Interview: Greg Ayres

by Jay Levy, Oct 25th 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 20th. Their answers are virtually unedited and 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:

When I first had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Greg Ayres, I started with the phenomenally mundane question of, “Why don't you give me an introduction so I can write up a starting paragraph?” In an act that says a lot about one's character, he took his time and contemplated the question [Chris Patton, another ADV voice actor offered his suggestion for a beginning by whispering from the background “My name is Greg Ayres”]. The answer was surprising.

“I'm lucky enough to be a fanboy turned voice actor. I guess in the mid-80s or early 90s, me and a group of skater friends of mine would get together. We'd skate together during the day and watch anime together at night.”

Of course the more surprising revelation was to come in regards to getting into voice acting.

“So, I knew about anime, but, being a fan, I was a subtitle only person,” Ayres said, going on to describe dubbed anime as the tapes “... we didn't buy.”

So, how did this anime purist join the dubbing fold? It turns out that Ayres performed with Chris Patton and Monica Rial at a theater in Houston and after finding out about their work at ADV, he gave dubs another chance. Still, he never actually applied at ADV for any dubbing work until his name was given to Matt Greenfield as a suggestion for a role in Spriggan, and the rest is what he describes as “... a fanboy dream come true.”

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

My brother and I were involved in theater ever since we were little kids. I think our first stage productions were when we were six-years-old. I was very heavily involved with musical theater and, at the time, doing gymnastics. So, I got into a lot of shows because I was a kid this high that could do back flips. So, I kind of typecast into a lot of the weird shows. Then we moved to Texas. I kept doing theater, and my brother went on to do Broadway theater and has since then gone onto directing. Now I've gotten to the point where I really enjoy performing, so I don't do theater as much as I used to, but when I see a show I really want to do it's an all out war to get certain roles.

I think just the “ham” factor is why I got involved in performing; I've always been a kind of hammy kid.

Note: The following 2 questions / answers contain a spoiler regarding Steel Angel Kurumi, highlight the blacked out sections to read them.
Q: Of the parts you've played, which is the most difficult and why?

I would say, and it sounds really silly because it's such a smaller role ... actually, no ... I take it back. I was going to say Shinji Kazuma in Full Metal Panic!. I started recording that role when I was sick, so recording that role was a strain for me vocally until the first disc came out. I told Don [Rush, ADR at ADV] the other day, now that I have a point of reference, I don't have a problem getting back to this voice type. But, when I actually think about it, the boy version of Mikhail in Steel Angel Kurumi was the toughest. It was my first real role. It was a pretty interesting little character — this little blue-glowing eyed boy that walks on water and actually turns into giant female robot later. I think I was not comfortable or as comfortable then as I am now in the booth. So, it was a pretty weird role on top of getting used to the whole recording process in general. If there is any one I would like to go back and do over again, it would be that one. But, it was also a pretty tough role just in who that character was. Most of my other roles are pretty much me, they're just little scrappy guys that are short and get into a lot of trouble.


Q: But, you got to turn into Claudia Black ...

Yeah, exactly! [laughing] And, it was great! Steven kept me in the dark about that role. I didn't know that Mikhail was going to be a woman. Finally, he would let me know little bits and pieces so that I would ... 'You know, you need to have a kind of a drag queen quality' ... and I was like, what are you talking about? He was like, 'It needs to be kind of feminine. More black widow.' It was all these female references. I was like, ok, is this character going to seduce Nakahito at some point? Then it was like, 'This is the episode you're going to kiss Nakahito.' And, I was like, oh god! I knew it! Then they said Claudia Black was going to take over the role as Steel Angel Mikhail, and, at the time, I thought, Claudia Black and I sound nothing alike. And, it's so funny now, because now that I've seen the transformation and heard the work, we do have similar raspy voices.
It was pretty wild. It was a great role, though.

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

Innocence and love. That is the thing, I think, that draws so many girls into anime. I think it touches a little spot in a lot of boys that they're not willing to admit. Anime is such a cool thing not for just kids but adults to be interested in. Granted, there is hentai and there is mech, but a lot of anime is based on really solid story lines and love stories; you know, “hope.” Every time I go to a con I see girls that are just in love with these bishounen characters.

It's something I'm glad to see on the rise. As far as anime is really getting ... you know, as far as back from back in the day – and you and I are old fans so we can talk about “back in the day” – back in the day seeing good stories was really hard! Finding good shows was amazing, and when you did, you hung on to them.

But, you can buy Chobits in Wal-Mart now, RahXephon in Wal-mart. You go into Best Buy and you can buy anything from Grave of the Fireflies to wackiest, Trigun or Dragon Half. You have the full gamut. It is so much more a cool thing that people can be involved in something like anime, instead of something negative. There is so much violence and so many things, especially kids, could be involved in. Anime just seems to be such an innocent and creative outlet for so many people. And, that it's so big now, it just means it will be available to more people. Just the whole, innocence and love thing. [Reporter's note: At this point our discussion broke down into myself selling the positive aspects of Kimagure Orange Road as Greg politely nodded. We then returned to the regularly scheduled interview.]

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

I almost have to agree with Chris [Patton], but I'll be braver and go one step further: Otaku snobism. Above and beyond cultural snobism, which as voice actors I think we get a lot of. “You'll never be as good as the Japanese; the Japanese voice actors are just better,” which is really not true in all cases, in some cases it may be true. But, to me, what is more damaging to the industry itself ... and, I think of this any time I run into a young kid at a con, of when I was first getting into anime and I was in a shop. Back then, you could only buy anime in certain little places, and these were almost like you didn't want to go in unless you had someone with you, you didn't want to seem stupid, you didn't want to ask for the wrong title, or mispronounce anything. The people that ran these shops and these kids who were into anime, god forbid you say the word ova instead of O.V.A., you know, because you didn't know any better. Or, god forbid you mispronounce a title. I would see these grown men take much delight in squashing the ego of these little kids. 'I saw Gundam when it was in Japan!' – want a cookie, I mean, so what? [laughter]

It really put me off from hardcore fandom back then. I was the cool kid that watched anime but didn't want to be a part of that whole circle because it was, at the time, filled with a bunch of know-it-alls, a bunch of people that wanted to know more than the next person. And, while I think the otaku, in the sense of the word, is great – to have people that just suck in knowledge and are walking encyclopedias of what is anime or what is manga, but unless they are willing to share it in a way that is not so snobby or ‘HA HA HA HA’ [insert evil anime villain laugh] I am the otaku king!' it really does nothing for the industry. The whole point of fandom is to bring more people into fandom, and being big fan of underground music, which is really coming into its own now, just because something isn't underground anymore doesn't make it not cool. You can share your anime with the rest of the world and we'll all be ok.

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?

I'd have to have a conversation with them. I'd have to listen to them and hear what they have to say, and actually counter most of what they say. Most of what sub purists' arguments are based is mainly on older dubs, I'd say they need to watch something new. But, I would sit down and explain the recording process to them for the most part. So much about what we do is so different from the Japanese and the way they do it. I would also tell them that while I think it would be great if they would listen to a show dubbed, but I don't think the anime industry is going to depend on them watching it dubbed. I would say watch it however you most enjoy it. I think a kicker would be to find a good show, a show that was well dubbed, and have them not see it in Japanese first, and watch it from beginning to end. And, if they can get the same enjoyment and the same wonder that they get from [the Japanese] then they have to agree to never talk shit about dubs again. [laughter]

The companies that dub now ... you have Amanda Winn and Jason Lee's production company, and they love anime. You have actors like Monica, myself, Bob Bergen, Richard Cox, Laura Bailey; people that are young adults that grew up on anime. The whole dubbing side of things has changed a lot in this time period.


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 think it's rocking; I think it's going huge. I mean, walking into a Wal-Mart and seeing RahXephon? I mean, granted, it was right next to the “I Gotta Go” potty training video, but the beauty of that is Wal-Mart, I guess. I just see anime blowing up here. I see it affecting American animation. I see it giving a kick in the ass to the comic book industry, because TokyoPop is just blowing up Waldenbooks. To walk in and see Rayearth and Battle Royale, and I found out now they have the rights to Saiyuki. In Waldenbooks, you know ... manga ... it just blows my mind. Manga that kids have never been able to get translated are now being translated into English. The music ... ADV has their own music label now. Toys that used to cost a fortune, American companies are picking up the license to the new Evangelion toys. So, I don't see the industry getting smaller any time soon, and at the same time I'm totally excited about it, being the person that used to have to pay $99 for a laserdisc. It's so rad to think that I can buy all of Evangelion for under $100 in a box set now. I think it's amazing.

I think the fact that shops like Suncoast and Best Buy, who used to have one puny section that may have been part of a shelf, now have one entire row or section of their store devoted entirely to anime. I think it speaks pretty much for itself. I think it says the industry is getting bigger and there is more money, and, the cool thing about that, being a fan from back then until now, you can see how as the industry has gotten bigger the shows have gotten better. The production qualities are amazing. They can get bigger talent. It's just neat.

Speed Round:
Favorite Anime Role: Son Goku - Saiyuki
Favorite Movie: Battle Royale
Favorite TV show: Family Guy
Favorite Book: Feel This Book – Janeane Garofalo & Ben Stiller
CD currently in your CD player: Alkaline Trio
I think the most overrated thing in the world is: Money
Country I'd most like to visit: Iceland
Vanilla or Chocolate: Swirl

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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