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Interview: Maxey Whitehead

by Crystalyn Hodgkins,

At Katsucon in Maryland this weekend, ANN caught up with voice actress Maxey Whitehead to talk about her experience at her first anime convention, how she got into voice acting, and her freshly-minted role as the new voice of Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. It was her first interview since the premiere of the dub at Katsucon on Friday, and only a few short hours before it would air on Cartoon Network.

ANN: So how's Katsucon been for you so far?

I'm enjoying it very much.

Are the fans being really receptive to you?

They are. I'm a little nervous, obviously. It's kind of an interesting situation to be in.

This is your first convention appearance, so this is all a brand-new experience for you, right?

Absolutely. Mike McFarland and I were walking around yesterday, and I said, “This is completely outside anything in my reality ever before.” It's fantastic. My mom said last night, she said, “Well are there people that are dressed up?” I said “Yeah! There are, the costumes are amazing!” The time it takes, and the love and the passion that go into it, it's amazing. It's so cool that the fans have a place to go where they have the freedom to just be who they are, and play and have a good time. It's really awesome. It's been a fantastic experience. The staff here has been awesome, and I've been able to meet a lot of other voice actors from LA and New York that I didn't know before.

Did you know anything about anime before you got into this business?

I did not. I am a stage actor, and that's where my background is. I was friends with Bruce Eliot, who is a director and voice actor at Funimation as well. About a year and a half ago, he said they were getting ready to audition for Romeo X Juliet, and he wanted to know if I wanted to come out and audition. And I was like, “I know nothing about that. Zero.” He said, “Well come on, it will be a good experience.”  So I went in and I auditioned for Juliet, and I auditioned for Cordelia and I got cast as Antonio. That's where I fit. It's been great. I've worked consistently out there as primarily young boys since then, and it's been fantastic.

That leads into my next question. You do a lot of young boy roles. Antonio in Romeo X Juliet, Czeslaw in Baccano!, and now Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. How challenging are those roles for you?

It's funny because I'm a smaller person in stature in general; I've played a lot of kids on stage. I've done a lot of theater for young audiences. So that part of it was not foreign to me at all. In the last couple of years, I've played a lot of asexual characters and some younger boys on stage as well. The energy, and the feel of that kind of spunkier kid, it was not a stretch for me. Now honestly it's harder for me to tap into the more feminine characters. It's harder for me to do the sweet innocent thing as far as voice acting is concerned. That's why Ellis [in El Cazador de la Bruja] was so refreshing. She's so different and I love her.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, your latest project, is effectively a 'rehash' of the original series, with a storyline that closely follows the manga. Last time, Aaron Dismuke played Alphonse, and he was around 12 at the time. Fullmetal Alchemist is such a popular show and Dismuke was lauded for his performance in the original; were you at all nervous filling his shoes? Did you feel any pressure when you were cast in that role?

Yes, absolutely. I did not understand, since I don't have a lot of experience with anime before I started working here, I did not know the original series. So when Mike called me in to audition, I did not understand the magnitude of what I was about to get in to. So I came in and I auditioned and they usually have slides for us to read, and we go in, read them and we're done. With this one it was different. It was also very top secret. It was like talk about it and you die. That kind of stuff. They didn't want any of it being leaked. And I totally understand. So I came in and did the audition, and then Mike said: “Great, I want you to do something now.” And he played me some of Aaron. And he said, “Can you match his tone? How close can you get to the way that he sounds?” And I was like, “Oh, OK,” and I did. And then a couple weeks went by and I didn't hear anything. And I was asking around, and I said, “Have they cast everything for that yet? What's going on with it?” And they were saying “Yeah I think it's all done.” Then Mike called me in for a callback, and then I started to understand the magnitude of the show and what the situation was, and that Aaron is a man now and he can't do the voice.

So yeah, absolutely, because everyone was like: “You have no idea what this is about to do, you don't know what you are about to get into here,” and then on top of that, replacing such a beloved actor. We made a conscientious effort where I wasn't going to watch the first season. Because I know myself as an actor, and I know that if I watched it, I would have Aaron in my head. And we didn't want a mimic of him. I trusted Mike, when he said, “You sound enough like him. It's going to work and it's going to be great and they're going to like it.”

How do they produce the metallic ‘squink’ in Alphonse's voice?

It's a bowl. They have a stand that has a metal bowl that they attach to the top of it and I talk into the bowl and that gives it the reverberation, so it sounds like I'm in the armor. It's the same bowl that Aaron used. I think that Mike said originally they had tried to do it with just the effect and it hadn't worked. And they sent it to Japan and they said, well this is what we did [the bowl], they tried it and they liked it better. Mike says that he coveted that bowl. It's been sitting on his shelf in his house to make sure no one puts chips in it or decides it needs to go in the dishwasher to change the sound. It's the same bowl. It's nice to know that's the same sound.

What advice would you have to those looking into breaking into this business?

I feel my advantage is that I have a strong acting background. I went to college, not that this is a requirement, but I went to college and got a degree in acting. The difference for me is the ability to take direction quickly. For them to be able to say, “This is great, this line is good, good job, but on the third word, I need you to make more emphasis on that, and at the beginning, can you make that a little softer? And do it now. And go. Now.” And then being able to turn it around that fast and give them what they want. And working with a lot of different directors on stage and having professional experience in that area really helped me a lot. So I suggest, take classes. Any classes in acting. Stage, film, whatever it is you want to do. It's important to get that experience where you have to interact with other actors and directors – because it is a collaborative thing. Even though voice acting is different, it can be very solitary, where you go into the booth, do your thing and you leave. So, just train. I imagine that the anime fans have a much greater advantage over me that they're familiar with the genre, and I wasn't. Still, I feel, after two years, I'm just now able to go into the auditions and pick out the archetypes, say, this is the kind of voice this kind of character would have.

One last question - do you have any upcoming projects you'd like to talk about?

I'm getting ready to start rehearsals for the production of Anton Checkhov's “The Seagull” at the Kitchen Dog Theater in Dallas. It runs April to May. I'm really excited about it. I have never done this kind of theater before, it's old Russian theater, so I'm curious to see what happens. I get to play a heartier character than I generally get casted as. I have a husband in this play. This is the oldest character I have ever played. Ever. On stage, the oldest I've played is 17. I'm getting ready to start that in March. And as far as anime is concerned, we'll just have to wait and see.

ANN would like to thank the Katsucon staff, Funimation and Maxey Whitehead for this interview opportunity.

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