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Interview: Crispin Freeman

by Mikhail Koulikov,
Crispin Freeman

Who he is: Voice actor, ADR director

What he's done: Chobits: Hideki, Hellsing: Alucard, Revolutionary Girl Utena: Touga, Slayers: Zelgadis, Wolf's Rain: Tsume, X: Fuuma; Scrapped Princess: ADR Director, His and Her Circumstances: script adaptation

Quotable: "I don't necessarily think of myself as that kind of dark and brooding and sort of morose...I'm certainly not that way in my personal life, but I always seem to get cast that way in anime."

To some people, Crispin Freeman may simply be the English voice of many of anime's hottest guys, but he is much more than just another voice actor. This Renaissance man can also be heard in a number of recent videogames, wrote the English-language scripts for anime such as Shamanic Princess and Witch Hunter Robin, and recently, has been punching the clock as a dub director (Strawberry Eggs, Space Travelers, Scrapped Princess). In addition, he lectures on topics like anime's mythological underpinnings, and in general, is probably one of the most recognizable personalities on the North American anime scene.

Well probably the first question is what kind of things are working on right now?

Well, we're finishing up the second season of Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex, we're in the middle of recording that, which should be on Cartoon Network sometime this fall. I finished up directing Scrapped Princess and acting in that, and that's being released right now. What else I am working on currently? I just got done working on Howl's Moving Castle, which is still in theaters right now, which is wonderful, and I think that's about it right now that I can talk about. There's other stuff that sort of comes up, but I can't really talk about it

Working on Howl's, did you get a chance to interact with any of the big-name actors working on that?

On Howl's - no, everyone recorded separately, so, I didn't get to...I got to meet the actress who came in after me, which was a very young girl, but I did not get to meet any other actors.

I know you've been doing some videogame work as well these last couple of years - can you talk about that a bit?

Yeah, it's been fun, it's just a lot of cross-over with the studios - the studios that do anime work also do videogame work, and videogame work is taxing in a different way from most anime work, because it's a lot of shouting and screaming, it can be a little tough on your cords. You have to learn how to yell and do all these attack sounds and getting killed and dying sounds in a million different ways. But it's fun - I actually got to work on one of the Lord of the Rings videogames, "The War of the Ring", and I got to play Faramir, which was great, you know, I got to sit there yelling "For Gondor!", "Ithilien!", you know, and you've just gotta love that stuff, it's awesome.

Are you doing any kind of voice work outside anime, or any kind of theater work nowadays?

I really haven't done any theater work since I left New York, except with my brother. My brother actually runs a non-profit theater company in Santa Monica called the Sight Unseen Theater Company, and I did a show with them about a year ago now, and he keeps threatening to cast me in another of his shows, but, literally, that show with my brother has been the only piece of theater I've done since I've come to LA, I've been so busy with voiceover and animation work.

One of the roles you are really known for is Alucard in Hellsing - are you excited about, or what are your thoughts on the new Hellsing OVA? Are you looking forward to it?

Well, I haven't seen it, I was at another panel, and I totally missed the trailer because I was somewhere else. It's the problem with the convention - you have to be in three places at once, but I look forward to the Hellsing OVA, but I actually haven't heard anything directly from anyone. I hope to come back and reprise my role as Alucard, but that's up to the powers that be to hire me back.

A question that interviewers have probably asked you a few times, but it invariably comes up. You've done literally dozens of roles. Which are the ones that you are most fond of, or the ones that really stick out in your mind?

I think the one that probably sticks out most in my mind is Tsume, from Wolf's Rain, and I think it's because I had a real attachment to Wolf's Rain, I really fell in love with a lot of the story, and also the production crew. A lot of the production crew - a lot of the same production crew that world on Wolf's Rain - American production crew, for the dub - they also worked on Cowboy Bebop, and I was actually in New York when I first heard the Cowboy Bebop dub. I was doing anime work out there in New York, and I so admired the level of professionalism and the level of work on that show that I desperately wanted to come out and work with those people. And Wolf's Rain was finally my chance, and I really fell in love with the character of Tsume. And especially as the show went on, because I'm a sucker for mythological storytelling, and because so much of Wolf's Rain was steeped in this sort of almost Hindu cyclical worldview - the world coming to an end, and these sort of archetypal heroes going on this journey.

I absolutely fell in love with it, and I would find myself even just watching the show, without even acting in it, before we got to do the dub. I would just find myself being moved to tears, and I almost didn't know why, and I know the director and I were bonding over that a lot as we were working through the show: "Oh, did you see the next episode we're about to do, it's so great, oh my God, I was in tears, it's so wonderful!" So, I know that the last four episodes of Wolf's Rain, which I think is usually considered the OVA, which are very sad - there's a specific scene of Tsume that most people know about, a famous monologue he does, and the producer, the American producer here, when they were watching the mix-down to see how it came out, said I moved him to tears. So I thought that was pretty good, and that's probably it - Tsume right now is way up there as one of my favorites.

Are there roles that you really did not like, or any times when you had to voice someone you were really not happy with, either because of the character or because of the difficulty?

No. Actually, what's wonderful about being out here in LA, is thbecause the dubbing community is such a small group of actors, many times studios want to cast against type. They're like: "Yes, we know, Crispin, you can do the dark scary voice, now we want you to do this crazy voice in Please Twins, you know, and now play this sort of fey coming-on-to-your-best-friend character, now let's turn you around and throw you in Chobits and have you do the crazy Hideki character and whatever. It's wonderful. The only time I get in trouble is if I choose to do a voice - they give me a character, and I decide on a voice, and it's too hard for me to do. In Photon, the Galactic Emperor in Photon, I came up with this really great dark scary voice...and after ten minutes, I couldn't speak any more, it was so hard on my throat. So, I get myself in trouble, I don't need anyone else, but no, I love however people cast me.

That was almost my next question. Some people think that you are typecast, as you did quite a lot of similar characters. Is it difficult to do all the different things you're doing now, between the voice work and the videogame work and the ADR work? It is difficult to keep on switching mindsets?

Well, it is difficult to switch back and forth between being an actor and a director, because as an actor, you show up for your little bit and they can usually move you around to different places, and you show up usually for a maximum of four hours, which is the longest a recording session would be, and even if they need to split it up, maybe they can fit you into the schedule. But a director has to be there from the beginning to the end. So when I was directing Scrapped Princess, if we had to do a week and a half, say two weeks of recording to do a volume, I had to be there every day, the whole day, and that makes it very difficult for me to act in any other types of shows. So everyone else who I had to do shows with - I'm scheduling them late at night, I was like, "please, can we do it on a weekend", "do you mind if we postpone it till I'm done recording this volume." So that's really the trickiest thing - switching hats between director and actor...and then I was crazy enough to switch hats between director and actor *within* Scrapped Princess, because not only was I directing it, I was acting one of the parts too, and that's a real sort of jumping back and forth between the left brain and right brain to be able to do that, because it's never good to be directing your acting while you're in the booth. You need to try to be in the moment when you're in the booth.

Eric Sherman at BangZoom was helping me, and he would come in and direct for me when I had to play Shannon for most of the first half of the show, and then as it went on later in the show, he said "I think you got it, I don't think you need me any more." But even when Eric left, it took me much longer to record Shannon, because I would record it, and then I would get out, and after we'd recorded the volume, I'd listen to it and say "am I really happy with it? I need to go on and do some pick-ups." It's a lot faster when I'm outside the booth, and the actor's in, and then I can tell them right now: "do it again, do it again, that's great, we can move on."

Are you looking to move more into the production side of things, or the directing side of things?

Absolutely. Although directing for anime and script-adapting for anime is VERY time-consuming, and it's hard actually...a buddy of mine that does a lot of it actually threw out his back because he's hunched over the computer so long - literally, the muscles in his back spasmed. People don't realize, I actually blew out my hands once when I was working on Boogiepop Phantom and adapting the scripts - I got this sort of carpal tunnel tendonitis in my hands. So there comes a limit to how much work you can take before the body starts to shut down on you. But I'm actually looking to do my own original work, I'm actually looking to do original productions of things. I love anime, and I love working on it, but I'm not so happy with the state of American animation, and I think it's about time more people did something about it. So as far as I'm concerned, I want to do something to change the state of American animation.

What kind of things - original productions, developing your own shows, or what?

Yes! Working on developing my own shows, whether it be film ideas, series ideas, videogame ideas, but basically, trying to build...I'm in the process now of building a team and creating a network of people that I know, so that I can get some projects started and off the ground. As with most things, everything stays on simmer for a very long time, and then you get that green light, and then everybody has to run like mad to try to get the production running. So I am in a similar phase now, trying to get all the ducks lined up in a row before we can charge forward.

Are there any project ideas you can talk about?

I can't, really, because that's, all that's confidential.

Are there any characters out there right now that you'd like to voice, or any sort of "dream roles" that you've got?

It's very funny, because on Wolf's Rain, initially the character I wanted to play was Kiba. He was the one that I found I most actually identified with. I really identified with the strength and passion of Kiba's convictions, of his focus, of his belief, of his clarity of visions. He knows that there is a better way for things to be, and he refuses to give up until he accomplishes that, and nothing can stand in his way. And I really admire that, and I really identify with that, and that's the sort of thing I want to be. And it was very funny, because when I auditioned for it, I thought, "you know, I'm probably going to get Tsume, that's probably how they're going to think to cast me." And initially, I was like: "No, please, let me play Kiba, it'll be great!", and then they wanted Johnny as Kiba, which was of course great, and me as Tsume, and that's like, "OK, yeah, that makes sense", and then as we went on, I was like "Yeah, I should definitely play Tsume, that's definitely who I should be working on", and it's just funny, because I don't necessarily think of myself as that kind of dark and brooding and sort of morose...I'm certainly not that way in my personal life, but I always seem to get cast that way in anime.

Literally, the only dream character I still wish I could have played was Alen Schezard from Escaflowne. I mean, that was the first character I saw in anime, and that was before I was working in the industry, and I said "God I would be good at that character, that's totally my character, I totally need to play Alen" - and unfortunately, I never got to work on that, but between Touga in Utena and Shannon in Scrapped Princess, and Shannon is played by the same Japanese voice actor who played Alen Schezard as well. So, I've certainly hit that type, and I'm actually very happy to have played Alex Rowe in Last Exile because as far as I'm concerned, he's sort of an updated Harlock, and Captain Harlock was one of my absolute favorites as a child. So I got to play a sort of modern Captain Harlock...Gotta love that!

Have you had a chance to meet any of the Japanese voice actors who voice the same roles as you do in English?

You know, that's a good question. I haven't, actually - I haven't met that many Japanese voice actors. I end up meeting a lot more of the creators and directors and composers - I met Yoko Kanno, I met Shinichiro Watanabe, I met Ryo Mizuno from Lodoss War, but actually the only...well, I met the woman who plays Naga in Slayers, in the Japanese, I can't remember her name off the top of my head, and then Seki-san I just met personally yesterday - yesterday or the day before, when I was hosting his panel. But I haven't. I know, I've heard that the same guy who plays Spike in Japanese also plays Togusa in Ghost in the Shell, which I found funny because a good friend of mine plays Spike and of course I play Togusa, and I'd love to meet him at some point, I'd love to meet Miki, but no, I haven't met them yet. I don't know what we'd do - we'd do like, duelling voices at each other or something, it'd be funny.

Are you surprised at your popularity as a voice actor, and the fact that so many people recognize you, and are fans of yours both as an actor and as a person?

Oh, I'm absolutely surprised! I mean, you know, I think it's surprising to everybody, it's surprising to my family, I mean, it's surprising...they go oh, America, cartoons tend to be so marginalized, especially if you're over the age of twelve, they can't believe you're still watching cartoons or animation, and it's really sad, and it sort of depresses me. It's not the case in Europe or even in Japan. A friend of mine just came back, she was studying to be an animator, and she was studying in a school in France, and she went to the big animation festival there and she said: "You have to go to this festival. I've never been in a place where animation is so respected as at this festival, and everyone comes and totally respects it as cinema. It's not just something for kids, it's not just something to sell toys." And that's the problem in this country, and I want to work to change that. So, yeah, it always surprises me. When I tell people that I have a Yahoo fansite with over eight hundred members, I mean, people just scratch their head and go "and who are on this fansite, are they all twelve?" And I'm like, "no, they range from age twelve to in their thirties, they're fans of all ages, because it's film, it's just film that happens to be drawn a frame at a time, that's all."

But yeah, it always surprises me, but it's wonderful, I'm glad people enjoy my work, and hopefully that inspires both the industry and American culture to be more broad-mindred about animation, to be more accepting about different types of story-telling in animation, because that's really what's killing American animation now, it's that it's so difficult to tell a story with heart, where something is at stake, and Brad Bird talks about that with The Incredibles, he says, you know, it's not impossible to put characters in an animated film in danger, to have something at stake, it's absolutely true, and yet he gets criticised because they're shooting bullets at the kids in The Incredibles, and it's like, well, it's a superhero story, you have to sort of go there, and my absolute favorite scene in that movie is when they are in that plane, and the missiles are closing in, and you're thinking: "well, they're gonna get out of this, there's gotta be some way they're gonna get out", and you realize "they're not getting out of this, there's no way out of this." That scene still...I just get goosebumps every time I watch it.

I get goosebumps every time I watch Kiba run up the side of that hillside when that tank robot is shooting at him, and the bullets are chasing him up the hillside, and he's just running up into the moon - I get chills watching that. I mean, that's what I want to see in my entertainment, that's why we watch a story. We want to be moved emotionally. We don't want to buy toys - we want to be moved, and so that's what I want to see in my animation. That's what I want to see in American animation. That's the kind of animation I want to work on.

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