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Interview with Stephanie Nadolny
By Allen Divers
April 06, 2003
So, I figure I'm starting to get the hang of this interviewing thing. Thanks to the kind folks over at FUNimation, I was recently able to speak with Stephanie Nadolny. For those unfamiliar with her name, Stephanie has become a mainstay of FUNimation's Dragonball DUBs, starting with young Gohan in Dragonball Z, then moving into the role of young Goku in Dragonball and now finds herself back in the role of Goku for the release of Dragonball GT. While speaking with her on a conference call from FUNimation headquarters, I learned quite a bit about her career up to now and one really important thing: when conducting a phone interview, its best to record the conversation to make it easier to write the thing up later!
I'd like to thank Stephanie and Jeff Dronen of FUNimation for having patience with me as I hurriedly typed her responses during our conversation. Despite my first clumsy step in a "live" interview, Stephanie remained bubbly and energetic the entire time. During the interview she confided that while her primary goal is to entertain others, she's quite happy often simply entertaining herself. It seems Stephanie has always had acting in her blood.
At the age of three, she garnered attention by mimicking those around her. Later, Stephanie went everywhere with a tape recorder, listening to sounds and voices that intrigued her. She would go home, listen to her tapes and then do her best to repeat what she heard. Going beyond just trying to sound like the recording, she would concentrate on how to make the new sounds with her own voice. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Stephanie moved all around the central southern part of the U.S. about every three years with her family until they settled in a city north of Dallas, Texas in 1988. While in high school, Stephanie was active in the school drama and choir programs as well as working with the local community theaters throughout her childhood. Her career actually began with singing, with that acting as the proverbial foot in the door.
Allen - How did you start in voice acting?
Stephanie - Professionally, I started out doing the singing voice of a character in Chuck E. Cheese while traveling with a showband called Vince Vance and the Valiants back in the early to late 90's right after high school. This musical revue allowed me to explore live characters with colorful costumes from the 1920's on up to the 60's and 70's. I began choreographing and arranging the dance routines and vocal rehearsals with other band members as well as recruiting new singers and performers. Some area bands I had met were asking me to sing backups on various projects and one of them in particular was hired out to record the theme to "Cyboars" - a Funimation project in 1998. Singing backups for this theme at the session with Brave Combo, I met Barry Watson who was producing Dragonball Z. I expressed interest in character voice acting and I was called in to audition when the show was recast in early 1999.
Allen - So your performing really began in high school?
Stephanie - Actually, it goes back further than that. As a child, I was a mimic who carried around a tape recorder. I would record things that were interesting: friends, TV and whatever I wanted to imitate. I would try to recreate certain voices and began forming my own radio shows doing all of the voices myself or would invite friends to help me. I guess you could say I was training at a young age without realizing it. Later, I got involved in Community Theater and school drama performing in live stage shows and musicals as often as possible. I took piano lessons, performed with the dance team and took part in area competitions.
Allen - Had performing always been a goal of yours?
Stephanie - Absolutely! Even at age 3 I knew performing was going to be a part of my life. I would put on shows for my friends and teachers at recess in school and also for family and friends. I was fortunate in that I could entertain myself for hours without getting bored. My Mother in particular was very supportive in my developmental years, but wanted me to grow up in as normal of an environment as possible. As much as I begged, she did not feel it would be best to take on the child actor route. She believed in me more than anyone. I lost her suddenly to cancer, shortly after I was cast as Gohan. I know she would want me to continue to meet these performance goals and many more in the future as long as it makes me happy. I have always had a lot of ambition and determination despite much rejection along the way. I still have so much more I would like to accomplish!
Allen - What role did you initially audition for?
Stephanie - Barry had me audition for several of the roles to hear my voice range. I read for Chiaotzu, Bulma, Chi Chi and Gohan. I was cast as Young Gohan in Dragonball Z at around episode 54. This was the beginning of my Funimation career and Gohan was a solid introduction to anime for me personally. I had not heard of DBZ preciously.
Allen - So before all of this, you weren't really aware of anime?
Stephanie - Right, not really. I was always into animation and cartoons as a child, but had never been exposed to Japanese anime. Cartoon voiceovers have always intrigued me and how the same voice actors could change their voices so completely. I would try to think of how I could also change my own voice into totally different sounds.
Allen - After you were cast as Gohan, what other roles did you voice?
Stephanie - The next big role for me was Goku in Dragonball.
In Dragonball Z, the director had me read for East Kai and I was unexpectedly cast for that role. It was the wackiest, most comedic voice I had come up with so far and I really enjoyed her. I also voiced Baby Trunks, Angela (one of Gohan's high school classmates), a German English teacher, Ikose's mother and some other women and children bit parts. I played an old woman in a village in an early episode of Dragonball and based that voice on my Aunt Monya in Rhode Island. There are times when I use real relatives or acquaintances as references to help me define a new character's voice. I have played bit parts in Fruits Basket and Yu Yu Hakusho and have been asked to sing some themes from the two respectively.
Allen - Was making the switch from Gohan to Goku difficult?
Stephanie - I had to look at Goku as a completely different character, despite using a similar voice. I learned about his background and worked with his description. I watched the anime and played around with a higher voice register and made him sound a bit younger, more playful and innocent. Only when they are doing fight scenes do they sound the most alike. But hey, they ARE related. Like father like son!
Allen - Is it difficult portraying a young boy?
Stephanie - It was at first because I was not sure of what the director was looking for. I wanted the character to sound believable and for the episodes to come off smooth. Initially, I had to simply follow the direction given. With each session, I found it easier to get into character and to place the voice. If I ever strayed, we would listen to a reference line from the previous session so I could jump back into the right placement in my throat to produce Gohan's voice. Being an actress previously has helped immensely from a technical point of view as well. I had worked in many studios before so I was comfortable in the recording booth with the headphones, script and microphone.
Allen - Do you feel you need background information about the character to proceed?
Stephanie - Initially I needed information about how characters were related and their history. It helped me to understand them better. I also needed to know who the other characters in the scenes were and how Gohan knew them. It made it easier for me to decide how to speak to Piccolo, Krillin or ChiChi. Watching the lip flaps and facial expressions in the animation helps me define the performance and how to deliver a certain line or reaction.
Allen - The North American version of ADR (Audio Dialogue Replacement) usually has the actor working on their own with the director. Does this system work for you?
Stephanie - I am happy with how the system works because it allows me to focus on each line of dialogue to get it just right before moving on. With each line being the focus, the delivery is more effective within the context of the scene. The end result is a magical masterpiece after dropping in the other voice dubs, music and the sound effects. It's so fun to watch it all put together.
Allen - With the upcoming Dragonball GT, you are actually reprising your role as Goku as he is changed back into the body of a young boy. How is the performance different from playing him in the original Dragonball?
Stephanie - Goku was a little boy in Dragonball, not a man in a younger body like in GT. I see him as having a more mature mindset when I say his lines. Goku is still naive but not in the same young innocent way as he was in Dragonball. Although I am still using the same voice, I portray the difference in the vocal inflections and use a more firm, experienced delivery. This was an instance where knowing Goku's background became a key element in developing his voice. It helped that I knew and had worked with Sean Schemmel, the voice of adult Goku. I would think about how adult Goku would say it, then try the line.
Allen - With this type of action show, is there anything difficult in making the performance work for you?
Stephanie - First of all, portraying a young boy means I have to change the register of my voice. It is challenging saying the lines, but not nearly as much as the full-on fighting and power-up yelling. I have to come into a session prepared to shout and scream for long periods of time. Not all of the screams are first takes because I work hard to make sure the emotion behind them is genuine. My most challenging performance goes back to when Gohan is fighting against Cell. I had to voice Gohan as deep, tough and as much like a man as possible. There are times when I've left the studio in pain for the rest of the day. Coupled with my regular singing jobs throughout the week, I put my voice through a lot of strain. I see a voice doctor regularly to make sure I am not damaging my vocal chords; I make sure to drink plenty of water and to get as much rest as possible. Each performance of a character helps my voice to become more flexible and I only hope to increase my vocal range with each one.
Allen - Has there been a role you felt you simply had to have?
Stephanie - There have been roles I have read for and wanted but I trust the directors to place me where I am most suited. Everyone has a different opinion as to what a character's voice should sound like. I was interested in having a shot at Android 18 and Videl, but the fighting voices sounded too much like Gohan's fighting since I would naturally lower my voice. The directors do not want to confuse the viewers so each voice must sound unique. If I do not get a role, I see it as an opportunity to grow and to strive to improve.
Allen - After DBGT, are there things you are looking forward to?
Stephanie - I am always open to new challenges. I love to push myself to come up with even more new voices. I have been asked to read for various roles and I am always up for more solid work. Maybe I will be cast as a long-term female role in the future -it would be a good contrast and would show more of my diversity. I have gotten very involved in vocal parodies, jingles and comedy bits for a comedy radio broadcast company. I am writing, producing and performing my own original songs. I have also completed an album project with Carl Finch of the Grammy Award winning nuclear polka band, Brave Combo, and sing backup vocals for the band on occasion.
Allen - What would you say to fans who are interested in getting into voice acting?
Stephanie - I would recommend the standard tape recorder technique I used. Record things that sound interesting and get used to the playback sound of your own voice. Listen to the details, nuances and small things you may not notice in normal speech. Experiment with new voices or mimicking others. Make a demo reel with different voices and original dialogue. Focus on originality and what makes your voice unique from others. I recommend being involved in acting and performing. Audition for anything that you have time to do, even if you are cast in a small role. It also helps to be comfortable with debate or public speaking. Learn all about your voice and start developing your own characters. Have some fun and practice on your family and friends to get their feedback. Don't give up as this business is very competitive and it may take years before you meet the right people or get the right opportunities.
Allen - Anything more to offer?
Stephanie - Thanks to my experience with FUNimation, I have had some great opportunities to travel to various conventions and events to make appearances. I am always blown away by how many fans there are and how devoted they are to DBZ or to anime in general.
Interacting with them and doing the panels and signings has been one of the most rewarding things about being a voice actress. I am devoted to my fans as much as they are to me and my work. I am having fun living like a little boy I never was through Goku and Gohan and portraying them has truly been a unique and much-loved experience. I am following my dreams and living a true passion of mine. I am ready for whatever comes my way in anime and beyond!
Again I'd like to thank Stephanie for taking the time to answer my questions. Stephanie has grown quite well into the role of Goku in the early Dragonball series, so I expect good things as she once again entrenches herself into the role of a much more seasoned Goku. Having her in that role helps keep the entire series cohesive, which adds an extra bit of professionalism to the DUB of Dragonball.
And, Stephanie, the next time we do an interview, I promise I'll have a tape recorder. Everyone, I hope you enjoyed this week's interview. As always, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me!