Who are you? What do you do?
My name is Crispin Freeman and I’m a voice actor on a bunch of different anime projects for Century Park Media and Media Blasters. I’m mostly New York-based but I’m moving to LA soon. I’ve worked on Slayers, Revolutionary Girl Utena, The Irresponsible Captain Tyler, Record of Lodoss War, Shamanic Princess, Angel Sanctuary, Night On The Galactic Railroad, GeoBreeders, Boogiepop Phantom, scripts for Pokemon, Photon, uh..
Okay stop already. Why are you so much in demand?
I think part of it is because I’m pretty flexible with my voice, and on Record of Lodoss War I’m playing five or six different characters, usually taking over when people would drop out. We’d lose characters and I could imitate their voices so I’d take over different parts. But I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I know a lot about anime. So that when I go in for auditions, I’ve already researched the show. I know the storyline, the characters, and sometimes I know it better than the director. And I have a background in it-I loved anime as a kid, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I got involved in this business. And I did it because I love anime and I’m very much into the storytelling aspects of anime-sophisticated anime, there’s plenty of crap anime out there, but the good stuff is really, really good. And that’s what motivates me to do my work.
How did you first get involved in the voice acting world?
I started out a theatrically trained actor, shows on Broadway, off-Broadway, regionally, around the country. And I was at a theater festival one summer and a friend of mine caught me watching Neon Evangeleon and he said, oh you like this stuff? I know some guys at Central Park Media and I could give them a call and get you into the English dubs if you want. And my first response was, “No way, the English dubs suck! There’s no way I’d want to be a part of that.” But I saw a fan sub of Vision of Escaflowne, and I was so impressed with it, it was so gorgeous, and I thought, “This is going to make it over to this country… and they’re going to screw it up. So I need to get into the business so they have one person who knows what’s going on so they don’t screw it up.” So I called up Central Park Media for an audition, and I got two little parts on Slayers, and they said, “We have this character Zelgadis we need to re-audition, do you want to audition for him?” And I was like, yeah, he’s actually cool, he’s blue, made out of rock, I’d be cool with that. So I auditioned and got Zelgadis, and it kind of took of from there. But Escaflowne went up to Canada so I had no chance…
Do you prefer to play the hero or the villain?
It’s funny, some people totally only see me as a hero and can’t see me as a villain. I tend to play the shounen, the beautiful boys, whether it’s Touga In Revolutionary Girl Utena, Kagetsu In Shamanic Princess, Rosiel in Angel Sanctuary. And sometimes these characters are good guys and sometimes they’re bad.
But they’re all dreamy.
They all tend to be pretty dreamy. The only kind of non-dreamy characters I play…
The blue rock?
Well, Zelgadis can get pretty dreamy. But I did Maar, that little elf character in Lodoss War which freaks some people out. Tylor, I’m not sure you can call him dreamy…
More like goofy.
Yeah, he’s goofy. That’s why I was so excited to get him, because he’s so different from all the other characters I was playing.
So you seem to be in your early 20s. How did you fit all this experience in?
(laughs) I’m actually not! I’m almost 30.
Yeah, exactly. I turn 30 in February.
Wow. Any big plans for the Big 3-0?
Well, I’ll be in LA by then.
Are there more voice over opportunities in California?
More domestic stuff. Disney and Warner Brothers are in California. I love doing anime, but right now I’d like to do more domestic work. And if I want to do that, besides Celebrity Deathmatch and other random things in New York, I need to be in LA.
So you’re turning 30. How does that factor in with your work? Does your voice change?
No, that happened when I was 16. I don’t think my voice has changed radically since my early 20’s, except that it’s more trained now. I’ve taken a lot of voice lessons, singing lessons, I study opera. As far as operatic singing, your voice as a male doesn’t really settle in until you’re 35. But that doesn’t affect my voice over work so much. I’m sure as I get older, it might start sounding older. There’s a phrase- “the angel is in his voice” – which is when someone has reached an age where there’s something lost in the voice.
Yeah, but the guy who does Tenchi Muyo is like 80 million years old.
(laughs) Ohh nooo…. I don’t think Matt’s that old. He probably older than me, but he’s not that old! But it depends on your voice too. If you look at the way Matt is built, he’s kind of a short guy. Most basses tend to be built like me, tall and skinny. I don’t know why, but if you go to the opera, that’s what you’ll see. Short tenors, very tall and lanky basses, baritones somewhere in the middle. I don’t know why. It’s got to do with something genetic.
Do you consider voice acting as a stepping stone for theater or screen?
My theater and voice acting careers were very separate. I came to New York to go to graduate school for acting at Columbia where I studied theater, and I did gigs all over the place. And I started the voice acting to keep sane when I wasn’t doing theater stuff. And over time, theater has kind of gone down while the voice acting has gone up. Because that’s what excites me. I was more excited about getting Captain Tylor and Zelgadis than I was getting onto Broadway. So I was like, hmm, what do I like to do? I like to do anime. So yeah, theater and voice acting are very separated; theater people are kind of taken aback when I tell them I do voice acting. I have some fans that go to all the regional theater gigs and the people in the cast with me are like, “These people watch your cartoons?” “Yeah dude, don’t you have a fan club?” (laughs) So theater and voice acting don’t really line up. But the film stuff probably can. But I came to the realization that if I had a choice between being in a movie like American Beauty or being a voice in Princess Mononoke, I’d rather be a voice in Princess Mononoke. That’s what I’d rather be remembered for. So if the on-camera stuff comes and goes well… great! But my first love is voice acting.
What attracted you to doing anime as opposed to screen acting?
What I love about voice acting, is that in something like Record of Lodoss War, I can be like five different characters. And on camera, I’m so limited by the way I look. When I walk in the door they go, “Oh we have nothing for you, you don’t like Brad Pitt or Ben Affleck. We don’t know how to cast you.” But yeah, you can become known and they figure out how to cast you and put you in movies, but Brad Pitt will always look like Brad Pitt, and I’ll always look like Crispin Freeman. That’s all cool, but there’s something magical to me about playing the lead role in Lodoss AND this little elf character. And then the other guy, the captain. And that weird sorcerer dude, I’ll play him too! There’s something very satisfying about that, especially from a theatrical actor’s standpoint. Theatrical actors kind of like to transform. So that’s enticing. From the other side of it, I like watching animation and anime things more than live action, partly because of the storytelling aspects. The stories I like to hear and watch tend to be more mythological. I like hearing fantasy type stories, whether it be science fiction or fantasy, with good plots behind them-it’s not like I watch anything and think it’s interesting. It’s got to have something behind it. When I’m creating stuff myself, I think to myself, this has to be done in anime. It can’t be done in live action. Live action just doesn’t have the same feel to it. I mean, I guess you can do Macross Plus live action and get planes and do all sorts of fancy CGI things, but it still doesn’t have the same “anything can happen if you can draw it” feeling that is so magical. And live action just falls short, because you’re so arrested by the reality of the face. Oh yes, that’s so-and-so. That’s Anthony Hopkins. That’s Whitney Houston singing that song. There’s a barrier there; I like the characters to be transparent. There’s a phrase that Joseph Campbell used, the idea that divinity needs to be transparent for transcendence. That the characters that exist are symbolic or metaphoric and allow you to either inhabit them or go passed them to the deeper meaning of the story. And that’s the type of storytelling that I’m interested in. And there’s not a whole of that in this country, in Hollywood. And when it happens, everyone lines up for days to see Episode I of Star Wars or the Matrix but still have a hard time committing to see other live action movies that have that same kind of feeling to them.
As anime becomes more accepted into the mainstream, do you think producers will turn more toward screen actors than voice actors? Princess Mononoke, for example, used mostly celebrity actors…
Yeah, but who did Mononoke? Disney. What is Disney concerned about? The bottom line.
Is it a potential problem for voice actors?
It’s a problem for all actors. Who’s on Broadway now? You have a better chance of being cast on Broadway as a film star than as a theatrical actor. It’s a situation where whether it’s theater, anime or even film, the lead might not be played by the right person. In all dramatic art in this country, there’s marketability. If we’re getting these really amazing voice actors you never heard of to do Princess Mononoke, most people aren’t going to be interested. But you get Claire Danes, suddenly every girl who’s watched My So-Called Life will be like, “Claire Danes is doing some cartoon? Maybe I should check it out.” It’s marketability, and I think all actors strive to become more marketable. You find out how to do it, and if you’re lucky, you do something that puts your name up, and then people go, “Oh, David Hyde Pearce! Isn’t he that guy from Frasier?” and suddenly he’s in A Bug’s Life and things like that. And it’s great, but what you hope is that the people that are marketable are actually talented. That’s always a plus. But I think that money calls the shots. So when they do Princess Mononoke, and they’ve never done a Miyazaki film for broad release… well, actually for Kiki’s Delivery Service, I think they got Kirsten Dunst and Phil Hartman… but anyway, for Mononoke, they’re not sure how to sell it so they’ll be safe and put a lot of stars in it. Even if they’re not right for the part, they’ll put stars in it, and I’m sure the director has to deal with it.
When you’re not working, do you ever slip into a character? Like, run around with a silly voice?
No. (laughs). Sometimes I’ll joke around with my girlfriend, but no, I don’t walk down the street and spontaneously decide to be Zelgadis or Maar that day.
How do you get into character for an audition or work?
I’ll do my best to research the show. One of the biggest things I like to find out are the circumstances behind a character. To me, that dictates how a character will act. What circumstances they are in and what choices they make based on the situation. And once I find out the storyline, that’s a huge help. If I’m lucky enough to get a video tape of the original Japanese voice, that can be very helpful to fill out what type of character they are. I do not, however, try to imitate another voice actor. I think the closest I came to trying to imitate was when I did Tylor, because the Japanese Tylor was a much higher pitch than I tend to work with. So I wanted to be in his pitch. But I’m always interested in what kind of situation the character is in, find a voice that fits, and figure out how best to translate it for an American audience. I always do a lot of research and try to get the Japanese tape.
Which anime character have you had the biggest crush on?
The biggest crush on an anime character? Let me think… that’s hard… I think my initial big crush on an anime character was Faye Valentine [Cowboy Bebop].
Because of the mini yellow hotpants?
Actually, you know what it is? When she went to the opera and she’s wearing that gown, and they handcuff her to the… (we nod knowingly)… yeah well, there ya go. (laughs) Yeah, so either a crush on Faye Valentine or Sheeta from Laputa.
Jesus! Isn’t she like seven?
No no no. Let’s see. Think of me as like ten… look, we’re talking crushes. One of the first big star crushes I ever had was from The Never-Ending Story….
The big flying dog?
No, the princess. The princess from The Never-Ending Story…
Right, the Empress. There was just something about her. Because I was about the age of the kid when the movie came out. And the way she talked to him… (sighs) I was in love. I actually hunted her down on the internet to find out what happened to her, and now she’s some dancer in Germany and she doesn’t look the same at all. Damnit! But, yeah, the crush I had on the Empress from the Never-Ending Story, that’s the same kind of crush I had on Sheeta from Laputin. It’s this very childhood type of true love kind of crush. But in terms of gettin my engine started, that’s gotta be Faye Valentine.
Visit Crispin online at www.crispin.freeman.net.
For booty and cleavage shots of Faye Valentine, check out here