@anime!: In anime voice-acting, is it more appealing to do a character in a series rather than an OVA?
Spike Spencer: You betcha. One, You get a character that you can go off and explore a little bit. It's hard to get into anime, I'll tell you, because you don't make up your own character, it's all done for you. It's more difficult in some ways and less difficult in others. You've got to match the mouth, and a lot of times there's no emotion showing. But when you get a series you get paid more, that's a steady paycheck.
@a!: Is there a lot of competition getting roles?
Spike: There's always competition, but once you get into something where people know you, they will think of you. A lot of people say it's who you know. But it's not; it's who knows you. When you're not there, you can say "Yeah, I know this guy," but he's doing some casting, he's not thinking about you. But if they're doing the casting and they're thinking about you, that's really how you get the work.
As far as acting goes, I do a lot of marketing on my own. I'll send out postcards, call people up if I'm doing something big, just get in front of these people and audition as much as possible. As long as they see you, they'll think about you. If you're not there, they aren't going to think about you. It's as simple as that.
@a!: Do you plan to do more anime voice-acting in L.A.?
Spike: Yeah, if they'll have me! I know there's a few places out, and I'll target them until they say "OKAY, stop calling me! Here's a role!" It's a whole 'nother market. We've got to start 100-percent all over again. But at least I've got a good little resume, it's not too bad--I'd say Shinji is pretty popular!
@a!: How did you get into the field?
Spike: Amanda got me started in it, just totally. Evangelion came a little later; I had already done some work for AD Vision, and I thank her and Matt Greenfield wholeheartedly, because if not for them I wouldn't be in this at all. I didn't even know what anime was--I'd seen "Speed Racer," "Whoa, hey, cool!", but I really didn't have a clue that it was this huge. I had no idea. And I'm glad I'm doing it, because it's fun.
@a!: How is it playing a character that's so different from you?
Spike: Shinji's annoying--come on, let's get real! But an actor has to be available to all sides of their personality. There's parts of Shinji that are inside me, there's parts of anything you do that are inside you. Everybody is so multifaceted; actors just have access to those facets.
And doing Shinji, sometimes it gets to be fun. There was a scene in one of the episodes where I get to be a little wacky--he's doing something stupid and I get to play around with that.
I have the most fun when I do little secret parts where people don't know who I am. In one scene he's watching a movie and I'm the German doctor in the movie--you can't see me, it's just this voice, "Nein, we can't do this!" So I'm sitting there watching myself, and I'm talking to myself--it's trite, but I find it funny.
I try to loosen stuff up whenever we get a chance, but with "Eva," you've really got to stick to the text. Other ones, we get to play with. Sometimes there's even no lines and I'll throw something in--"Right here would be a good place to put this line. Can I?" "Sure, throw it out there." Just try it, see if it sticks.
@a!: Have you brought anything to Shinji that wasn't there before?
Spike: It's very hard to tell, the way the Japanese do it, but I think we've brought him up a notch, personally; I think we made him more emotional. I don't want to say anything against the Japanese, because they do a fabulous job, but I think that Americans overall are much more in touch with their emotions anyway and much more freely express them. So we have to make him a little more not-subdued.
When somebody's breaking down, they aren't be going, [in a meek voice] "Oh, man, this sucks." That's not breaking down, y'know? So you've really got to fire it up a little bit, and I think it shows. Some people don't like the way we did it, and they can bite us. We worked very hard, and we stand behind it. If I didn't stand behind my work, I would... not stand behind my work!
@a!: Do you feel proprietary at all about Shinji? Do explicit doujinshi with the character bother you?
Spike: Not a bit. They can do what they want to; I just do the voice. I try to make it as believable, as good, as I possibly can, and truthful. But, face it, we're actors. I mean, seriously, that's one thing that really gets me. Somebody called me "Shinji" earlier, and I'm like, "Hellooooo, reality dose!"
This is me, this is not Shinji. People have a hard time discerning between the two, and when they do, it frightens me! But sometimes it's just maturity, sometimes it's just--I won't say hero worship, because I'm not, but like, Swartzenegger or Bruce Willis, or any action star they see, people are like, oh yeah, they know him. They don't know me. Nobody knows who I am. They know Shinji's character, or they know a character that some action figure plays. They don't know the actor.
In my case with Shinji, I am totally the polar opposite. And people don't quite understand that we're actors and we do this because we're good at what we do, we do something all the way. I respect the character of Shinji; I try not to mess it up. Any character I do, I try to really make it well-rounded and fun. Most of all, it's got to be fun. That's why I guess Shinji is more trying, because he doesn't have much fun. He needs to loosen up. He needs to get laid! Everybody thinks the same thing--"He needs to get laid!"
@a!: Is it hard to switch gears in acting different characters in a close time-frame?
Spike: Nah. I can switch gears like that [snaps fingers]. You've seen Amanda and me and Matt, we're nuts, and it helps to be insane a little bit to do what we do; we can turn it on and off like a switch. Another thing is, I don't think I've worked two days in a row yet.
"Eva" has been great. We would do like three episodes in one shot, and then we wouldn't do anything for another month, and then another three episodes. Sometimes it was a month, sometimes it was a month and a half. We had 12 sessions, I think. It got easier and easier as we went on. At first it was just hard, especially some of the first episodes, just screaming and screaming! "I signed up for this? What the crap...?"
@a!: Any advice for aspiring voice actors?
Spike: Practice, practice, practice! I wish I'd started when I was younger. If you've got the bug, try it. The main thing is, if you're going to do anime voice-acting, you need to do a voice tape, or find out where they're having auditions and go and read for a part. Audition for an anime company. You'll want to put a tape together. Any actor will have those tapes; if they don't, they're fakin' you. You've got to have voice tapes.
For anime, you really learn how to dub. It's not easy; there's a skill to it. For example, I did some dubbing on [the USA Network live-action series] "The Big Easy" [in which he appeared in two episodes], and that's the hardest dubbing I've ever had to do in my life, dubbing yourself doing stuff up there. Dubbing cartoon characters, it's mostly flaps. But when you're dubbing yourself, you've got to match your own voice and you don't know what the heck you did, especially when half of it was improv! But it's a skill like anything else; you get better and better as you try it.
Get a tape about two minutes long; some places will have scripts that you can do different voices on, and then having an agent wouldn't be bad. But as far as anime goes, you may not need an agent. Texas is a right-to-work state, I didn't need an agent, I just go and negotiate it all, we do it ourselves. But in L.A. you've got to have an agent if you want to do an anime or anything. You can probably still do some low-budget stuff, but you may not get paid at all.
You want to try to be good. If you think you're good, you may not be. I think I'm good but I'm not great, there are so many people better than me, and I can always do better. I think when somebody gets all cocky, "Oh yeah, I'm so good," it's "Okay, let's hear your tape"--"What tape?" There are people like that.
I've taught voice acting before, and there are some people that have it, there's some people that don't. There's some people that will never have it; it does not matter what you do, they will not have it. Try a different medium. Voice acting is just like any other acting; it's an art. There's great and there's bad, and everybody's somewhere in between. I think the trick is to know if you're really, really putrid, to know that and run. But I encourage anyone to try it, give it a shot.
@a!: Is having a vocal range, like being able to do several voices, as important as being able to act?
Spike: Yeah. I think it's all-encompassing, really. For Shinji, I have to raise my voice. For other ones, I have to make it gravelly. There's a lot of ranges in voice acting that you don't get in regular acting.
Mostly, regular acting is expressing, emoting, and there's physicality and there's scenery; you've got surroundings. Here, you've got a mike and you. So everything comes out of your voice. So you've got to learn how to talk from the front of your month, from the back of your throat, from the sides, put your tongue this way, jut your chin out--there are so many ways, very subtle, you can't hear the inflections here because hands are going, there are things in the background, but you put it in the microphone and you hear every pop, every little smack of the lips, every breath.
If you ever get a chance, go into a studio, put on the headphones, and just talk, read something, da-da-da-da-da, and have them play it back for you. "Damn, that was me?!" It's an intricate art, and natural ability will take you a long way, but the rest is training. I say the very best training is actually doing it, and if you get a job and you get it and you do it--the first time I did anime, I was, "What the hell am I doing? I have no clue! I know how to act, I know how to do voice-overs, but this is totally different!" And once I did it, it was pretty natural for me once I figured it out--"Oh, okay, I get it--this is fun! And I get paid!" I think anybody can fall into it if they've got the talent.
Talent will take you pretty far, but there's the business side you have to hit too, drive and marketing. That's not Acting 101, that's later on--that's survival, that's business. Acting is an art, but there's a business to it. If you don't know the business side to it, you'll probably not make it very big. Swartzenegger, that guy is business. He is not a great actor--I think we all will agree on that--but he's one of the top, top, top biggest stars in the entire world, and that's business; he knew how to market himself. I don't want to hear him tap-dance, but...!
@a!: When did you start anime voice-acting?
Spike: About three years, I guess. Around '96.
@a!: You mentioned teaching voice-actors--have you offered courses, or have people just come to you?
Spike: I've offered courses. And I taught a financial workshop and marketing workshop for actors. Somebody will come to me and ask me questions about the marketing aspect, I'll be happy to sit down and talk to them. I've taught some one-on-one voice-overs, one-on-one acting lessons, that sort of thing, but nothing on a big scale; if someone wants some help, I'm more than happy to help. I can teach it, but I'd rather do it.
@a!: Do some actors just think they're going to be a star and not think beyond that?
Spike: 99 percent don't look at the long term. 99 percent don't have a clue about how to do money. An actor goes "I'm going to be a star!", run out to L.A. with no money, and come back in six months--"well, I tried it." No you didn't! You make a plan, get everything figured out; then you go out there. When we go out to L.A., we're not coming back. We don't want to go back to Houston, it's too damn hot! But they just go willy-nilly, just go freak out and think they're going to make it big. I don't know if I'm going to make it big or not. I plan to. But things change.
@a!: Is that advice someone else gave you? Or is it common sense?
Spike: I don't want to sound cliche, but the school of hard knocks--I mean, I've been broke. Had a little money in the 80s, and the oil business went kaputsky; we lost everything. I knew what it was like to live with a little bit of money--nothing big--but I saw it all go away like that, and totally destroyed my family. Everything just went crazy.
So since then I've always managed money very well, and whenever I hit something I hit it very, very hard. I've gone after every way to make money there is. I've finally found one. I've done everything. You probably can't name something I have not tried, read about, looked into. If you have a little bit of money--I don't have that much right now--but I'm set to be fine, and it gives me time to play, it gives me time to act.
You can't be an actor if you've got an audition that you can't go to because you're bar-tending, and you can't lose that job so you can't work around it. If you're stuck in this job and you can't go to this audition, you're not an actor; you're a bar-tender. There's a big difference.
@a!: Are there any particular actors you admire?
Spike: Gary Oldman. I'm a huge Gary Oldman fan. If you haven't seen "Sid And Nancy," watch that one!
I respect all of the ones that went from comedy to acting--Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin; they're heroes of mine. And DeNiro, Pachino, Hoffman--as far as acting, they're all winners. But once again, Swartzenegger, business side. There are many actors who are very good businessmen as well.
There are so many success stories out there. And I'd like to be one too.