Salon Roquet

The Library

Rachel Lillis Interview

An in-depth interview with the voice actor of 'Jesse'

Courtesy of AnimeFan Online

Conducted by Shidoshi (Anime Editor, GameFan Magazine)


AnimeFan: How did you originally get into voice acting?
Rachel Lillis: I saw an ad in a trade magazine looking for voice actors for Japanese animation - I used to always enjoy the show star blazers back in the 70's, I thought the art was incredibly beautiful, and was really into a lot of the other American cartoons of the time. I knew that I always wanted to do voices, be a voice actor, but never knew that I'd do something when the two art forms met.

When I was 13, I wanted to be a voice actor, and my parents were sort of like, "What's a voice actor?" It's a tough market to break into, and I have been into it for a little under two years, but it's very cool to be able to participate in it, and voice acting for Japanese anime is something I love doing. It's a fun process, we get in the studio, joke around, order lunch, get a little creative. We look at a line, and skew it a bit differently depending on how we've been going for the past few weeks. The words are there, but you have to take them in a direction thatıs real to you.

AF: How do you prepare to do the voice acting for an anime title?
RL: You just show up at the studio every day, do it for a couple of hours, and you make notes to remember where you are at. For preparation, you look at the character, the story, maybe get the script ahead of time - but I actually prefer the cold-read format. Sometimes itıs better to not know the story ahead of time, so that you aren't trying for a specific idea. Sometimes the best read is the one that you haven't prepared for at all, but it doesn't hurt to have a bit of preparation. It's best to just experiment with things, get the person's age, who you think they are, a few other details, then figure out who they really are depending on what they say - like when you're reading a character in a novel.

AF: Do you watch the anime you are doing a voice for beforehand, to get an idea of what the original Japanese voice was like, or do you do the voice and attitude the way you think the character should be done?
RL: Typically we don't get the tape beforehand, so usually it's a visual thing when you first see the character. You just sort of experiment. Sometimes you'll listen to the Japanese version, listen to their take on it, but usually that's rare. You just visualize the character in your mind and work from there. They give you a lot of freedom in how you act the character, they wanted Utena to have a higher pitch, talk a bit slower, but as the series went on, she got a lower pitch, and her lines were changed a little to flow a bit better. It's a very dramatic series, not a lot of comedy, so you couldn't go off into a lot of comedic lines. When you have a lot of serious characters acting, you say to yourself that the better way to do it is to hav e the characters talk more naturally with each other. Utena is pretty laid back, because she knows that something strange is going on with the student council, but she doesn't give it a lot of importance. That's really the motivation behind everything she does, don't mess with me, don't mess with my pals, and everyone will get along fine. Thereıs a little monkey-mouse names Chu-chu (I do his voice as well), who goes around saying nothing but "Chu chu", and sometimes Utena and Chu-chu will have a conversation together, and I end up talking to myself. [laugh]

The show ends up being rather dramatic, the characters confront each other, center around their destiny.

AF: How were you brought into this project?
RL: I auditioned for CPM, I've worked with them before. I had read for the smaller roles, and they kind of put them out of order, so that you don't know whose who. They don't really tell you anything, they just want to see if your voice matches the idea of the character. I was really thrilled, as this is the first time I've been involved in a long series from the very beginning. It's far different than when you have a small part in an anime title. When you're doing an incidental, you go in the studio and you have no idea whatıs going on - it's just kind of like "You're this evil sorceress, youıre going to lob this fireball, just scream a lot and stuff."

AF: Who is your favorite character in Utena?
RL: Miki Kaoru, I think. He is one of the younger boys, he's in the student council, plays the piano, he's very advanced, the older girls like him because he's so adorable. He takes a shine to Anthy, and Utena encourages this, because sheıs kind of taken in upon herself to get Anthy's social life up. He's not really into what the student council is doing, he's pretty sympathetic to Utena and Anthy, he's generally a sweet guy.

AF: What kind of person is Utena?
RL: I think she's a tomboy, she's kind of naive, she cares a lot about the people close to her, so much so, and I can understand this totally because I'm like this with my friends and they are with me, if someone is bothering them, you protect them. She's really down to earth, and I think that's all she wants to be is a good person, and she really doesn't understand all the things around her on her campus, and she's going along with it.

AF: Now let's turn it around. What about you? What kind of person is Rachel Lillis?
RL: I'm a pretty boring person! I like the behind the scenes stuff, putting together jingles, working on the voice acting stuff, seeing what all going into the production. I've been the person running out getting bagels and donuts for the staff. [laugh] When you're in front of the camera, you know what itıs like on the other side, so you're much more into everything that's going on. Iıve done some nature narration for Tom Snyder productions, stuff like CD-ROMs on how cottons grows, how cows are milked, underwater sea life, things like that. "This is scuba gear, if you look closely, you can see all of the gadgets and switches, blah blah..." [laughs] Narration is something different entirely, you get used to that kind of thing, counting the beats, you just keep going and learn the art of turning the page without making a sound. Then maybe you go into voice over for a commercial, and most commercial reads are this big ball of energy which you have to dredge up, then you do maybe like five takes and it's over. You have to learn how to use your voice to sell something or tell a story without being boring. In Utena, you get to grunt, have a sword fight, put in subtle little things that really add the spice.

AF: What do you think of the increase of shoujo in the US?
RL: I think it's kind of disturbing ... er, not the increase of shoujo in the US, but that a lot of the movies you see in theaters haven't really been targeting a young female audience. I read this article in the NY times that that's who we're targeting, the young boys, and the girls will follow. I don't know if the Utena audience will be all girls, but I do think itıs a good thing, it's a void that certainly needs to be filled.

AF: Okay, so let me ask you the big question - what's your opinion on Sailor Moon?
RL: I've never seen it! [laughs] The guy who did Utena worked on Sailor Moon, and almost everybody who has talked about anime, fan or not, has seen it. I have NO clue what it's about, all I know is that a cat with a moon on itıs head, and a girl with the wachamadealy - the girl with pigtails on her head. I know that because I went to the con and saw all of these guys dressed as Sailor Moon.

AF: How did you get involved in Pokemon?
RL: TAJ (dub house) and CPM have worked together on various products, and they just called me in for a read. I had worked with them on Slayers, I did an evil sorceress and her daughter, and I guess because I didnıt suck too much they called me back ... or maybe I just hadn't given them too much lip. [laugh] We did auditions earlier this years, they give you all of the female characters and some lines for each. I was in another room watching the first episode of Pokemon, just in time to see Pikachu and Ash (Pikachu is adorable!), and then they called me in. I read for Misty and Jessie and Ash, they had me do a fe w Pikachu lines in case they were going to do an English voice for him. I just auditioned, and Jim (Malone, who is also working on Utena) just had me try it, not really go out all our anything, and he basically helped me through. Jim has also worked with the people involved in casting, so he knows what theyıre looking for, what they want in a character.

AF: How familiar are you with the Pokemon phenomenon?
RL: Not really. I had heard about the seizures problem, but I didn't know it was Pokemon. [laughs]

AF: What's your opinion on the Sub vs. Dub debate?
RL: As an anime fan, I wasn't really familiar with dubbed tapes, because subtitles was most of what was available. I lived in a small town, and there wasn't much around. There seems to be a strong anti-dubbed feeling among a lot of fans. But I've seen Slay ers, thought that they did a fantastic job, and I've seen a lot of other things that they've released. Itıs not just a case of them putting the stuff out, they want to get voice actors who really fit the characters, work well on the timing, and try to bring some of the humor over from the original Japanese to English (since some jokes don't translate well). Most of the time it's fine, but there are some points that you really have to change things around. I know with Utena they wanted to keep the Japanese names, but in Pokemon they changed them all around. If they keep the Japanese names, you really have to get the names down and know how to say them correctly.

AF: Do you ever feel weird when you tell people what you do for a living?
RL: Well, my parents are like that, they're like, "Okay, right, when are you going to medical school?" But the people I work with are mostly actors, so they understand. I haven't told a lot of people, but those I did tell thought it was really cool, even if they didn't know what anime is. We don't talk a lot about what we do for work, but yet they want to know what parts I've done, what the anime titles I work for are about.

AF: If you could be the voice actress for any character or in any series, what would you want to do most?
RL: I've always liked Akane from Ranma 1/2. Or Nausicaa - when I first saw her, I thought that that would be very cool.

AF: What kind of anime do you like?
RL: Miyazaki is probably my favorite. The first anime I ever saw was Warriors of the Wind. I saw the English version after the US, a friend send my Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind with a typed out plot, she said that I was going to need it. I thought she was going to send me the English version, but she was like, "No no no!" I really didn't need the English version, the Japanese was so well done. She sent me Laputa, and the whole first season of Ranma, including Japanese commercials. I got more into it, then kinda really watched all of the Miyazaki that I could, the Macross movies, those were really good. I even have a Nausicaa poster at home.

Nausicaa came with so many interesting ideas. Miyazaki always throws in a zillion time periods in his movies, like Kiki's Delivery Service, with it's wood burning stoves, yet it also has automobiles and flying machines. He's always straddling the past and the future, yet you never know what time period you are in. That's true in Nausicaa as well. Nausicaa herself is a very inspiring character, she doesn't know much beyond the sheltered life that she's lived, but her spirit is strong, and everyone who comes into her life is influenced by her. Nausicaa really did have an effect on me.

AF: What what you say your five favorite specific anime titles are?
RL: Fire Tripper, Akira, Ranma 1/2, Nausicaa, and Tenchi Muyo, I've only seen one episode of Tenchi, but I liked it. Oh, and I know it's more than five, but Laputa : Castle in the Sky as well.

AF: How can fans contact you?
RL: Through Central Park Media - send anything you would like their way, and they'll get it to me.

AF: Anything you would like to say to our readers?
RL: [laughs] I don't know! I'm really psyched about the fact that anime seems to be coming along in the US, and I hope that more incredible titles will be coming out, because the more dubbed titles that get released, the more people will be exposed to it, since I've heard that dubbed titles are usually what people are first introduced to. I hope everyone likes Utena, we worked really hard on it! I think it's amazing that people are pulling for anime, and I hope that it continues to grow.

Contact Info:
Rachel Lillis
c/o Central Park Media
250 West 57th Street
New York, NY


**Note from Salon Roquet: To see a picture of Rachel, please visit our Database, and click on 'Voice Actors'**

Interview released December 1999 by AnimeFan Online, I'm unsure exactly when it was conducted.

Huge thanks go to Shidoshi Naga of AnimeFan Online and Anime Editor of GameFan Magazine! ^_^

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