Location: Anime Boston 2019
Interview Date: 4/20/2019
Interview edited for clarity.
Thoughts on the notorious dub of Ghost Stories:
Greg Ayres: I’ve told people this a million times. We never thought it was going to be anything. It was something that was kind of handed to ADV. The people licensing had made numerous attempts to sell it. They said, “We know it needs work, so you can do whatever you want with it.” We did. (laughs)
[…] The weird thing is that word leaked. When Monica [Rial] and I went to Otakon to premier the first disk, they booed us off stage. We laughed “We’re getting booed!” They thought it was an American company taking an advantage of a Japanese show. How dare ADV!
[…] When people gave it a chance, it became a Rocky Horror cult classic. We beat Fullmetal Alchemist for dub of the year from Anime Insider. They called it “The little dub that could.” It was this goofy thing.
We couldn’t have foreseen the future it had. You know when you go bowling and you stop trying, you start hitting strikes? We were just having so much fun, it just worked. I am so grateful to have [been] part of that lightning in a bottle. We could never get away with that now. It really has turned into the Rocky Horror of anime.
Anime Herald: You are now a worldwide ambassador for anime. At what point did it sink in you’d have to travel the world and stand at the podium?
Greg Ayres: I was a theater kid. This is going to date me, but I performed at the World’s Fair in Vancouver in 1986. Expo 86. I know, that makes me super old. I fell in love with Vancouver. I couldn’t get past the idea that a piece of land connected to the United States was so somehow different than everything I knew. I went into a department store, and a woman working there had blue hair. I was like “What is this magical place called Canada?” I developed this love affair with Canada as a child. I was determined to go back
[…] As I started doing anime, getting bigger and bigger roles, I thought “surely I’m going to go back to Canada at some point.” It wasn’t until the people at Ai-Kon in Winnipeg invited me. It was a town I had never been to. Now, if I could choose anyplace to live, it would probably be Winnipeg. I have so many friends there. I went to this little bitty con in Winnipeg, that’s not a little bitty con anymore. It’s a massive thing.
Later, Anime North was like “You’ve probably never been to Canada,” and I was like “Have you heard of Winnipeg?” I did Anime North, and then I wasn’t thinking about leaving the country.
[…] I had been to a con with Monica (Rial) in Leicester in England back at the beginning of my career. There was a voice actor who wanted too much money, and I won’t name names, there was a little con in Middlesbrough. He wanted a lot of money and sprung it on them last minute. They were like “We can’t afford voice actors.” A friend of mine, I’m going to date myself again, from LiveJournal was on the board. She said to them “Have you tried Greg Ayres? He doesn’t charge money to come to cons.” They said “Oh, they all charge money.” She replied “I’m pretty sure he doesn’t.”
[…] I did that little show called NemaKon. When that folded, it became ONECon. I got invited back to Middlesbrough. The possibility of going to a small northern town once, for a guy from Texas, is pretty rare. “The people from Middlesbrough really want you back.” I’m like “oh my gosh.”
[..] The funny thing is I don’t just do acting. I do music as well. For my 50th birthday, I went to a 50,000 person rave in Belgium. The friends I met there are all over my social media. “You do anime, mate?” I’m like “yeah I do, that’s my other job.”
[…] The thing I love about meeting anime fans in different countries is that their fandoms are very different. Going over to England six or seven years ago reminded me of anime fandom in the states in the late ‘90s or early 2000s. They were still in the newlywed stage. There was no infighting, and if there was, it was like “Could your Gundam beat my Eva?” It was like all the nerdy Star Wars fighting or whatever.
[…] The first time I was back in Canada was shortly after Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad was shown on MuchMusic, which put it like on the level of MTV. I was used to [Fullmetal Alchemist] “Waaah!” fangirls. When I went to Canada, I met these laid back rockers. They’d ask “You were that guy in Beck?” I’d say yeah. They’d just say “cool.” (smiles)
[…] The thing about traveling all over and meeting anime fans is that they’re all very different. The different cultures seep in. It’s nothing to get jumped on by someone unexpectedly glomping you, which is an assault, but if you’re in England, it’s like “Mr. Ayres, may I have a hug?” and I’m like “oh, of course.” It’s just different culture, different mannerisms.
[…] I think the farthest anime fan I have is a young man who lives in Bangladesh. He was so cute. He approached me online, saying “I hope you won’t hate me. I download my anime illegally.” I’m an outspoken non-piracy person, but man, if you live in a lean-to and you don’t have an FYE to get to, I’m gonna cut you a little slack.
[…] It’s been really neat because even though he lives in what looks like the jungle, he’s still a nerd! There’s a picture of him with his Zelda sword. That’s my friend Tufan, and he just recently relocated to India. The idea that we would have dub fans in Bangladesh blows my mind. It’s the advantage of being a part of really cool stories. If you get to be a part of that, you get to be a part of someone else’s passion and entertainment. It’s super cool, and I love it. I love traveling. Man, do I love traveling.
On playing the duality of playing villains:
Greg Ayres: I think villains are often played wrong. People go for the teeth factor “Grrr!” and it’s just one level. I got to officiate the MIYAVI panel and I got to ask him about playing Watanabe in Unbroken. Watanabe is this evil, evil, evil person. He said in preparing for the role, he had to study this person’s humanity. Find out what was good about him so that when you play the evil side of him, it’s believable. An evil person isn’t just, like, setting babies on fire and kicking dogs. There’s a part of them that has people they love too.
[…] I like well developed characters, be they villain or non-villain. There’s a quote from me where I used to say “I don’t like playing the hero,” but it’s not like I don’t like playing leads or heroes; it’s just that, sometimes, their story is not well fleshed out. They’re just “the hero.” The villains usually have a good backstory and more substance to them.
Anime Herald: Over the course of your career, you’ve seen the anime industry change and grow. Where do you see the anime industry a decade from now?
Greg Ayres: It’s so hard to say because media’s changing. Even as a DJ, DJ’s used to collect records and CD’s. I have friends that don’t own music. They’re just Spotify kids. That is a foreign concept to me. That you don’t have a collection of records. Or CD’s. Records, man I’m dating myself. And media is going the same way. It’s moving towards Netflix, HIDIVE, Funimation.com, and other subscription services. The cool thing about anime fans is we’re collectors. We like our boxed sets. But the industry is trying really hard to move away from physical media, so it makes me wonder what’s next.
[…] I do like the fact that all of our gaming systems have entertainment built into them. I can watch the Funimation channel on my PS4. I can watch Hulu on the Switch. I think we’ll see a lot more third-screen interaction. As far as the industry, it changes so fast. Now we’re doing a lot more simuldubs. When I first came into this industry pie-eyed, the idea that we would ever be working on a piece of animation that had not been seen in Japan yet, that it would be released at the same time in both places… had you told me that, I’d be like “That’s not possible! We can’t do that!” But we can now. It’s so weird to be a part of the actual creative process with Studio Trigger, with Gonzo. It’s been really neat to watch that. But it happens so fast, it’s hard to get a trend line on it to figure out where it will be.
[…] One of the things we’ve seen this year is more multi-language dubs. People want Spanish dubs, German dubs, things like that. Up until now, it’s been a licensing issue. The German company does the German dub. I think, at some point, we will all eventually be able to share those recordings. Nobody will go for it, because they all want to sell their individual releases. But if were a subscription service, maybe. It’s hard to tell, but I know it’s going to keep moving forward, because there’s a lot of momentum right now.
[…] Netflix is trying to jump into the game really hard. We’ll see. All of us native Eva fans are a little salty. Amanda Winn-Lee, the original voice of Rei, has said it’s in good hands. If they do it right… I just want the show to be handled correctly and treated with respect.
On how he decides which roles to take:
Greg Ayres: Whoever wants me to work! That’s an actor answer. I’ve only ever turned down one role, and it was recently. It was only because it was the voice of a trans character. I knew there were two actors who were trans. I knew it just wasn’t my thing, and to step into the role that could be done by a trans actor, I’d rather that be done.
[…] But it’s a weird industry. When you turn down work, you go through this “Will they ever ask me to do work ever again?” Luckily, I talked to the director later. “I hope this wasn’t offensive. If this blows up on the internet, I’m the person who will have to deal with this.” I’m friends with one of the two trans actors. I have to be good to my crew.
[…] Otherwise, anyone who wants me to be a part of something, and it fits into my schedule, and they’ll pay me, I’m pretty good with anything. I’ve been a part of some of the most simple, wholesome stories, and some of the most vile. Anime is as many different stories as you can tell. I did Dance of the Vampire Bund. Everybody was taking their names off. I was like, “They know my voice, just put my name on it.”
[…] Carl Macek, one of the industry heavyweights, I got to work with him before he passed away. He cast me as a giant blue ogre. I told him I normally play little kids. He said “You don’t want to give it a shot?” I was like “Okay…” He said “Just talk very loud.” I just screamed a lot.
Not to sound thirsty, but every role is a new set of challenges. I wish I could say I just pick and choose jobs, but I pretty much jump on every job I can get.
Anime Herald: On passing the Mel Blanc test. Can you do any of your characters imitating another one of your characters.
Greg Ayres: No, but I had to imitate my brother. In Heaven’s Lost Property, there’s a bit where they make fun of Sengoku Basara, which I’m also in. My character Tomoki is making fun of my brother’s character. It was super weird, but it came out okay.
[…] There are few people who can compare to Mel Blanc. I really love hearing stories about the all-time greats. There are great stories about Peter Hernandez when he was working on Speed Racer. Hearing about any of the original OG voice actors is always super cool. But yeah, Mel Blanc is… I don’t think we’ll ever have anyone like that ever again.
Are there any similarities between between a voice actor and a DJ?
Greg Ayres: Nothing at all. They’re so very different. They’re both creative outlets for me, but one is absolutely my making. When I DJ, I am operating under my own rules. I don’t take requests. You can’t hire me to play a party and have me play hip hop. If you hire me to play a party, I’ll play the music I want to play. That’s who you hired. To me, my DJ’ing stuff is much more artistic, because it’s all of my choosing.
[…] I like parties that look out of control. There’s a method to that chaos that keeps them safe. I just recently purchased a cryo-cannon that allows me to hit the audience with sixty-degree O2. It looks awesome and cools them down. They’re like “I can keep dancing.”
[…] When I come in to act, there’s a group of people who want me to do what they want. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s jumping through a hoop to get what this person wants versus me doing my own thing. And I like both. If you have no rules, you’ll just end up being a horrible person, I guess. I like doing anime, because I let someone else craft my voice into what they want. When I do music, that’s a whole different story. Both are equally important parts of my life.
[…] That’s why it was so cool [that] I was able to work with MIYAVI this week at Anime Boston. He combines all the different things I love.
He’s an actor, he does music for anime, and he’s a musician. I was like “How did I not get to meet this guy before now?” It was really cool.
Anime Herald: Any travel stories you can share?
Greg Ayres: I’ve been stuck at so many weird locations. I’m an expert at finding the unlicensed WiFi. I may or may not have spent all night at the Detroit airport watching Netflix while refusing to pay $9 an hour. I think you need to travel with a sense of humor. My friend travels with a great attitude. I asked him how. He says he just assumes everyone is having a crappy day. They love telling people “No, I don’t know who you are, and it doesn’t matter.” I travel in a track suit. It’s all about staying comfortable.
On sharing Kōji Kōda’s fear of bugs:
Greg Ayres: Only spiders. I will a set a house on fire trying to kill a spider. Now, if I could have my new dream pet, which is a baby possum, I wouldn’t have to do that because it would eat all the spiders. I’m a big possum lover.
[…] I’m not afraid of bugs. I’ve been known to pick up a roach and put it outside. But spiders, for some reason, creep me out. I got bit by a spider as a little kid. Spider bites are horrible and they swell up. What’s great about Kōda is that he’s huge and scared of the tiniest things on Earth. The thing I just noticed about Kōda: even when the whole class is smiling, he’s looks either terrified or awkward. I love how awkward he is. He’s funny and interesting.
Anime Herald: Can you give us one funny story from Ai-Kon or Winnipeg.
Greg Ayres: My first time was really weird, because I didn’t know what to expect. One of the ways I used to travel was I’d asked myself “Why would anybody want to live here?” Not in the worst way, I know it sounds bad, but if you ask yourself that everywhere you go, you try to find out things that are cool where you are. Winnipeg has a weird “college town” kind of groove. My first year there, we landed the week of the Fringe Festival, so it was like super cool and super rad. We got to see the gayest version of Romeo and Juliet. I don’t mean gay, I mean gay gay gay. Like, pink glitter gay. I guess that year there were a bunch of gay theaters, because that year there was It’s a Gay, Gay, Gay, Gay World. I was like “We gotta see this.” We saw a treatment of Hamlet. And we were only paying $4-5 dollars for each show we saw. I was like, what is this?
[…] The funniest thing about that trip was traveling to Winnipeg. I had to fly in through Calgary during Stampede season. I didn’t know they called Calgary the Texas of Canada. I leave Texas, land in Canada, and see people in Western duds with huge cowboy hats. They’re like “Howdy, welcome to Canada.” Now, if I can go that way, I’ll go through Calgary.
[…] Thanks for asking about Winnipeg. The Winnipeg people will be stoked. I look forward to it every year. Plus, that little rave is lit. That first year it was just a dark room and kids were running around in a circle because there never had been a rave there before. Now it’s wall to wall with lasers and it’s grown into the wildest party from originally being the smallest party.