Eric Stuart

MetroCon | Eric Stuart

Since its beginnings in 2003, METROCON has become Florida’s largest anime convention. For 2016, METROCON had a record-breaking 11,889 visitors attend the Tampa Convention Center for four days of anime panels, cosplay, shopping and events. This year, oprainfall attended for the first time from July 21-24 and was able to both tweet live from the convention floor and interview Laura Post, Robbie Daymond, and Eric Stuart.

Eric Stuart has been singing, directing and voice acting since the 1980s. He is best known for his directing and voice acting work with Pokémon, One Piece and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Eric Stuart also performs as the lead vocalist in Eric Stuart Band, whose latest EP, Character, is currently available on iTunes.

You can visit Eric Stuart at his website, follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook. You can also check out where and when Eric Stuart Band will be playing live next here, like them on Facebook, and buy their music on iTunes. You can also find out more about METROCON at its website and follow it on Twitter. The dates for next year’s METROCON are August 3-6, and tickets go on sale on January 1, 2017.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

MetroCon | Eric Stuart

By: Quentin H.

Operation Rainfall: This is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?

Eric Stuart: Eric Stuart.

OR: Now you’ve been voice acting since the 1980s. How did you first get into voice acting, and what was your initial role?

ES: I used to work at a tennis club out in East Hampton, and one of the members there owned a recording studio in New York. Being a musician, I was looking for a job in a studio and she asked if I was interested in a job. And I said “Yeah! That would be great.” So I went in and I interviewed for the job, and I thought [that] they were a music studio.  They did [a] very little bit of music. They mostly did radio and TV voice over production. So I learned how to cast, produce, direct, and then also do some voice acting there. I’d fill in for casting sessions and things like that. And surprisingly enough, I realized it was a great way to make a living [and] still maintaining my career as a musician because you never saw me. So you could still take me seriously as a rock ‘n’ roll guy, even if I was doing a voice over for Ty-D-Bol.

So my first voiceover gig – my real first voice paying job — was that I was Jimmy from Enterprise Rent-A-Car for a series of radio commercials. My first anime voiceover was – I was in a little film called Gall Force. I played a couple of robots. And then Gourry [Gabriev] from Slayers was my first reoccurring role.

Eric Stuart
Gourry Gabriev from the Slayers series.

OR: One of your best-known roles is Seto Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh!. What was the audition process for the show like – how did you get involved?

ES: 4Kids had been using outside production studios, and freelance directors and studios to do all of their shows. And they decided to bring everything in-house. I had been directing myself on Pokémon at that time. So they asked me if I would be interested in directing a new show that they were going to be doing, and I said “Sure! That sounds great.” And I went in, and they hired me to direct Yu-Gi-Oh!. And they had done most of the casting, except for Kaiba.

I was hired as a director, so I wasn’t about to volunteer my services as an actor. The production team knew I was an actor, but the producer that was working on the show was not familiar with my voice acting work – he knew me as his new director. So I continued casting, and we auditioned a lot of people, and he was not hearing what he was looking for. And we were advertising that this show was coming up to be on the air very soon, but we didn’t have Kaiba. So I finally said to the producer “Hey, look. I know you know me as a director, but I’ve been a voice actor as well for so many years. I think I can play this role. Let me audition for it. I’ll dub half the show. If you like it, we can continue. If you don’t like it, I’ll continue casting.”

And I auditioned for it. I did half the show, [the producer] liked it. It was what he was looking for. And so I became Kaiba. It wasn’t my goal. I thought I was just going to be directing the show, but then I began playing one of the main characters and I began directing myself on it too, which was something I’d been doing, but I wasn’t planning for it.

So that’s kinda how I stumbled into Kaiba.

“When you jump into the [voice] booth and you’re now the actor-director, you have to remember to remember who’s in charge…So I have to be able to separate the two, and it’s not so easy[.]”

OR: In your panel [earlier that day], you discussed how Seto Kaiba was a ‘rival’ instead of a ‘villain’ for Yugi. You also briefly mentioned that there was a line between ‘villain’ and ‘rival.’ How do you navigate using antihero such as Kaiba in order to make him still likable, even though he is often set against the hero protagonist?

ES: The way I approach [Seto] is that he pushes Yugi to be the best. You can’t be the champ if someone isn’t constantly keeping you at the top of your game. If I didn’t exist, my character didn’t exist, then Yugi could take things easy and relax and maybe not be at the top of his game. So, in approaching him, I think that the sarcasm and the pushing [Yugi’s] buttons is all part of how a modern-day sparring partner would be portrayed. The difference between being the villain and the rival is that if [Kaiba] was a villain, then he would be truly looking to do things that were dishonest and despicable for his own goals and his own ego.

We know that he protects his brother – he’s a father figure to Mokuba. We also know that when things are really bad, the first person that comes to Yugi’s aid is Kaiba. Because he doesn’t want Yugi to be hurt, he wants Yugi to be the best. So that’s the fine line that I walk. And I think that what’s fun about the sarcasm with him is – none of the other characters are at the same level as Yugi. So making fun of Joey and Tristan and all of those guys are just part of that playfulness. When [Kaiba] pushes Yugi, he’s making him feel like ‘Come on, you can do better than that. That if you’re going to be the ‘King of Games’, you need to be better than that.’

And that’s sort of that Rocky/Apollo Creed kind of – there’s respect, but to keep Yugi at the top of his game, ‘I’ve gotta push him.’

Eric Stuart
Seto Kaiba from the Yu-Gi-Oh! series.

OR: You also voiced James in Pokémon. From episodes two to eight [of season one], he was voiced by Ted Lewis. And it was a serious interpretation of the character. And then you took over through episode one-fifty-six. How did you make James your own, and why did you choose to go the direction you did with that character?

ES: When Ted was first doing it, he was told that Team Rocket was legitimately the bad guys. They were bad. They had to be played straight. And because we had not been given episodes ahead of time, more than like four or five at a time – so the director and the producer and the writers really didn’t know what was coming down the line. When I was brought in, my first job was to first imitate what Ted was doing, which was fine. But then I sort of said to the director ‘I just think these characters are supposed to be the comic relief. They look like they’re supposed to be really funny.’ And they wanted [them to be portrayed] very straight.

And then I think one of the episodes early on – [James] was in drag, dressed like a woman or something like that.

And the minute that happened, that’s where I asked in the funny laugh and all of the silliness with the falsetto. I really started to try to make him much more of a broader, funnier character. And it’s not that Ted couldn’t do it, ‘cause Ted is a very, very funny actor – he’s one of my dear friends. But he was directed to be straighter.

Eric Stuart
James (left) and Brock (right) from the first season of Pokémon.

OR: For example, Pokémon Jirachi: Wishmaker, you voiced both Brock and James. How do you balance voicing multiple roles and directing during the localization of an anime movie or a series?

ES: Well, I don’t recommend people start out directing themselves in cartoons.

It’s not easy because you also have to be judging your performance, as well as making sure production is flowing. And we’re usually our toughest critics, so we do a line and go ‘Oh, I think I can do that better. Let me do that better, I think I can do that better’ and then you’re wasting time. Because I will direct actors and take their first take and say ‘That’s great, let me get a backup’, because if they do what I asked them to do, there’s no reason to do multiple takes after multiple takes. So when you’re wearing the hat of being a director, you can move things along.

When you jump into the booth and you’re now the actor-director, you have to remember to remember who’s in charge. As the person in the booth, yes, I’m playing Brock and James. But I’m also directing Brock and James. So I have to be able to separate the two, and it’s not so easy – but I’ve gotten to the point where I can accept the performance and move on, and not try to just micromanage every little nuance. Plus, characters like [James and Brock], I’ve been doing for so many years. I could do Brock and James in my sleep in terms of the voices of them and their attitude.

So it wasn’t like I had to start searching for motivation or finding the voice. If it was a brand new character and I had to jump into the booth and direct myself as an actor, that would be a little more complicated – especially if there were clients in the room. When I’m working on a movie like that, it’s me and the engineer. So [the] engineer is making sure that the stuff is getting recorded, and I’m going through the script and making sure that every line is recorded. So I’m really 50/50 director-actor.

OR: Again, earlier in your panel today you discussed at length how the word ‘sushi/onigiri’ was replaced with the word ‘jelly doughnuts’. Along with various character names – and this was all during when Pokémon was first being localized for the United States in 1998- since then, there has been a growing trend for companies that localize to do an exact transliteration of these type of words. Do you prefer one method over another – such as replacing words or going with the exact transliteration- when you’re directing?

ES: If I’m watching a movie that was originally done in another language, like the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I watch that movie in the original language and read the subtitles because I want to hear the actor’s performance and just kind of know what they are saying. In a Japanese show that you’re trying to adapt to make worldwide, using the transliteration is a mistake because that is not the way that is as generic as it can be. If you’re trying to maintain its specific localization – that is [that] it is a Japanese show, then, yeah, you’re not going to change that. You’re not going to change names [and] you’re going to use the actual names, the actual food.

But that’s not the goal on a show like Yu-Gi-Oh! or a show like Pokémon. The goal on those shows was to make the shows so neutral that whatever country was going to take it and dub it, it would become their show. So making those references did not work. You’re saying that there’s a trend to use that – but only if you’re trying to be specific to what that storyline is.

If Pokémon came out today, they would still do it the way we did it – they would remove the very, very Japanese references to make it ‘any country.’ And I think that’s why they were trying to make it just a ‘cartoon.’ So a French kid thinks Pokémon is French. A German kid thinks it is German. That’s the way that it was done, rather than it was a Japanese import.

Eric Stuart discusses the Eric Stuart Band, the Evolution of Voice Acting since the 1980s, and More on Page 2

Quentin H.
I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it.