Kaiji Tang: L.A. based voice actor shows amazing range in unique interview
What happens when a reporter (and sometime actor with a voice acting background) sits down with one of the best voice actors in the world of anime and gaming? Hilarity – and perhaps a first in the news business. Los Angeles Post-Examiner feature writer Anthony C. Hayes caught up with the talented and engaging Kaiji Tang at Otakon 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. Kaiji is an American voice actor and screen actor, working primarily out of Los Angeles. A native of Shanghai, China, Kaiji has seven film roles, twenty-two anime features, and nearly 50 video games to his credit.
In the video game world, Tang has performed such roles as Faust in “Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-“, and Yamato Hotsuin in “Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker”. In anime, you can hear him as Tsumugu Kinagase in “Kill La Kill”; Kouen Ren in “Magi”; Schmidt in “Sword Art Online”; and Big G in “Doraemon”. He also hosts the YouTube channel, Voices of Gaming. What follows is the interview between our reporter and Kaiji Tang; or rather – the Q&A with Clark Gable, Paul Lynde, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Noel Coward and several unique and entertaining voices of Kaiji’s own creation.
LAPX: Thank you for sitting down with us and doing what may be a first in the newspaper business: a dueling voice interview. I’ll try not to do too much Jimmy Stewart or we’ll be here all night. You say you come from a theatrical background?
Kaiji: (James Mason voice) Yes, indeed I do.
LAPX: (Alec Guinness) How did you get started in voice work? Did you do voices as a child, or did this come later?
Kaiji: (James Mason) No, you see, it’s interesting. I never really set out to be a voice actor. I had no real comprehension of what voice acting was. As I said, I come from a theater background, but I moved to Los Angeles to do commercial work. I was an on-screen commercial actor. I did commercials for the Garmin GPS, the Discovery Channel. I was in a very classy movie, called Zombie Strippers. Yes, indeed! A cult classic, I’m sure. I’m not quite sure what happened to it, but I’m sure you could find it somewhere like Best Buy or a Radio Shack. One of those. But afterwards, I discovered a podcast in a website that lists auditions in Los Angeles, and this podcast was run by a dubbing studio. Said dubbing studio hired me for voice work after the podcast, and it’s all been snowballing ever since.
LAPX: (Jimmy Stewart) Then, you didn’t do voices as a child? It all came later?
Kaiji: (Edward G. Robinson) Ya, see… It was spontaneous, see. I never set out to do the voice work. A lot of my friends were inspired by the cartoons of the past age, you know – Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam, all thems, but no, no. I enjoyed the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s as close as I got, see, to wanting to be a cartoon character. But after that, I never gave it any thought until that podcast, see.
LAPX: (Elmer Fudd) So growing up you weren’t a fan of Mel Blanc or Paul Frees, or other voice actors like that?
Kaiji: (apologetic, belittled man voice) Well, no, I’m not saying I’m not a fan of Mel Blanc. Very talented individual. Did Bugs Bunny, and that. It just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind growing up. It just accidentally came later, as it often happens in life.
LAPX: (Humphrey Bogart) Please tell us about the process of doing voice work. How much of the characterizations come from your ideas vs. the creator/director?
Kaiji: (Harsh, gravelly voice) Well, it’s a collaboration. You see, if you walk into a voice booth with a pre-determined idea of what you want to do, it makes you inflexible. You know what I’m saying? They don’t want inflexible actors. They want to be able to work with you to create a character. So mostly, I come in with an idea, and I’ll pitch the idea. The director will say, “I like it”, or “No, it’s garbage.” (Laughing)
LAPX: (Clark Gable) How much time are you given to prepare for an anime role? Are you involved from the time the cartoon is storyboarded or only after the animation is completed?
Kaiji: (Exasperated high-pitched voice) Well for most, most, anime work, the anime is completed long before I ever get a chance to touch it. So I go in, not knowing anything about what I’m about to record, and they throw me into the booth and say, “Kaiji – this is the character.” I have about ten minutes to come up with a voice. And afterwards, we just go from there. I have VERY little preparation time. Every anime actor has ten minutes – if they’re lucky.
LAPX: (Daffy Duck) Do you do these recordings with the other actors simultaneously or are you alone in the studio?
Kaiji: (Deep, soulful voice) Well, let me tell, you. We voice folk are usually very lonely. We go in, it’s just us. Ain’t never get a chance to meet the other cast members unless we’re passing in the street or in the hallway on the way to work. Usually, it’s just you (alone in there).
LAPX: (Natural voice) What’s the most difficult part of voice acting?
Kaiji: (Chicago confidence man) The most difficult part of voice acting? It’s just getting the jobs, ya know? Auditions are everywhere, but you book maybe one in a hundred, if you’re lucky. You know what I’m saying? So it’s kind of like a numbers game. But booking the job is really the frosting on the cake. Auditioning is your job as a voice actor. If you audition enough, the roles will come. It’s just getting the auditions that’s the hard part.
LAPX: (Foghorn Leghorn) Do you have, I say, do you have a favorite voice acting role?
Kaiji: (Suave Harvard man) My favorite role? My favorite role so far has to be this kid named Big G. Big G is part of a series called Doraemon. Now, Doraemon is a series that was conceptualized in Japan, years and years and decades ago. It’s basically the Mickey Mouse of the East. Everyone outside of America has some sort of contact with Doraemon, except here, where it was just introduced this past year. I remember growing up in Shanghai, China, reading Doraemon, and that’s how influential the show has been in my life. So, it’s been such a mind-blowing experience to be able to voice this character from my childhood.
LAPX: (W.C. Fields) You tell me you have a background in stage acting. How has that helped you as a voice actor?
Kaiji: (New York cop) Well let me tell you – my background in acting, specifically in theatrical work has been PIVOTAL in my voice acting career. What I mean by that is, if you get a chance, you take theatre. For all of the people who want to get into voice acting work, I definitely recommend it, because it gives you everything. It gives you elocution, it gives you confidence, enunciation, and it gives you memorization skills, which is crucial to foreign dubbing work, where you are looking at a little script and then you have to look at the screen and put the words into place. Now, that’s hard to do if you can’t memorize the line on the spot. So, you look down, memorize the lines really quick, look up and put the words in. Theatre is perfect or that, because you do memorization all of the time.
LAPX: (Paul Lynde) So basically you’re saying, you get the lines and put the words into the character’s mouth?
Kaiji: (Noel Coward) Oh, darling, that’s exactly what I’m saying. (Then, slipping into yes man Frank Nelson) Mmmm, yes. Yes indeed. There is little time for prep work in the opportunities for any dubbing job, so you need to be quick on your feet and have memorization skills that are super sharp.
LAPX: (Boris Karloff) I asked about vocal inspirations. Who are your acting inspirations?
Kaiji: (Very deep voice) I have a few friends in the field who were huge inspirations to me, about setting my career goals and really buckling down and taking this job seriously, one of whom is named Patrick Seitz. Now he is a man who just does his job really well. I play a lot of video games and oddly, his voice is on one of the games I was playing one day. I thought, gosh, it’s just amazing that he can do this for a living. I really wanted to buckle down and see if I could get my career to where his was, and that was sorta the turning point, where I went from treating voice work as a side job to my main job.
LAPX: (Huckleberry Hound) Is there a difference between doing anime and the video games?
Kaiji: (Slim Pickens-esque) Oh, gosh, let me tell ya, there’s a large difference. In anime, we’ve got the original Japanese on the screen, right? And then you have the (English) script and you’ve got to work off of each other, which is kind of hard to do. But in video games, you don’t gotta match your voice to the lip flaps or the picture. You just sorta list them off one-by-one, and they just put it into the game. There is no match or sync involved. Sometimes you’ll have maybe four seconds to say the line, but that’s about the hardest it gets. So video games – not as hard as anime, but pays a lot more for some reason. If you can wrap your mind around that. Anime – one of the hardest voice acting jobs that you can do, pays very little; doesn’t make much sense to me, but I’m not in charge of these things. On the opposite end of the spectrum: Commercials. Oh, man. Commercials are the sweetest. You can go in for like ten minutes, walk out with $4,000. Ten minutes. TEN MINUTES! Say a line. If I could just do one commercial a month for the rest of my life, I’d be a happy man.
LAPX: (Vincent Price) What about residuals?
Kaiji: (Pat Morita-esque) Yes, let me tell you. The residuals are mostly from on screen work. But for commercials, as long as it’s union, you get a large amount of residuals. There is a difference between doing union and non-union work. Non-union jobs generally have no residuals. You go in, you get paid and you leave. That’s it! But with union work – that’s where the money is. You do a union commercial and they will send you money for as long as it plays. I was on three Conan O’Brien skits years ago. Years ago! I still get checks for some reason. Like, they’ll randomly play in Malaysia and I get a check! It’s astonishing. But for video game work or anime? There are usually no residuals. The unions, or whatever powers that be, don’t have a system to give you residuals. If you can imagine, video games are released, and they have things added onto the game. How do you pay the actor for that? You know? It’s confusing.
LAPX: (Peter Lorre) What advice would give the young artist who would like to get into voice work?
Kaiji: I’m gonna do this in my own voice, because it comes from the heart.
If you want to pursue voice acting, the most important thing you have to have is passion. You’re gonna be facing a lot of rejection, just like any acting. You should probably move to where the work is, which is Los Angeles, Texas, New York. Get yourself a well made demo tape; take acting classes in theatre; do everything you can to prep yourself. And know that – if you go in for a read or an audition, and they don’t hire you – it’s nothing personal. It’s just that everyone in this town (Los Angeles) is amazing, and it’s just picking from the amazing people. You may sound fantastic, but they just have a different characterization in mind. So don’t lose heart. That’s the most important piece of advice I can give to whoever wants to take part in this business.
Anthony C. Hayes is an actor, author, raconteur, rapscallion and bon vivant. A former reporter at The Washington Herald and an occasional contributor to the Voice of Baltimore, Tony’s poetry, humor and prose have also been featured in Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore; Magic Octopus Magazine; Destination Maryland, and Tales of Blood and Roses.