Yesterday, I was lucky enough to interview Stephanie Sheh, a talented actress and producer in anime and video games. Her resume is extensive, and her video game credits include Odin Sphere, Tales of the Abyss, Suikoden V, and Resident Evil (she’s the current voice of Rebecca Chambers).
She’s also both produced and lent her voice to the popular anime series FLCL (Fooly Cooly), and her anime credits include Naruto, Bleach, Lucky Star, and Blood+. I also got to meet her friend Kei “K.” Yukon, who was nice enough to give her own input on some questions as well. They both even had some advice for those of us interested in voice-acting.
Before I continue, I’d like to mention that I’m going to be plugging Stephanie Sheh’s website (www.stephaniesheh.com) at the end of the interview. Feel free to visit her blog and contact her, but please understand that she’s very busy, and she’s done her best to answer any questions about breaking into the industry during the interview, so try to keep it to fan mail. And please subscribe to her Twitter and/or Facebook fanpage to show your appreciation!
(For the purposes of the interview, in addition to the obvious Q and A, there will be a K. I’m sure you all can figure out who that’s in reference to.)
Q: So, for starters, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into the industry?
A: I was at UCLA as a Mass Comm major, and my friends were working at a company called Digital Manga. They knew that I wanted to do voiceover, and they were doing an interactive CD-ROM of Tezuka’s Wonder 3. I auditioned and I got cast. That was my very first voiceover job and I never got hired to do that voice ever again. I played Shinichi’s mom, which was this big fat constanty angry woman. Normally, I play boys or young women. The CD-ROM never got finished. But then, after I graduated, Digital Manga wanted to start an anime production division. And they hired me as a producer because I had an acting background.
Q: Do you like video games and anime yourself, or is this just purely to pay the bills? What drew you to voice acting?
A: I totally like anime and video games! I’m not good at video games, although I’m good at We Cheer for the Wii. I’m good at Rock Band. I’m okay at stuff like Karaoke Revolution. Like I can pass all the songs, but I’m not awesome at it, because they are programed to be very exact, and when I sing, I like to take some artistic license like scooping or synchopating. The game doesn’t like that.
Q: What drew you to voice acting in particular?
A: Because I thought I could do it. I was an insecure actress, and I targeted anime because I thought anime actors weren’t that good, and I could at least do what they were doing. However, at the time, anime production was much different, and the quality has gone way up today.
Q: Walk us through your typical day.
A: Well, there is no typical day really. Every day is completely different. Today, I woke up, auditioned from home for my agent, drove and met with my dermatologist, had lunch with a friend, and am now meeting you for the interview. Afterwards, I hope to go to the gym, and I might have a rehearsal tonight. Other times, I have to go somewhere for an audition or I have a recording session or I meet a casting director for on-camera stuff, or I take care of my own personal business. You have to be on top of your shit.
Q: How quickly does the recording usually go?
A: It depends on the part and the show, but in general, you should be able to hit 30 lines an hour.
K: The average anime show has between 250 and 500 lines.
A: Well, it’s usually between 350 and 500 lines.
K: 250 lines would be like a kindergarten-level anime.
A: Yeah, most of the stuff I do has at least 350 lines.
Q: What’s the favorite project you’ve ever worked on? Why’d you like it so much?
A: That’s a hard question to answer because favorites always change, you know? That’s like asking yourself, “What’s your favorite TV show?” or “What’s your favorite movie?” I don’t do well when asked to pick just one thing. I have a lot of projects that I like. FLCL always has a special place in my heart, because I produced it as well as acted in it. Mamimi is such a distinct character, and I enjoyed playing her. Lucky Star was a lot of fun, and so was Hare and Guu. There is also a to-be-announced game that I can’t mention that I’m currently very excited about. It’s the sequel to a very popular game.
K: I really liked her in Tales of the Abyss.
A: I’ve been in Naruto and Bleach for so long that I don’t know what I would do if it ever ends. I’d feel lost.
K: I don’t know. Maybe it’d be like graduating?
Q: What about your most challenging project? It doesn’t have to be your least favorite or anything, but what stretched you the most?
A: Well, like I said, it’s hard to pick just one. Every project stretches you in a different way. When I was on Zatch Bell!, there was so much screaming that that was challenging. Directing Resident Evil 5 was challenging because we were doing facial capture and voiceover at the same time. There have been other projects that have been challenging due to time constraints, but that’s more production than everything else.
Q: Doing voice-acting is the dream of both talented and untalented gamers. Do you have any advice for those trying to break into the industry?
A: Be an actor, first and foremost. Sure, it’s going to help if you have range as a voiceover person, but what’s more important is that you’re a good actor. If you’re a fan, try to be as professional and easygoing as possible, but sometimes in a professional world, if you come across as too eager, they won’t think of you as too professional. Make sure that you show that you’re excited, but don’t come off as unprofessional or desperate.
K: I agree wholeheartedly with Stephanie. You definitely don’t want to make the people you work with uncomfortable. Keep in mind that it is work, not just fun.
A: It’s also business, right? Everything is a business, and as an actor, there’s a lot of business that you have to do. It’s not just me going in and making funny voices. Be early or on time, be pleasant, remember everybody’s name, be easy to schedule. During holiday time, I’m always sending over gift baskets, so people remember me. Be available, be reliable, and make sure you ask relevant questions, but not too much. If you’re going to do voiceover, make it a career. If you’re going to be an accountant, you’d get training and education as one, so as an actor, you should do the same thing. Make sure you have the training, the qualifications for the job, and the skills.
Get a resume, get a demo, get an agent, and know the industry and the people in it. Know what companies produce what; know the names of the directors. One of the things that you need to remember is that if you audition for a show, you need to know the show itself. For example, if I’m auditioning for Ugly Betty, I should use a different acting style than for Lost. Even for the same genre or for video games, figure out the tone of the project and what the director is looking for.
Q: And now, you get to plug yourself. Do you have a website or any compilation of published work? I know you’ve got your own Wikipedia entry, which is pretty awesome and something we should all one day aspire to, but is there a specific Stephanie Sheh space on the internet that you’d like to advertise?
A: Just my name, stephaniesheh.com. I have a Facebook fanpage, and I usually update all my work stuff on my Facebook fanpage whenever I have an audition or a project. I have a regular Facebook page, but it’s not career-related, so make sure you subscribe to the fanpage instead. I also have a Twitter account.
Q: Okay, we’re done here. Before I forget, is there anyone in particular that you’d like to thank?
A: I would like to thank K for being here.
K: Yeah, for showing up and interrupting. That was me!
A: I don’t know. Usually, you thank somebody for a specific thing. I am grateful to any fans and anybody who’s ever hired me and those who like my work and support. Without that, I would not be able to have this job.
And that was the interview with Stephanie Sheh. I hope you all take some time to look at and enjoy her work, and if you’ve ever played a video game or watched an anime that she’s been a part of, visit her website and subscribe to her fanpage and/or Twitter.