One of the most enjoyable experiences I had recently at Colorado’s big anime convention, NDK (Nan Desu Kan), was that I had the chance to sit down with two other writers from animeroot.com and speak with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, an accomplished member of the anime industry
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn does a lot. She not only does she have numerous voice acting credits, including characters from great shows such as Ghost in the Shell, Fushugi Yugi, and ,hack//sign, but she also has done vocal work for the songs in the Silent Hill series and directed popular titles such as Cowboy Bebop and Naruto. I was fortunate to hear her thoughts on popular titles, the directing process, and how the anime industry has changed.
Mike Anthony: One of the more notable characters you’ve voiced was The Major, (Motoko Kusanagi) from Ghost in the Shell. What was it like voicing a character from a series that has become such a staple in the anime community?
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn: It’s an amazing series. I wasn’t doing voice over when the first movie was done, and I remember seeing it thinking, “Man, I really wish I could have auditioned for that.” I was at a wine tasting when I got the call that they, the company I was working for, ZRO Limit Productions, had not only got the series, but that they wanted me to play the major, and I was just over the moon. I had played a lot of villains and stuff, but to actually play someone that was that strong, and still kind of feminine at times, but also kick-ass and while I use my own voice… I just loved playing that role. I loved, loved, loved it.
Anime Root: What are some of the other roles that you have done for anime?
MM: The first series I did was called El Hazard: The wanderers. I played Diva, queen of the Bugrom Empire, which was really fun. Then I did Nuriko in Fushigi Yuugi: The mysterious Play. When I started Directing, my first gig was Cowboy Bebop and I fell in love with Spike Spiegel. So, the minute I found out his girlfriend Julia was gonna be on the show I was like, I really, really wanna play Julia, so I played Julia in that. I also adapted and directed Wolf’s Rain, which I loved, and I got to play the lead villain in that, Lady Jagura, as well. Also, that was against Steve Blum who played spike in cowboy bebop so that was fun. More recently I was Cornelia in Code Geass, and I got to play Abigail Brand in the avengers, Helba in the Dot.Hack series, … a lot of stuff.
MA: A friend of mine is just getting into anime and he asked me a question I thought would be good to ask you, and that was: What shows would you recommend to someone who is just getting into anime?
MM: I haven’t seen Escaflowne, but I’ve heard it’s fantastic, and I think that would be a good one, I think Bebop would be a great one because it’ very westernized and it’s not culturally heavy. It’s really intense, and dark, and beautiful and funny, and has probably the best soundtrack of any of any show anywhere that I’ve ever heard. I mean, I have all the special edition soundtracks. If you like fighting stuff, Bleach is fun, if you like Harry Potter, I’d say go for Naruto.
AR: How did you get into more of the directing roles?
MM: I had been working for this company, ZRO Limit Productions for a couple years, doing voice over, and they had too many shows and too few directors. So they called me up and said “do you want to direct a show?” And I said “sure!” And I was terrified. My instinct was like No! You’ll fail! and I thought, well, I should try it, because that’s what you do in those situations. It turned out to be Cowboy Bebop, and that was that.
I had been doing some on camera work, but I really didn’t enjoy it. The last audition I did was awful, the celebrity was such a jerk when I went in to read for him, and I said, “I know I’m supposed to be here, because I’m here, but I know I’m not supposed to be doing this, so any sign of anything…” and two days later I got the call to direct Cowboy Bebop and it was like being shot out of a canon and I’ve never stopped working since.
AR: What sort of work does Directing entail?
MM: For me it entails a lot of homework. I’m obsessed with it. I need to know what I’m directing before I get in the booth. Some directors don’t, but I want to know what I’m talking about so I’m just not BS-ing the whole time. For me, it’s a lot of work, at home, watching a lot of anime. When I started directing Naruto they were on episode 80 or 90, I think, in Japan, and I came in at 22. I just watched in one weekend as much as I possibly could. Just so I know where the character is going to go, especially in a show that’s as serialized as Naruto. So, a lot of research for me.
Then when we get in the booth it’s my job to make sure that for the people that come in first, that I carve out the story. I’m making sure the story is true to the original and people sound like they are speaking to each other, which they’re not. We bring the actors in one at a time and they have no context, they haven’t read the script, they haven’t seen the episode, they’re basically cold reading it all so it’s my job to make sure that all the intention behind everything is as specific to the story as possible and true to the content. It’s like recording a symphony one instrument at a time. It’s a great puzzle to put together and I love the challenge. I do a lot of original animation too and that’s great because you get an entire cast in the studio and you get to hear everybody playing off each other and let the madness ensue.
MA: I know someone who is a big fan of Naruto and she wanted to know, what is your favorite anime that you haven’t been a part of?
MM: Death Note. I really wanted Death Note, and when Viz optioned Death Note I told my boss, “Please get this show! Please, please, please!” because I really was obsessed with it. I loved that show. But, it went to Canada, and that’s great, they did a great job.
AR: Are there any projects coming up that you can talk about?
MM: Well, Tom Hewitt the producer of Silent Hill already talked about it, so… I directed the Hi-Def re-release of Silent Hill 2 & 3. We had to re-voice all the characters because the original guy who played James (from Silent Hill 2) asked for royalties that weren’t in his contract and Konami didn’t want to deal with it and they said we’ve got to re-do it. So, that’s the most recent thing I’ve been working on; Silent Hill stuff. And still Naruto and a little bit of Bleach as well as some stuff from Marvel that I can’t talk about, but it’s pretty cool. I got to co-direct the Iron Man and Wolverine shows that are now running on G4.
MA: Speaking of Silent Hill, it’s one of my favorite game series of all time. Silent Hill 2 was my favorite and you voiced Maria in that, right?
MM: Yes. I think I may have been miscast, but I did the best I could, I didn’t cast myself. They wanted me to play it and I said alright, sure. I liked the innocence of Mary and, at times, the darker sides
of Maria. It was fun playing two completely different sides of what some people consider the same character. And I got to play off of Troy Baker and that was great fun.
MA: And I know you’ve done the music too, all the vocal work.
MM: what was great about that, especially directing Silent Hill 3 is that I’ve never actually played the games, because I’m a chicken, is that is when you were at the amusement park in the game you can hear the songs under the scene and I was like “Oh cool! That’s where they used it, that’s great.”
MA: How did you get into doing the music for the games?
MM: The same company that produced Cowboy Bebop, ZRO Limit, they called and said, “we’ve got this music project coming up, do you want to audition and sing?” And I said, “sure!” I didn’t think I was right for it because it sounded like it was for a younger, higher, voice, but that’s what Akira (Yamaoka) said he loved, the fact that my voice was deep and husky and that it was sort of a juxtaposition to the music itself and it really set an off mood for Silent Hill. There were so many styles of music that we did, it was really fun. From ballads, to rock out stuff, to I’m on heroin, all kinds of stuff. It was great.
MM: Seriously, with one of the songs, Tender Sugar, I asked “What’s this song about?” And he said, “you’re coming down from a heroin high and you need a fix.” And I was like, well, I’ve never done heroin but I’ve smoked and I’ll just be like I haven’t had a cigarette in a day and I need one and use that for motivation. It was great fun because it was a real acting job to sing the stuff as well. A lot more acting than straight out singing.
MA: Well, you did great and it’s on my iPod.
MM: Oh, cool!
AR: What are some of the favorite video game voice over roles that are your favorites?
MM: I played Nina in Tekken and I’ve been doing that for years I think. I just did, I can’t say the name of it, it’s a big Zombie game but I can’t say which one, and I played this huge, multi-breasted zombie queen who was naked and disgusting and it was awesome. I took a month to recover vocally from the role but it was pretty fantastic. And I did Nora in Final Fantasy XIII and that was fun…even though I got dropped off a bridge by Troy Baker, he seems to be killing me a lot lately.
MA: I know some voice actors have trouble with a lot of the screaming loud roles and it can get bad. I remember reading in the case of the show Excel Saga The woman who voiced the lead had to be replaced for the second half of the show. Are there any roles that are too exhausting or you would never want to do again?
MM: Well, the Zombie role was hard, but since I direct most of the time I figured I can trash myself and just take a while to recover. Unfortunately, (later) we ended up doing a Silent Hill concert in San Francisco and I was like, “How am I gonna sing?” so that was hard. I don’t do screaming roles for more than two hours, I just can’t. I know a lot of actors now won’t. Sometimes the producers have never been behind a mic and are just, “You, do it!” and I’m like “No, you do it. You stand here and scream for two hours and we’ll see how you sound in the morning, respect my instrument.” It is an instrument and if you break the strings it won’t play anymore, sometimes they just don’t get that. I’m really careful with the actors I direct. I make sure if there’s any screaming that it’s at the end of a session and if it’s a lot of screaming it’s only two hours. If someone is trashed on a Monday, then they are out all week and that’s a week’s worth of income gone, so I try to do screaming on the end of Fridays.
AR: are there any other voice actors you like working with?
MM: Oh yeah, Steve Blum, Laura Bailey, Troy Baker, Stephanie Sheh, So many people. There are too many to name.
MA: You’ve done so much in this industry. How has it changed since you’ve started?
MM: After Bebop there was kind of a boom, there was a huge resurgence of anime, really good anime and they put a lot of money into it, and as it happens, they kept producing more and more and more. Then they wanted it faster and cheaper and then the economy took a crash, and it’s sort of dwindling now. I’m hoping more comes back when the economy comes back. And, it’s tough with all the pirating that’s going on online, and people watching it illegally. Just, buy anime if you can, because that’s what fuels the industry. With the explosion of the internet, it’s hurting the industry because people aren’t buying what they used to.
MA: What do you think of all the streaming services like Crunchyroll, Netflix and Hulu? Do you think it can help the industry get back on its feet?
MM: I hope so, I think it’s great. Naruto is on Hulu and I think that’s terrific. It gives everybody the chance to go and get it a legal way.
MA: Well, I have one more question before we have to go. Your husband also does a lot of voice work too. Did you meet him through a project or work?
MM: When I first got to town in California I was singing in this club and I was looking for more income when I saw a listing saying Universal Studios needs singers and dancers, and I thought “Well I can’t dance, but I can sing.” So I auditioned for the Beetlejuice’s Rockin’ Graveyard Revue, got hired, and then actually went to see the show that I had been hired for. And the first person that walked out on stage was Beetlejuice, and that was my husband. And I knew the minute I watched him perform, I was like, “Ohhh, I have to break up with this doctor, because this is the guy I’m going to marry. With the bright wig, the whole thing, I fell in love.
MA & AR: Thanks so much for your time.
MM: My pleasure, thanks you guys!