James McGonnigal is an American voice actor that has lent his talents to a multitude of projects over the years including One Piece, Gokusen, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! He is also an accomplished stage producer and director producing Runaways, FLOPZ & CUTZ, and Embrace! Concerts for the Mathew Shepard Foundation. He’s an activist organizing rallies, protests and conferences to bring attention to causes like climate change, immigration, marriage equality and LGBTQ rights. Honey-chan had a great opportunity to sit down and talk with him about his work and the causes important to him.
Interview with Jamie McGonnigal
When was that moment you decided that voice acting was something you wanted to pursue?
I was doing musicals in New York and I was doing a show in South Jersey with Leah Applebaum, who had done voices in Pokémon and Revolutionary Girl Utena, and she says “You’d be great at voice acting. Have you ever considered it?” Well I loved cartoons my entire life, I loved An American Tail growing up and The Last Unicorn. I said sure, pass my name along. It was in 1999 that I got a job in a flash cartoon called Barbarian Moron on SyFi.com and the rest is history.
As for that moment when I realized voice acting was something I wanted to really do, I was doing recording about two blocks from the World Trade Center. We were recording until early in the morning and I was supposed to go temp that morning at the World Trade Center then go to an audition later that day. So, I called the temp agency and said I came to New York to be an actor and not a temp, so I didn’t go to work at the World Trade Center that morning of September 11, 2001.
You were very lucky. You’ve been attached to some major franchises like Yu-Gi-Oh! and Pokémon. What is like to know that these works you’ve been involved in have become multigenerational works?
It’s an honor, really. I had someone come up to me yesterday and say thank you for being such a positive part of my childhood. I’m over 40 and to hear that I was part of someone’s childhood, someone I’d never met before, gives me chills and it’s a real honor. The franchises are good franchises, too. The stories and plots are good at teaching good lessons.
One of my favorite parts of coming to convention is the overall acceptance of all people regardless of background, including the LGBTQ community. How do you feel as an advocate being part of that?
It is the reason I come to cons, without a doubt. As someone who grew up gay who loved musicals, musicals were my thing, I don’t like sports as a kid. I stood out like a sore thumb at school because I had this love for something that was different and everyone was like, “you’re a freak.” If there had been a Broadway convention when I was a kid, I would have lived there. So, to go to a place where there is something you celebrate and maybe you’re the only one in your school as a kid that likes that thing, to go to a place where you find a whole bunch of other people who love the same thing as you. And to realize that there is a whole community of people who love the same thing as you, that’s a whole other level of acceptance.
Do you think that has some parallels to being gay?
I liken that to being gay, because so often we feel so alone. Even though the studies say that there are probably a lot of others in your school who are not out. So, to come to a place where you have acceptance of this weird thing you love that no one else seems to love, and a place you can be yourself without any apology is a pretty magical thing. We live in a very uncertain world and yet have this little weekend [Otakon] to escape it.
In anime, there seems to be a lot of gender fluidity even in school anime. Do you think when these characters are accepted by their peers it can teach acceptance?
I think there is a lot more work to be done. I think it would help if those characters [gay characters] were the main characters. We need to have more strong women that don’t have to have enormous breasts. We need to have strong gay characters who can be who they are. I think [anime] is off to a great start but there is a lot more that we need to do.
If you could have a conversation with one of your characters, who would it be?
I think it would be Tieh, from The Weathering Continent. It’s a title that came out in 1992 and not a lot of people know it. Tieh was this mystic and very mysterious, smart, kind and seems to know a lot of things that I don’t know. I think anytime I have the chance to have a conversation with someone who can give me a different perspective and teach me something I don’t know, that’s a win right there.
What a great answer! I think getting to know people with different perspectives is a lot of fun. I want to thank you very much for taking time to sit and talk with Honey’s Anime. We hope to catch up to you in the future and talk some more.
Author: Zeke Changuris
I’m a journalist, writer, photographer, video producer, social media manager and above all a storyteller. I’m located on the east coast of the United States but travel the world with the love of my life. I’ve been a nerd since birth with a love of history and science. I fell in love with anime, watching ROBOTECH and Venus Wars in the 80s when our only source was secondhand VHS dubs. A crazy new thing called the internet changed that, giving me access to new and amazing anime every day. I love to write for work and pleasure. I’m living the dream of every kid, getting paid to watch anime and loving every subtitled line.