Interview: Bryce Papenbrook

by Bamboo Dong, Mar 29th 2014

We had the pleasure of chatting with Bryce Papenbrook, who was recently announced as the English voice of Eren Jaeger from the heavily anticipated anime series, Attack on Titan.

Previous roles for Papenbrook include Kirito from Sword Art Online, and Rin Okumura from Blue Exorcist.

Part 1 of the TV series will be released in North American on June 3 from Funimation as a standard Blu-ray and DVD combo pack, along with a Limited Edition, and a special Collector's Edition. The Collector's Edition will retail for US$128.98 and include 104 minutes of on-disc extras, a 3D lenticular art card, 24-page "Notes From Beyond the Wall: Part 1" booklet, four military emblem pins (Military Police Regiment, Scout Regiment, Garrison Regiment, and Cadet Corps), a replica of Eren's key necklace, and a sword necklace "featuring the Titan flesh paring blades." The Limited Edition will retail for US$89.98 and contain the on-disc extras, the 3D lenticular art card, and the booklet.


How did you react when you got the phone call?

I was excited just to be able to audition. I was a fan of the show before I heard they were dubbing it into English. I was watching it as the episodes were coming out in Japan, so I was really lucky to be able to audition. I talked to Patrick Seitz about the show, and when he received the audition, he reached out to Mike (McFarland) and asked if he could forward the audition to me. Mike said, "Sure! I'm opening it up to everyone out in L.A." and all over the place, because he wanted to get a nice diverse cast for the show. So, he sent it over to me and I read for Eren, Armin, and Levi.

Having never worked at Funimation, I thought I didn't have too much of a chance of getting cast in anything. It's always competitive no matter what show you're reading for, but especially for a show like this, I thought, "It's a real long shot, but maybe I could be eaten by a titan or something." That'd be good enough for me.

I got the call, and tried to play it real cool. I was like, "Yeah… I could make that work." And when he asked if I could start recording next week, I said, "Yeah, yeah, no problem, I can make it out there. That'll work fine." The second I got off the phone, I was jumping up and down and celebrating. It was the best feeling ever.

I can't even imagine. That's huge news.

Yeah, especially because I was a fan of the show far before the show was going to get a dub. I think for this show, it was kind of an advantage going into the audition because I really understood the character. I kind of knew what the intensity would be. Normally if you see a script that says, "scream," you'll scream, but when you see Attack on Titan screams, it's a different kind of scream. Just to prepare for the audition, I went out and bought soundproofing for my booth so I could really scream bloody murder and not have my neighbors call the cops. I think they still heard me. I could barely talk after the audition.

Even though you also auditioned for Armin and Levi, do you think you're more of an Eren?

I think all three of the characters are really interesting, and it would've been fun to play Armin or Levi if I didn't get chosen as Eren. I think Mike's choices made a lot of sense. When you see the dub and you hear Josh (Grelle)'s performance as Armin, and Matt (Mercer)'s performance as Levi, I think the casting choice was really spot on. Those guys sound phenomenal.

As far as me getting cast as Eren, I had a number of people come up to me and say, "you should play Eren in Attack on Titan" and I would just kind of laugh, and say, "haha, I don't get to choose who I play. It's not up to me." Of course, I'd love to be in the show, and I've love to play the lead in the show, but I don't just get to dictate that.

But as I was working on the show and really getting into the character and finding what Eren's voice should be, [Mike] would play things back, and I would say, yes, if it was in English, that's how I imagined Eren sounding. I think it was a good casting choice. Could other people have played it? I'm sure Mike could've selected a lot of other talented actors that could've ran with the part and done amazing as well, but I'm very happy that he chose me.

Especially coming off my year last year with Kirito in Sword Art Online, it's very unexpected to hit another big show, especially to get a lead in another big show. But I think playing leads on shows like Blue Exorcist or Sword Art Online, where the characters are very emotional… running with those leads has prepared me for this new lead. I feel I continue to grow as an actor every time I step into the booth.

I'm just excited because this is so different from my other characters. Even though Eren is in the same age range and has a similar vocal range, he's still very different than any other character I've played. Mike definitely pushed me to different places than I've ever been. It's a very raw sound. Some of the noises he pulled out of me were just disgusting. I loved it. I loved every second of it.

You mentioned the differences between Kirito from Sword Art Online and Eren from Attack on Titan. Can you be a little more specific about your approach for Eren in ensuring he was his own character?

Eren's personality is very different from Kirito. Even down to his scream, and the way lines are delivered. He kind of lets his emotions get past him. What I mean by that vocally is that I would scream so loud as Eren, my voice would crack. You can only scream so hard until your vocal cords tell you, alright, you're done. At that point, you hear your vocal cords start to crack and break. That's Eren's scream. Kirito's screams were super powerful, but still under control, and almost stronger as he was screaming and attacking. I think maybe there's more confidence in Kirito's screams than Eren's screams. Eren is just angry. That's what I was thinking as I was playing him. Especially in his emotional scenes. I just wanted anger to come out, and for people to hear that anger. I got home, and I was still angry from sessions.

Were you channeling any past experiences for that anger, or just pulling it from the show, and seeing things that happened to Eren, and facing the titans?

It's hard to say. I did a little bit of both. When I'm in the booth, I really get in the moment. I draw on whatever I can. No specific moment comes to mind. I don't know what I was doing, I just made myself angry.

Also, we were listening to a lot of metal. Mike really likes listening to hard rock and metal music, so I felt like I was a metal singer when I was in the booth. I really was pushing down into my throat for a lot of things, and finding different places that I could get my voice to. I've never been pushed there before.

When you say he was able to bring out noises you haven't made before, can you give some examples of scenarios in which those noises would erupt?

Well, there are certain times when Eren is just so emotional and talking about wanting to slaughter all the titans, and just kill them all. You can see in the animation that he's just so passionate and so, so angry. There was just something about this character that forced me to make some of those sounds. Without going into too big of a spoiler, things that happen with Eren throughout the story, I portray all the way through.

There were really three different kinds of voices I used for Eren. The story starts off with Eren as a kid, and I portray Eren as a child, and Eren as a young adult. That was a different voice, a deeper voice. We'll just say that there's also a third type of voice, which was different from anything else. I recorded all three of those, and especially with the third one, there were noises that were required that were just disgusting and nasty. Also, the damage that this guy takes and how much Attack on Titan shows in terms of violence is like no other anime I know… people getting torn apart, and shredded up, and eaten. It just shows everything, losing limbs, and just imagining the pain that these people would feel… Trying to create those sounds, Mike wanted something that was authentic and just nasty.

Most of the time, when I deliver a line, I want it to sound nice and clean. I did the opposite for this. I let spit and saliva get in my mouth and dirty things up. I brought my throat into it. I think that all added to the performance.

Eren goes through some... personal transformations.

That's a good way of putting it.

Can you maybe give a specific example of something that Mike said right before one of those scenes? How did he pull out that third Eren?

We sort of just found it. We played around with some things, and we ended up pushing that voice much, much deeper than my normal speaking voice, almost like a Batman-esque kind of Eren. When you listen to the Japanese version, that was of course the start of it, the inspiration for it. But I feel like we pushed it even further and darker and nastier with some of the things that we did. I really like how it came out.

I know one thing Mike absolutely wanted as far as the screaming… he said he liked when he could hear my voice break. He made sure all my screams, when it was needed, that we would scream until we got the right break and the right sound for the scenes.

The following paragraph contains a spoiler for Episode 24. Please highlight the text to read.

There's kind of a funny story… there's one scene towards the end of the show where there's a pole going through Eren's body. And of course, being Eren, he doesn't pull that thing out the right way; he goes all the way through it, and he's screaming as he's pushing the thing through his body. That scene came up. We took lunch right before it. We went to this burger place in Dallas called Mooyah Burger. I got a giant burger. Mike and I decided to share a large sweet potato fries, which is normally for three to four people. I finished my burger and this massive tray of fries. We went back to record that scene. We get ready, we view it, I say, "okay, I'm ready, let's go."

I scream and I come up short. He says, alright, needs to be longer. We try, come up short again. Try again, not intensive enough. Try again, come up short again. I say, "Mike, can we move on and come back to this later?" We come back the next day, and the first time I try it, I got exactly what he was looking for.

I was thinking about it, and I was so full of hamburger and sweet potato fries that I couldn't get enough oxygen into my body to scream that intensely.

I was worried you were going to say you threw up all over the mic.

Fortunately, all the burger and sweet potato fries stayed in my body. That was part of the problem; they were just taking up too much room. I physically couldn't get enough oxygen into myself to make those noises.

How far along in the series are you?

I'm totally wrapped with the first season. I've been secretly going out to Dallas without anyone knowing. I've done my absolute best to keep this a secret until it was announced last Saturday. They told most of the cast except for me. I had to wait just as long as everyone else to start talking about it, so everyone was like, "When are they going to tell us who Eren is?" and I was like, "When are they going to tell everyone I'm Eren?"

I made sure not to tell anyone I was going out there. I never posted anything on social media. I met a lot of Texas actors and folks from Funimation while I was out there. I said, "you guys can't even add me on Facebook or Twitter or anything until after the announcement because I don't want to give any hints that I'm working on this show."

Attack on Titan is probably one of the most highly anticipated releases to come out in a long time. Are you up for the pressure and the scrutiny?

Yeah. When negative reviews come in, or people don't say the nicest things online, I think it just shows that you're moving up in the world, and you're in front of more people. But the positive that comes in, it's so much more than the negativity. I was a little nervous about the initial announcement, but when I heard things were positive, and I started getting all these messages from people who had heard the first couple of episodes and told me I had nailed the role and that things sounded good, I was so excited.

The show has a similar buzz to Sword Art Online. The announcement of that was one of my favorite memories. Just hearing the crowd get excited for me was amazing. I think I've gone through something similar before, and I'm absolutely up for it. I can't wait to see what the reaction is, and to see everyone who hears the show and hears my work. I really, really put everything I could into this. Not only did I watch this show in Japanese before I auditioned, but I watched the entire show again before I recorded. Going through it with Mike—Mike had seen it multiple times and put hours and hours of research into the show. I think when two people are that passionate about something and put everything into it, you get a great product.

There are a lot of other talented people over at Funimation. The entire crew who worked on the show sounds amazing. The engineers and the guys who mix it did a phenomenal job with everything I've seen so far. It's just a recipe for success. I'm absolutely ready to see what people think. I'm excited. I'm really, really excited.

Speaking of Sword Art Online, are you excited about the new series?

I am so excited. I seriously cannot wait. Of course, I know nothing about when it's coming, or if it will even have an English dub. I assume it will because of its popularity. I hope the US audience demands an English dub, because I want a light saber! The concept of Sword Art Online 2 sounds so cool, and I really hope it comes sooner rather than later. I'm so ready for it.

Incidentally, I was browsing the Internet a while back, and there were all these threads that pitted Eren against Kirito. When I saw the dub cast announcement for Eren, I thought it was surely some kind of beautiful coincidence.

People have sent me pictures of Kirito cosplaying as Eren. At the time, I could only laugh and say, "that's really cool." It's interesting how that worked out.

Who would you pick to win in a fight?

Inside a game, obviously Kirito would win, because he has God Mode running at all times.

But Eren has crazy mode running.

That is true, but I don't see Eren as much of a gamer. I think in real life, Kirito is strong-willed and passionate, but I think Eren would slice him up in real life. He's just too crazy.

Speaking of current projects, you're involved in something called the Fandom Society? What is it, and how did you get involved?

I started with the Fandom Society because of my buddy Dante Basco. I met Dante at a con, and we hit it off right away and became friends. I think the idea started because he threw a birthday party and called it a cosplay birthday party. Tons of people showed up and had an amazing time. Dante said, "I want to do this again. I just want some place that I could just hang out with fans and cosplay and have fun."

He came to me with the idea, and I thought back to my experience at conventions and thought about the times that I really enjoyed. Just the times when you can just kind of hang out and have conversations with people. And seeing amazing cosplay. Those are the times that I love.

I've never cosplayed before and I just have so much respect for people who do such an amazing job at it, and who make their costumes, and spend so much time. I love it. When Dante came to me with the idea, I said, "I absolutely want to be part of it." It sounded like fun to have an event in Hollywood and throw a cosplay party, Hollywood style. Out of that came the Cosplay Ball. We have the Supper Club in Hollywood, which is such a kickass venue. It's going to be so, so cool. It's an amazing spot to throw this. It's going to be such a good time to be able to just hang out, and have a night with the fans. We're going to have some DJs, and aerialists, who I think will be in cosplay, and some other special guests that are coming. I heard AJ Rafael will be there; he's a Youtube singer. I just cannot wait to see who's there.

Do you plan on doing this more often, or possibly in different cities?

We have a lot of plans and ideas for Fandom Society and for the Cosplay Ball. We definitely want to see who shows up to this one, and how this first event goes. I can absolutely see it happening all across the country. We'll have to wait and see though.

Are you going to cosplay?

You know, I've been so busy recording that I haven't put a cosplay together yet, so I don't know if I'll be able to do it justice on this first one. I know that Dante has been putting together some cosplay, and he has something really cool planned.

Who else is involved in this event?

Giancarlo Volpe will be there. He's an incredibly talented producer and director. He told me a story about when he went to (San Diego) Comic Con and how some of the parties there were not really for the fans, and he wanted to be part of something that would really celebrate fandom, and not separate the actors and people who are part of making these games and cartoons, with everyone who loves the fandom. A lot of us working on these shows are part of the fandom ourselves. I talked earlier about how I was such a big fan of Attack on Titan before I got to work on the show. I love the show, and I'm such a big fan of it.

When I see the cosplay of it, I'm just blown away. I've seen so much Attack on Titan cosplay, and I haven't been able to go up and talk to people about it and take pictures with them because I've had to keep quiet up until this time. Now this is my first time to really hang out with Attack on Titan cosplayers, so I'm really hoping to see some titans floating around.

You can totally buy the jacket. You have enough time before the event.

I might be able to, but I haven't told you how busy I am recording new stuff.

So there's new stuff.

There are always auditions, and I've been in the studio recording almost daily on other projects. Stuff I can't talk about yet. The stuff I can talk about is Tenkai Knights, which is a really fun show on Cartoon Network. If you haven't seen Tenkai Knights, that's one to check out.

What kind of secret projects are you working on? Anime? Video games?

I'll just say, a little bit of everything. You'll just have to wait and find out.

You've had a crazy year!

I had my best year as a voice actor last year. This year, I'm already set to beat last year.

What's next? Where do you want to go?

You know, there's no way of knowing what's next. The sky is really the limit. That's the crazy thing about this industry. I can be super busy this week and next week, but when I wrap on certain things, I could be done. I might never book anything ever again, or maybe I'll book an original animation series for Nickelodeon or Disney, or maybe I'll book more anime, or a video game. I'm just very thankful that I can do this, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to work and make a living as a voice actor. I just hope things keep going the direction they're going.

I would imagine this would open a lot of doors.

Yeah, I hope so. I really do. Even if it doesn't, I'm just excited to be a part of it.

Any last message for your fans?

Check out Attack on Titan, which comes out June 3 for the first set. Definitely watch it. You will not be disappointed. And come hang out with me and Dante and Giancarlo and some of our other guests at the Cosplay Ball. It's Thursday, April 3, starting at 7:30 PM, at the Supper Club in Hollywood. You can get your tickets at FandomSociety.com.


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