Interview With Sarah Natochenny
Location: Anime Boston 2023
Interview Date: 4/8/2023

Headshot for actress Sarah NatochennyAnime Herald: In eight years, it will be the 100th anniversary of the French L’Union des artistes saying, “Thou shalt not dub. It is offensive to the original actors.”

Sarah Natochenny: Yes! I know about this.

Anime Herald: It’s exploding. The anime industry is exploding now.

Sarah Natochenny: Tough for the French. Tough break. (Laughs)

Anime Herald: One of the things I’ve heard from a lot of other voice actors, when they are asked about breaking into the industry, they’ll say, “Don’t focus on the ‘voice’ part of it. Focus on the acting part of it.” What advice would you give to the young actors and actresses who want to break into the industry?

Sarah Natochenny: That very same advice. You have to be an actor first and a voice actor second. A lot of people are coming up to me at this convention and saying “I have a really nice voice, I want to get into voice acting.”

I tell them, “You could have the ugliest voice in the world. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder with voice acting, and everyone is represented in voice acting, across the entire field of voice acting. You’re competing with people who have been on Broadway, people who have been on television.”

I’m not going to say it can’t happen. I know one person who is a voice actor who has barely studied acting. That’s one person. Never say “never.” But also, you want to up your chances of getting a job. That, and I want to be a voice actor dot com. It’s an amazing resource. It’s Dee Bradley Baker’s website. It has so much information. Whenever someone asks me at a convention, I say, “I don’t want to waste time, just go to his website.You’ll learn everything you need to know to get started.”

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: How did you find out you had fans in the State Department? I read your bio and I’m wondering did they call?

Sarah Natochenny: I probably have Pokémon fans in the State Department. If you see this and you work for the State Department and you’re a fan, please let me know.

I have fans of my editing work in the State Department. I was editing for MSNBC, short documentaries. We received word that my work on ISIS was appreciated. A bit of a departure from my work on Pokémon. You have to diversify sometimes, you know?

Anime Zing Radio: What is your favorite series that you’ve voiced in your Pokémon career?

Sarah Natochenny: Pokémon XY and XYZ. That whole generation had Ash being really dramatic. All of his friends were my favorite friends. I think that was the best one.

Ash Ketchum - a boy with shaggy black hair and a red baseball cap - smiles as he looks toward the camera. Pikachu is perched on his shoulder.

Pokémon Sun & Moon

Anime Herald: I read that when you initially auditioned, you didn’t think it went well. You also said that they took some time to teach you things. What did they teach you?

Sarah Natochenny: How to dub. I’d never heard of dubbing before. I didn’t know that was a thing. I went to acting school. They don’t teach you dubbing. Now, a little bit, maybe they’ll talk about it. They didn’t teach you about it back in the day.

I went in there not realizing I’d be watching the picture and reading the script at the same time. I’d never done that before. I had never done animation before. I’d barely done any voice acting before. I literally did one medical narration, which is not seen work. The whole thing was a big ole’ surprise to me. It’s a miracle I got that job. Someone up there likes me.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: How surreal was it to play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream? To provide that comic relief, and all of those trippy dreams? Bringing that to life on stage in front of a live crowd.

Sarah Natochenny: How long ago was this now? It must have been twenty years ago that I played Bottom on stage, as a wee child. I remember being sad that I wasn’t Hermia, because I wanted to be the star. But in my own little way I was the star, because I played Bottom, and that is a funny role. I think I carried that sensibility throughout my career. But then I started playing lead roles, but weirdly…

…No, not mostly boys. That’s not true. I was going to lie. That’s a total lie. Now I play lead girls. I play Hermia’s all the time. So, yeah. I got my wish. And I play Bottom’s too. (Laughs)

That came out weird. I’m very fortunate. We’re having realizations right now on stage. I’ve had a cool career. I like it. It’s not what I thought I’d be doing. But, it’s much more diverse than what I thought I’d be doing, because in voice acting, you don’t have to look like anything. You can look like yourself and still play a million different types of roles. It doesn’t matter what you look like. I’ve been blessed. It’s not what I wanted, but I’ve been blessed with something I thought I didn’t want.

Anime Zing Radio: Knowing that for voice acting, you’re known mostly for Pokémon, do you have intentions of doing other anime voice acting going forward?

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah. In New York, there was really no anime. Pokémon was the only game in town. And then Pokémon became bi-coastal, I became bi-coastal. I moved to LA a year ago. Now I’m doing all of these conventions, I’m meeting all of these other actors who do anime. I’m starting to understand the world a little bit, the business of it. I’m starting to watch it. I never really watched it, sorry to say. I watched Succession. I watch live-action stuff.

I’m starting to watch anime and figure out what I really like and what I’d like to be in. I’m targeting my desires and talking with directors [like, ] “Yeah, that’s the one. That’s interesting to me.”

I don’t want to do something that I don’t like every week. I can’t imagine being on a show I don’t like every week. I can’t imagine being on a show I don’t like. Even if it’s the biggest show in the universe, if I have to do something I don’t like, I don’t think it’s worth it. I want to love what I do. It’s very important to me.

Ash Ketchum - a boy with shaggy black hair and a red baseball cap, grins confidently as he looks offscreen. Pikachu - a yellow electric mouse creature - is perched on his shoulder.

Pokémon X & Y

Anime Herald: One of the harder parts of your job is matching the mouth flaps. Have you ever had a situation where the mouth flaps are not where they need to be for you?

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah. All the time. We rewrite. We sit there and try to rewrite it. Our adapter on Pokémon, James Carthcart, is brilliant. We very rarely have to do it on Pokémon. But when we do, it’s fun. It’s collaborative.

I’m sitting there with Lisa (Ortiz), the director. It’s like a puzzle. You’ve got to make it make sense. It has to be funny, be interesting. It also has to be good. So you take a little time. But, yeah, that’s the hardest part of dubbing, matching the flap. The acting is not the hardest part for me. But everybody will have a different answer for that.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: The top cited review for “If I go missing, the witches did it.” is from Teen Vogue. I’m paraphrasing, but they called it the perfect entry for beginner witches. But it’s also a crime drama. What are your thoughts on that, and are you a practitioner yourself?

Sarah Natochenny: I was really into witchcraft for about a year and a half in seventh and eighth grade, with this girl Stacy. She got me into it. There was a little shop in Forest Hills where I grew up. We would frequent the shop and buy all the things and have seances. I was a witch when I was eleven years old. Full circle, I’m very happy that I came to this project. I think that it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever played. It won the audience award at the Webby’s, which I’m nominated for this year. I’m screaming out there, “Vote for me,” because I want to beat Stephen Colbert. He’s my mom’s favorite late night talk show host. I think it would be fun to say to her, “I beat him.”

This is for the video I made when Ash Ketchum retired. I talk about my journey through my time as Ash Ketchum. I liked that video a lot, so I submitted it. I thought it would be interesting to see if the Webby’s would nominate it. My fellow nominees are Stephen Colbert, Lupita Nyong’o, Jennifer Garner, and The Muppets. The Muppets are in supreme lead right now, and I’m in fifth place. But both me and Stephen Colbert as of today have 18%, so this is a good thing.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: An impressive roster of names to be nominated with.

Sarah Natochenny: I can’t believe I’m among them. Now, because I’m among them, I’ve got to win. How cool would that be? Like, “Who is she?”

I want to win for this video because this is not going to happen again. A character that’s been around for 25 years, that I’ve played for 17 years. I’m not making a video like that ever again. Also, he won the World Championship this year. I’ve got to win something more than a toy out of a claw machine.

(Editor’s note: Sarah ended up winning the audience award for this video. The Muppets won the jury prize.)

Ash Ketchum - a boy with shaggy black hair, smiles at the Pikachu on his shoulder, who is smiling back. The two are visibly beaten up as the sun sets on them.

Anime Zing Radio: What is your most notable event during your career as Ash?

Sarah Natochenny: There was an episode where a Pokémon passed away. That inspired me and Lisa Ortiz to start an organization that supports animals for fostering, called Voices for Fosters. That was probably the most impactful thing.

Now, the most impactful thing is to be able to do these conventions and raise money for that, by selling autographs on Pokémon cards. It’s a combination of being able to give back to the community that I love, and also meeting the community that I serve in a way, as the voice of Ash Ketchum. It’s been really cool to meet everybody and hear their stories about how my work has affected their lives in a positive way. I like it.

Anime Herald: Through this long strange trip of playing Ash Ketchum, and Staraptor of course, and a few other characters. How has your relationship with Pokémon changed and evolved?

Sarah Natochenny: I was a fan when I was a child. I was ten years old when it came out. I went from being a fan, to being in high school and being very busy and not watching it, to magically getting this audition from my agent and booking this role. In the beginning, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my God, this is the biggest thing in the world.” I was thinking, “I have an acting job! This is amazing!”

I was very focused on serving the production. On being exactly what they wanted me to be. After a while, it was clear they were happy with what I was doing. I guess the character evolved with me, over time. If you listen to Battle Frontier and you listen to Journeys, it’s quite a bit of growth, from what people tell me. I hear it too. (Laughs)

My relationship with them has grown closer. There’s been more trust built. Now, I’m talking to you guys and doing these conventions. Being more forward-facing or public facing has been a really fun challenge. I hope I’m making them proud.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: Do you recommend improv training for individuals looking to break into acting?

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah. It’s really useful to know when to pepper little things in. And to develop a character, develop a life. You’re not just reading a script, you’re developing a life. Being able to improvise is important.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: Have you ever had an improv show go off the rails, in a good way?

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah. I’ve had some amazing scenes. I wouldn’t say I’m an incredible improviser. I’m not a genius. It sucks. I wish I was. But I’ve had some amazing scenes, some really great moments. I don’t remember what they were, but I remember the feeling that I had and I miss that.

Ash Ketchum - a boy with shaggy black hair and a red baseball cap, smiles happily as he rests his hand on the tummy of a Charizard - a giant orange dragon.

Pokémon Black & White

Anime Zing Radio: When you were eleven and delving into this world, did you experience anything paranormal?

Sarah Natochenny: No. I have no talent in this field. I tried, but nobody came and talked to me. I don’t think they like me, I’m too alive.

The only thing I can say, it’s like, have you ever seen Lost?

Anime Zing Radio: I have not.

Sarah Natochenny: The show Lost makes me think of my time in Hawaii. I’ve been to Hawaii twice this year. I’d never been there before, and both times I got extraordinarily lucky there. On my first trip, I pulled a base set Charizard. I opened one pack, and in that one pack was a base set Charizard and I have that card now.

And then the second time, I found out I was nominated for a Webby. You heard the nominees. It’s crazy that I’m in that field. Like, “what?”

Anime Zing Radio: Maybe you should schedule trips to Hawaii more often.

Sarah Natochenny: I know! Hawaii is a lucky place. As I was making that farewell video to Pokémon, usually as an editor, it takes me a while to find the right music. It was the second piece of music I heard, and it was perfect. It literally lined up perfectly, and for that I was like “My grandma’s watching. She made that happen.” Also, my cat Pikachu was probably born the day my grandma died.

(Editor’s note: The discussion that followed cannot be properly shared via transcription. There’s video from Anime Zing Radio here.)

Anime Herald: Do you have any editing stories you’d like to share?

Sarah Natochenny: I worked for MSNBC for almost a year. I couldn’t get out of bed the next year. It was very taxing. Editors see a lot. We see everything you don’t see. We have to edit it down to tell a cohesive story. Especially people who work in news. Next time you see them, give them a high five. Tell them you appreciate their work. Because you see things. Mmm.

You also see how the news sausage is made. You start realizing that the version you see on TV is the best version of the story that exists. What is “the truth?” We can get into it. It’s really tough work. It’s hard, especially when there’s a group of people editing what you do and telling you what it needs to be.

Films are fun. You start doing really difficult overnight work. You’re doing assistant work in the middle of the night in a cold place in way upstate New York, on an indie film and you’re making two hundred dollars a night.

It’s really high stakes, because the editor needs everything by morning. Everything needs to be done perfectly to their liking. The editor will teach you, “This is how I like everything laid out. I want these lines cut together this way.” It’s very precise. You have to be very “Type A” to do it, and I’m not that Type A, I just really loved editing. But I hated assistant editing, because you have to be so Type A about it. I like making a mess and then putting it together. But that’s how you start. There’s a way up, to start editing.

Once you pay your dues, it’s fun work. It’s lonely. You pretty much work alone with the director. You’re up in a dark room a lot, and that’s why I don’t do it so much anymore. I’m in a dark room a lot with voice acting, too. I don’t like that. I want to be outside. I want to be on set, working with a big group of people. I’m extroverted. It’s hard to just be in a little tiny box. It’s hard for me.

It’s weird where I ended up. There’s something to be said about making very distinct goals for yourself, and not letting anything else get in the way. That’s what I think I’m going to be doing. Taking charge of my path a little bit more, now that I have the opportunity.

Did that answer your question?

Anime Herald: That was great. Thank you.

Sarah Natochenny: That’s the editor life. Editors have good answers. We tell stories.

Yuzuha Shiba from Tokyo Revengers: Christmas Showdown, a woman with long orange hair, smirks as she looks toward the camera.

Yuzuha Shiba (Tokyo Revengers: Christmas Showdown)

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: Do you have a side hustle or side project that you’re working on?

Sarah Natochenny: Well actually, I’m thinking about starting one. Create a new YouTube channel where I invite actors to do cold reads. Stuff they’ve never read before. The idea is, I would have an actor on, do a little interview, five or ten minutes, and then I just slam with a really weird American-written manga, or something that nobody wants to read. I’ll be like, “Here, read that.”

And then, I’ll have a rotating group of actors to fill in for the other bit parts if there are other roles to cast.

I do need time to do this. I can’t promise that it will be soon, because right now I’m traveling non-stop. I really enjoy taking those few days between conventions to see a place. It’s convention/vacation/convention/vacation, oh god, I have to work, I go to work, vacation/convention. So, I’ll stream eventually.

Side hustle? Editing… no, editing became a career. I’ve never had a side hustle. Anything I do becomes part of the career.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: Soon (TM)

Sarah Natochenny: That was my grandmother’s expression, не сейчас, позже, not now, later. That was her whole life.

Enchanting Sorcery Productions: So much new media these days.

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah, there’s so much you can do. I’m writing a film. I want to make a feature film, that was always my dream. I want to make a feature film about a voice actor who loses her job after twenty years. It’s familiar to me, so I’m going to do that. I’ve had the idea for a while now, but now that it’s actually happening, I’m like “Oh, this is rich. We’ve got to do it.”

She has a downfall. I don’t have a downfall. She’ll have a downfall. But, that’s a film. That’s not longevity, necessarily. It’s tough to make a film, and it’s tough to build a career out of making a film. So, I definitely want to do things in the new media space. I’m right in the middle between gen X and gen Z, and I’m so much more gen Z. I see these folks, and I get it. I want to be a part of that. It’s changing so much.

Anime Herald: You’re now on Ash Ketchum’s retirement tour.

Sarah Natochenny: Yeah.

Anime Herald: Is there any place you’ve visited, or any pace along the beaten path that you’re looking forward to visiting?

Sarah Natochenny: I really love Greenville, South Carolina. That city is built around a waterfall, and it’s really lovely.

I liked Charlotte, North Carolina. I like the Carolinas. Charlotte is the second biggest finance capital in America. Who knew! It’s really nice. All the restaurants are really good, because they’re feeding the money people. I couldn’t live there, because it’s not my culture. But it’s nice to visit, it’s very nice there.

I love San Francisco. When I first visited San Francisco, I didn’t like it. Somehow, I went there a second time and I really loved it.

Boston. I haven’t been here since my friend was in college here. I visited her one time and we sat in the commons. I was here for two days and we sat in her house, mostly. But now, I’m getting to see the city a little bit. Your Chinatown? Your Little Italy? They’re legit.

There’s a place in Texas called Blue Hills Ranch. I went there for three days. They have giraffes, and goats, and free roaming cows. Everything is just free roaming. You can just walk alongside them all day. You just exist among all these animals. And otters, who are just ridiculous by the way.

Have you ever met an otter? They’re nuts. They’re slippery, slithery, and they don’t care about you, at all. They’re in their own little world. We sat in a pool with them. They had nothing to do with us whatsoever. So that place is really nice, if you want to stay among animals and be in nature. That’s a lovely place.

It’s fun to travel. I do recommend it. See other people, other geography, topography… architecture. And realize that New York is not the center of the universe. That’s been fun.