Story Edtior and director of seasons three and four of Digimon, the voice of various characters including Pajiramon, Rika's mother and the voice of Digivolution, and also director of the acclaimed "Cowboy Bebop," it would be an understatement to say that Mary Elizabeth McGlynn is a busy woman. It's taken a while, but her interview is now complete!
Chris McFeely: You're
known as a director, a story editor and a voice actress on
Digimon, but which do you consider to be your favourite to do?
For what reasons?
Mary Elizabeth McGlynn: I must say each compliments the other. I don't think I would be as good a director without the experience of voice acting some of the characters. At least I know what pain I put the actors through when they're behind the mic. Also, the story editing is invaluable. I get to go through the script line by line at home so when I get in the studio I know exactly how the arc of the story needs to be told. Since we record the actors one at a time, I need to know how the episode will sound in my head before we get into the studio. That way the characters sound like they're talking to each other and not just acting in a void. But to answer your question, I love directing. The process of creation between myself and the actors is an amazing experience, and when it clicks there's no better feeling of satisfaction.
CMcF: When, and through what circumstances, did you decide you wanted to build a career for yourself in this industry?
MEMcG: When I was in college I was premed. Thought I could be a brain surgeon or something. Yeah, right Anyway, one day I got lost on the way to the computer lab and walked into an audition for Hamlet. On a whim I auditioned for Ophelia and got the role. The next month I changed my major to Theater. I went on to graduate school at SMU for acting and moved out to California afterward to try my luck in L.A.
CMcF: When did you get your "big break" into the industry? What were you doing beforehand?
MEMcG: I came up to L.A. after a summer season at "The Globe" in San Diego. My on-camera career started out with much success, but soon dwindled to "the abused girlfriend/wife who get rescued by the hunky leading man". I must have played that character 5 or 6 times in a row. But it was Xena: Warrior Princess that really changed my life. While shooting in New Zealand, the horse my character was being hanged on by a mob of angry peasants reared up and rolled on top of me. Poor "Cher" (the fateful horse) dislocated my knee cap and pretty much imobilized me for almost a year. After that I started doing more and more voice over work. I'm going to have to find that horse and thank her some day.
CMcF: How did you branch out from the area you started in, to the other fields in which you now work within the industry?
MEMcG: "Cher" the wonder horse. After working a couple years as a voice over actor, Yutaka Maseba and Kevin Seymour called me up from ZRO Limit Productions, a production company who does some of the best English dubs in the country. They had this crazy idea that I might like to direct and that was it. I "retired" from my terribly brilliant (emphasis on terrible) on-camera career and never looked back. I always loved the ADR process. It's a controlled environment where you're only restriction is the amount of flaps a character uses to deliver his or her lines. As long as the actors and I remember that the distance between two points is infinity, the sky's the limit in terms of creativity. And here I never thought I would have any use for math as an adult!
CMcF: Through what events were you approached for the Digimon series? How did it come to pass that you were chosen to be elevated from voice actress to the position of voice director and story editor on the show, following the departure of Jeff Nimoy and Bob Buchholz?
MEMcG: I was already doing some second directing for Saban when I got the call to go to the studio where Digimon was recording. I thought I was just filling in for the day, when Terri Lei O'Malley walked in and offered me the job to finish Season 2 and direct all of Season Three. The circumstances surrounding Jeff and Bob's release from the show were unknown to me at the time. I had no idea they were going to offer me the job. Apparently, Terri had seen me direct a session of auditions for a series at Saban and she was also familiar with my work on "Cowboy Bebop". Digimon came to me as a total surprise.
CMcF: Of the various voices you have provided on the show, which is/was your favourite?
MEMcG: How can you beat the voice of Digivolution? The original had a male doing the role, but I really thought it should be a woman, and luckily Terri agreed. In Season 4, I also get to voice the "D-Tectors", this season's digivice. I won't give anything away about her true identity though. Pajiramon was fun. It was my homage to Kate Mulgrew.
CMcF: If there was one other character on the show who you would like to be able to voice, who would it be?
MEMcG: I loved Renamon. Her attitude rocked: so cool and confident, but man could she kick butt! I also loved her relationship with Rika. Mari Devon was superb in the role. I also thought Arukenimon from Season 2 would be fun to voice. Funny, she too was voiced by Mari Devon. I'm a huge fan of her work. I'd say I would have liked to voice Rika, but 1, I don't have the range, and 2, I couldn't hear anyone but Melissa Fahn doing that role. She is a wonderful actress and we were lucky to get her. Heck, we were lucky to get all of our actors.
CMcF: As a story editor, do you have a favourite episode from any season that you've worked on that you like above all others? What about a least favourite?
MEMcG: I think "Kazu and Kenta's Excellent Adventure" was my favorite. Seth Walther is an amazing writer and he really out did himself with that one. We laughed through the entire recording session. My second favorite would be a Season 4 installment written by Steve Blum. I think you'll know which one I mean when you see it. Just look for Whamon! I don't have a least favorite episode. Season 3 dealt with some pretty heavy issues, especially by the end of the season, and all of our writers did an amazing job with the subject matter.
CMcF: Same goes for characters - is there any particular character from any season that you're fond of more than any other? Any characters that annoy you?
MEMcG: Hmmm let's see . Takato, Henry, Rika, Guilmon, Terriermon, Renamon, Kazu, Kenta, Leomon and of course Jeri. Bridgette Hoffman was outstanding! She had to come in and cry every session and she brought the emotion of the show to a new level. I loved how this group of misfits banded together. Their relationships with eachother were genuine and that's rare. The only character I got tired of was the D-Reaper. By the end of the season I just wanted to laugh again, but that darn D-Reaper wouldn't go away!
CMcF: As a voice director, do you ever use the original Japanese voices in the show as reference when selecting English voice actors for parts?
MEMcG: Not really. I think the casting decisions are based on characterization. For instance, in Season 4, our Neemon doesn't sound at all like the Japanese version. Michael Sorich, who is also sharing the directing duties with me this season, brings a whole different, wacky vibe to the little guy. And Brian Beacock (who voiced Takato last season) sounds nothing like the original Bokomon, but what he does with that character is hysterical! Paul DiFranco has been the casting director for most of the Digimon run and he's the one to thank for bringing us all these talented actors.
CMcF: Do you think being Story Editor enables you to do your job as Voice Director better?
MEMcG: Oh yeah! After story editing a script I know the episode inside and out. Since the actors don't get to read the scripts before we record them, it's up to me to guide them through the plot and character arcs. I love story editing. It's the best homework I can do before I get in the studio.
CMcF: The "goofiness" factor (read: jokes, puns and modified scenes which weren't in the original) which was highly prevalent in the first two season of the show was seriously reduced in the third season, which has made the fandom at large very happy. Would you consider this a direct result of your involvement? Is it more to do with the different writing styles of the new writers on this season? Or was it a specific instruction from "upstairs"?
MEMcG: Terri had a lot to do with the modification of the humor this season. She directed all of us to stick to the translation a bit more. With Season 3's subject matter, I think that was a wise decision. Much of the plot didn't really allow for that kind of humor. Also many of the pop culture references were reduced, if not eliminated. I think it kept the audience in the world of the show rather than tying us to a specific time reference. Also, I thought the humor the Japanese had incorporated in the show was terrific and translated to American audiences well, so why change it?
CMcF: This might be one of those grey areas you can't talk about... but what's the word on the possibility of a new Digimon movie?
MEMcG: I know there's something out there, but I don't know what will be done with it. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Personally, I'd love to revisit Takato and the gang.
CMcF: What's your attitude to the Saban "philosophy" of dubbing? By that, I mean the way that Saban's scripts are always written and modified to appeal to a mainstream audience, rather than the larger faithfulness to the Japanese scripts that is more prevalent in animes that aren't televised.
MEMcG: Well, Saban let us keep Season 3 of Digimon pretty faithful to the original. Personally, I think we got lucky! But you must realize, this is a business. If they're going to air anime on a major network, the network wants to make sure they'll find an audience. Much of the anime that stuck strictly to the Japanese never made it to the American market except of video and DVD. Although, thanks to networks like Cartoon Network, the WB, Fox and ABC Family, anime is finding a larger audience. Many of the shows now being aired are true to the original. I think that's because of shows like Digimon and Pokemon. Even thought many fans feel like they were radically altered from the original, their popularity opened the door for everyone else.
CMcF: Ever had your voice recognised by anyone when out and about?
MEMcG: Only when people found out I worked on Digimon. Once they had the reference they would say "Hey, you're the voice of Digivolution! Cool!" Although, it's kind of hard to work in "Matrix Digivolution" into a conversation without people looking at ya funny!
CMcF: Would you say that you have obtained work on other projects as a result of notoriety derived from previous high-profile work, or would you consider each project to be independent?
MEMcG: I think most of the work I've gotten has been because of Cowboy Bebop. That show led to Digimon and that led to everything else. I owe Yutaka and Kevin a lot!
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 your opinions of them? As an editor and director, perhaps watching is not as necessary for you - Jeff Nimoy previously described it as "frustrating," as it can make you wish you had done things differently.
MEMcG: I watch every episode of every show I direct before it goes to the mix stage. That way I know if we've missed anything or need to redo lines for continuity. Yes, sometimes it is frustrating, only because I want everything to work and sometimes it doesn't (usually due to my directing). But most of the time it does work and I'm thrilled. Watching the episodes is the only way I can learn how to improve as a director and story editor.
CMcF: It's fair to say that voice actors receive little appreciation for what they do, beyond cult and fan followings. What are you opinions on this? Do you like the anonymity that accompanies the work?
MEMcG: I think dub actors have the hardest job in the world of animation. They have to deliver over and over again in a seemingly constrained environment. Delivering a line brilliantly is hard enough, but to make it match to acquired animation is a whole different story. I've had many original animation actors come in and say how much more difficult the ADR process is in comparison. The group of actors I work with are the best in the business and they never get the recognition they deserve. (Nor the pay!) On the other hand, being anonymous is a freedom few would give up. You don't have to worry about how you look or what you're wearing. You can walk into a studio and get the chance to play a character that you never would were the show not animated. It's my understanding that the Japanese v/o actors are treated like stars. I wish the American actors were as well. They deserve it!
CMcF: What advice do you have for those who aspire to work in the industry?
MEMcG: Practice, practice, practice! Oh, wait that's how you get to Carnegie Hall.
I think the best thing you can do is listen. Listen to everything: radio, tv, movies, your crazy neighbor, whatever. Then start imitating them. Experiment with your own voice and see how far you can go with it. Billy West [voice of Ren and Stimpy, Doug, Futurama's Fry] carries around a small tape recorder with him and records voices into it all day. Build a library of voices you can do and then get them recorded. Send out the tape, take classes and above all don't give up. It's a blessing to actually get paid for doing what you love.
CMcF: Who would you cite as your inspirations, in life, in the industry, in anything?
MEMcG: My parents have always supported me with undying enthusiasm. So have my sisters and especially my husband. He's the rock in my life, making me laugh when I take myself too seriously and encouraging me to be myself and trust my instincts. Plus, the man can keep me in stitches til I can't laugh no more! In terms of the industry, Mel Blanc is a God to me. Tress MacNeille is a genius as well as anyone who's ever worked on The Simpsons. My parents brought me up on Spike Jones, Monty Python and Warner Brothers cartoons, which explains my rather twisted sense of humor.
CMcF: Are there any individuals in the industry that you'd hope to work with in the future?
MEMcG: I'd love to work with Steven Spielberg, that's if I could ever get over the endless babbling I'd more than likely fall into if I ever met him. I'd love to work on another Watanabe/Toshihiro/Kano project. The three of them have raised the bar when it comes to animation, Japanese or otherwise. I'd also love to work with Hugh Jackman, but that may be for other reasons is my husband going to read this?
CMcF: What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies or interests do you have?
MEMcG: Watch Hugh Jackman movies. Just kidding! I'm really sort of a workaholic which continues to surprise me. (I was so lazy as a kid!) When I actually find some spare time, I love going to matinees. There's something about sitting in a semi empty theater in the middle of the afternoon. No candy wrappers, no guys behind me reading out loud any bit of text that comes on the screen, just the sound of Dolby Digital coming at you from every angle as the opening credits role. Beautiful! I also love playing poker with a group of other anime directors. We all get together and laugh at each other for a few hours every month or so.
CMcF: Aside from Digimon, what are you working on at the moment? What can we expect to see from you next?
MEMcG: I was fortunate enough to direct "Cowboy Bebop: The Movie" this summer and just came back from it's premiere in Times Square. What a learning experience! Aside from that, it's back to Digimon, Season 4.
CMcF: And finally - do you have anything you'd like to say to the fans?
MEMcG: Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thanks for your incredible support and your advice. I would visit Megchan's message board every Saturday last season to see your reactions. Your words were so helpful and a constant reminder of who we were creating this show for: the fans. Keep it coming! We are listening!
I owe Miss McGlynn a personal debt of gratitude for her endless help in the identification of voice actors for the third and now fourth seasons, which has helped my Voice Actor List become what it is today.
With a tip of the hat to Justin Lam for coming up with some of the questions this time around. :)