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Otakon 09: Travis Willingham Q&A

Voice actor Travis Willingham

At Otakon 2009 this past July, Ani-Gamers blogger Ink attended a press conference with Travis Willingham, where he and other members of the press asked questions of the anime voice actor. Ink transcribed the entire interview, but instead of posting the ten-page-long article containing questions from every outlet, we have published this shortened version, containing only questions from Ani-Gamers and slightly edited for context.

We also have the fully transcribed press conference available to readers. If you are interested in reading that instead, click here.

AG (Ani-Gamers): Have you heard anything about [FUNimation] trying to get the original voice cast [of Fullmetal Alchemist]? Would you want to be in the new voice cast [for FMA: Brotherhood]?

TW (Travis Willingham): For the next series? Yeah! Actually they have the show, and as far as I know everyone that was a part of the original cast is going to be in place for the next series. There are a few exceptions. Some people are unavailable or have moved out of the state. Some of us in California make the trip back monthly, if not bi-monthly. Laura Bailey makes the trip back, I make the trip back. Troy Baker, who played…Archer…doesnât go back as often, and … he may come back for that. Damien Clark, Iâm not sure about as Scar, and I think obviously the most blaring curiosity would be Al, because he used to (heightens his voice) talk like this when the show was being recorded, and now he scarily, like, 6â1â and about as deep as I am. And I was like âYou do not sound like Alphonse Elric.â So I donât know if thereâs some marvel of modern technology thatâs gonna (in a high-pitched voice) girl-ify his voice again or if theyâre just gonna have to find a new Al. So I donât know how thatâs gonna work, but as far as I know I will fight to the death to play Mustang again.

AG: Kind of glad you left off on [the topic of bringing a script to life in your own way], because I loved you as Iggy in Ergo Proxy. I watched both the sub and the dub, and how did you get your Iggy? Based on… Did you watch the original or did you just come up with your own Iggy?

TW: I did. I watched it. And because I didnât detect any lisp, I didnât detect any kind of character trait. The Japanese client explained to me that in the way that he was speaking â I donât know Japanese speaking or anything about, I guess what would you call it, speaking techniques – he said the way that he spoke kinda portrayed a little bit of a kind of feminine quality to it. And I was like, oh okay, so thereâs no lisp or anything. And they were very adamant about not making him super, like, flamboyant or whatever. They just said that he was an entourage, this bodyguard/partner/protector that is programmed by the user to kind of compliment her. And that she had programmed him to talk this way, and he even says that later in the series, when he starts doing that bipolar thing, heâs like (in Iggyâs voice) “Whatâs the matter? You programmed me this way.” Itâs almost like, itâs more, I almost went, like in my mind, that he was more a feminine British butler. He was just very (in Iggyâs voice) “Could I get you any portage? Perhaps we should look for some shoes.” Just very smooth and easy. That was actually the first role I had after Mustang, so I came from like being extremely hetero, testosterone and over to âoh yes, letâs go get some shoesâ and âRe-l, you look lovely today.â You know, a total departure, so it was really cool.

AG: Coming back to Fullmetal, have you been watching the new stuff?

TW: Yeah. FUNimation, their website got hacked, right, for one of the One Piece releases, so that was gone for a little bit. Iâve seen, I think, the first seven or eight episodes. I try to watch it when I can. And from what Iâve seen, so far it looks like itâs just been kind of a summary of what was in the last series, with the adjustments that are correct to the manga from what I can gather. So I havenât seen a lot of new material, besides the first episode which I think was completely new as far as storyline, but I thought the animation was gonna be drastically different. Itâs not. Itâs not the same, and the music, I think, I liked a lot more in the first episode from what Iâve seen so far.

AG: More classical…

TW: Yeah, it was like the Russia National Symphonic Orchestra or something like that. So, yeah, I like what Iâve seen so far, but Iâm kind of anxious to see the new material and be kind of surprised by whatâs going on other than just the review and catch-up.

AG: What I was interested in, the role Mustang plays is kind of, in the new one, itâs more duty-oriented…

TW: Yeah!

AG: Itâs very more solid than the other one. Itâs more duty than emotion.

Willingham's most famous character, Colonel Roy Mustang from FMA

TW: Yeah, Iâve actually been wanting to ask Mike or anybody kind of in-the-know, because thereâs not as much as that social personality side of him. Itâs all very military mission-based. Heâs like the straight line kind of… I havenât heard Hughes bust him about getting a wife, I havenât seen him stealing any girlfriends. There certainly hasnât been any dog lines or miniskirt lines. Yeah, so far, heâs just been real straight-forward, which I guess will be interesting, because what Iâve heard from the manga, I mean the storylines are really different. So weâll see what happens.

AG: I know voice actors usually have multiple projects going on at the same time, so, aside from The Hulk and the one you cannot mention, do you have any others you are extremely happy to be working on and can mention?

TW: Yes! What can I say that Iâm working on. I can say that there are two new roles in Naruto that Iâm working on. I donât know if I can say the specific names, and a really popular character in Bleach which I just started working on. I gotta find out when they let us talk about these things… What can I say that Iâm working on? In Dallas…. What did they announce…did anyone go to the FUNimation Industry Panel? Did they announce any news shows, the cast lists for any new shows? … Eh, Iâll have to defer that until later so (laughing) I donât get in trouble. But I will say they have really cool shows coming out. You know they have the license for Soul Eater? FUNimation does. Iâve seen some of that show, and it looks incredible. I love the animation.

AG: Where did you get your start in voice acting?

TW: Very strange. You know everybody has a weird story, and I was in college at TCU, Ft. Worth, TX, and I was in a stupid fraternity. One day we flipped one channel past ESPN, being lethargic and in our procrastinating greatness one day, and Cartoon Network was the next channel. And there was this show, with these giant guys with muscles and spiky blonde hair and theyâre blowing things up and yelling really loud. And we were like âWhat in the name of God is this, and how much more can we see?â And we proceeded to, quickly, watch it every single day after that. And we would all be standing on our couches going âKa-me-ha-me….â Girls would come in, think we were just absolute losers, and we would be like âleave our room of DBZ!â And the credits were rolling one day, and I saw Laura Baileyâs name in the credit list, and she was in the same theatrical agency that I had in Dallas, called her up as fast as possible, practically yelled through the phone why she was in this awesome show that I loved, and she told me that she recorded at FUNimation studios in Ft. Worth, like 10 minutes from my college. And I proceeded to beg and stalk her for the next 2 years. Begging to let me come and audition, and … she never did. Dammit. Every time I saw her in audition, I was like âHelp me. Help. Audition, FUNimation.â And it never happened.

Thank God for the Mike McFarlands of the world, because he was also an actor in Dallas, and after doing an independent movie with him and finding out he was Master Roshi in DBZ, I begged, pleaded, I was like âplease let me come auditionâ and he let me … introduced me to Justin Cook, who let me audition for Yanagiswa of Yu Yu Hakusho. Iâm sure I didnât do a fantastic job, but it didnât suck the worst either, which I think it the key if you can go in and record something and just not absolutely blow it, then theyâll have you in for something else. And while Yanagiswa was a small and compact part, you know youâll play the like Police Officer Fs and the Soldier B, I did a show, a theater show, with Colleen Clinkenbeard, who was the other co-director of FMA, and Justin Cook saw it, and he had risen in the ranks of FUNimation. He was like, âWe got this character in a new show. I think you and he have a lot of jerk similarities. His nameâs Roy Mustang, do you want to audition for him.â And I was like, coming from a DBZ fan, and I was like, Does he have any special abilities? âWell heâs the Flame Alchemist.â Tell me more. âHe has these gloves, he snaps his fingers, and things blow up.â I was like, Done. Done! So I went to audition for it, got it, that … everything just kinda happened after that. That was the learning experience, you know, I was terrified during Yu Yu Hakusho. Fullmetal Alchemist into Mushi-shi with Mike was kind of like my boot camp…voice actor boot camp, because itâs a craft and it takes a very specific skill set to do that stuff and do it quickly, which is what they … that was where I kind of learned and started.

AG: If the new Mustang remains as static as heâs shown to be already, not to say he doesnât have the potential for growth, but if he does and you get to voice him, will that present a problem? Like, will you be bringing your past character into it, or will you be able to just sort of stop cold and start a new Mustang?

TW: No, I think itâll be carried over, because when Mustang was business, he was business. When he was giving orders, he was giving orders. That had a definite sound to it, you know, no-nonsense, clear, military command. Start, finish, done. So, from what Iâve seen so far, thatâs all Iâve seen. I havenât seen a whole lot of personal dialog between him and Hawkeye, between him and Hughes. Thereâs a little ribbing, I think Iâve seen, between him and Hughes, but not a lot. So I think itâll just keep that military sound for right now, kind of that man-in-charge sound, and I guess when the more personal things come, if they come, then thatâll be kind of brought to the foreground, kind of that playful quality that came out every once in a while. And if it doesnât, it doesnât.

Iggy from Ergo Proxy, another Willingham character

AG: Of all the voice work youâve done, including plays, what do you prefer to do given the opportunity or does it depend on the role?

TW: Right, very good question. My first love was theater. Iâm very fond of musical theater, strangely enough, and if theater paid what TV or film paid, I donât know that Iâd have ventured into either of those. Maybe later, but I love theater. If theater paid anywhere close to what TV does, I would just be on the stage, because I love a live audience. Thatâs just kind of my niche. Iâm sure I woulda made it over at some point to try like an action movie or something fun like that or to try a video game, but theater was really my first love, and I think that theater actors just have that…you know. Not that non-theater actors are any less talented or whatever, I just think that theater actors are a different breed. They are weird. We are weird.

AG: When youâre recording in the studio, and I understand these things get like almost second-nature by time, but what do you find hardest? Is it syncing the [lip] flap movement, is it coming up with a distinct voice for the character, or is it something completely different?

TW: Right, itâs kind of a combination of the two, because you know youâre used to seeing lip flap. Youâll read the line first, you know youâre like, âok line 236.â And it will be like âKenichi, we need to run down to the forest and see if theyâre thereâ or whatever. So youâre like âKenichi, we need to run down to the forest and see if theyâre there,â ok, then they preview it, and itâs like beep beep beep. Youâre like, in your head, youâre kind of saying the line, but the lips might end faster than the line in your head. Going âoh, ok I need to say that really fast.â And youâll be like, âKenichi, we need to run down to the forest and see if theyâre there,â and itâs still not fast enough. The lip flap ends. And then itâs up to you and the director to either rewrite the line or see if you can speed like a freakinâ auctioneer. (Emulates an auctioneer.) Sometimes you need to stretch it out too. (Slowly) âKenichi, we need to run down to the forest and see if theyâre there.â Thatâs kind of the tricky thing, itâs just seeing how much time you have and how do you fit it in and still sound like a human being…or not.

That’s it! If you’d like to read the full transcription of the press conference, with questions from all of the media outlets that attended, click here.

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