On Easter weekend in April 2012, I attended Anime Boston with my sister, mother and daughter. At the end of the Con, I had the privilege of interviewing renowned anime voice actor Greg Ayres. Greg has voiced many popular characters for their distribution in the United States, including Pope Alessandro XVIII in Trinity Blood, which was my intro into anime fandom. In his “spare” time, he’s a world-class DJ. He recently announced that he will be voicing the role of Ganta in Deadman Wonderland. Greg was very generous with his time and experience. Below are excepts from our great discussion.
Barbara: It seems you fell into the whole voiceover business.
Greg: I was working as an IT guy at a law firm, but my voice – the insanely youthful sound of my voice – was really what happened. We can’t really hire children to play children because of labor laws and whatnot and the job is actually pretty tedious and repetitive, standing in a dark room just saying the same words over and over again. So when you have the role of a child, you always have to have an adult that can sound like a child. At the time they mainly had just women who did young boys’ voices, but this was a villain. So they had to have someone with enough of a boyish sound that they could believe. He’s the last big villain in the show. So my friends one day they were just like, “Dude you have to call our friend who works at a law firm. He sounds like he’s 12. He’s in his thirties. Just call his voice mail after he’s gone at work and listen.” And that’s exactly what happened. My audition was just the, you know, “You’ve reached the desk of Greg Ayres…” and that’s all it was.
Barbara: What have you done to develop? Had you been an actor before?
I’ve been acting professionally since I was seven years old. My brother kind of came out of the womb with a top hat and a cane. Like he’s one of those guys who just knew he wanted to be on stage from the time he was a baby almost. So, as the little ADD brother, I just kind of followed. I followed him onto stage and did a bunch of stage work when I was a kid. Then I stopped. Being as easily distracted as I am, I stopped at about 17 or 18. I fell out of acting for a while and it was nice because as an adult I would come back to acting, but not as an actor. People that act for a living just have to take every single role, but I had this nice cushy job. So, when I would act. It was only a show that I really felt strongly about or a role I was really interested in. And that’s kind of how I got back into stage acting. Now unfortunately, between going all over the country doing Cons and my recording schedule. I don’t really have the 6 weeks free to do rehearsals and set up for a stage production.
Barbara: What’s the voice you’ve done that’s the furthest away from you real voice?
Negi Springfield, probably – a 9-year old British school teacher. Sadly, it’s the only voice I can’t do for kids at conventions because in recording, the truth of the matter, the director pushed my voice too hard. She just really had a certain sound for it and she didn’t understand that there’s a ceiling you get to with your voice and anything past that is dangerous. So, even in recording it was really tough. Then they gave me the check disk so I could get used to the voice and I didn’t realize they had pitched it up electronically. So when I went back in, that’s what I was trying to match. It’s just an insanely high voice. The accent work people think it’s because of the accent work. I love the accent work. It’s just unfortunately that voice is so high; so away from my real voice. Now the nice thing is I can enjoy watching that where I have a really hard time watching anything that sounds like me. One of my favorite roles is unfortunately just my normal voice. It’s this show called Beck where I not only have a big role in it, but he ends up being a singer in a band. So, I have to not only hear myself talk, but sing. So, I’m just like ahhhh I can’t watch it. But I like Negima because I don’t identify with that voice I can enjoy it.
I’ve been doing it long enough now so that when somebody starts pushing my voice I’m like, “No, this hurts. I’m not doing this any more. I’m not going to blow my voice on somebody else’s show just because you want me to scream louder or whatever.” There’s a certain amount of discipline you have to set for yourself. Directors direct – louder, louder, louder.
Barbara: You made some interesting comments about microphones yesterday in the panel and how they really change things. I go through that a lot with students, especially with the teens who don’t realize when they’re listening to something that they’re not going for that sound because there are mics, there are effects.
Yeah. The mic work is probably the thing I had to get used to the most because I was a stage actor. So, they [the mics] cost more than the house my parents live in. They pick up even air bubbles in your throat that you don’t hear, but you hear it on the take. Singing into those kinds of microphones is almost impossible. Because when you’re on stage or in a recording studio, a lot of time you have the air between you and the mic and the air and a little bit of distance is very forgiving on a pitchy note. Into a microphone [like these]? No cleaning that up you just have to do it again.
Barbara: You mentioned the role where you were whispering more than anything.
Yes. They just gained my voice up. It’s so weird because I’ll tell kids that and they’re like, “but do the voice” and I’m like, it’s a voice that only exists through technology. And that’s tough. Also one of my bigger roles as Chrono in a show called Chrono Crusade has a little form and this big demon form. They didn’t want it to sound like it was electronically pitched and so they used this really neat technique that I could never do live. It’s called voice doubling. What they do, when you lower your voice beyond it’s standard pitch you get graveling. You get these pits in your voice. Well they take your take but they take an exact duplicate of that sound file and they just ofset it slightly so it fills in the pavement, it fills in all the little dips. So, it’s all my real voice, but it’s only achievable through this weird technique they use and it’s really interesting and the geeky guy in me gets fascinated every time they do something like that.
Did you have any kind of specific voice training?
Just years and years of voice class. I had tons of singing experience. Most of what I did was musical theatre. So I was always in voice classes from a young age doing vocal warm ups and then in theatre a lot of times you’ll have a vocal call before the show, especially if its a real heavy singing show. So that’s really my only training, but I do remember back as far as like 8th grade. My drama teacher we did an assignment where we had to do a radio drama where we had to do all the voices and I do remember even back then my teacher saying “Wow. You do some really weird things with your voice. You should really look into doing that.” And at the time I was going to be a visual artist. So, I was like “oh yeah whatever.” But it’s funny how full circle that would end up being.
Is there anything you see when people are trying to come in and do voice acting that you want to say to people?
Well it’s a really hard industry to get into first. I try to be really honest because there’s a bunch of really scummy actors trying to make a living off the fact that kids want to do this for a living. Which is gross to put it easily. But the one mistake so many of them make is they think that by doing a popular voice like a Homer Simpson or a Smeagol from Lord of the Rings it’s going to get them where they want . My brother deals with this all the time. He’s a director and he’ll have someone come in and they’ll do the Cartman voice and he’s like no no no, somebody already does Cartman. I just need to hear the way your voice naturally sounds and then they do Homer Simpson. Then they use all these affected voices. There’s only a few of us – and I’m weirdly one of them – there’s only a few of us that spend more time in a strange voice than we do in our natural voice. A lot of what kids think is that they’re going to have to imitate something, but very little of what we do is imitation. And usually when we’re imitating something we’re parodying it. So, it’s not a true imitation.
And the one thing I try to tell every kid that wants to do this is get as much professional training as possible. And not from the person who plays your favorite ninja, but from somebody who makes a living teaching. Because the best actors don’t make the best teachers and sometimes the best teachers don’t make the best actors but the teachers teach for a living. They know how to communicate and they know how to do things that an actor doesn’t and since so many young kids are into this, I tell them sign up for your theatre arts program [at school] you get all the free training in the world.
But I definitely don’t think being an actor is a lazy profession if somebody’s like “I don’t like taking classes”, then I’m like “you probably won’t like being an actor then.” I just try to be realistic.