[Honey’s Anime Interview] Richard Epcar - The Voice of Ansem, Joseph Joestar, and 600 Other Iconic Characters! (Anime Boston 2019)

This past weekend at Anime Boston 2019, we had the opportunity to speak with Richard Epcar, veteran voice actor of over 600 characters from anime and video games. Some of his best-known roles include Batou from Ghost in the Shell, Jigen from Lupin the Third, Ansem and Terra-Xehanort from Kingdom Hearts, the Joker from several Batman games, and old Joseph Joestar from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. He has also served as a director and writer on many anime projects with his wife, fellow voice actor Ellyn Stern.

Richard Epcar shared his thoughts on connecting with his characters, his dream roles, and much more. He also offered exclusive insider info on the voice acting business. Let’s get started!

Richard Epcar

Honey-Chan

QUESTIONER
Interview with Richard Epcar


You’ve voiced over 600 characters, and some of them are similar to each other, such as Ansem and Terra-Xehanort and Joseph Joestar at different ages. How do you differentiate them?

I really love doing Joseph Joestar—he’s one of my favorite characters. And I’m actually starting to look like him, which is scary.


You should cosplay as him!

Yeah, a lot of people have said that! I really love doing that character, he’s just great. They’ve done the series in 30-year increments and the next series, which we’re working on now and I just wrapped my part in, he’s 30 years older. So he’s in his 90s now. And he’s just a feeble old doddering fool, so it’s always fun to work, but it’s kind of hard to go from this robust, cool guy who fights people and is just really this great character to this feeble, doddering, drooling guy. So that’s kind of tough.


And with Ansem and Terra-Xehanort, is there a bit of a difference?

They’re pretty similar, but I notice that there’s a little difference in the voice of those characters. Ansem is the main character for me in Kingdom Hearts. They’ve had me play some different characters throughout that series and I think I’ve done 8 of them now if you can believe it. All of the different incarnations.


How many times did you have to say “light” and “darkness” and “hearts”?

A million! People always say we should have a drinking game—every time I say “darkness” you take a sip—I think you’d get blotto after about 15 minutes. But it was a really fun game to be a part of, to be honest with you, and people love it. You know, it’s huge! I think the first day or two [Kingdom Hearts 3] came out, it sold over 5 million copies. So it’s really nice to be part of something like that.


As a veteran actor, what are your thoughts on the changing face of anime as it steps out of its subculture roots and into more of a mainstream pop culture role?

When anime first started, it had kind of a limited fanbase. And now a lot of people who were never into it before are getting into it, and I see it influencing all kinds of stuff. You see it influencing Disney, where it used to be the other way around and [anime] was influenced by those things and now it’s coming full circle where American animation companies are being influenced by anime.

And I think that’s pretty cool—it’s also a testament to how wonderful these stories are that these guys come up with. I think that’s really why all of this stuff is so popular. They come up with these incredible stories that are very different from what we grew up watching as kids’ cartoons. Our stuff is pretty linear when you look at it, pretty formulaic. But they really push the envelope, ask the tough questions, and I think people really like that! I think it’s really engaging, and that’s why they have such a devoted fanbase that’s growing and growing all the time. Which is great, because when we first started doing this stuff a million years ago, I worked on Robotech—it was one of the first big things I worked on—nobody really knew. They thought it was some silly little cartoon show, and then it blew up. They put it on network television, and it’s been growing leaps and bounds ever since.


With the recent passing of Monkey Punch [creator of the Lupin the Third series], what does it mean to you to voice one of the main characters?

I also direct the series, the games, and the movies. Yeah, that was really sad—he was really quite a character. I actually got to meet him one time. The first Lupin encounter I had was when I was directing a “red jacket” series maybe 15 years ago. Out of all the shows I worked on or directed, I thought “This is such a cool show.” It was a series from the ‘70s, and it looked like it was from the ‘70s—it’s an older incarnation of that show. So I was always hoping that I would be able to do it again with more modern animation, and that’s what happened!

And it was so bizarre—[Lupin the 3rd Part IV: The Italian Adventure] kind of just fell in my lap by accident, actually. I said to them, “I’d like to bring back the original cast.” And they made us all re-audition for our roles again because they thought we were all decrepit and old now and we would sound different, but we all sounded exactly the same. So we did that, and the show went on Toonami as you know and was one of the top-rated shows—that and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. So because of that, they did another series that I just finished directing—another “blue jacket” series—and I’ve done three movies since then that I’ve directed and played Jigen in.

I mentioned earlier that Monkey Punch came when we were doing the “red jacket” series. It was really cool to meet him, and he and I share a love of James Bond. A lot of the stuff from Lupin is James Bond-inspired, so it was really cool to be part of that and to know that he loved that too. I was very sad to hear [that he died]. The longer you live, the more people you know who pass away, unfortunately. That’s kind of the reality of life. Isn’t that great...?


What have been some of your favorite interactions with fans?

I have to say, Kingdom Hearts fans are amazing. They just go nuts over anything Kingdom Hearts, which is really nice. I was at [Anime Central in Chicago] and I had a young woman approach me and ask me to come to her Kingdom Hearts panel at midnight that wasn’t on the schedule. I said, “Well, I’ll see if I’m still awake, and then I’ll come and do that.” And I went back to my room and was lying in bed and it was midnight, so I called my handler and asked, “Can you get me to this panel?” I expected there to be 20 or 25 people at this thing.

So I get in there and it’s one of those huge rooms that’s packed to the gills—I mean packed! And I walked in and she goes, “Oh my god, it’s Richard Epcar!” and the whole place went nuts! It was like one the Beatles walked in—it was ridiculous. And I did a line and they all went nuts, and then they wouldn’t let me out. I was signing everybody’s autographs—it took me like an hour to get out of there. But that was really fun and they’re amazing, the Kingdom Hearts fans.


What line did you do?

I think I said, “Darkness is the heart’s true essence.”


(laughs) You know, whatever that means.

Exactly, whatever that means. But they loved it!


With how fans were anticipating the third series of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, people were excited to hear the cast from the first three episodes [that were originally broadcast on Crunchyroll three years before the full dub was released] reprise those roles. Did you have to audition again, and did you kind of know that you were going to be back?

You know, it was so weird because initially, they had us do it with an English accent. And then they decided they didn't like that, and I’m kind of glad they dumped the English accent—I don’t think it was necessary. And once again, it was at [Anime Central] and [Warner Bros Japan] brought me in. They had me on stage and they showed the three episodes and I had never seen the shows up to that point. I thought, “This is really fun! I really like this! I really hope they do the rest of the series,” which they finally did, but it was slow going. I don’t know why it took so long for them to get behind this thing, but now they’ve got a big hit on their hands. I really enjoyed working on it.


Since you have your own famous blooper panel at conventions, is your style of acting and directing geared toward improv a little more than others?

Because I’m an actor, I come to directing from that side of the table. If I’ve cast a good actor and they say to me, “Hey, I’ve got an idea,” I’ll say “yeah” and let them go because they might come up with something better than what we have. That’s why you cast the best people, because they’re going to bring something to the table. On the other hand, there have been times when I’ve been in the booth and I’ve said to the director, “Hey, let me try something,” and they say, “No, we’ve got it. We’re moving on.” And I just say, “...Okay.”


So is it harder to improv when you’re dubbing and you have to match the lip flaps?

Yes, of course. Sometimes it sounds like it’s improv, but that’s just the skill of the actors. It’s been adapted and written so that it does actually fit in the mouth and syncs. So it’s not always easy to do that, but we come up with stuff on the fly all the time that will actually fit and look good with the lip flaps.


Are there any specific examples you can think of?

Come to my panel and you’ll see!


There’s an old show you did that a lot of people love—Bobobo-Bo Bo-Bobo.

Bobobo bo BOOOO bo bo!!


(laughs) How do you prepare for anything like that? It’s honestly one of the zaniest things anyone has ever seen, even still to this day.

Yes, you have to be stoned or drunk to watch that show. That’s kind of a funny story, actually, because they asked me several times to do the show and I turned them down. They really wanted me to do it, and at the time I was super busy doing a bunch of other stuff and just really had no time—the only way I could do that show was by recording on the weekends. But they just kept calling me and bugging me, saying, “We just really want you to do this character. We’ve had other people in, but nobody is Bobobo but you.” I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not!

I finally agreed to do it and I’m really glad I did. It was really a fun show—I actually have some outtakes from Bobobo, but it’s such a crazy show that you can’t tell if they’re outtakes or not! I hear rumors that they’re bringing the show back, but nobody has approached me yet.


Do you have any characters that would be your dream role to play?

I want to do Batman at some point, and I actually think it would be fun to do Batman and the Joker because they’re so different that you wouldn’t be able to tell. And I’d like to do James Bond, but I don’t know how that would work. I don’t know if there’s any animation of James Bond or not!


A video game, maybe?

Yeah. The only thing I got to do in that world was when Ellyn and I cast the mo-cap for one of the games. It was the Quantum of Solace game, but I think they called it something else. That happens all the time, especially with games. All last week, I was working on this game called “7/11”. Well, it’s not “7/11”, but I can’t say what it is. And sometimes if you don’t know [the real name], the game comes out a couple years later and [fans] say, “Oh, you were in that game!” And I think, “I was? Okay, if you say so.”


How is directing yourself different from a more traditional voice acting setup?

It’s great, because we agree on everything! (laughs) Some people either can’t do it or they don’t like to do it because they like to have that third eye, but I really know what I want and it’s worked out nicely. It’s a little schizophrenic—I get in the booth and do the line as the actor and sometimes I’ll just know that it worked. But sometimes I’m not so sure, so I’ll play it back and listen to it as the director, watching objectively. So you have to be able to slip in and out of that.

The thing about directing is that you have all the control. When you’re acting in something, you’re a piece of the puzzle. But when you’re directing something, you’re putting the puzzle together. So it’s nice to be able to do both of those on a project—I really do enjoy it. And I get to work with one of my favorite directors!


Do you have any new projects coming out that you can tell us about?

Well, Kingdom Hearts 3 just came out, and we’ve got a new “blue jacket” Lupin series that’s going to be on Toonami. I just wrapped the newest season of JoJo, I don’t even know what it’s called... Diamond is...


Diamond is Unbreakable?

Diamonds are Forever, yeah. (laughs) There’s something else really huge that I can’t talk about, unfortunately, but I’m really excited about it. There’s lots of great stuff coming out!


Thank you so much for speaking with us, Richard!


Final Thoughts

Richard Epcar is a boisterous and jovial person, just like many of his most beloved characters. He’s truly a professional who cares deeply about his work and his fans. Be sure to look for him as Ansem in Kingdom Hearts 3, Raiden in Mortal Kombat 11, and Joseph Joestar in JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable this year.

What did you think of our talk with Richard Epcar? What are your favorite characters of his? Have you ever met him at a convention? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!

103 [Honey’s Anime Interview] Richard Epcar - The Voice of Ansem, Joseph Joestar, and 600 Other Iconic Characters! (Anime Boston 2019)

Writer

Author: Mary Lee Sauder

After the hard-hitting East Coast lifestyle hit me a bit too hard, I started pursuing my passion as a writer in my cozy home state of Ohio. Aside from that, I spend my time cooking, cosplaying, collecting anime merch, and being an improv comedy actor. I also love sneaking alliterations and stupid puns into my writing, so be on the lookout for them! 😉

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