activeAnime interviews FUNimation Entertainment voice actor and ADR Director, Brina Palencia, about herself, her role as Rei Ayanami and Evangelion.
How did you get into voice acting, and did you have any prior acting experiences?
When I was 16, my boyfriend was a huge DBZ nerd, so we took a tour of Funimation Studios for his graduation present. When I graduated high school, I ended up in a community college just up the highway from Funimation. I went to the studios and asked how to audition; luckily for me they were doing an open audition a couple of weeks later. I auditioned and slowly worked my way up from being a bit actor to doing leads. Before that I had done some live theatre, but it was my first time doing any sort of voice over.
With your relatively short time in the industry, you have landed notable roles, but which character or characters would you say are the toughest to play and why?
Each character comes with its own obstacles, but the one that sticks out the most in my mind is Priscilla in Claymore. Not only did she run the gamut emotionally, she had 3 distinctly different voices: Normal Priscilla, Yoma Priscilla (which was really hard on my voice), and Awakened Being Priscilla. She was incredibly draining both physically and psychologically, especially for a character that only appears in, what, 4 or 5 episodes?
Also, in your short time as a voice actor, you have been tapped to direct. How rewarding is it to direct your own show, and what was your reaction when you found out that you would be directing?
When my line producer, Colleen Clinkenbeard, asked me to direct, I was shocked and delighted. I had never verbally expressed any interest in directing. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d be cut out for it. My first contract was Moon Phase and Colleen made it very clear to me that I couldn’t afford to screw it up. “This show is my baby,” she said, “No pressure.” So of course I was terrified. Miraculously, I finished the show to her liking and she gave me School Rumble, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I love that show; it’s given me so many great memories.
As you may have noticed, there is a wide range of anime female characters that you can play, and at certain points, you may be recording multiple characters at the same time. Does it get confusing from time to time on which character you should be playing, and how do you immerse yourself to do a specific character?
I’ve never had a problem with it until recently when I was cast as Tamama in Sgt. Frog. Tamama and my character in One Piece, Tony Tony Chopper, have very similar voices. However, they’re still different and I have to keep it that way. I try to make sure I never record them in the same day; it gets way to confusing.
Now for the highly anticipated Evangelion 1.0 movie. You have stepped into a very high profile anime with a popularity that keeps on growing even over a decade. Your thoughts on this?
I admit, I didn’t know much about the show when I was cast. Mike McFarland, the ADR Director, asked me if I knew what I was in for. When I told him I had no idea he said, “On a nerd scale, I pretty much just gave you the role of Princess Leia.” At first, I thought he was just being dramatic, but when they made the announcement and I started getting all those e-mails and MySpace messages, I thought, ‘Wow, he wasn’t kidding.’ I’ve never gotten such a mass response after a cast announcement.
You are now playing a role that is one of the most recognizable characters in anime, and a role that Amanda Winn Lee made popular in the English anime world, and to top it all off, a very stoic character that doesn’t talk much. How did you approach the Rei Ayanami character, and do you feel that you have managed to create your own Rei and how?
I didn’t watch the original dub at all. I wanted to avoid trying to voice match Amanda Winn Lee. I felt my performance should be about the acting, not trying to sound like someone else. Also, I wanted to be a blank slate for Mike McFarland who, as the director, knew way more about the show than I did. I trusted him to guide me, and I didn’t want to come in with a preconceived notion of what I needed to sound like. I’m not sure if I created “my own” Rei. I just tried my best.
Were you totally surprised that you landed the role and are the expectations high?
I’ve played roles like her before, so in that respect it wasn’t surprising. It was the popularity and importance of the show that was so overwhelming. I feel like there is a lot of pressure on me not to screw it up!
From playing Rei, based on your own opinion, what kind of person do you think she is?
I think there is way more going on in that mind of hers than she’ll let show on the surface. I feel most flat, soft-spoken characters are like that. It’s so easy to just play them as if they have no emotion, but I feel they have even more emotion than those over the top characters – it’s just suppressed. Every tiny inflection is so important and so much more meaningful than if she were screaming all the time.
There are three more movies to follow, but once it is all over, what kind of mark or legacy do you want to leave with the Evangelion franchise or Rei Ayanami?
I hope I do the part justice and that I can live up to the high standard that was already set before me.
What would you like to tell the anime fans about the new Evangelion?
We all worked very hard on it, especially Mike McFarland. I hope they love watching it as much as I loved being in it.
Standard question that we ask, any embarrassing moments while recording that you might want to share with everyone?
I don’t actually have any, but I did cause one. When I was directing Leah Clark who plays Eri on School Rumble, I asked the engineer to put one of her cues on a loop so that she could record it to picture over and over again without stopping. I said, “Leah, just give me a lot of different options on this one. Improv, say whatever you want, just make it funny.” She proceeded to do this for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, my engineer, Jimmy Barker, and I had left the room and gone on a break without her noticing. Finally, I hear her yell down the hall, “What the crap?! Did you seriously just leave me alone in there?!!” She was not amused, but Jimmy and I certainly were.
Brina, thank you very much once again for giving us this opportunity to conduct an interview with you. But before we let you go, would you please tell us about your love for music.
Well, I have a degree in music from the University of North Texas. It’s just one of those things I’ve always loved and grown up around. My mother is a singer; my father and brother play guitar. It’s always been a staple in my life. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to use my talents in the anime industry through singing theme songs and music directing. Being the music director for Negima!? was incredibly rewarding. It was the first time I got to see all the songs through from start to finish. I hope to do more shows like that in the future.
About Brina Palencia:
Brina Palencia is a voice actress and ADR director for Funimation. Her voice acting credits include: Nina Tucker in Full Metal Alchemist, Elsa in Gunslinger Girl, Yue in Negima, Kaoru in Moon Phase, Georgie in Shin Chan (for which she also sang the ending theme song), Eve and Tearju Lunatique in Black Cat, Maho in Beck, Honoka in Suzuka, Silvia de Alisia in Aquarion, Ai in Hell Girl, Ralph in Glass Fleet, Mikoto in School Rumble, Moro and Zashikiwarashi in xxxHOLiC, Tony Tony Chopper in One Piece, Ayane Shido in BALDR FORCE EXE Resolution, Yafuri Chao in Black Blood Brothers, and Tsukasa Takamine in Sasami. More recently she’s been cast as Yin in Darker Than Black, Priscilla in Claymore, and Ennis in Baccano. She has also been featured in Kodocha, Case Closed, Burst Angel, Speed Grapher, Basilisk, Trinity Blood, Solty Rei. Tsubabsa, Mushishi, Peach Girl, Witchblade, and Raganarok. Her voice can also be heard on several video games such as Guitar Hero III, Stunt Driver 2, Super Dagonball Z, One Piece: Unlimited Adventure, and more recently Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon as the Moogle/Dungeon Hero X. If you’re in the mood for gore, she also voiced the title character for the live action dub of The Machine Girl. Her ADR Directing credits include: Moon Phase (eps 21-26), School Rumble, Black Blood Brothers, and xxxHOLiC (the movie and eps 1-8). She also served as the music director for Sasami and Negima!?. She ‘s also a huge fan of Pocky, especially the Almond Crush variety. I’m just sayin’. I mean, you know…just in case you have any extra.
Interview Conducted by Rommel Salandanan