Chris Ayres Interview - 2012
This month, Anime Network had the chance to catch up with Chris Ayres, A.D.R. Director & Voice Actor in a long list of anime titles, including the hit science fiction/fantasy series The Book of Bantorra.
Q. What is the first anime show you remember watching?
A. The first show that I remember seeing and remember it being anime was Akira. My brother, Greg Ayres, had gotten it on laser disc and thought that I would enjoy it, and he was right. I had never really thought about something animated having a stronger storyline than what I had seen on Saturday Morning programs, but the power of the story really captured me.
Q. What was your first favorite anime series?
A. I have to say there were two. Saiyuki - it was one of the first shows that my brother had a lead in and so I got to watch the whole show - and I also was a fan of Excel Saga, but then how can you not be?
Wait Until Dark
Q. Tell me a bit about your history working in anime.
A. I actually started out as a director for theatre, and had been working professionally since I was 6 years old when I did my first commercial. I noticed that a lot of the actors I was working with were all doing voiceover work including my brother, Monica Rial, Chris Patton, Illich Guardiola and so many more. They all kept telling me that I needed to audition, that I was a strong actor, with a wide vocal range and that was what the studio was looking for. I kept putting it off because I was always in rehearsal, pre-production, auditions, tech rehearsals or what have you. Finally my brother called the studio and said, "it's ringing, book the appointment!" I did and about 6 or 7 months later I got called in for an audition... a few weeks after that I booked my first show Kino's Journey and have been working pretty much ever since. As much as I love voice acting and acting in general, my real passion is directing. So I was a little stunned but overwhelmed and excited when the studio approached me about A.D.R. Directing. It was a chance to get back to what I love and perfect timing since it had been about 3 years since I had time to direct a show. I was initially brought in because the studio had a couple of shows that were essentially musicals, and since I'm experienced at directing Musical Theatre, they thought it would be a good fit. So that was Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch and Nerima Daikon Brothers. Then came Xenosaga: The Animation, Magikano and the second season of The Wallflower. More recently I've done Night Raid: 1931, ef~ A Tale of Memories, ef~ A Tale of Melodies, Planzet and that brings us to the current show Book of Bantorra.
Q. Have you worked with any voice actors/directors from your first or favorite series?
A. That's a great question. I have. In fact, I've worked with both directors Matt Greenfield who directed Excel Saga and Steven Foster who directed Saiyuki. I've also been lucky enough to work with most of the cast from both shows when I've been directing. I do have to say, though, that the best part has been the friendship I have developed with Shinichi Watanabe (a.k.a. Nabeshin) who was the creator of Excel Saga as well as one of my first shows as a director The Nerima Daikon Brothers. So the fact that he and I have become good friends is something that will stay with me always.
With Koshi Yasuhiro (L) and Shinichi Watanabe (R)
Q. Can you share a few of your most memorable experiences working in anime?
A. Wow there are so many. The friendship with Nabeshin has to be the first and foremost. I will just say if you think his shows are funny and wild you should try going to dinner with him sometime. Certainly getting cast in my first lead, Gantz, was a big memory. The other day, I was talking to the other two leads, Shannon Emerick and Illich Guardiola, and we all agreed that we came away from that show having learned so much about the craft. Honestly the most memorable and wonderful experiences I have had have been working with the actors on the shows that I've done. I've been lucky enough, because I worked in Houston Theatre for so long, that I was able to tap into a talent pool that the studio may not have found otherwise. In the past I was able to bring in David Devaney Jr., Hanna Alcorn, Sofia Mendez, Deb Hass, Johanna Bonno, Houston Hayes, Scotty Fults, and with Book of Bantorra I've been able to bring in Caitlynn French, Michael Ali, and Connor Leach, but then that's much easier to do when you're working on such a large show.
Q. What are some of the challenges to casting such a large cast?
A. There are so many. I have to say, be it a large or small cast, the biggest challenge is getting the right voices for the right roles. I try to be very careful in every casting choice I make, which is why it takes me a long time to cast a show. I have to feel in my gut that each actor is going to not only be able to do the role and have the voice fit the character, but I have to feel that they can bring something to the role and the show and that their voices will have a good chemistry together. It is much easier with a small cast show like the ef~ series. The larger the show the more roles there are, and while we have an amazing talent pool to select from, when you get into a show like Bantorra where you've got almost 60 named characters , each with over 20 lines and close to 200 bit parts and walla roles. So with that many roles to cast, you have to be very careful.
NOTE: "Walla" is the background sound in scene. For instance, if two people are in a shopping center talking, all of those sounds of the shoppers in the background are people doing walla which stands for "With ALL Actors," and there's usually a ton of it in every show.
Q. What are some of the challenges to directing such a large cast?
A. Ha ha ha, I have to say booking them! Making sure that I can get them in to record when we need them is always a big challenge, but that's more scheduling than directing. I think the biggest challenge with both large and small shows, is that you, as the director, know the story and the direction it needs to go and the actors are coming in blind, very often not knowing anything about the show or their character. In a show with a large cast, it's vital for the actors to know where they fit into the story and that they have context for what is happening. I take a lot of time talking to the actors, telling them what the story is about and who their character is. If there are secrets that their character knows, that none of the others do, I make sure that they know and understand those secrets so that they can make informed decisions as an actor when they're voicing the character. It comes down to my thinking what I would need as an actor going into a show and trying to give them the same things I would need. Of course the larger the show the more they have to know, the plot holes you have to fill in, and the more you need to keep them aware of what's going on in the story. I will say that because I'm so careful about casting, I tend to trust my actors. As long as we are ahead of schedule, if an actor asks to do a line again because they think the have a better or more interesting read on the line, then I'll let them do it... Because 9 times out of 10, when it's the right actor for the role, they are usually right.
Anime Detour 2012
Q. What do you like about participating in anime conventions?
A. I love going to conventions, what's not to like? I'm a fan of anime and so many things that are considered "Geek Culture." The list would be hard for me to write out. Conventions are a chance for me to get some one-on-one time with people who are not only fans of the work I do, but who are into the same kinds of things that I am. Convention attendees are such a diverse group of people that you can always find someone who enjoys the same thing you do. I do have to add that I've said in countless press interviews that if you look around an anime convention you will see all ages, all walks of life, all political and religious groups, both genders and all sexualities, all getting along and enjoying spending time with each other. We live in a world that very often tries to point out our differences and push us apart, and I am so honored be a part of an industry that brings so many people of different backgrounds together in an atmosphere of harmony and joy.
Q. Do you ever get to just enjoy anime conventions or are you too recognizable?
A. Well, I do get to enjoy them just as much, but my experience is a little different from most of the people who attend the convention for fun. So many people think that the conventions are a vacation for the guests and it's actually quite the opposite. It's a lot of rushing to panels, or workshops or signings, and trying to get some food in when you can. In the past 2 years I think I've actually gotten into the dealers room at a convention 9 times and that's been roughly 44 conventions! But I do enjoy them because when I get a break, I spend it with attendees talking about anime, horror, sci-fi or any number of topics, and that's what I really enjoy. So, yes, I do get to enjoy the conventions, but not in the way that most people do. I guess, if I took off my glasses, my leather jacket, Hawaiian shirt, and didn't carry my Giant Sippy Cup of Doom, I could probably make it through a convention without anyone recognizing me, but then I wouldn't have anyone to hang out with or talk to, so I don't see that happening any time soon.
Q. What's your next project?
A. Ahh I wish I could say. I'm currently working on a new show that is about as big, cast wise, as Book of Bantorra, but this one is primarily men. It's a very exciting show and I'm already in love with it. Stay tuned for the big announcement!
Learn more about Chris Ayres's work and convention appearances: Official Website | Facebook Fan Page