To commemorate, celebrate, and send off the final dubbed season of fantasy battle anime Fairy Tail, Anime NYC staged a massive panel featuring the cast and crew at this year’s convention. AsianCrush obtained a special interview with voice actress Cherami Leigh (the voice of Lucy Heartfilia) and ADR director Tyler Walker. Cherami’s other notable roles include Ilia on RWBY, Sailor Venus in the Viz redub of Sailor Moon and Sailor Moon Crystal, Kudelia in Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans, and Asuna in Sword Art Online.
Cherami Leigh: I think I remember you from last year.
Otter Lee (AsianCrush): I interviewed you at the Sailor Moon English voice cast press room.
CL: Yeah, I remember you were wearing that same sparkly jacket.
OL: Yep. Can you describe your journey with the Fairy Tail anime?
CL: I got brought in for an audition and was actually not planning to audition for Lucy. I think I auditioned for Happy and Erza. And then, I think Tyler said “You should give Lucy a try.”
And I said “No, I really like this character. If I don’t get it, it will be crushing.” I didn’t believe that I was going to play Lucy until we came to New York seven years ago to premiere it and I thought to myself, “Well they can’t recast me now because it’s very expensive!” *Laughs*
I’ve never played a character, the same character, for this long, and things that have happened to her in episodes have paralleled things that have happened to me in my life. She’s had a lot of profound impact on my life as far as confidence, being independent, taking risks and believing in myself. That’s been really cool to have the influence and I guess, the therapy from a cartoon character.
Tyler Walker: I had only done 20-episode shows before as far as directing and writing and stuff. This one I started out on the writing team from episode 3 and directed 277 episodes and 2 movies and written a hundred plus scripts. I’ve learned a lot in the ways of storytelling. Watching the cast grow and seeing the whole thing become very popular too
It’s really been impactful for some people. Last year we were at a restaurant and someone recognized me and said, “When my parents passed away, Fairy Tail got me through it.”
And I was so glad that we could help them. That this thing meant something to them.
And I made a promise to Hiro Mashima, that I was going to do the best job possible when I met him seven years ago.
CL: Yeah. That was a really cool experience.
TW: It’s like his baby, and I was responsible for it.
CL: It was nice when we met him at the beginning of the journey to get his blessing and stamp of approval meant a lot.
OL: No pressure, right?
CL: I think he was sitting next to me and Todd was whispering “Does he like it? Do you think he likes it?” And I was like “What do you want me to do? Stare at the man? Come on!”
TW: He stood up for just a moment and my heart sank, but he came right back.
CL: We premiered the first episode and he gave us two thumbs up.
OL: What have been the most memorable moments for you to record or work on?
CL: Gosh, there are so many. A couple that always stand out are the first meeting of Lucy and the Celestial Spirit King with the whole Loki saga. I also loved the scene with her and her dad. I call it the emancipation scene where she says, “I don’t care if you don’t want me to be a celestial wizard. I’m doing it anyway. I’m going to be a part of Fairy Tail and this is what I want and who I am.” Working on that scene was one of the reasons why I took a chance and moved out to L.A. I had been spending so much time moving back and forth. I said to myself “I’m playing a character that believes so much in herself, and what she’s capable of that I’m a hypocrite if I don’t explore that opportunity.”
I loved the Michelle Lobster arc. It’s one of my absolute favorites.
TW: That one always gets a lot of flack from fans because it’s not in the manga.
CL: It’s so sweet. I also loved the journey of the NaLu ship.Seeing the fans get so passionate about their NaLu ship.
TW: For me, there are all kinds of funny and meaningful moments. I loved working on Gajeel’s songs with David Wald. Last time, me and him would trade off David Lee Roth impressions.
There’s the song in the Galuna Island arc about Deliora. Newt was like “We should right a country song about Gray and Deliora.” We wrote it over text message. He played guitar and I played the bucket that we use for armor noises. For some recordings with characters in suits of armor, we speak into a suit of armor for that metallic effect. Then we did another song about Grey and Silver for the Tartarus arc. I played the glass peanut canister and a kazoo that has also been used in several other anime.
Just seeing the whole thing grow and being a part of it. My responsibilities have also changed. I was an episode writer and director. Then I did a couple of voices. Then I wanted to be every monster. Me and my wife are pretty much every monster in the show. These days I’m writing and consulting, doing casting and talking with Kyle Phillips who’s directing the last couple of episodes.
Cherami then talked about how recording the series and other anime in general have changed at Funimation.
CL: When I first moved, I was probably flying back once every 2-3 weeks and record for a couple of days. When we were working on Fairy Tail before simuldubs, I would fly back for a couple of days or a week and we would crank through and get as many episodes as we could get done. When they started working on simuldubs, there was no time. We had a week to get things done. There was no way that those of us that lived out of the DFW area could fly in every week. I think for some people who lived in Houston or Austin it was hard for them to come. That kind of limited how much we were able to work on Funimation titles which I totally understand. It was sad for awhile since I started at Funimation and they very much feel like family to me. Not getting to work on as many titles was kind of sad.
But now with the magic of Source-Connect, we record in a studio in Los Angeles. For Fairy Tail, we’ve been doing simuldubs for this last season. In LA, I can just show up to the studio, but if I’m in Texas or the area for a convention or visiting relatives, I let them know and go in and record. My family still lives in Texas. I’m actually going to record next week, so I’m seeing my family for Thanksgiving and then going to record and see my anime family!
TW: Todd is actually able to record from his house since he has Source-Connect
OL: Cherami, I wanted to ask you about the experience of playing Ilia in RWBY. She’s a very conflicted character, an LBGTQ character. How did you prepare for the role? Was there any inspiration from your own life?
CL: When I was approached about working on RWBY, I was already very excited because I’d been a fan of the show. I didn’t know anything about where the character was going to go. Her big reveal scene where she talks about her childhood and the bullying she endured: I was heavily, HEAVILY bullied when I was in elementary and middle school. I totally connected with the character. I thought it was beautifully written and loved her so much. To be a villain in the show, but to have such heartbreaking, vulnerable moments that people could relate to just made me instantly love the character.
I did not know what her preference was going to be or how she was going to relate to Blake. I thought that maybe they were just friends, then they sort of teased that there might be more. And then when that second big reveal happened later on, I was really really excited that they were brave enough to go there with her.
I’m so happy that everyone has responded so positively to her, and I feel lucky to play such a strong, powerful, yet well-rounded character. I’m very proud of her and how she turned out on the show.
Next, Cherami and Tyler got into some of their favorite recording stories.
CL: I remember at one point there was a blanket in the booth. I’m somebody who’s always very cold and I wore a snuggie I think for the entire time recording. In one of the episodes where Lucy says, “It’s so hot, I’m dying,” I’m wrapped up in a snuggie thinking “this is ironic.”
TW: One of my favorite times was working with Todd. There’s this episode where they’re in the Tower of Heaven and [Natsu] gets this giant cat head. At the time at the Funimation studios we had this mascot Vegeta head. This big, fluffy mascot head and I said, “Ok Todd! We’re recording in the Vegeta head!” [Laughs]. He did the whole episode in this giant super hot head. There was no room for the headphones. It sounded like somebody wearing a big head! And of course, we had to record it again without the big head but we ended up using the recording with Todd wearing the head!
CL: We have way too much recording, especially for that show. I’m like Lucy. I always forget how much vocal acrobatics she has until we do a session. She’s all over the place. She has her sentimental moments. She’s screaming at Happy. She’s screaming at Natsu. She’s crying. After I finish a session I’m always emotionally exhausted.
OL: When it comes to VO, what are some of the most common mistakes you see in newer performers?
TW: I think the biggest mistake I see from new artists and actors are people who are so eager to let you know that they know what they need to do, that they have figured it all out without ay help from you. They’re so eager and happy to be there, they’ll be like “You need that a little FASTER? Louder?” But they’ll be missing a sort of nuance. And then, social media can be kind of thorny sometimes.
CL: Totally. I started directing this year. I did one show as a co-director and it’s been an interesting experience. I saw things that I do in the booth that I realize I shouldn’t do. I think the biggest problem I see that I still have myself is confidence. As an actor, you’re constantly trying to make everybody happy. You think to yourself “I bet they hated that.” The actor’s just thinking “They hate it, they hate it,” while the director might actually have liked that take of the line a lot and wants to use it. My advice to newer actors is “Give yourself a break, relax, have some fun, and give yourself some confidence. You got here. It’s a learning curve. Nobody expects you to be perfect. Don’t be so hard o yourself.
TW: People get so upset when they make a mistake or flub a line, and it’s like, there’s a reason we’re not doing this live.
CL: Well, I did a panel at Otakon and we did a live dubbing session and it was the most nerve wracking thing in my life. All the actors thought the fans were gonna hate them. We were so terrified that people were going to catch us not matching sync and think “These are the people they got?”We were so so wrong. The fans thought it was cool and were even more supportive when they saw how hard it was. If everyone just got out of their heads and enjoyed the process, it would be a way more enjoyable experience for them. Just live in the character, enjoy the process, and take out that need to be perfect. There’s way too much of that!