One of the most well-known voice actors in the video game and anime industry today is Cherami Leigh. Aside from winning in multiple categories at the 2018 Behind the Voice Actor Awards, she is known for voicing Makoto Niijima in Persona 5 and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Lucy Heratfilia in Fairy Tail, Pen Pen in the 2019 Neon Genesis Evangelion re-dub, and so much more. She is also known for her live-action roles in CONfessionals (which is available for steaming here) and her upcoming film, The Home. During Dragon Con 2019, I caught up with her to discuss her thoughts on Dragon Con, why she went into voice acting, her work on Peach Girl and as Sailor Venus, and about simul-dubbing.
You can (and should!) check out Cherami Leigh at her official Twitter account.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Operation Rainfall: My name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and you are?
Cherami Leigh: Cherami Leigh!
OR: Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
CL: Yeah. I’m an actor and a writer. I’ve done a little of directing for ADR, and producing as well. [OR Note: ‘ADR’ stands for Automated Dialog Replacement.] I’m probably most known for a lot of the anime and video game work that I do.
“I don’t discriminate if its voice over or if it’s a play or a film or a TV show. If all the chips fall in a way that works in my schedule, and its something I want to do, I’d love to work on it.“
OR: Is this your first Dragon Con?
CL: It is my first Dragon Con!
OR: What do you think of it so far? I know its only early Friday.
CL: Yeah, I’ve only seen zero of Dragon Con so far, but it seems really exciting. I’ve heard wonderful things about it. And I’ve been super excited all year, just because its Dragon Con- its reputation precedes it in the best way. And I’ve had a lot of people ask me to bring them back some dragons. So I’m on the lookout for actual dragons at Dragon Con.
OR: You’ve been acting since you were six. You’ve been dancing ballet, tap, and jazz and you were in dancing competitions. And you’ve been working Radio Disney for over a decade. And you first [entered] voice acting with Sae from Peach Girl. Why make the shift into voice acting from acting and DJ’ing and dancing?
CL: My mom is a dance teacher, so that’s how I got into dance. And I harassed her to let me try acting. She did not want me to be in the industry, because it’s a really tough business. It’s very emotional, and she did not want to put a child through that. So she made me take acting classes that were for older kids, and tried to put me in so many situations where it would be hard for me that I would give it up. And it only spurred me on further. So her plan totally backfired. I still work for Radio Disney, I just started doing promos for them. And I started doing promos for them when I was eight.
And I started doing voice over when I was seven years old. And I guess it wasn’t ever a shift for me, a decision that I was going to focus mainly on voice over or I’m going to focus on camera- I just auditioned for whatever project comes my way that seems interesting or if someone says that this is a character that I’d like you to look at.
I don’t discriminate if its voice over or if it’s a play or a film or a TV show. If all the chips fall in a way that works in my schedule, and its something I want to do, I’d love to work on it. I don’t think now that I’ve done as much voice over as I have, and as much on camera as I have, I don’t think there will ever be a time that I will not ever want to do both. Because I feel like they balance me. But I guess it wasn’t a decision or a choice that I intentionally made, it was just the projects that chose me and the productions that chose me that were leaning more towards the voice over category.
OR: Peach Girl came out in 2005, and the manga came out [between 2001 and 2004]. Did you read the manga in high school or before you got involved in the project?
CL: What I knew of anime in high school was DRAGON BALL, Pokémon, and Sailor Moon.
And so when I auditioned at Funimation for Peach Girl, I was like ‘this looks like anime, but its kind of like [a] soap opera- but its not anime because its not one of those three shows.’ And that was when they kind of opened my eyes to ‘Oh, just you wait. This wonderful world of anime will now be introduced to you.’
And Peach Girl, they actually said we’re going to take you to a convention to promote the show. And I said “[p]romote the show?” And they said “[y]ou’re going to have signings.” And I said “[n]obody’s going to be there, nobody knows the show, we’re still working on it.” And they said “[o]h no, people know the show.” And so I was probably five episodes in and they said “[y]ou can go get the manga.” And I said “[w]here am I going to get the manga?” And I went to Barnes and Noble and was like ‘What is this?!’. There was a whole area that I knew nothing about.
For that show, I read all the manga and I read Sae’s Story as well- it would have been awesome if Sae’s Story got its own anime.
OR: You know, they did a sequel manga for Peach Girl. [OR Note: Titled ‘Peach Girl Next’.]
OR: Have you thought about re-voicing in that?
CL: That would be awesome. If they reanimated that, I’d totally be down. That would be great.
“But yeah, simuldubs are really, really tough. It’s really hard on the production team.
So that process has been tricky, but I think everybody’s still trying to find a balance. And we love what we do, and we love the team we work with, so that makes it a blast regardless of how we’re doing it.”
OR: Another role for another company you did, Viz- you voiced Sailor Venus in Sailor Moon (2014), Sailor Moon Crystal, and Sailor Moon R: The Movie. You mentioned that you watched the original series in high school- how did you find your own voice for Sailor Venus?
CL: I was terrified. I obviously knew of Sailor Moon, I remember watching it as a kid and I thought it was so cool. I got to see these young female characters that were so strong and were also tackling pretty serious emotional issues that kids go through. And so, I was really excited to audition for it when they said it was coming back. But I am somebody that, until I do the audition, the dream is still alive. And then when I do the audition, it is out of my hands.
So I procrastinated on sending the audition in until a half-hour until the audition was due. And then I had to rush the audition in my car on my way to the airport- not the best plan. And they called me afterwards and said- I had auditioned for all the characters- and they called me and said ‘We want to call you back for Sailor Moon and Luna.’ And I was in Texas- it was two days before my wedding. And I said that I can’t make it back for the callback, I’m getting married. And they said ‘Record it, and we will see what happens.’ So I sent in an audition for Sailor Moon and Luna, and they sent those choices to Japan for the creator of Sailor Moon [OR NOTE: Naoka Takuchi], and the Japanese production team to approve. And they said “[Naoka Takuchi] heard my slate for my Sailor Moon audition, and said ‘That’s Sailor Venus.’” And that was that. And I booked Sailor Venus by auditioning for Sailor Moon.
So I don’t know how the voice came about, what I thought that the guardian might be. And when I was reading a breakdown, I was inspired and I’m sure the original English dub that I grew up watching definitely had some inspiration in that, as did the Japanese, because I’ve seen all of them.
OR: You worked on the simuldub for Steins;Gate by voicing Suzuha and her mother Yuki, and Lucy in Fairy Tail. What was the production schedule like for these shows? Did the fact that you did not have the full body of later episode work cause you any problems with nailing your performance?
CL: It was tricky, for sure. With the simuldubs in general, what’s been difficult is that we have such a tight production schedule and only in the past two years has Funimation started integrating out-of-town actors that live outside of Dallas, because they just don’t have the time [and] they have to get people in. But with a technology called Source-Connect, we’ve been able to do that. So I’m communicating with the director in Texas via Source-Connect, and then I have a director in L.A., and they have as many details as they can gather. But its- it’s sort of like working on a live action TV show. We don’t necessarily have the writer’s input or the writers keep us in the dark about some things and so we go through the journey with the characters. And so it’s a fun way to process that- definitely playing Yuki and Suzuha at the same time was tricky, just because I didn’t have another actor to bounce off of and [I] didn’t know what was coming. And so I’d be surprising myself in the read, and then whoever I get to play first I get to [then] act opposite the second time, and so we’d alternate with that.
But yeah, simuldubs are really, really tough. It’s really hard on the production team. They’re writing two to three scripts a week for various shows. The director and the engineer are recording nonstop, and then they go home and check everything and get ready to mix it. They have a strict deadline- its not like a DVD dub. So that process has been tricky, but I think everybody’s still trying to find a balance. And we love what we do, and we love the team we work with, so that makes it a blast regardless of how we’re doing it.
OR: Thank you very much.
A special thank you to the staff at Dragon Con for arranging the interview, and to Ms. Cherami Leigh for sitting down with me to talk about some of her work!
What are your favorite of Cherami Leigh’s roles? What would you like to see her in next?
Let us know in the comments below!