With Turkey Day this week, I’ve only recently appreciated how much I have to be thankful for this years thanks in large part to the Beat. Attending conventions as press has afforded me amazing opportunities to meet and interact with many professionals in the animation industry who have had a tremendous impact on my life. Last weekend during the 2nd annual Anime NYC, I was able to add voice actress Kari Wahlgren to the list.
One of the most prolific talents in the business, Wahlgren has worked on some of the biggest properties not only dubbing anime but Western animation as well such as Marvel and DC Comics animation, Ricky and Morty on Adult Swim, and so much more. Much like Clark Kent, Wahlgren has certainly come a long way from her humble town in Kansas. As part of a group press Q&A, I had the immense pleasure of getting to talk with Wahlgren about her voiceover journey and delve into some of her past projects and roles. Plus learn about her decidedly unique take on the classic character Tinker Bell in possibly one of the craziest interpretations of the Peter Pan story.
Q: How did you transition from anime dubbing to prelay voiceover work?
Kari Wahlgren: Actually, I started even before anime doing radio commercials and things like that. Then when I started on the anime projects I was also auditioning for Western cartoons. So it just sort of happened that I started on the radio and got into anime and video games, then Western animation and prelay came together after that. We [Actors] audition ALL the time in voiceover, so whatever parts you end up getting is what you do. I’ve ended up doing a little of everything.
Q: As someone fortunate enough to work with the great and now retired voice director Andrea Romano, what can you say about your experience with such a legend in the industry?
Wahlgren: Amazing. All of the incredible things that you hear about her are true. She really is THE best director I ever worked with. She just has this calm authority and when she guides the session you just feel that you’re in really good hands with her. As a person she’s just incredible. I can’t say enough good things. She’s the bomb!
Q: Do you have a favorite superhero role?
Wahlgren: As far as ones that I’ve played, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I remember being very, very nervous about Emma Frost because I just wanted to do her justice and I had read so many X-Men comic books before that I was just really nervous about doing a good job. As far as superheroes in general, I’ve been collecting Wonder Woman things and reading Wonder Woman comics since I was a little girl. They had a big compilation of Wonder Woman comics in the library and I would check it out so many times that the book eventually fell apart. I’ve gotten to play Wonder Woman one time in the DC LEGO Justice League vs. Bizarro League movie. So I got to play Bizarra and LEGO Wonder Woman and that was kind of a dream come true. As far as my personal bucket list, that was it. I can die happy now!
Q: Were you a fan of Emma Frost or any other characters that you played?
Wahlgren: X-Men in general I was just such a huge fan of, so anytime I’ve gotten to do parts within that world I was definitely excited. I played a very tiny version of Black Canary and I was a big fan of Gail Simone’s run on Birds of Prey. Huge fan of her writing. Comic book-wise I read a lot of those and then got to play a little bit of that character. Wonder Woman obviously. I read a lot of Batgirl, not that I necessarily played her as much, but that DC world.
The whole Dark Phoenix Saga and love triangle with Scott, Emma, and Jean Grey. There’s too much good stuff happening in the X-Men. I used to date a guy and he collected them. He had a huge box of X-Men comics and I would stay up for hours and read and borrow as many as I could because I was so fascinated by the whole X-Men saga.
Q: I’ve noticed that many voice actors especially in the anime industry have a musical background. As a singer yourself, has that musical training been beneficial for your voiceover career?
Wahlgren: Absolutely. A lot of friends I have who are in voiceover are also good singers or have some sort of musical training. For one thing you’re always doing these scales so you’re always finding out [high voice] how high your voice can go or [low voice] how low can your voice go. That alone starts getting you playing with your voice as an instrument. With anime when we’re syncing up to picture, it’s so much about stopping, starting, and timing. There’s a music to it in anime. I think that the technical side of it if you come from any sort of musical or singing background helps you.
Q: Are certain character archetypes easier for you to play?
Wahlgren: I don’t know if there’s any there are easier than other ones but I know that I’ve gone in waves. When I first started I would get a lot of scrappy young girl characters. Then for awhile I was getting more villains. Then I was doing young ingénue lead characters. It tends to come in spurts for me. I will say as I’ve gotten older, I am a little more comfortable with the older characters. I can bring something to those roles that 10-15 years ago I couldn’t.
Q: One of your earliest roles that’s still a fan favorite is Haruko a.k.a. the “Vespa Woman” from FLCL. What’s it like to return to such a crazy and cult property that’s only grown more popular since the original series ended nearly 15 years ago?
Wahlgren: It’s crazy! FLCL was my first ever role in anime when I moved to Los Angeles. I think I booked that a year or maybe a year and half after moving to Los Angeles. At the time I had no idea it was going to be something that lasted this long let alone something that would bring back a sequel all these years later. It’s just been kind of this crazy, awesome surprise to see where it’s gone. I had no idea what I was in for.
SIGN. ME. UP. https://t.co/QpdNgvMD8W
— Kari Wahlgren (@KariWahlgren) November 5, 2018
Q: Obviously FLCL has had a tremendous influence not only on anime but on Western animation, most notably the original 2003 Teen Titans cartoon. Incidentally, you’ve actually worked with some of the people involved in Teen Titans such as Ciro Nieli on Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! (try saying that 5x fast), Glen Murakami on Ben 10, Rob Hoegee on Niko and the Sword of Light. I’m curious if you happen know if this was something conscious on the part of the show crews or just cosmic happenstance?
Wahlgren: The best story that I have that goes along with that—Haruko on FLCL was my first anime show and the first Disney series that I booked was Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!. I showed up to the first recording session and there was somebody wearing an FLCL t-shirt at the session. I said, “I don’t know if you knew this but I actually did the voice of that character,” and his eyes got really big. And he said, “Holy cow! Well anime and FLCL were a huge influence on this show.” So it was one of those crazy moments of my worlds coming together in this crazy way. It has been neat that I have found a number of times that some of the anime things I did early in my career actually inspired things that I’m doing now. I play Shannon on OK K.O.! Let’s Be Heroes on Cartoon Network and those guys were really, really influenced by anime as well. It’s just crazy what a weird circle it is.
Wahlgren: Wil Wheaton and I met on that project and become friends. He’s just such a lovely person. I can’t remember the audition process very much, but I do definitely remember filming it and just what a trippy, cool experience it was. I don’t normally get to play the drugged out, slutty Tinker Bell character. It was really, really fun for me to get to stretch and do something that was outside what I normally get to do. Those are the best! That’s what makes acting so much fun, to get to walk in somebody else’s shoes for awhile.
Q: What was your childhood like? Were you into cartoons?
Wahlgren: I loved cartoons growing up. I was really into Disney princesses and things like that. When I got older I was just HUGE into Batman: The Animated Series. Those were two of my big influences growing up. I guess I kind of grew up in a simpler time. I grew up in central Kansas and could ride my bike home from school. It was a very idyllic childhood in a lot of ways. I loved cartoons, theater, singing, and performing and it all factored into the career that I have now.
Q: Speaking of Kansas, one of your current projects is the animated Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz series on Boomerang. You’ve mentioned multiple times how much the original Wizard of Oz film meant to you and this show is particularly near and dear to your heart. Would you mind elaborating?
Wahlgren: If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” when I moved to L.A., I would be rich! It was funny because my entire life there have been Wizard of Oz and Dorothy jokes and references. When I booked that part it was really meaningful because I had the Dorothy connection my whole life. And almost emotional. I got a little choked up with getting to promote that show and talk about it. I loved growing up in Kansas and my parents are still there. It’s probably the most special role I ever booked.