Interview: Lauren Landa and Erica Mendez, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranusby Zac Bertschy,
At this year's Anime Expo, voice actresses Erica Mendez and Lauren Landa were announced as the new English voice cast for two of Sailor Moon's most beloved characters, Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. Initially introduced as “cousins” in the Cloverway dub to obscure their actual relationship, over time their status as the only two openly homosexual characters in Sailor Moon would turn them into icons.
Although both women are relative newcomers in a field full of still-working veterans with 20+ years of acting under their belts, these two still pack an impressive resume. Lauren Landa (Sailor Neptune) landed roles as Annie Leonhart in Attack on Titan and as Kyoko Sakura in Madoka Magica. Erica Mendez (Sailor Uranus) can be heard screaming her lungs out as Ryuuko Matoi in Kill la Kill and as the impish Aladdin in Magi: The Kingdom of Magic. We had the opportunity to speak with the two of them fresh from their big announcement at Anime Expo 2015.
Zac: Okay so, you get to answer this question for the eight-millionth time: were you fans of Sailor Moon as kids? Did you grow up with the show? Or were you fans beforehand at all?
LAUREN LANDA: I was definitely a fan beforehand; it was the first anime I ever saw. When I found out there were Outer Senshi, Uranus and Neptune have been my favorite characters for a long, long time.
Mendez: I grew up in the Midwest so it would always come on as I was getting home from school, so I never got a chance to actually watch it. I'd catch a few things here and there but I never went back and watched it. But I am watching it now from the new dub that Viz is doing, so I'm really excited to be a part of it.
Zac: How do you like the show now? It's aimed at kids, so coming to it as an adult must be a little strange...
Mendez: Yeah it's great. It is a kid's show, but it has some subtle adult things to it. It's very entertaining. It's something I can get into, magical girls, yeah.
Zac: So you weren't quite familiar with the legacy of these characters in particular.
Mendez: No, I knew about them because I had friends that were really into the series so I would look up things, be like "oh, what do these characters look like?" But I don't know their story entirely.
Zac: But you must've known.
Landa: Oh yeah. As I've said, it has not hit me yet, that's how excited I am. When I found out I just remember being in shock almost. I was like "oh my god this is a dream role for me. What do I do?" I was so incredibly stoked and I still am, I'm so excited, but it has not hit me yet. It's kind of still hard to believe if that makes sense. This is seriously… Uranus and Neptune were always my favorite, but I identified more with Neptune, and that's why I was absolutely, so, so thrilled. will say, "is this a thing?" and I'm kind of helping her without spoiling anything for her, I'm like "yes, this is a thing, don't worry."
Zac: Right, that's fun. What was the audition process like? How long was that process? You went in and read for it and boom?
Mendez: I read from home. I think it was a month before we heard something. For the callbacks it was a month.
Landa: I want to say like two months.
Mendez: Something like that.
Landa: We were very lucky that we were able to record it from home and send in our auditions. We didn't hear back about callbacks until maybe about a month and a half later or something like that. And even then after we sent in the callbacks I don't think we heard back for…
Mendez: Another month.
Mendez: And that's when you just assume you're not getting it at that point. So when it did happen it was like… okay!
Landa: Exactly. It's one of those things where when you send in an audition and you don't hear back from them relatively soon you just kind of have to let it go. You know? That's why it was an even bigger surprise. "Oh my gosh, oh my gosh they didn't forget about me, okay!" <laughs>
Zac: Did you know it was these characters? Because a lot of times this is blind. Both: Yeah.
Zac: So that must've added another layer… The pressure must've been...
Landa: There was definitely pressure because I hold these characters so dear to my heart, but it was also a "I know how big this show is, I know how big these characters are, I can't suck." <laughs>
Zac: To that point, one of the biggest things and one of things I really wanted to ask you about is: these characters are gay icons.
Zac: They are incredibly important to a whole generation of teenagers who have these stories of "well, watching these two characters helped me realize who I am." Is there pressure? Do you feel like these characters mean more… Sailor Moon as a show means a lot, but these characters in particular. A whole generation of kids, it was really powerful for them.
Landa: So true. You know, for me it doesn't make me nervous, so to speak. I agree with you completely the characters are two gay icons, their relationship has been seen as that for a long time. You're right there's a whole generation of kids, we were just talking about this, they were thinking "is it okay for me to like a girl if I'm a girl or is it okay if I'm a boy and I like a boy?" Absolutely. There is pressure that comes with it. I just want to make kids feel like, absolutely, there's nothing wrong with it, there's nothing unnatural about it, it's how you feel, absolutely. I just want to make sure that comes across and do it justice, honestly.
Zac: In a sense you're reintroducing these characters to another generation of kids because it's not like the old show was particularly available for a very long time and now it's back in the zeitgeist, people are talking about it a lot more. While you're interpreting the character is any of this in your head or is it literally like "look I'm just going to play this character"--no pun intended-- "completely straight."
Zac: Is it just about the show, I mean is any of that in your head while you're recording?
Landa: To me, all of it is in my head. I know that it's important for kids, not even just kids, for anybody, for anybody that is having identity issues, gender identity, sexual orientation issues, they don't know where they are or whatever, and it honestly doesn't matter. Every time I think about this character that's what I think about. And, personally, I think that's good for me because if I ever feel like I'm getting lazy with the character I can just think "this is very important to a lot of people and I can't just do a half-assed job at it."
Zac: Have either of you ever worked on a show that is this long before? Because this is a marathon.
Landa: No. Most of the time, and I think you can agree Erica, most of the shows we've worked on are 25…
Landa: Yeah, 25 or 26 episodes, maybe, at the most. Nothing as long as this, which I've also thought about too.
Zac: So that must be… is it a relief then? Because the way anime is produced now, 90% of everything is 12 episodes long. You said 25, that's rare now too. Steady work like this must be a big relief.
Mendez: It's pretty nice.
Mendez: Sessions usually go pretty fast. When I recorded, I did 3-5 episodes in a session, which is about 2-3 hours.
Landa: Which is a very short recording session. Yeah, it is a relief, and it's really cool too. If I'm going to be on a long-running show, I'm gonna start with Sailor Moon.
Zac: But as voice actresses you must've noticed the shows are getting way shorter, these record times are getting way shorter, we're in and out and you'll do a whole show in a week or two weeks, something like that. So this must be a different experience. Obviously they're not working on… maybe they are working on future seasons already, but you're working on Sailor Moon S right now, right? Both: Yes.
Mendez: We just started.
Zac: Those characters stick around for the rest of the show, which is however many hundreds of episodes. So that's a lot. That's a completely different gig than most voice actors in your position get right now.
Mendez: Well Bleach is finished.
Landa: Right. But Naruto is still going on, One Piece is still going on. But yeah, it's nice to know that, even though we know there's an ending to this show, that it is a long-running show. I'm very excited.
Zac: And the characters might show up in the new version.
Landa: Yeah I'm hoping! I'm really hoping. I've kept up with Crystal and I really like it. I really, really like Crystal, it's really good. I'd stopped watching it because I wanted to let more episodes come out so that way I didn't have to wait a long time. But I'm really liking where the story's going because I'm so used to the original anime show, so this is completely new to me. I don't know what's happening, so I'm experiencing what a lot of fans are experiencing, but I'm really hoping they come in…
Zac: For you, for watching a show like this as an adult for the first time… does it kind of blow your mind a little bit that there's a show like this that was targeted at kids, but even for its time it was groundbreaking about a lot of things? Watching it, does it seem kind of alien that something like this would've been produced in the middle of the 90s, considered a children's show, but it has values that we're, even now, we're really only just embracing even in this country?
Mendez: Yeah. It's definitely mind blowing. But I feel like now is probably the right time for it to have come back because you have all these strong female characters and we're dealing with a lot of feminism right now. The gay marriage law was just passed and now we're introducing Uranus and Neptune, so it seems like perfect timing.
Zac: Did you know before that happened that you had these roles before the ruling?
Landa: Before the…
Landa: Yes we did, yes.
Mendez: I had a session the day it passed.
Landa: No way, really?
Zac: That's fun.
Landa: I wish I could've tweeted about it. Oh my gosh. But you know what? We have to keep it super quiet. We did a good job at that, but I will say: we did not have to keep it a secret for nearly as long as the other girls did. So I give them props because I was having a hard time.
Mendez: It was so hard.
Landa: But it really is perfect timing, it really is, and I think that's awesome.
Zac: So the reception you got yesterday, during the announcement, have you been through something like that before or was this a fresh experience?
Landa: I mean… what about you Erica?
Mendez: I don't know if it was fresh, but it was definitely a different caliber of it. I did another show where I played the lead and that was pretty big for me, but because of that show people are starting to get to know me more, so I did have a lot of people after this announcement like "oh my god, this is great, I'm so happy to hear you in more stuff." I've garnered a lot more fans since then, so it's definitely a different kind of…
Zac: What was that show?
Mendez: Kill la Kill.
Zac: Oh okay, different fan base.
Mendez: Totally. But I think people, because of that role, were like "oh yeah, you could totally do Uranus." Stuff like that.
Zac: Yeah. That's a leap.
Landa: For me it was… I've been in a few popular shows. I was Annie in Attack on Titan. There's a huge fan base for that. There was also Madoka Magica where I played another magical girl. That fan base, when we had a panel for that, that was a pretty big response but nothing like yesterday. Yesterday was huge.
Zac: Well you guys are mentioning hit shows. Those are some of the biggest hits of the last couple years, but it's still not like Sailor Moon. That's like saying, "I was on an episode of Louie," versus, "I played the halftime show at the Superbowl." That's the audience difference between the two, it's a huge thing. So this must be a really different experience because even the stuff you guys are talking about, those are big hits, but they're also for anime fans. Sailor Moon is Coke, it's Pepsi, it's Nike.
Landa: It really is. It definitely was a way different experience than any other premiere or announcement that I've made.
Mendez: Well I mean we got announced on the stage…
Mendez: Because for the other ones it's usually, like, things will go up on Anime News Network and that's how we know we can talk about it. <all laugh>
Landa: But this was an official announcement and we were able to actually be there with everybody and I think that was the best part.
Mendez: The coolest part, yeah.
Zac: So with regards to the show, is there anything in particular you're looking forward to doing, or have you already done it?
Landa: There is a scene that I'm looking forward to doing. It is a spoiler for those who have not seen the show. It is a very big scene for Uranus and Neptune. knows a little about it, but not too much.
Zac: Well the fans will know what you're talking about.
Landa: Yeah exactly. They'll know, they'll know. I'm really looking forward to that because that's really going to be… as an actress, it's going to be so awesome. I'm just looking forward to… I'm so excited to play this character, man, I'm in a dream state right now. I'm so excited.
Zac: Have you been snapping up merchandise?
Landa: Not yet, I couldn't, I was too paranoid to get any merchandise before…
Zac: Wouldn't want to jinx it.
Landa: I didn't want people to be like "why are you buying a Neptune figure?" and I'm like "because I like Neptune!" I was so… I'll be honest, I'm careful about every show when it comes to NDAs, but this one I was like "I don't want to jinx or risk anything at all," and so I didn't do anything. But now I can and I'm so excited.
Mendez: I'm a huge figure collector, especially characters… I collect other characters that I don't voice, but I do have a large collection of characters I do voice. So I scoped out Uranus and I do have her now. I have the FiguArts.
Zac: Right, the Bandai one.
Landa: Oh wow. Now I need to get one.
Mendez: It's really nice.
Zac: So coming off of Kill la Kill, this must be a little bit of a relief because you're not shredding your vocal cords as much.
Mendez: Yeah actually my initial audition coming off of… I mean, it'd been months since we finished Kill la Kill, but I went into the attack cries for the audition and I did them a little too intense I think, thinking that I had to do it as loud as I could because these are supposed to be iconic. For the callback they were actually like "hey, could you tone it down…?"
Zac: "Uh, she's not dying…"
Landa: She's just attacking, she's not dying yet. <all laugh>
Zac: Everything you guys just mentioned, those are shows for an adult audience. Does it change your performance at all?
Mendez: I think so. I've done a few kids shows. I was in these webisodes for Tamagochi Friends. It's definitely a different style of read that you have to do. You kind of have to talk slower, but with these more all ages shows you can kind of actually act, you know? You can give a real performance.
Zac: Oh okay.
Landa: No it's true. I think for Titan, for example, that's definitely for ages 13 and up whereas even Madoka's like 12 or 13 and up because it's super dark. But Sailor Moon, that can be for anybody. Even two year-olds can watch it. Some of the dark parts can scare them a bit, but it's these young girls who are beautiful and they transform into these beautiful costumes and they have these cool powers. Any kid can enjoy that and any adult can enjoy that and that's awesome. I mean, I think it has affected, you know, performance-wise. Pretty much what you said: it's definitely different from an acting perspective.
Zac: Can you tell us at all, have you been approached about the live action Attack on Titan? There's a lot of questions about whether they're going to dub that.
Landa: You know, I think I've been approached once or twice about it, but I have no idea if we are going to. I don't think… I don't know. I honestly have no idea. With dubbing for live action films it could go either way.It could be "wow that's actually pretty good" or it can be not good at all. So I'm not sure. But I know there's also an animated feature film coming out, so I'm crossing my fingers for that.
Zac: Well I can't imagine they won't…
Landa: <laughs> Well I would hope.
Zac: For Sailor Moon, what aspect of it has you the most excited? There's a lot of moving parts. You're part of a huge franchise, these characters are icons, you're going to be dealing with oceans of fans. What part is the most exciting for you?
Mendez: I think for me, just learning about the series. You know, I'm an anime fan so I do like looking into the shows that I do voice in. Even stuff that I'm not in, but let's be honest I really only have time for the stuff I'm in. Just learning about that and learning stuff from the fans and meeting the fans. I'm excited about everything, the entire journey really.
Zac: That's fun.
Landa: It's the same for me. I am a fan of the show, I'm excited because I'm a fan of the show, because I know what I'm going to be recording, I know, quite literally, the director will say "hey we're in this episode, this is the episode where this happens" and I'm like "done, got it!"
Zac: Oh, nice.
Landa: I'm also excited for the journey. I'm excited, again, for the fans. I'm really excited about finally doing these characters justice. I'm just so excited for the whole journey, I'm the same way. So excited for everything.
Zac: Finally, do you have a dream role? One character, if you could back, any character in anime they would cast you as that character, who would it be? ...this one? This is it? So you got your dream part.
Landa: Of course there are dream roles that I have, definitely. But when somebody would ask me this question, I would say, "well hopefully I'll get cast in the new Sailor Moon, because I would love to be a part of that, I would love to be one of the Outer Senshi." I promise, that is exactly what I've said every single time. This really is a dream role for me. Other than that? I don't know. All the other dubs that I've wanted to be a part of, they're too well done. They shouldn't be touched. This is a dream role for me. I'm on cloud nine. <Laughs>
Mendez: For me, while I do agree the original dub of this show is done really well, I'm a huge fan of Fruits Basket.
Zac: Oh okay.
Landa: <gasps> Oh, yes.
Mendez: That's one of my favorite shows and it's one of the shows that got me into anime and got me interested in voice over and stuff like that. I'd love to be anybody in that. Or if they rebooted it like Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, I'd love that, to get the full manga story.
Landa: All right, well now that you said that now I can say it. If they rebooted Fushigi Yuugi I would love to be a part of that.
Zac: There you go.
Landa: Fushigi Yuugi was, apart from Sailor Moon, one of my favorite anime shows, because I am a romantic at heart and that show was nothing but girly romance and I love it.
Zac: You gotta practice yelling "Tamahome!"
Landa: Exactly! <all laugh>
Landa: There was a part in the OVA where they played a little joke of Miaka and Tamahome saying back and forth "Tamahome, Miaka, Tamahome, Miaka," because that's all they do throughout the show. I love it.
Thanks to Charlene Ingram for giving us this interview opportunity.
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