This past weekend I was lucky enough to sit down with actress Wendee Lee at the Anime USA convention in downtown Washington D.C. in an interview made possible by the excellent work of the convention staff and management. I would like to thank each and every one of them for making this interview giving me the chance to conduct this interview, and to Miss Lee herself for taking time to sit down with APGNation.
Wendee Lee is perhaps best known for her role as Faye Valentine, the female lead of the ever popular anime Cowboy Bebop, but has also voiced a number of other well-known figures in the anime universe. In recent years, she has provided the voice of Queen Serenity from Sailor Moon, Haruhi Suzumiya, Konata Izumi, as well as characters from such titles as Bleach, Dynasty Warriors, Fate/Zero, Phoenix Wright and more. She has also voiced the character for western productions as well and has appeared in both the cartoon adaptions of Monster High and Everafter High, two franchises based on a line of dolls aimed at young girls. She has also appeared on stage many times in her career and has been involved in productions of Evita, Little Shop of Horrors, and many other well-known stage shows. According to Lee herself, she also possesses the most anime dub credits of any voice actress, though the title is an unofficial one.
When asked how she first got into the field of voice acting, Lee said that before doing so she had been a singer, traditional actress, and dancer, but when a friend asked her to come along to a recording session that she was working on, it led her to coming in contact with the company Harmony Gold with whom she auditioned for a part in Robotech, the American version of the Japanese anime Macross. She then got the role and appeared in Robotech as the bridge operator Vanessa Leeds. Though Miss Lee stated she was unaware of Robotech’s recent 30th-anniversary celebration, she did return to the franchise to voice the character of Kay in the in the 2013 OVA, Robotech: Love Live Alive!
I next asked Lee about which of her many roles were her favorite. She stated that it was hard to choose a favorite. She did, however, point to many of her more famous roles, including Faye, Haruhi, and some of her stage work as being among those that stand out in her long career as an actress. Though she would later state in our interview that she never finds any of her roles “difficult” there are many she finds challenging for a variety of reasons. Among these roles are young male characters, who require a tonal shift to voice, and those who are rather intense emotionally as vocally, such as the Shura from the anime Blue Exorcist. She would go on to remark that she always strives to take her roles seriously, meet fan expectations, and in the end create something that she can be proud of.
Lee admits that it was is there is always pressure in dubbing anime for voice actors to match fan expectations created by their characters original Japanese voice actors. In particular I had asked about the character Haruhi Suzumiya, the main character of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, which was one of the most popular anime in both America and Japan when it was dubbed. In this case, Bandai Visual, the company overseeing the series’s dub actually approached Lee to take the part, as well that of Konata Izumi, from the anime Lucky Star. This was done to keep consistency between the two characters, as per the Japanese version of each show, where both characters are voiced by by the actress Aya Hirano.
Lee returned to the character of Haruhi in the English dub of The Disappearance of Yuki Nagato-chan. She also stated that the show is interesting in that it shifts the role of the main character away from Haruhi, and places it on Yuki Nagato, a quiet book worm of a girl. In doing so, she stated, the viewer sees a different side of Haruhi as a character that was not present in the original series. As the world no longer rotates around her, as it did in the original, Haruhi comes across as a very different character and this, Lee postulated, causes her to interact quite differently with both her friends and her former love interest, Kyon. Fans can watch the dub of this anime at Funimation’s official website by clicking the link above.
Out of all the people Lee has worked with as a voice actress in the past, none is more well known than Stephen Blum. The pair has voiced the male and female leads of several anime in the past, most famously Big O, Cowboy Bebop, and the Cartoon Network production Megas XLR, in which the characters of Jamie and Kiva were written specifically for them two of them. Most recently they worked together in the animated film Expelled from Paradise. Though it’s rare for the pair actually to be in the room together when recording their lines, a common practice anime dubbing industry, Lee stated that Blum is her favorite leading man. She elaborated by sharing that she feels there there is just something about their voices that compliment each other well, and resonate in a way to allow them both to deliver an excellent performance when working together.
When asked if she had any advice for aspiring voice actors in our audience, Lee related that it is a difficult and demanding profession and that those looking to get into the field should be cautious, as it is a long and difficult journey. She also stated that it can take years of practice, performances, and classes to form even a foundation of the skills you need to succeed in the field and even if you do, it is often difficult to find work. In addition, she went on, the benefits of having a stable job, such as health care and a consistent paycheck are nearly non-existent when working as an actor, as well. So those who are thinking of getting into the field, Lee added, you should be willing to give your all and also be open to the idea that things might not work out in the end. But she did throw a little sunshine on all of this gloom by wishing good luck to all those looking to get into voice acting.
By this point, the thirty minutes I had been given for the interview had come to an end, and Lee brought things to a close by thanking anime fans for all their support. She said that they were the ones who kept the industry alive in the west, that they are the best, and that it was an actor’s responsibility, including hers, to live up to their expectations. She then closed things by giving us a hearty “See you Space Cowboy!” the immortal line that closes many an episode of Cowboy Bebop.
Those who wish to learn more about Wendee Lee can follower her on Twitter @WendeeLeeVO.