know anything about it. I always tried to tell people to watch it but then try to tell people nothing about it, which is kind of a hard sell. Primarily because my experience watching the movie was that - I knew nothing about it before we watched it.
We as a studio was going to dub it, so Michael and I watched it. We brought over a friend of mine who lived in Japan teaching English. I actually met her at a convention. She speaks Japanese, we were watching it, and there’s so many things that happen--
I don’t want to give it away, for those that not have seen it, after the film I was crying and I was laughing more; not just in anime but in anything, I hadn't felt that way watching something in a really long time. I think the world has become a lot more cynical. The emotional experience for me watching that movie was it brought back to me like the idea of hope and also the idea that things that are supposed to work out can work out, which I think that as a society and as a country like we just don't really believe anymore. I don't blame us, look at the world around us; it's hard to believe in that stuff. But I think our art and our stories and our writers kind of reflect that right now. So it was nice to be back in this like headspace to be like have those those - the Feels! Yeah, so it was amazing.
I know I wanted to be a part of it so badly, but from production and as a producer and I wasn't. I'm not going to put myself in something that I didn't think I was right for. To be honest, I didn't think I was right for the part and Michael didn't thought he was right for it either, so we actually auditioned last. We auditioned a bunch of other actors. After reviewing them, we just didn't feel like like we could find the right person. A lot of the actresses were good at portraying Mitsuha, but not Taki in Mitsuha’s body, or they couldn't do a light accent or something. So then eventually Clark, who wrote the ADR script and Michael were like, “Well, why don't you read for it?” and I kind of went with into it.
I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and I used to live in Maynard, Massachusetts. As a kid, I sounded different than I do now, so I kind of tapped into, like, a bit more of a Midwest. I kind of like delved into that and they liked it.
You played a lot of roles in your career, in video games, movies, and now you write and direct. Where do you want to see your career go over the next six months to five years?
Oh, that's a good question. My first love is acting. I would love to do more on-camera work. I would also love to do more original animation. So those are kind of like my dreams. Starting in the last few years, I've been doing more original animation. I was in Korra, I had a small part in Stretch Armstrong, obviously like Katana, DC girls, and I appear on We Bare Bears a lot.
I feel like I've been doing like supporting, smaller roles, and utility players for original animation. It would be nice to have a lead, breakout role. That would be a lot of fun. I really want to do more on-camera but the on-camera thing is a tricky thing because that world is so visually based, and I am very visually specific for lack of a better way to describe it. I'm not necessarily like a type. I'm no spring chicken anymore and metabolism has caught caught up with me.
That's very difficult as a female in Hollywood. Because they either want you to be very big or very, very thin, and also very young. I'm just really short. So as I'm older, you know, the roles are like moms, or judges, or doctors or whatever. But I’m still like super petite and short that people just don't buy it. I think it just means we have to make my own stuff or just not be frustrated. I saw some quote recently from Frances McDormand, and she was saying that when she was starting out as a younger actress people said to her, you're not a type. She said instead of her fitting into a certain role, she was going to become our own archetype. That's not exact words, but something like that and that and that was very inspirational to me.
That would be awesome, those are where I would love to be. I got to do a lot a lot of things. I got to mocap for Maz Kanata in Battlefront 2. Grey Griffin’s doing the voice and I'm doing the body. I didn't know how it turned out, then I went on YouTube and watched the cut scene. And I was yeah, “Yeah, I totally buy it.” I was like very conscious of like how it was walking and I watched the behind the scenes footage for Force Awakens to see how Lupita did it. Then I realized that Lupita was actually on her knees, which is why Maz was shuffling a lot.
What's your advice to kids or even adults that want to get into this industry?
I think it's a really, really tough industry. You have to ask yourself why you're doing it. It's a lot of work. The thing that appeals to me about the arts is that you can always get better, because it's a process and you as a human being is always changing. So there's always things that you can tap into and the more layers, the better. And I feel like if that is not how you feel about acting, maybe it's not for you because you have to be satisfied creatively on a on a level that is separate from just the fame or the money.
I think that a lot of fans of anime don't realize that anime itself doesn't pay a lot. If you're looking at it like comparing like an hourly wage, sure. That seems like a lot, but you're not doing nine-to-six on voiceovers. Physically, your body, your voice couldn’t really do that, so it's just something to be aware of.
As a freelancer, you have to figure out your own pension and health, buy your own health insurance and all sorts of other things, adulting, that makes it more complicated. You have to in terms of like pursuing entertainment or being an actor. You have to be prepared to handle that part of your career, because that's part of your career, too.
There's the business element of it, some actors hate self promotion. You're basically a one person business: you're the marketing department, you're the content partment you're the finance. You're everything. So I think that's kind of what I'd like to impart, because I think there's so many things that you can be inspired by and do in the world, and if you don't have like a greater connection, to the art, it's harder to keep going when times get tough.
Over the last 15 - 20 years, the Con culture changed a lot. What's your perspective of it now?
When I first started doing conventions, nobody got paid. They paid for your hotel airfare; you didn't get a per diem; sometimes they fed you. I remember back in the day Anime Expo didn't consider Americans as guests. Only Japanese people could be guests of honor.
So it was a very, very different feel, and I think also cons were more resistant to having dub actors be on panels until they saw there is a draw for it. That's really different now. Now we get paid.
The second shift is the autographs and charging for autographs. I don't know if that's controversial or anything. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't? You go to a like a media con or a comic con, stuff like that. Those actors get paid and they charge for autographs, or their payment is a guaranteed; whatever their payment is is for X number of signatures, but they're charging like $20, $30, $40 per signature the photos are $70 or $80.
A lot of voice actors are charging and I feel very torn. There's so much pirating, I feel like a lot of anime fans don't have that much money. I don't want to contribute to something that takes away from their limited cash flow. If they have money, I'd rather than go and buy a DVD than buying a signature from me. Because if the industry collapses, I'm shooting myself in the foot.
At the same time I really understand where the actors are coming from, because it most of it is non union and even the union stuff there really aren't any residuals for it. You do a show and let's say that the show blows up in a super popular TV airing. You helped the distributor make a lot of money, but it's but we just get paid for our hours. It's a buyout; we just get paid once, no matter how popular it is or not, it's all the same. We're here at conventions and anytime we sell something that's helping to promote the show right, but we're not getting any residuals or anything back.
On one hand I also understand why actors want to charge for their autograph. Because, in a way, they're helping to promote the show and they're not getting residuals and the high turnover rate. There’s always new fresh blood coming in and you can sound so young for only an X amount of time. I think it's really tricky. I do see a shift though. I still sign for free or at least the first three or for free. I'm finding that as more of my peers are charging--not too much, like 10 bucks or 20 bucks usually, not much in comparison to like a TV actor-- as I find that more of my peers are charging, more of the fans are like really willing to just pay me. A lot of them seem surprised when I said, “Oh no, it’s free.” That’s how I see cons are changing, I don't know, we'll see what happens.
She’s like an evil little girl.
It's interesting. Fate is very confusing for me, because we've done it so many times. Now I'm like, “Wait, is this the sequel to that version or that version?” In the first version, Fate/Stay Night, she was like an evil little girl, but not super evil, because after Berserker was defeated, she still like hung around the house like she didn't like die and disappear like all the other ones, it was like “Oh no, she's around”.
Then what was what was the other series that we did was like super dark?
Then there was the other one where I was with my parent, so it's it's confusing too. For the most part I rely on the directors, who have very good vocal references. They'll play a vocal reference and be like, “Wait, no, that's from the wrong series!” And they’ll play a different one and be like, “Oh, ok!” The producer, Hiroe, from Aniplex, she's very good at keeping stuff straight.
As an anime voice actress and being in the anime industry, what is your own personal favorite anime, not necessarily one that you've in?
it's really hard to pick. I really love the original FLCL. I also really love Kodomo No Omocha, but I only saw the Japanese version of that. Oh, there's a great show called Okaton no Boku, it's never come out in the United States. I don't know if you guys are familiar with it, but it's about little boy. It's full on heavy drama. It's basically a little kid who has to raise his baby brother, because his mom was hit by a car pushing his baby brother’s stroller out of the way. His dad now has to support two kids. He's always working, and he has to take care of his children. In the beginning, [the boy] really hates it, because he blames his brother for his mom's death. So it's like super drama, but it's it's such a good show. I also like Mahoujin Guru Guru, that’s like a spoof of RPGs. It’s so funny, if you play RPG’s.
I loved Your Name, one top films for me. We also recently worked on Lu Over the Wall which comes out comes out in May and it's just super charming. I love that movie and I saw Night is Short, Walk on Girl. That’s a Yuasa film that is like totally out there, which was also amazing. I can’t just pick one.
So which of these two films, would you say was the most emotional one to work on, Your Name or A Silent Voice?
They were difficult for different reasons, but probably A Silent Voice was harder because I was committed to finding a deaf actress. It was also really rewarding, and the subject matter just was like would make me cry.
I learned so much about the deaf community. Also, we had called back like five actresses, and all five actresses said at their callbacks that they felt like that was like their childhood. When I had seen A Silent Voice, I thought that it was a little melodramatic I thought it was like a heightened storyline, the level of bullying and abuse. That has to be fiction, right? You know, but then to hear like all five actresses, tell me that that's what they went through as a kid was really eye opening.
There was also another actress that was recommended to me, who was an actual teenager and who was a huge anime fan and she was an actress and she was oral. So oral just means that that they speak because not all deaf people choose to speak. She didn't audition and so I asked the woman who was helping me cast why. She told me that well it was the anniversary of her brother's death, and her mom didn't think it was good for her to audition after she got the sides and stuff. Especially because her brother killed himself, basically from bullying, and he was also deaf.
You know, that's like really heavy stuff to hear and then kind of just reminds you like how important the movie is, because I think that the deaf community can sometimes be forgotten. I mean, I would say, myself included, I didn't really know much about the deaf community. I didn't I didn't think about them. I don't have to have that interaction, but now having worked on the film. I'm just a lot more sensitive to that, you know.
Amanda C. Miller who does Sailor Jupiter. She has a web series called “Ghosts and Stuff” that she wrote and produced and she's in it. And one of the things that she she she brought up is that, you know, like with all this stuff on YouTube and people doing their, their web series, their video, their blogs and whatnot. A lot of the content creators, don't bother to closed caption their stuff because they just don't think too, or they don't think it's necessary. And there are so many people in the deaf community that that don't have the opportunity to enjoy and partake in things because they're just being left out because people don't consider then.
I met another girl who worked at a chocolate shop and she was explaining how her father's deaf. How there are times when like he's out in public and accidentally bumped into somebody. He doesn’t, he's not gonna say I'm sorry because it's it's more of an inconvenience. He will have to sign it because he's not oral, then people just end up like yelling at him and just make assumptions and get angry. It just like makes you kind of think about what you take for granted and what you assume about other people that you may actually not know or be wrong about.