Interview: Vic Mignogna

by Jacob Chapman,

As Digimon Adventure tri. reaches its conclusion, we joined Vic Mignogna, the new voice of Matt Ishida, to discuss his nearly twenty-year career in anime voice acting and how the industry has changed since he started.

So Matt Ishida was originally played by Michael Reisz, whose role was recast along with a couple others from the original Digimon Adventure. So how did that come about? Did you audition, and does this sort of thing happen very often in voice-over, from your perspective?

Vic Mignogna: First of all, I mean Digimon is a very popular and well-loved series. There are a lot of people out there who grew up on Digimon and have great affection for the show. So when I found out that they were going to be doing more, and the studio that was producing it contacted me, I was very honored to be a part of it. I didn't know the original voice actor, but I was completely excited about the possibility of stepping into the role. That doesn't happen to me very often, I think I was just chosen because the producers felt like I sounded a fair amount like the original actor. Of course, they don't want to jar the audience too much, they want it to pretty much be as people remember it. So that's how I ended up getting the role of Matt, but it hasn't happened to me very often. There are very few times that I've stepped into a role that someone else originated.

In the case of Digimon specifically, since you didn't have to audition for the part, did you have to do any research on the character or flip through old episodes, or did you just trust the director to tell you what's going on?

I just basically leave it in the director's hands. I'm working on eight or ten different projects at any one given time, so I didn't spend a lot of time researching or anything. I basically went into the studio and let the director and producers tell me about the character, play me some references, and then off we went.

So coming into these movies, Matt's had something like 100+ episodes to be established as a child character. What was your perception of the character as he is now, and what was your first priority in trying to depict who this person is as a young adult?

Just getting a sense of the character from the director and the background that they gave me, and then of course interacting with the other characters, getting a sense of Matt's dynamic with the team and his Digimon, what his role is in the group—like I said, my main goal was to maintain the original sound, so the audience won't feel like it's too weird and different and new, but to respect the original series, so the viewers aren't jarred too much by the new voice. Y'know, what I kind of like about Matt is that he's kind of cool, kind of a loner, keeps to himself. I really like characters like that. Him having a cool personality and being kind of a loner is something that appeals to me.

How so?

Well, just because I like those kinds of characters. I think they're interesting to play. Obviously he's got a strong commitment to his friends, but he's a little bit secretive, he's kind of a loner. So I like that kind of character, because they have more of a complex backstory usually, they tend to be a little more interesting.

So how they're expressing themselves to the other characters or the audience isn't necessarily the same as how they feel, they don't wear their heart on their sleeves. So you get to play with nuances, is what you're saying?

Right. And if I'm not mistaken, Matt's parents were divorced, and my parents were as well, so I can certainly share that connection with him as well.

Yeah, that was a major part of his character before the movies took place, and as of Digimon Tri., it seems like he's better accepted that aspect of his life, and so he focuses on transferring that pressure over to his group of friends and keeping the peace there.

Exactly. Probably because of his parents' break-up, he second-guesses himself, and he's a little bit insecure or uncertain of his own value and his own self-worth. So I think he takes a great deal of stock in his friendship to the others, protecting and supporting the group.

There have been a lot of public screenings for the movies so far. Have you been able to attend any of those, or do you plan to in the future?

You know what, I have not had the chance to attend any of those. I would very much like to, but I haven't had the chance to yet.

So at this point, it's been almost twenty years since you first started voice acting for anime and video games. Looking back on that, how have your thoughts on voice acting changed since you first started in terms of the kinds of projects you're taking on now and what you look for in a job? You have a pretty storied career compared to a lot of the people who are voice acting in anime now, so I would like to know your perspective on how things have changed.

I'll be honest with you, it's changed a great deal. When I first started, there were only a handful of anime series that were in the mainstream. You had Pokémon, Digimon, Dragon Ball Z, and even when I was a little boy there were a handful of anime like Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion. But for the most part, there was not a lot of anime in English. When I first started, I never imagined that there would be as big a fanbase out there as there ultimately was. Over the years, I have been so deeply moved and humbled and deeply honored to be a part of the industry, and to find out that the voicework we've done over the years has come to mean so much to so many people. For me, when I was a little boy, Star Trek was the thing that inspired me, that gave me so much creativity and sparked my imagination. I revered and admired the actors in that TV show so much, and it's so humbling and a little surreal to go to anime conventions now, as a voice actor for 20 years, and have fans come up to me and share similar feelings for my work that I remember feeling for the actors in Star Trek when I would go to conventions as a little boy, to meet those actors and to tell them how much their work meant to me. I'm sure that when William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, or DeForest Kelley went into the studio every day in 1966 to play Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy, they probably never imagined that all those years later, they would meet thousands of people who would come up to them and say "Your work on this show got me through a very dark time in my life", or "Your character helped me get through a very difficult situation", or "I became a scientist" or "I went into the military" or "I became a doctor" because of watching your character. They never would have imagined that would happen decades after they were shooting Star Trek, and for me it's exactly the same. When I started voice acting, I did the best I could, because I wanted it to be good and I wanted people to enjoy it, but it never occurred to me, at the moment we were doing it, that years later I would meet people who grew up on my voicework, whether that was Dragon Ball Z or Fullmetal Alchemist or Ouran High School Host Club, and that my work would mean as much to them as someone else's work meant to me when I was young. So my perspective on the industry now is that it's terribly humbling to be part of it, and to know that the work we do means so much to so many people.

Well, a lot of those roles are coming back now too. You've played Edward twice now, and Broly keeps coming back as well in video games and whatnot, but even some of the smaller things I think are returning. This season, they brought back Full Metal Panic! after over a decade.

Yes! Can you believe it? So is Saiyuki, which was a show from way way back. It's so funny, when I went in for my first Full Metal Panic! IV session, they actually played me a reference of what I did as Kurz Weber 15+ years ago, and it was so weird to hear my voice recorded back then. When I recorded those lines, I had no clue where this anime voicework would ever lead me. It's humbling, that's the word that keeps coming to my mind, because I never would have imagined it would have led to the things it has.

So what's on the horizon for you right now? What have you worked on recently that you'd like people to know about?

Well, I'm working on several shows right now. I'm working on Bungo Stray Dogs, I'm working on Twin Star Exorcists, and I just directed a series from Funimation called Juni Taisen: Zodiac War, which was a great deal of fun and a fantastic show. Digimon, of course, and Naruto keeps popping up. Dragon Ball Z never goes away, Broly never dies apparently. And I'm working on an audiobook right now, in addition to a few music projects and doing event appearances. I really cherish the privilege to meet fans at conventions around the country and even internationally, to interact with them and hear their thoughts on my work for different shows. So I'm certainly keeping busy.

Thanks to Vic Mignogna for the opportunity.

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