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Being a Brief Discussion with Vic Mignogna
By Way Jeng
April 19, 2005
Vic Mignogna is one of the most popular and prolific voice actors in anime dubbing. He has worked on some fantastic shows, voicing memorable characters with ADV Films such as Hiroki Takasugi in Princess Nine, Gawl in Generator Gawl, and Tatsunosuke Ichimura in Peacemaker. He has also worked on some FUNimation shows, for example Dextera in Kiddy Grade. But at the moment he might be best known for his performance as Edward Elric in the FUNimation release of Fullmetal Alchemist. I had a chance to sit down to talk with Vic Mignogna at Ohayocon 2005.
Way Jeng (WJ): So, what have you been doing lately?
Vic Mignogna (VM): Oh, gosh...
WJ: Anything at all? Did you go to the store to get some milk?
VM: [Laughs] I did shoot a seventy-six in golf last week, which I was very pleased with. That was my lowest ever. Been busy working on some advertising agency work in Houston, a car dealership campaign. I actually hire some of my buddies from ADV to come and do the voice work on it occasionally. I'm working on producing a video for a company in town, and I have a secret video project that I'm very excited about shooting and directing myself. Hopefully that'll pop up someplace at a convention in the near future. Of course in the anime world, plugging away at Fullmetal Alchemist. We're up to episode twenty-six. Recording on several different shows at ADV, and looking forward to some new auditions coming up soon.
WJ: You're so cool. How did you get to be that way? What's your secret?
VM: Well that presupposes that I am. [Laughs]
WJ: Come on, you've done some cool stuff. Fullmetal Alchemist, Generator Gawl, Princess Nine...
VM: You know what? All I can tell you is God has been very good to me. I take no credit for myself. I promised God a long time ago that if he gave me the privilege to use the abilities that he had given me to make a living, and to enjoy my life and pay my bills, if I was ever that blessed that I would make sure and give him the credit for it. Not horde it and act all cocky and get a big attitude but be grateful for it, and I think that's one of the reasons he's continued to be good. Because I don't take credit.
WJ: Tell me; on a scale of one to ten, how blessed do you think you are?
VM: Oh, Lord. Nine? I mean, all I don't have is a wife and kids. It'd take a special kind of person to embrace my life. They'd have to love Star Wars. They have to love what I do, and so many women are like, "I want somebody to take care of me. Go out and work and bring home the money and I'll sit at home and..." No, no, no.
WJ: What was your very first memory of anime, and what did you think about anime when you first saw it?
VM: It's funny, because when I was little I never realized, when I was little, that Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion were anime. I loved those shows, and I thought they were so cool. I had a friend who I was doing some video work with in Houston, and he said, "Hey, Vic, I'm doing some work with this little company that dubs Japanese animated shows in English. You ought to do this. I bet you'd be good at this." I said, "Okay, well I'll go and audition." So I went and auditioned, and I got cast in Street Fighter II as Vega, and shortly after that I got Generator Gawl, and just loved that show, and like I said did the best job that I could with them and kept getting opportunities to do more, and more, and more. ADV is like my family, and I love those people. I'm very, very, very privileged to work with them.
WJ: Tell us something about anime that the fans know, but they forget all too often.
VM: When it comes to dubbing anime, I think if we do our job well the fans forget how hard it is. They forget how hard it is to make something fit into such a very strict confine and yet make it sound natural. That's not easy.
WJ: You guys make it look easy. I'm sure everybody is out there and have no idea. Can you give us any idea how many takes you sometimes need to get that perfect line?
VM: Different lines are different. Sometimes there's an obvious way to do a line, an obvious delivery, and then there are times where there are four or five different options. Stress certain words, turn a certain way, inflect a certain way that gives you a completely different feel on the line. I love to explore the different ideas and zero in on the one that I think works the best, and it may not always be the most obvious read. Like, "What are you doing?" "What are YOU doing?" "What are you DOING?" There are so many ways to say that, depending on the situation and character. Some lines will go down in one take, and other lines... When we did Goemon, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, we raced through that. I mean we were hitting forty, fifty lines an hour because we'd take entire scenes at a time and lay all the lines down, and we nailed a lot of them. The most intense, dramatic, intimate shows you spend a little more time making sure the read is just right. I get picked on a lot by the directors because I'll do a line and they'll be like, "That's great. Let's move on," and I'll be like, "Umm, wait! Can I just try that... I think I have a better read. I think you'll like this better. Can I do it one more time?" They'll say, "Okay." I get teased a lot by David Williams, Matt, and Mike McFarland. They'll say, "The first take was fine. We were fine with it, but he always..." But they will tell you, usually they do like the idea.
WJ: Name a role you played that is so small you don't think anybody on Earth remembers it, except for you, but you're really proud of nonetheless.
VM: I like character voices. I don't get to do them very often, because usually with the larger roles you can't be funny with them. You can't use some weirdo quirky voice, because you can't prolong it. You can't keep it going, and be believable, and carry the character through the entire arc of the story. But occasionally you get cast to do some little role, and you can use a fun voice. I played a character that was called Escatologist in BASToF. He said, "The end of the world is near! Repent, you sinners!" Very strange voice. Fun. I don't think anybody cared much about it. It was a small character, and in the entire series he says the same four things over and over again. He just shows up and [says], "God will be merciful!" But that was fun. And Neal Given in Aura Battler Dunbine. I love that series. It's an older series, classic anime. Old school. Neal Given had an Irish accent, which was kind of challenging because he was a main character. It's fine to say a few lines with an accent, but when you have to do the whole show that way it gets tricky. But I like the Escatologist from BASToF Syndrome.
WJ: To what extent are four and twenty blackbirds baked into a pie a dainty dish?
VM: [Laughs] What?
WJ: That's what they all say. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing. Isn't that a dainty dish to set before a king?
VM: Well, you know that's a question. Isn't that a dainty dish? And I proclaim to you here and now, that the definitive answer is no. It is not a dainty dish.
WJ: Not in any way?
VM: No. I'm not much on fowl, especially fowl pie.
WJ: I always wanted to know how they survive the baking. How often do you listen to Japanese performances, and how does it effect your performances?
VM: When we record, we can hear the Japanese original in the background. Usually it's only for the sake of timing. You hear when they start, you hear when they pause, and you hear when they start again. Apart from that I don't really pull from them. I'll hear them and in many times I'll say to the director, "Now, is that what you want? Do you want that kind of reaction?" and the director most times says, "Nah, that's a little too much," or, "No, something else." We don't listen to the Japanese at all when we do Fullmetal [Alchemist]. I don't watch the shows before I record them. I don't have access to them. The only show that I've ever watched before I recorded it was Fullmetal Alchemist. They were incredible. Did a great job. But I think, among other things, the nature of the language is such that certain sounds, readings, and expressions... You wouldn't want to mimic them. You'd want them to be real for yourself or for an American audience.
WJ: I think it's very true that a lot of expressions in Japanese do not culturally play in English. They don't play the same way.
VM: Exactly. I may have a surprised sound, and it may be something small, and the Japanese might go for a huge sound. Yeah, I could do it, but it doesn't seem real.
WJ: It doesn't sound natural. Okay, one thing I like to do is give everybody a question pertaining, in some way, to academic philosophy. This one is yours.
WJ: Please do your very best. Is there an objective standard of beauty, and how can we be sure?
VM: I don't believe there is an objective standard of beauty. Clearly there is not, because many people can look at the same object and see it differently. Many people can look at the same woman, and some would find her beautiful and some would not particularly find her so. I don't think there's any accident that there's a very well known saying, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." I don't think that was casually made up. That's probably very accurate. There are people out there who see beauty in different ways. Some people watch an anime and say, "Oh, how beautiful." There'll be others who will say, "It was a cool show, but I don't know that I'd consider using the word 'beautiful' to describe it." Or [it could be] a woman or a piece of music or whatever. It could be anything. It could be the vacuum lines on the carpet. "Wow, look at how beautiful that is." I think beauty definitely is in the eye of the beholder, that there is no objective standard. Go to other countries and you will find them pointing to a standard of beauty and some people will say, "Are you kidding me?" It's very cultural, very subjective.
WJ: Do you think anybody is ever wrong about something being beautiful or not being beautiful?
VM: No. I don't think you could ever tell anybody, "No, you don't like that." You can't do that.
WJ: It's a hundred percent subjective?
VM: Yes. Now saying that, let me say that you could take a beautiful woman, somebody that is considered beautiful in our country and say, "Do you think she's attractive?" Most people would say yes. Now depending on how far you push it, "Is she the most beautiful woman you've ever seen?" Probably not. It's like asking people if they prefer blondes or brunettes. Some people have preferences. It's completely subjective.
WJ: Let's play a couple rounds of "Highs and Lows."
WJ: Name one skill you wish you had, but you don't.
VM: Play the guitar.
WJ: And the opposite, one skill you do have that you wish you'd never learned?
VM: Something that I learned that I wish I never had...
WJ: One thing you can do well that you wish you never had to hone to that level of perfection.
VM: I'm an extreme, extreme perfectionist. If you'd ever seen my home... Very meticulous. Things are always neat, clean, and put away. Maybe my neatness is a quality that some people would aspire to, and maybe I wish I weren't such a neat freak. I play the piano, but I don't play the guitar. I always wanted to play the guitar. I'd love to learn to play.
WJ: What do you regard as your greatest or most noteworthy success as an actor?
VM: I think the serious answer would have to be Fullmetal Alchemist. It was the biggest role I've ever landed, and based on the response of the fans and ratings of the show, it would appear as if we're doing a good job with it. The more I found out about this show, and the intense fandom of it, [the more] I started getting worried. I do not sound like Romi, and I am not going to sound like her. But they've been very kind, and very receptive, and most of them have really loved the way it turned out. I'm very grateful for that. That's probably the biggest voice acting achievement. Apart from that, most of it is probably on the same level. Community theater, Summerstock, a little bit of professional stuff. I was on Star Search years ago as a vocalist challenger, but I've never aspired to stardom.
WJ: It sort of found you?
VM: Exactly. If I had a nickel for every time somebody said to me, "Dude, why aren't you in LA? Why don't you go to New York?" You know why? Because stardom doesn't make my world go 'round. Because I am not so obsessed with the idea of being famous that I would drop everything that matters to me and go pursue it like some kind of nutcase. I believe very much in divine providence, and I love Houston. I don't believe I'm there by accident. I love my friends there, my home, the opportunities, the business contacts that I've made, my church... I love being there. There is nothing about moving to LA and being famous, or moving to New York and acting on Broadway, that appeals to me. If God opens a door for me, of course I'll walk through it. But I am not going to beat them down.
WJ: So what do you think is your least noteworthy success? And I do mean success.
VM: What a question. I've never considered judging a success by its noteworthiness. Gosh! You're a trickster. You know what? As a music composer, especially when I write music for ad agencies and commercials, I'm called upon to write a certain kind of music that fits a certain theme, has a certain style, has a certain sing out and a certain structure, and is over in thirty seconds. There have been a few that I squeezed out the composition, produced it, and just kind of muddled through it. I was not proud of it at all. It was successful in that the ad agency was pleased with it, but it was never something that I would play for anybody and say, "Oh, yeah. I wrote that jingle." While it was a success, it was definitely not a noteworthy one.
WJ: Congratulations anyhow. Now we move on to everybody's favorite part, the Lightning Round.
WJ: Everybody loves this. Here's how it goes: I am going to ask you five questions and time you. I will show you the time on this watch so you can worry if you're taking too much.
VM: I get five seconds on each one, or...
WJ: It's as long as you take.
VM: Oh, it's a single amount of time.
WJ: Right. Everyone at home is going to judge you on time and content equally. You don't have to be as fast as you can be as long as you come up with something good. Tell me when you're ready and I'll start timing as soon as I begin reading the questions.
VM: I'm ready.
WJ: And now we... Go! If you had the choice, would you rather be cast as a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker?
VM: Butcher. I like meat.
WJ: What is your favorite flavor of ice cream, and how much can you eat in one sitting without resting?
VM: I love pina colada ice cream, and I bet I could eat a whole gallon before I puke.
WJ: Name one piece of advice you give all the time, but you don't follow yourself.
VM: [Laughs] Ummm... Be quiet and listen for a minute.
WJ: [Laughs] That's a good one! Suppose you could be penpals, and that's snail mail, not e-mail, with any person, living or dead. Who would you want to write and have write back to you?
VM: Jesus Christ.
WJ: Name one household appliance that comes closest to filling you with absolute rage.
VM: Oh, Lord... The coffee maker. I can never seem to make it make coffee right.
WJ: Your time is 1:03.40!
I'd like to thank Vic Mignogna for taking a few moments out of a busy day to share his opinions and talk about anime dubbing for a while.
Are you involved with English dubbed anime, and would you like to have a brief discussion about it? If you'd like to appear in this column for an interview, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you enjoy reading this column, you may also enjoy my book, Getting Things Just Right. ISBN 1-4116-0881-X.
Copyright 2005 Way Jeng