With a huge number of characters voiced across seasons two and three of Digimon, fan-favourite Steven Jay Blum quickly became one of "the" names to associate with Tamers early on, providing the voices of three major players in the series, and writing numerous episodes. Blum - whose voice can also be heard in the roles of DarkScream and W.A.R.S. on "Transformers: Robots in Disguise," Tom the Robot on "Toonami" and Drago Wing on "Dinozaurs" - took the time recently to answer the many questions I had.
McFeely: On Digimon, you're known as both an actor and a writer.
Which do you consider to be your favourite to do, and why?
Steven Jay Blum: Definitely acting. I get to express every possible emotion and body sound through a cartoon face - and get paid for it! How can life get better than that?
The process itself of ADR writing can get very tedious. Shows like Digimon allow for a good amount of creativity, but are also very involved. We're never quite sure what's going to happen in future episodes, so we have to take great care not to write ourselves into corners. We continuously have to be aware of the evolution of the characters and how the other writers in the team have executed that in their scripts. Fortunately our producer and director are very knowledgeable and available to us when we get stuck!
CMcF: When did you decide you wanted to build a career for yourself in acting?
SJB: Officially, about 4 years ago. I've been doing voice work for over 12 years now, but it took a long time to build the confidence to try it full time.
CMcF: When did you get your "big break" into the industry? What were you doing beforehand?
SJB: I guess I'm still waiting for it. It was a gradual process. I started in Anime - just got lucky. One day a friend asked me to see if I could loop in some silly voices on a new show from Japan - and I never stopped working since! I've held all kinds of crazy jobs, but the last one was as the head of marketing for a Sci-Fi film company. I was actually at that company for 14 years in several departments!
CMcF: With season three, you've been elevated from a voice actor to one of the dominant writers of the season. How did this come about?
SJB: The two are very different animals. One really didn't have much to do with the other except for the fact that acting helps me to understand some of the subtleties of language and the importance of avoiding diphthongs. I have a pretty good sense of what syncs and what doesn't - that helped too. I had to submit scripts from other shows just like everybody else.
CMcF: Is there any connection between your position as a writer, and the fact that you voice three important characters in the series (Guilmon, Yamaki and Kenta), or were those jobs assigned separately?
SJB: Very separately. I auditioned for the parts in exactly the same way as all the other actors. Kenta just sort of happened when he showed up in the story. It was an on-the-fly kind of read that I did during a Yamaki session. Yamaki was the only one I was originally cast for. Guilmon came later too. He was a tough one to cast. We actually had to backtrack episodes to record him.
CMcF: Out of the many, MANY voices you've provided on the series (you're right up there with Derek Stephen Prince for sheer number of characters voiced), who would you consider your favourite?
SJB: I love them all and I'm very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work out every muscle in my throat between them, but I'd have to say Guilmon. His sense of vulnerability, loyalty, trust and general joy of life are qualities I respect and try to emulate in my own life.
CMcF: In season two, most of your voices had a similar tone (Poromon being the exception), but in season three, you've totally moved beyond what you did in season two, with a remarkably different range of characters. But if there was one other character in the show who you would like to be able to voice, who would it be?
SJB: Season two would have been Veemon. Loved that little guy. In season three, hard to say... I was very happy with the voices I landed. I got all the ones I wanted. Maybe Beelzemon/Impmon. Nobody could have done it better than Steve Prince, tho.
CMcF: As a writer, is there one episode, or maybe one character, above any others, that you particularly enjoyed writing for? Anything you didn't?
SJB: Kazu, Rika, Terriermon and Impmon. They all had such high snot factors. I used to giggle to myself in the middle of the night writing for them. Seth Walther killed me with some of his dialogue for those guys. I had a hard time with Renamon sometimes. I really had to hold back. She was just so cool. I guess that means I'm not.
Calumon took me a little while to catch on to, but after a while, writing for him became like playing with a puppy. Just a bouncing little ball of innocence and unencumbered joy.
CMcF: The writing of season three is, on the whole, somewhat darker than that of past seasons. Do you think that it is perhaps going over the target audience's heads a little bit? Does having a childish character like Guilmon help keep it more on their level?
SJB: Yup. Sometimes it even goes over my head! I've learned a lot from the show. We did our best to preserve the integrity of the real life situations - even if they were sometimes harsh. Characters like Guilmon certainly helped me to digest a cartoon that incorporated and even embraced the dysfunction that we all experience.
CMcF: Can you comment at all on the possibility of a new Digimon movie? We know that some existing movies have been translated into English by Saban, before the ABC Family takeover. Has said takeover affected the possibility of a new movie in any way, good or bad?
SJB: It's definitely a possibility. Sorry. Does that help?
CMcF: Ever had your face or voice recognised by anyone when out and about?
SJB: Not the face. I like being anonymous. Occasionally, someone will recognise my voice. Nobody's made a huge deal about it.
CMcF: Would you say you have obtained work on other projects (in any capacity), as a result notoriety derived from previous high-profile work, or would you consider each project to be independent?
SJB: A lot of my work happens by referral within the industry, but I still audition like most voice folks. The awareness factor definitely gets me into auditions, tho. My agent has been very helpful too. I really should test the market with a little self-promotion. Thanks for reminding me!
CMcF: It's my understanding that a lot of voice actors rarely watch the shows they work on. Does this hold true for you? If you do watch the shows, what are you opinions of them?
SJB: It's hard to catch everything that airs. I record when I can. Many things show up on video, but in most cases, we don't get copies of them. I buy or rent some of my stuff once in a while just to check in. There are always shows that I'm proud of and just as many that I watch and go "ulgghhh." I don't have a lot of time to watch anyway. It can get embarrassing when confronted by fans that know 100 times more about my character than I do. I usually don't see the script until seconds before recording and rarely get to play off of other's performances, so I have to rely on the director a lot for context. Unless I see the show when it comes out (or I'm writing for it), I have no idea what happened except for my scenes.
CMcF: It's fair to say that voice actors are offered little appreciation for what they do, beyond cult and fan followings. What are your opinions on this?
SJB: I love what I do. How many people can say that about their jobs?
The fans responses are plenty for me. As long as they enjoy it and my peers respect me, that's all I can ask. I love the anonymity factor. That's the main reason I don't do on-camera. My private life needs to stay private. I never have to worry about not looking right when I'm in public. I'm a shorts and t-shirt kinda guy.
CMcF: What advice do you have you for those out there who aspire to be voice actors? How should they go about making their way into the industry?
SJB: Whew, that's a toughy. It ain't easy, my friends. Above everything, listen. Listen to voices that you think are within your range naturally. Start there and record yourself. Any recorder will do. Listen to yourself and get used to how you sound on tape. You may be surprised at what you hear. Write down dialogue that you enjoy - from cartoons, commercials, movies - and give it your own spin - on tape. Pass it around to friends and family - especially kids, and get their input. Read for schools - in character voices for practice. When you get a tape together that you think is good, (no more than about 2 and a half minutes - with short bits of each character) have an agent listen to it and critique you. Take classes. Contact working voice actors and get their input on what you do. If you do get auditions and gigs - BE RESPONSIBLE! Show up on time and with a good attitude. Most importantly, have fun!!!
When I got into the industry, I was told not to expect to make a living at this. But I do. It's possible.
CMcF: Who would you cite as your inspirations, in life, in the industry, in anything?
SJB: I find inspiration in many places. Anyone that does what they do well - from musicians, to doctors, to car wash attendants - if a person cares about what they do and they do it to the best of their ability - I admire that. It's a formula that will always work. I'm inspired by the simplicity and complexity of nature. By the blunt honesty and caring of my girlfriend. By the love of my family and friends. By the greats in the industry. By the performances of my peers.
CMcF: Are there any individuals in the industry who you would like to work with in the future?
SJB: I just worked with one of my heroes - Frank Welker. He's one of the "it" guys for me. Wow, there's so many that I've met, but not yet worked with Charlie Adler, Maurice LeMarche, Bob Bergen (we've worked opposite one another on shows, but never in the same room), Rob Paulsen, Joe Alasky, Hank Azaria, plus Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Mike Judge, Tress MacNielle, Billy West
CMcF: What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies or interests do you have?
SJB: Sleep. I love music. I play some guitar and am learning hand percussion (I'm becoming a drum circle junkie). Art, animals, anything outdoors, love to cook and eat.
CMcF: What are you working on at the moment? What can we expect to see from you next?
SJB: Just did a couple of episodes of "Scooby Doo." I'm in the new Disney flick "Lilo and Stitch" coming out in June, still playing "Tom" for Toonami on Cartoon network and have a bunch of pilots and films that I can't yet talk about. Did a couple of Havoline radio spots with Mario Andretti and a Bud commercial recently - those should be playing by now too! Just about to start on Digimon season 4. See if you guys can figure out my characters on that one!
CMcF: Any final words you'd like to impart to the fans?
SJB: All I can say is thank you. Thanks for your loyalty, thanks for getting the jokes, thanks for supporting my habit!!!
Thanks once again go out to Wendee Lee for her help in setting up another great interview.