Location: Anime Boston 2019
Interview Date: 4/20/2019
Interview edited for clarity.
CJ Maffris (Toonami Faithful): I kind of wanted to ask, since we haven’t been able to talk before, just recently, about the legacy of the block on Adult Swim now, and how it’s brought anime to the [United States], and how much it means to you, the fact that thanks to this block, anime has been, not necessarily mainstream, but just more popular. And, since you’ve been on the block many times, how it feels to you, hearing that Toonami has this lasting legacy.
Yuri Lowenthal: Yeah, I think Toonami was a forerunner in bringing it to the masses, as it were. You know, even me, growing up, I had to dig for my anime. To find it, in the States, I had to sometimes literally dig through bins at comic conventions. But, yeah! Toonami has been a bastion. I have to thank Steve Blum for giving it the attention. He is truly the Toonami Faithful! Like, he is the Lord God of bringing people to the channel. And he’s the Lord God of a lot of things, let’s be honest!
But, yeah! I think Toonami has been, for the longest time, it was, a lot of the stuff that you wouldn’t even see, like the late-night stuff. You know, catching Big O in the middle of the night was a game changer for me! And stuff like that, but, yeah! I would whole-heartedly agree that Toonami has been there for… you know, all of us nerds, you know, will always find a place to get it, but this I think has really broadened the access to it. So, I’m proud to be a part of that in whatever sort of small way, whatever small contribution I’ve made.
Meron Hagos (Raider Times): I’d like to ask you about the old-gen voice actors, from the early 2000s and late ’90s. And, I noticed that there’s a bit shift going on, and that a lot of these old gen VAs are moving from anime to video games, or to mainstream cartoons. So, what is your opinion on that?
Yuri Lowenthal: I think, primarily, it’s a financial thing, to be honest. I know, I’ll speak for myself before I speak for anyone else, because I don’t know everybody’s story. But anime dubbing, anime does not pay very well. I’ll be brutally honest. A lot of people say ‘Hey, I want to go out to L.A., and I want to dub anime for a living.” And I’m like “you can come out and dub anime, but you won’t be able to make a living doing just that.” It was where I got my start.
And, you know, I was a big old anime nerd before I even got started doing this business, and I will always want to stay in it. But it didn’t work out for me to just dub anime and provide for my family! So, as an actor, I audition for a lot of different things. I audition for commercial stuff, and video games, though video games have become, they’ve exploded since I started! And animation, you know, original animation that we record in Los Angeles offers residuals, and things like that. You know, residual payments when they air it over and over, if they’re re-running the show, I can still get paid on that. So, if those opportunities are open, I want to take those too, so I can support my family.
I’ll always, again, just speaking for myself, you know, it might not necessarily be everybody’s decision, but I will always try to keep my hand in the game because I love the community so much and I love the art of it so much. But I have participated in fewer dubs, just because I haven’t had time.
That stuff takes a lot of time, too. You know, dubbing a show is a huge commitment depending on your role in it. And there are some times when I’ve agreed to do it because I knew that it was actually a small [thing]. They’re like “Hey, Yuri, it’s JUST a few episodes!”
I’m like “great! I know I can manage that. Let’s get in and do that.” So, for me, that has definitely been a factor. I’ve been fighting on the sidelines with a lot of other people to try to get better rates established for actors who dub. And that takes a lot of work because there’s less money, just because of piracy and being able to watch a lot of stuff free on the internet. Japanese production companies have ramped down their production because they can’t count on English dubs being sold and making money on that.
So, rates have been sort of dropping. And lots of companies have been going non-union; we don’t need to get into the whole “union / nonunion” thing, but some jobs are union, some jobs are not. And so, it’s a struggle, but personally, I think dubbing is a harder skill than just doing original animation, or often video games. They’re all different skills, and not to take away from people who only do that, but I think dubbing’s hard, and I have great respect for the actors who do it, and I wish that they were paid commensurate to the skill. So, I’ll always be fighting for that!
Samantha Ferreira (Anime Herald): You’ve worked on all levels of industry, as an actor, as a director, and even as co-owner of a production company with Monkey King Productions. Given this perspective, where do you see the industry today, and what directions do you see publishers turning to for growth in the future?
Yuri Lowenthal: I have found that, at first it was just to keep my sanity, me and my wife Tara, who formed the production company together. As actors, you have very little agency over your career, unless you become super famous.
You audition for a lot of things, and you take the things that you get that you’re not morally opposed to, obviously, if you have morals. (chuckles) It’s hard to have morals as an actor! But the only way we found that would help us sleep at night and would help us keep our hearts full was to create our own projects. And so that’s why we formed the production company, originally.
Since then, the world has changed, and I’ve found that the actors that I see succeeding, the actors that I see happy, are actors who don’t just go to auditions and hope that their careers blow up. They *have* to create their own content.
And I tell that to people who are like “Hey, I want to act!” I’m like “great! Here’s what you can do! Start making your own series, put ’em on YouTube. Dude, get together, find that group of friends that you’re all on the same page with, and make things!” Because, for the most part, actors’ salaries are shrinking because of the economy of the internet, and just the entertainment economy overall. And you have to find a way, if you want to survive in that profession, you have to own more than just that paycheck on that job.
You want to create content that then people can license, or then you can create your own show. But you can’t think of it as a “oh, for money I’ll do this.” It always has to be “for love, I’ll do this, and I hope that someday that the passion pays off.” It happens all the time! (laughs) Tara and I still have yet to, we’ve created a lot of different content, web series, and films, and we’ve still never made a dime off of the things that we’ve created! We just haven’t found the way. We’re really good at making things, and very bad at monetizing those things. But it has kept our hearts full!
But look at Critical Role. They did that out of love, and they found their audience. I mean, it happens all the time! Without that, they’d still be, and still are working actors, but they’d just be actors. If they didn’t have that, you’ve gotta make that! I find it difficult to give advice, because, especially in this industry there’s no “A + B = C” formula. So, everybody’s going to have a different path, so I try not to give advice.
But I have told people that what I see works, and that’s “make stuff.” Don’t wait around for somebody, because as an actor, we’re mostly waiting for somebody to say “yes, you can do this thing.” And we have to stop, and just start making our own stuff. You can still work on other peoples’ stuff. I work on everybody’s stuff! But you’ve gotta make your own stuff. If you’re about storytelling. I mean, some people are like “I just wanna show up and do the thing.” Great! If that works, I see no reason to stop doing that, but that was where we had to go with it.
And I think that’s a trend. You look at actors who are, whether it’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she created that show! You look at people like Felicia Day. She created that career! She was an actor who was working, but it didn’t blow up until she started making stuff of her own with The Guild, and all of what she’s done. You know, people like, I don’t know if you know Chris Niosi, he has a show called Tome, and he created that show! And it’s got a huge following! And he loved anime, and he learned to animate stuff, and he made his own show! He didn’t wait for Cartoon Network to come, or Nickelodeon to come. And it keeps you moving, and it keeps your soul full. So, yeah, I see that as a trend!
Samantha Ferreira (Anime Herald): Through your career, you’ve career, you’ve become known as one of those voices of a generation, so to speak, with roles like [Naruto’s] Sasuke, [Code Geass’s] Suzaku, Gurren Lagann‘s Simon, and now Spider-Man under your belt. How does it feel to know that your voice has basically guided some fans through their entire lives, both as fans and sometimes in a literal sense?
Yuri Lowenthal: Old! It makes me feel old! (laughs) That is the witty answer to your question. It’s always funny when somebody’s like “man, you were my whole childhood!” And I’m like, “but you’re, like, an adult! So that means… hold on, let me do the math!” (laughs) It’s my greatest honor.
I’ve only recently become a father, so now I feel the responsibility to teach my son how to be a good human being. And it is only then that I realized that because of the characters, you know, a combination of the characters that I’ve played and the person that I am, I’ve had the opportunity to teach and lead, even when I don’t know that I’m doing it.
And that’s why I think storytelling is important and powerful, and often gets pushed aside as frivolous entertainment, but I think we absolutely need it. And it’s where we learn lessons, and where we see people fail and get back up again. And it gives people strength, sometimes even when I don’t know that it’s giving people strength. That’s a communal thing. You know, I take part in that, the writer who writes those characters and those stories takes part in that, and you know, the producer takes part in that.
And then the person who’s taking that entertainment in, who’s listening to that story, the person who’s viewing it or listening to it or watching it, they take the greatest responsibility of all in that. Because people have come up to me and said, “You know, you helped me during a dark time.” And I’ll give credit to Burnie Burns from Rooster Teeth. He was first said this, and he had been the first person to say it in a way that made sense to me, but I didn’t do anything. You did the hard part. If you were going through dark times and the story affected you and gave you strength, it was still your strength to stand back up again ,or to fight against the darkness, or to change or whatever it was that brought you to.
So, I love that stories can inspire, and characters can inspire, and it helps me keep doing this! Because there are days where I’m like “shouldn’t I be building hospitals in Africa or something? What am I doing?!” I mean, “how is this helping the world,” and because I believe that stories are important, and because people who say that things like this have helped them or inspired them, I can wake up every morning and keep doing it.
So it is a very proud part of my life, and an honor when people say that, I… it does make me feel old, but more importantly, it makes me feel that what I do has value, and what I do helps. So, I’ll never not feel grateful for that.
Samantha Ferreira (Anime Herald): I have a question that I like to ask all guests that I speak to: what would be the strangest or most interesting thing to happen to you in the booth?
Yuri Lowenthal: It’s a funny place, working in a room like that, with nobody else around you. You feel like you’re at the zoo, in a way, because usually the director and the producer, you know, the engineer all are on the other side of the glass. So, funny things happen in there!
There’s a lot of stuff that never sees the light of day. Outtakes, and stuff like that, that I would love to share with you guys, but they burn it as soon as we do it, because it’s either foul or filthy, or has nothing to do with anything.
So, it’s a very odd place, to start with. I mean, I’m glad there’s not a mirror in there. Because if I actually saw what I looked like when I worked, I’m sure I would become self-conscious and I would quit.
I did, slightly embarrassing story, but because you’re in there alone, and you just count on being there alone for long stretches of time… certain bodily functions happen depending on what you ate the day before, or that morning. And if you’re going to be in there by yourself, it’s really no big deal! And so sometimes, you just relax a little bit, to put it bluntly. That’s actually not very blunt, that’s very… sometimes you fart! In the booth! That’s to put it bluntly!
And I was in there at the beginning of a session, I knew that I was going to be in there for hours. I’m like “it’s just me, no big deal,” and I let one rip. And *seconds* after, the director says “hey, we got an actor who’s just come in. They just need to pick up one line. They’re going to come in and do it right now!” And I was like, it’s one of those slow-motion moments, you’re like “Nooooooooooooooooo!”
And they open the door, and it was the studio… the guy who owned the studio, it was his daughter! Young daughter had just come in to do this one thing. Like, it was just sort of like a favor. And she didn’t say anything, but I could tell by the look on her face exactly what was going through her head when they opened the door. Like, if I had had the presence of mind and the speed, I would’ve just held onto the door and just not let them open, and just “just let the ventilation take care of it! Just hold on!”
So yeah! So, you get used to working by yourself, and every now and then, you get thrown a curveball. Yeah, it’s a weird place! It’s a weird place to work!