The jet-set queen bee of Honey’s Anime, Honey-chan, took a week off after her trip to New York before landing in Pittsburgh once again to cover the Sangawa Project. She was granted the chance to interview Tony Oliver while he was in town. Tony Oliver is a voice actor who has been in the business since the first US anime boom in the early 80s. He has voiced characters in mainstream films like Hood Winked II, The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz and also memorable anime characters like Rick Hunter in ROBOTECH and Lupin in Lupin the Third. He has also been the director for the dubs of Gurren Lagann, Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers; Charlotte, God Eater, and various incarnations of the Fate/Stay universe where he also voices the character of Lancer. Honey-chan was really excited to speak one-on-one with such a talented actor.
Interview with Tony Oliver
You played Rick Hunter in ROBOTECH and for many older US anime fans that means you were the voice of the hero we all wanted to be. What is it like to get in on the ground floor of anime fandom in the US?
It wasn’t even called ROBOTECH yet, it was still called Macross. I was told I was cast for a three-episode OVA, they were going to put together and it was going to go out on VHS and it wasn’t going to go anywhere. So, I went and did it. It was supposed to be my farewell job. My second child had been born and I had thought I needed to get a little more responsible and get a more regular job since actor income when you first start is terrible. So, this was supposed to be my farewell to acting and it ends up becoming the series that defines me.
You care currently not only the ADR of the new Fate movie but also play the role of Lancer. What has it been like working on this project? What do you think really draws the fandom in?
It is such a well composed story. It’s rare that when you finish an anime series that the only questions you have left are the ones the author intended you to have. I started in Fate/Stay Night, which I did not direct, and it had a bit more of an anime flavor to it. But Fate/Zero took it to a different place; it is much more cinematic and our pace is much slower. The adaptation on the scripts were difficult because it’s so well written in Japanese that we didn’t want to ruin what was there. The story is so compelling and the characters are so compelling and that’s what drew me to it and that’s why I got excited. When you have wonderful actors and wonderful material and a studio that supports you, magic happens.
How do you define a good story? What makes a story good? Is it plot? Is it character depth? Is it the art?
From my perspective, the most compelling stories are the ones that are about relationships. To me, it’s sci-fi, I love sci-fi, and what I like about science fiction is it’s about the relationships. There is sci-fi content but it’s about the compelling relationships and that’s when you make a story that touches you and that’s why anime is popular. American cartoons seem to be a little surface-y especially on television. I remember getting a direction where I came in to go play a villain and I worked on subtext and all this stuff and when I did my first line the director said “hang on what are you doing? Just sound pissed off,” and that was my direction. In anime you can’t get away with that. You really have to tell the story and explore how deep those relationships can go and how compelling and emotional does that relationship touch you. That is what makes a good story.
At this point in your career are you seeking out roles or are they coming to you? Or is there still a lot of the audition process?
Oh, I still audition too. Nothing comes to you in this business. You have to make yourself available, you have to be thinking about it, you have to be trained and ready. It is a combination; there are things that I’ve auditioned for and things I’m simply cast for. There are things I go after as a director and things that come after me. As a professional you have to stitch together all the different kinds of clientele in order to stitch together your living. So I write, produce, and direct.
What advice would you give to your younger self about the business?
Don’t give up, get better.
Do you have a favorite line you’ve gotten to deliver? Or one that sticks with you?
I don’t have any of those in my career. I’ve played so many ingenue in my career and they don’t get many great lines. I’m really loving working as villains now. I’ve got a couple of taglines, like from Lupin the Third which is “catch you later, toodles!” and Rick Hunter from ROBOTECH, “Minmay! Minmay!” which is all he did was scream “Minmay!” eighty-two times an episode.
Who is your biggest influence as an actor or director?
As a director, Robert Zemeckis, and that started when I was doing Power Rangers. It wasn’t because I was directing, but the way in which he crafts his stories. They’re these roller coaster rides with a beginning middle and end, yet it really is a ride with dips and falls. So when I started to approach directing that way it’s a conversation with two people, with one person and it is a ride and then thing started getting better and that all comes back to Power Rangers. I said turn this into a theme park ride. I think each episode needs to be a self-contained theme park ride and that is what we tried to do. You’re entertaining people. You’re not writing for you. You’re writing for a bunch of people that can’t get into your head. So you need to make it visual, fun, and exciting and attract people that way as opposed to browbeating them with dialogue. We forget it’s a visual medium, especially as voice actors, because we like to talk, but it is a visual medium and we want to tell stories with pictures.
If you had to choose an anime genre to be your reality what would it be?
I kind of like the Fate universe, only because you get to be a wizard and there is magic. Unfortunately, you have to die.
Is there a role that has stuck with you? A role that you think “I was lucky to get that one”?
All of them. A career is a body of work and not just a role. I tell my students that there is no one role that makes or breaks you. It’s a string of one building onto the other.
You travel to a lot of conventions. What is it about the conventions and the fans that keeps you coming back?
The fans. The fandom in anime is different than other fandoms in that is politer, it’s friendlier, it’s more inclusive. I love the fact that in this time that we’re in right now that the most inclusive, friendliest places I go in this country are anime conventions. Where everyone is embraced, where everyone is hugged, where everyone is accorded the same amount of respect.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
It is very grueling on the voice. When you play a video game, every time you’re doing one of those punching sounds or you’re taking damage or getting kicked or shot, we record pages and pages of those efforts and screams and injured reactions. It is very stressful on the voice and you’re doing it for a lot of hours at a time. So, the video games can be challenging.