Interview: Chris Patton

by Jay Levy, Sep 22nd 2003
I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with four American voice actors from some of the most popular anime out there while at Metrocon in Tampa, FL, on July 20. Their answers are virtually unedited and will hopefully give a little insight into them and their work. To get to know them better, skip to the bottom and check out their speed round answers. Now, onto the interview:

After meeting him and attending several of his panels, Chris Patton strikes me as the sort of guy who has found an excellent balance between a serious dedication to performing the best vocal work possible and having fun. The Houston native conveys his passion for getting to the core of his characters any time he talks about acting, as well as telegraphing his sense of humor the rest of the time. Take for example the live commentary on Full Metal Panic! that the ADV actors participated in at Metrocon. Patton compared the opening song to the title song from Xanadu and began a sing-along with the other actors using those words.

Patton has played quite a few major roles for ADV, including Yu Ominae in Spriggan, Yushiro Gowa in Gasaraki, Seishiro Natsume in Princess Nine, Daley Wong in Bubblegum Crisis 2040, and Shiro Sugino in Chance Pop Sessions. He currently has lead roles in RahXephon and Full Metal Panic!, as well as character work in the upcoming Super GALS.

After he attentively listened to my insanely boring explanation of why Florida law requires me to get his approval to tape record our exchange, the interview began.

Q: What was it about acting that pulled you into it?

I started acting when I was nine. I wasn't actually put on the stage by my parents. I had a real strange desire, from when I was like 4-years-old, I was always singing, and dancing, and putting on skits with my friends – much to their chagrin, they were always like, “What are we doing?” So, my parents saw all this and they enrolled me in a theater school when I was 9-years-old. Basically, that particular school was studying musical theater. So, I began doing musical theater, which led into, believe it or not, being used in the children's chorus of the Houston Grand Opera. And then from there, as I got older, I began doing more fun stuff that wasn't so stodgy.

Q: Of the parts you've played, which is the most difficult and why?

Ayato Kamina in RahXephon because ... why ... because, it's the most complex show I've ever worked on. And, for the sake of keeping all the surprises real and the acting, Matt Greenfield, the director, won't tell me anything ahead of one episode. So, I'm always in the dark. Except for acting purposes for textural study, he provides me with one episode ahead of time. Other than that, if I have questions about it, he just won't [tell me anything]; he purposefully likes to keep that character in the dark. That, combined with the fact that Ayato freaks out and screams a lot, that makes it just physically hard or your voice.

Q: Be a social commentator for a moment, what are some aspects of anime you would praise:

I think most people probably don't get this until they come to a convention, but it's kind of cool that a lot of kids who are obviously on the fringe in quote-unquote “real life” come to a place like this. I mean lot of the fans are really straight-up, normal people, but there are a lot of kids that, back in the day when I was in high school, they would have been freaks and geeks and everything. But, now, it's kind of like all those lines are blurred. I think it's because of anime growing and becoming more and more popular and the world in general evolving. You see these kids coming out that would otherwise be labeled 'whatever,' and they are sort of like the kings of all they survey when they're here. It's really their world, but, the cool thing is, even amongst the real pretty people and geeky people at conventions, there are no cliques formed. I'm kind of looking from the outside, although I walk around the hotel and hang out with kids sometimes just to talk with them and get a feel for stuff. There really seems to be no boundaries between all the fans, except for the little petty arguments they get into [he says with a laugh] but nothing major.

Also, I think it's brought a new sensibility ... even though I know in the beginning the big eyes were an homage to Disney ... but what's sort of happened is that it has kind of come full circle and Western animation has taken some cues from anime. It's kind of given Western animation more of an edge than it's ever had. Because, maybe they're taking the cinematic quality anime has and starting to infuse some of that into Western animation. So, I think it's having a positive effect on what it was based on in the first place.


Q: Nothing's perfect, though. What aspects of anime deserve some criticism?

[After a couple attempts at trying to start the answer] I think it would just be really cool if a lot of people who consider themselves hardcore fans would drop the cultural elitism. If you start to make it a war about whether Japan is cooler than America artistically then you kind of lose the whole point. You know the anime that is very much about Japan? Like, I worked on Gasaraki, and that is steeped in Shintoism and Japanese ceremony and everything, but we made it work in English. And, it plays great both ways, in Japanese or in English. I think that there has been ... though less and less ... but there has been that sort of battle between people. I know it stems from sub versus dub, but to me it grows into something bigger which is the whole Japanophile -–everything that is Japanese is cool, and they know ten words like “baka” and “yaoi” and they're all like [makes a sound like someone being impressed – ooooooh; Greg Ayres, another ADV actor, begins to laugh in the background]. You start to lose the fun of what anime is all about and how cool it really is if you start getting entrenched in all that. And, to me, that's the negative side of anime.


Q: Anime fans notoriously separate into camps, one of the most vocal being the sub vs. dub debate. If you could say something to the purists to get them to give dubbed shows a chance, what would you say?

Oh, pretty much like Monica [Rial], I agree with her totally. If you haven't listened to a dub in three to five years, give it a chance; you really don't know what you're missing. I know I started working for ADV four and a half years ago and even then I remember watching some things, just by different companies and even ADV, and thinking, “Hmmm, well ... some of this work is, like, sub par” and there wasn't much attention to lip-flappage [Reporter's note: Is that a word? Anyway, it refers to matching the actors vocal portrayal to the animation] and everything. But, oh my God, the growth has been exponential! And, the quality is amazing. I think just in the past two or three years, if you look at dubs like [Cowboy] Bebop and Hellsing and Princess Nine, and even Eva, which is now back in the day, these are dubs that are kind of turning the tide. And now, I think all across the country companies are just really starting to pay attention and care. So, I would tell then to check something out that's really new, and, then, if you still hate it, well ok, cool.

Q: Since you've been in the anime field for awhile now, give us your “State of the Anime” address – what's going on and where do you see it going?

I'd hate to get overly optimistic about it, and I used to think I was, but then I had a talk with Matt Greenfield one day. Because, I'm always – me, Greg, Monica, Luci, all of us you talked with today – we're always at ADV. There's a joke that they're going to put pillows out on the couch in the lounge for us, because we're ALWAYS there. So, I talk to all the directors, but it's cool to talk to Matt because he's the fanboy that started ADV years and years and years ago. He confirmed my belief that the industry is becoming this kind of monster. Not in a bad way; that's kind of a negative connotation. It's just so big. And, this is when Spirited Away won the Oscar, he said while he didn't see that doing much for the state of things, but, by the same token, he doesn't see the industry stopping in growth for a long time to come. He thinks it's getting bigger and bigger, and higher and higher. That's cool, of course, because even though some fans hate this, the more popular it gets the more money can go into it and the better the quality will be — it's a self-feeding thing.

I think the state of anime in general is that people care more about the quality, especially English speaking product. I think there was a time — especially if you watched the old dubs, you'll feel this – there was a time when they were just cranking stuff out. And, maybe actors were just ... maybe they just thought it was a lark to go in and make some funny voices and read right off a paper. It seems to me like a lot of the older school anime voice actors were strictly like announcer-DJ guy. Actually, I have a really good friend who voices for Dragon Ball and he is a DJ, but he's also a really good actor. He can convey an emotion and feelings. It seems like they weren't so good at that back several years ago. But now it seems like actors are really taking it seriously. I know all my friends do. I'm not saying we're like crazy, weird, annoying thespians. But, we take our work seriously.

With fandom, wow ... fandom is becoming really diverse, that's what I've seen. I just went to my first convention about a year ago. It was pretty much like the stereotypical crowd. But, just in the last year, you go and you start see all kinds, from every walk of life, from geek and freak and popular people and jock. Then like old man, and little bitty kids who cosplay – that rocks. You see everything now, whereas even a year ago I wasn't seeing that. I think everything is growing, just exploding at a really kind of scary rate. It's just getting huge.



Speed Round:
Favorite Anime Role: Ayato Kamina - RahXephon
Favorite Movie: Eyes Wide Shut
Favorite TV show: Blind Date
Favorite Book: Prey by Michael Crichton (after considering The Exorcist & Choke)
CD currently in your CD player: Fischerspooner – Fischerspooner #1
I think the most overrated thing in the world is: Sex in the City
Country I'd most like to visit: Ireland
Vanilla or Chocolate: Vanilla

This interview was conducted by Jay Levy at Metrocon on July 21, 2003. Any questions or comments can be directed to him at jayntampa (at yahoo.com).

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