Crispin Freeman: The Interview

by Zac Bertschy,
A few months back when someone calling herself the “ZelGoddess” sent an email to my weekly Answerman column asking if I knew who had licensed Slayers Premium, the latest Slayers movie, and whether or not I knew who the dub cast would be. I answered that Slayers Premium hadn't been announced yet, and that the hardcore fans didn't really care one way or the other who the dub cast would be. She mentioned that her significant other – who I now know is Crispin Freeman – worked on the original Slayers dub and she wanted to see him reprise the role. My answer was tossed off the cuff and wasn't very helpful. Someone sent me some hate mail chastising me for not being helpful enough, and I felt pretty bad about the whole ordeal. Sure enough, at Anime Expo 2002, I ran in to them by mistake. I was photographing an Alucard cos-player, along with Ms. Answerman, who had dressed as Integral from Hellsing. Seing my press badge, 'Alucard' asked me what publication I was with. I handed him my card and suggested he take a look at the website. He looks at the card and says, “Hey, I know you!” and sure enough, standing next to him was Izobel, the woman who had emailed me, and Alucard was in fact Crispin Freeman.

To make a long story short, I got to talking with the two and they had a lot of interesting things to say about the animation industry, Crispin's work and Izobel's petition to save the original Slayers dub cast for Slayers Premium.

Crispin Freeman performed the role of Alucard in Hellsing, the main character in I My Me! Strawberry Eggs as well as directing the dub of that series, Touga in Revolutionary Girl Utena, and of course, Zelgadiss in Slayers.

Zac: OK, first off, congratulations on Hellsing and I My Me Strawberry Eggs. Fantastic performances on both series and an excellent directing job on the latter.

Crispin: Thank you. I'm glad you liked them.

Zac: First, I'd like to focus on Hellsing. I was told you lobbied pretty hard for the role of Alucard... what drew you to the role, initally?

Crispin: Who wouldn't want to play Alucard! Well, I love characters who are on the edge of madness for one reason or another. I also love playing characters that are highly sexual, such as Touga from Utena. Alucard is just the most sexually predacious of any anime character I think I've played. It's also been a pattern in my theatrical acting. There was a term we had in Grad School, "The Crispin on a pedestal play."

Zac: On a pedestal?

Crispin: Basically put Crispin in some state of undress, standing on a pedestal or raised platform playing some sexually ambiguous character like Dionysus from the Bacchae or Ziggy Stardust or a club kid, and voila! You have a scene.

Zac: Did you find Alucard to be a challenging role in comparison to others you've played?

Crispin: Alucard was challenging vocally. He's the lowest pitched character I've ever had to play so far.

Izobel: I found the seductive quality of the performance more intruiging than the actual pitch at which he spoke. So many anime fans seem to be so obsessed with "matching" the Japanese seiyuu that they forget to listen to the acting

Izobel: When some people heard Crispin was going to play Alucard, they assumed it was Touga in an Alucard suit from the very beginning and never gave it a chance.

Zac: That's often the case. While hardcore fans make up a small percentage of anime purchasers, they're only happy when they're watching the raw Japanese versions. But those fans are among the ones that attend conventions and voice their opinions loudly at panels.

Crispin: Back when anime was sold on VHS, the dubbed tapes outsold the subbed tapes 10 to 1. I think the hardcore otaku are just more vocal online than the casual anime watcher.

Izobel: This is true. I just wish they wouldn't be so exclusionary. I mean, we're all nerds here. why do we have to exclude others within nerd-dom, yanno?

Zac: Well, because then we can't be elitist nerds.

Crispin: You got it.

Zac: The thing is, those hardcore fans don't watch dubbed anime anyway.. they just like to complain about it. It's a hobby, for some of them.

Crispin: Yes, it gives them a sense of importance. If they care that much, they can start an anime distribution company themselves. Constructive criticism is always good and helpful, but bitching is pointless.

Izobel: Well, as far as Crispin's Alucard goes, I've heard that even a lot of sub-watchers enjoyed the dub of Hellsing.

Crispin: I used to wach anime subbed exclusively, but now I'm willing to give dubs a chance as long as they're produced well, like Cowboy Bebop.

Izobel: It's particularly suited to an English dub, as was cowboy bebop. Both are intrinsically "western" stories.

Crispin: Yes. It gets much trickier when you're trying to dub something that's more Japanese is content or style, like Strawberry Eggs, or Spirited Away.

Zac: Moving on. The large majority of Hellsing fans, both casual and hardcore, admit that the series derails at the end and gets a wee bit silly. Did you find the process of completing Hellsing difficult, or do you disagree with the common sentiment?

Crispin: Really? I haven't seen the end of the show yet. I still haven't seen the last four episodes.

Izobel: I've only heard that the animation practically degenerates to "slide-show".

Crispin: Looks like I get to opt out of that question.

Zac: The storyline... well... let's say the manga is quite a bit better.

Izobel: Not that *that's* ever happened in anime

Crispin: Hmmm... I'm sorry to hear that. I've heard that's the case in Kare Kano too, which I did the scripts for. I've not read the Kare Kano manga, so I don't know for sure, but the anime certainly derails.

Zac: Alright. Moving on. I My Me Strawberry Eggs. What attracted you to this project?

Crispin: I was offered the opportunity to direct it.

Zac: How did that experience work out for you?

Crispin: I didn't know anything about it, I had just gotten to LA, I was offered the chance to direct it so I said yes, sight unseen as it were. It worked out well in the end, it was just very draining and a lot of hard work. Strawberry Eggs has a cast of thousands and it's very dialogue heavy, so we started crashing the computer during sessions, there was so much dialogue recorded.

Izobel: He was interested in the idea that men can love as deeply as women when it comes to teaching. even here in the west there is a "mars/venus" viewpoint that men and women are emotionally at odds with one another, and it is seldom in the professional world that men get to show their ability to be emotionally available. This also where we get "beauty and the beast" type tales where the man and woman are each "half a person". Incomplete, so that they must come together to be whole. Men are by and large not granted a woman's ability to express themselves through tenderness or vulnerability. This comes from roles taught to them from birth.

Crispin: Yes, the Beauty and the Beast myth is a very unfortunate reinforcing of gender stereotypes that I believe were made hard and fast during the industrial revolution. Men are hard and work at hard jobs, and women stay home and take care of the children.

Zac: Right.

Crispin: Fight Club is a wonderful example of men who are unable to address their emotional issues honestly and directly. They only know how to be aggressive and combative with each other to show emotion. Most women who are as aggressive in the work place are de-feminized. They're ball busters. Not maternal nurturers. It's rare the woman who can achieve both in society's eyes.

Izobel: Women are also not socially "allowed" to be aggressive or competitive. a man is a wimp if he expresses himself using any OTHER emotion than these.

Crispin: Absolutely.

Izobel: So something like Strawberry Eggs can be a good tool for teaching. It's a good stepping stone for change. Even the fact that it addresses the man's point of view is a challenge to our outdated modes of teaching. It's not really feminism we're talking about here. We believe that a lot of the problem stems from men's emotional development being neglected. They don't get the freedom or attention they need in this department.

Crispin: The woman may not feel any problem playing both roles, but others viewing her sometimes have a hard time reconciling them.

Zac: So Strawberry Eggs had some complex themes you were interested in exploring.

Crispin: Absolutely. some vital themes about gender roles and how they need to be addressed and challenged. It would be even better if it had less fanservice in it in my opinion, but if you can see past that, it does address how boys and girls can identify themselves as whole human beings, and not half of an equation.

Zac: That's great... it's good to see professionals doing it for the love of the art, not just for a paycheck. So, moving on. Do you ever get a chance to watch stuff from Japan that isn't quite out here yet? If so, what are you interested in, and are there any roles you see yourself playing?

Izobel: We like to check out what might be good in the future. We really wanted to be a part of Arjuna.

Crispin: I love Miyazaki, Kawamori, Oshii and Takahata. Those guys always hold my attention. I chase their work down. Actually I really wanted to work on Earth Girl Arjuna. I'm not sure who I'd play, but that story is really in line with my thinking mythologically. I wanted to direct it, actually. It's very complex, mythologically. We're talking about the Bhagavad-Gita here, the core jewel in the Mahabharata and the corner stone of Hinduism.

Zac: It's a beautiful series. Is there anything else out there you've seen that you enjoyed or perhaps saw yourself in?

Crispin: Honestly, not really. I've been a little out of touch since I've been in production and I'm not sure what's on the horizon that's really top notch. I've gotta get on the Ghibli dubs though. Have to manage that somehow. I don't find as much anime that's interesting right now. I don't know if I'm becoming jaded or whether the quality overall of anime is changing.

Izobel: There's some stir among the fans which is begging him to be in Gravitation.

Crispin: But in the 90s, there was so much that was so exciting, and now I'm having to look a lot harder for interesting stories. But I'd dearly love to work on my own original story with Izzy (Izobel). That's our eventual goal. To do our own work that's as sophisticated story wise as our favorite anime.

Zac: That would certainly be something to see! As the two countries move closer and closer in terms of production, you might actually have a shot at that.

Izobel: He will definitely be involved with whatever new project I'm doing while in animation school.

Crispin: By hook, or by crook, we will!

Zac: Best of luck on that one.

Crispin: Thank you.

Zac: Will you be reprising your role as Touga for the upcoming Utena release?

Crispin: Yes. I recorded Touga for the Black Rose Arc and I have every intention of doing him in the Apocalypse arc as well.

Izobel: Oh yes! he graced his fansite with the Touga "car speech" the other day.

Zac: Anime is still gaining a measure of legitimacy in the United States... if you were offered the chance to break in to what the arts community and the studio system considered to be "legitimate" performance, that is to say, major roles in television and film, would you take the opportunity and would you leave anime behind?

Crispin: Well, my first love is animation. But that does not exclude domestic animation if I think it's good. The Iron Giant is one of my favorite pieces of animation. So I want to work in animation, domestically and anime. I would rather be a voice in Princess Mononoke than an actor in American Beauty right now. I realized that a couple of years ago.

Zac: Wow.

Crispin: I don't care so much for the story telling in Hollywood at the moment. And animation offers me so much in terms of the different characters I can play. I'm not limited by my looks. Only by my talent. I was attracted to anime because of the myth logically based story telling. If live action cinema had that kind of story telling, I might not have been enraptured by anime, but right now it doesn't. Except for the Matrix. And on top of which my true love is for metaphor in story, something Hollywood misses a lot.

Zac: So no wonder you enjoyed Utena.

Crispin: You have to deal with a lot of crap in any industry to get to the good stuff, to get to do the stuff you want to do. I'm not willing to put up with the crap in on screen work because the eventual pay off doesn't matter to me. I don't want to be Matt Damon, I just want that kind of control over my career, but that's a poor reason to pursue being a film star. So I'd rather put my energies towards what really matters to me, storytelling in the most... fantastic and malleable artform I can think of, one that has always captivated me as a child and I think has incredible power for anyone who is young at heart, animation.

Izobel: Hopefully we'll be able to make money AND stay true to what we love. Anime is far from a cash cow right now.

Zac: Wonderful. So, what's on the horizon? Anything new we can look forward to seeing from you?

Crispin: Our original projects, Izzy and mine, although they may take a while to gestate. As far as anime goes, the end of Hellsing, more Cosmo Warrior Zero (gee it's nice to be in a Leiji Matsumoto show, even though I wish I could've played Harlock in the Harlock saga. What else... Finished up some bad guys in Ruroni Kenshin... And some other stuff I'm not at liberty to say.

Zac: Alright, understandable. Okay, so let's hear about this Slayers petition, Izobel. Tell me all about it. Where to find it, why you started it, the whole shebang.

Crispin: Slayers!

Izobel: Well, it's highly personal, but Zelgadis has a special place in my heart, as you might have guessed. He was the character who introduced me to Crispin's existence in the world. I've always loved animation. I was a great admirer of Gargoyles before I "discovered" Slayers. When Gargoyles went off the air, I went through "good fantasy animation" withdrawal. It seemed as if there was nothing out there to speak to my particular interest in mythology and anthropomorphized yet human characters. Slayers, though tongue-in-cheek, has remarkable character development and an interesting (read non-western) take on the whole medieval fantasy story.

Crispin: Izzy actually helped me deepen my understanding of the show from a mythological perspective in ways I'd never thought of.

Izobel: I was exposed to Crispin's voice as Zel and was amazed by the heart he was able to inject into this character who seemed to fit the "non-human" human (yes, an oxymoron) type I was looking for. At the time I was doing web animation for Mark Hamill and Next Entertainment (division of Image Comics), back when Flash was actually a paying profession. I decided to try and find out if Crispin was attending Comic Con 2k, just out of curiosity. Though I loved his voice, I was not about to fool myself into thinking he was anything like the character he portrayed. I ran across several interviews in my websearch, and something he was trying to address in each of these began to resonate with my own view of the cosmos and mythology. I ended up contacting him, and the rest is history.

Zac: Cool. And the petition?

Izobel: Well, it seems to me that the anime industry is still having growing pains trying to balance product quality with good business.

Crispin: Amen to that.

Izobel: The fact is, dubs still outsell subs, whether the hardcore fans want to admit it or not. DVD is changing that, by merging the two, but that's not my issue here. While I think that the fandom should acknowledge the demographic that is giving us the chance to see any of this in the states at ALL, I also think that there is a deficiency in the logic of some of the licensing companies who still haven't gotten it through their heads that if they produce a GOOD dub, even if it's at a higher cost initially, the wave of repeat business and higher mainstream sales it will generate will return on that investment . This is also changing, like the whole men's lib thing we were talking about earlier, but slowly. Too slowly for me to get Crispin back in Slayers. So what I was hoping to do was to give the proper authorities a li'l crash course in marketing power and in the voice of the consumer.

Crispin: I can't bear to read subs when I'm watching Cowboy Bebop because the animation is too pretty.

Izobel: Unfortunately, as you said, apathy is a big problem among a lot of anime fans, who it seems would rather complain about a bad production than take thirty seconds of their time to promote making a GOOD one. Where would our precious sense of angst-ridden community be if we didn't have dubs to bitch about? Slayers is a good place to start this argument, because even though it was produced by the same mentality which produces most of the awful stuff we hear in dubs. Somehow the miracle of chance casting and whatever behind the scenes care was put into it by the actual people doing the RECORDING, it came out exceptional. Most of the english VA's you see attending cons, the Slayers cast has a huge chunk of dedicated fan following. I thought it might work to take some proactive measures, rather than let this one slide. Add to that the fact that Premium is a ONE-shot 30 minute piece, and you have the perfect experiment.

Zac: Fabulous. Where's the petition?

Izobel: It's actually kind of amazing that it's gotten so many sigs. I've had almost no publicity and not much help outside of the fans from Crispin's fansite. But as I said before, it'll be interesting to see if consumer voice can win out on one half-hour piece.

Zac: Great! It'll be really interesting to see how it pans out.

Crispin: It's been a pleasure chatting with you!

Zac: Yeah, likewise!

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