Doug- I am originally from Toronto, Canada. I came to Los Angeles in 1984 and have lived here ever since, working solely in the voice-over field. An actual “hippy,” in the 60′s, I left school at 16. By 18 I was hitch-hiking across Canada and the U.S. and spent over a year on the road, living in a variety of cities. I became a Candle-Maker and then a Furniture-Maker with a partner in our own businesses – very hippy-like, huh? Then took a strange turn into the Computer world and ended up Manager of Computer Security for General Foods of Canada. Finally, I went into the entertainment business full-time.
Retroplayer- When did you decide that voice acting was your call in life?
Doug- Although I was doing theater it was difficult to earn a living in the business. Then, while still working at General Foods I auditioned for and got a job doing “scratch track” commercials. In other words, trial reads of commercials which would then be re-written and re-recorded before going on to be read by people such as Bill Cosby. The gentleman who ran the recording studio encouraged me to try doing V/O full-time. I made a demo and began to book work, even before I had an agent. The work supported me while I did theater, which was my first love. Based on an on-camera role I had I was recommended to a great agency. They were submitting actors for M.A.S.K. and I got quite a few roles. The further into the series we got the more I came to realize how much I enjoyed the recording process. Theater and Improv comedy became secondary and V/O became my first love. I could be so many different kinds of people and wasn’t limited by my look. I love the opportunity it provides for creativity.
Retroplayer-Take us through your early experiences of breaking into the voice acting industry. Was it tough to secure roles to help build up your resume or did you find it relatively easy?
Doug- It was but I was very determined. I submitted demos to probably over a hundred places before I got a bite. Every job helped make me more viable in the next potential employers eyes. But certainly my first year or two was spent doing low profile work. That was fine, because I was learning. When M.A.S.K. came along I was already trained to some extent. Bear in mind that I also had a theater resume and a small on-camera resume. Employers want to see something that shows you’re serious about being in the business. I took any kind of work I could get, v/o and otherwise, to build a resume. Getting good theater reviews can help impress an agent.
Getting roles is never easy but I’ve been able to stay employed on a pretty consistent basis. It changes week to week and year to year. Even when you have a long resume people like to see current projects. Big gaps in employment never look good. Your real job is to get jobs. Actually doing the job is the icing on the cake.
Retroplayer- Doug, early in your career you voiced a number of characters in the cartoon M.A.S.K, a personal favourite of mine. How does it feel to be apart of an era that is now considered a golden age of animation?
Doug- I always thought of the golden era of animation to be the one that proceeded me. Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc. In any case, I’m very happy I was able to be part of that time when there were so many original/adventure shows around. I love doing comedic characters but I also really enjoy action driven pieces. I was fortunate enough to have characters to voice who had very different personalities. I loved that challenge. Every recording session was a pleasure and I’m thrilled that people still remember the show fondly. Knowing that I am part of the good memories people growing up in that era have is very gratifying.
Retroplayer- Doug, your most notable role in the gaming world must be that of Psycho Mantis in Metal Gear Solid. How did you land the role?
Doug- I auditioned for the role of Psycho Mantis. To be quite honest I don’t remember the circumstances. What was odd was that we recorded the first one in a mixing room not a booth. Meaning I was only a few feet away from a giant screen, with everyone present in the room.
Retroplayer- Take us though typical day of the recording process of Metal Gear Solid, Doug.
Doug- I record my role for a few hours only. Every actor comes in and records alone. The Director knows the motivation for every line and gives you that information. We now record in a standard studio. I receive my portion of the script beforehand so I have a good idea of what I’m dealing with. Usually every line is done 2-5 times. That’s to attempt to perfect the read and also to give them different options to choose from later. I am played excerpts of earlier games to help me zero in on the voice again. It doesn’t take long for the feel of the character to come back to me again. He is such a distinct character that once I fall into him I don’t have too much trouble maintaining.
Retroplayer- How do you view the character of Psycho Mantis?
Doug- I see him as torn. There are aspects of him that are tortured. But when he is on the attack all of that is put aside. He revels in destruction and victory. It’s as if these things will restore him so they are even more important to him than they might be to a typical “bad guy.”
Retroplayer- How did it feel reprising the role for a short cameo in Metal Gear Solid 4? Did you easily slip back into the voice?
Doug- As I said above, once I began recording his persona came back to me, as did his voice. Although his vocal placement is a bit odd so I did have to work a bit to get his sound just right.
Retroplayer- Doug, you’ve also been heavily involved in voice direction and have worked on projects such as Dynasty Warriors 5, Viewtiful Joe, Code Geass and Black Blood Brothers. What’s it like being on the other side of that fence and does a working knowledge in both fields give you a better understanding of the overall recording process? If so, how?
Doug- I think directing makes you a better actor. When you go into the booth for someone else you truly understand what the Director’s needs might be. You learn to trust them more, knowing that they are completely familiar with the script. Sometimes an Actor gets stuck on a line read that they are sure is perfect. But without knowing the complete context of the story you might be really off base. As someone who’s directed I trust that I’m am being guided in the correct way.
You certainly understand the recording process better. You gain an idea of the technical requirements necessary. You learn to listen like you’ve never listened before to the slightest nuances in a performance. In many of the projects I’ve directed I’ve also done the casting – supplied actors for auditions. You end up memorizing the voices of a hundred actors or more so that you are able to bring in the right people.
In some of my projects I was not a hired hand, there to cast and direct for someone. On occasion I bid for the project and had to work within a budget that I supervised myself. And hired and supervised the studio, over saw the mix, etc. You learn a lot about many aspects of the process.
Retroplayer- Your anime credits are quite lengthy and include animes like Akira, Cowboy Bebop, Gundrave, The Wings of Honneamise, Hellsing and Planetes. Does the process of voice recording for anime different much from recording for games?
Doug- Yes they differ quite a bit. In a game they are usually not timing your read. You are free to interpret how quickly you should go to get the best performance. There are only small sections where you read to set times. The roles I have in Dynasty Warriors, for instance, are pretty wild and they’re a lot of fun to record. With anime you are restricted to working with the existing mouth movements. This provides a different challenge. Fit the line in while still giving the proper performance. It’s technically challenging. When an adapted script is written well it is a much easier process.
Retroplayer- Metal Gear Solid was a very cinematic experience and since then videogames are becoming even more complex, well written and in-depth. In terms of storytelling and character development do you feel that videogames are beginning to rival tv and film?
Doug- I think adventure films are hard-pressed to match video games now. They are well aware of the power of games and are striving to give the same kind of razzle-dazzle entertainment. Small, character driven films have their own audience and aren’t affected by games. I do wish the video games did not have so many violent titles. Sword play, etc. isn’t a bad influence, I don’t think. When they are obviously fantasy games people are not adversely affected, or so I believe. But when games feature human characters shooting each other on the street….well, I don’t think that’s healthy. I’m waiting for the next stage of games, hoping they will be even more story driven. I feel that’s when they will really have broken free of their beginnings and will become a new art form.
Retroplayer- Doug, you’ve also been a writer on a number of animes and cartoons. Between writing and voice acting do you have a particular favourite and why?
Doug- I prefer voice-acting to writing. I’ve mainly written because I prefer directing my own scripts. It’s very tedious to write anime. But, if there’s a shortage of voice jobs writing is a good was to keep money coming in. I can’t imagine anyone preferring writing to acting. Before anime we used to dub a lot of foreign live-action films and foreign cartoons.
Retroplayer- What advice would you give to any young people who wish to become a voice actor who are reading this right now?
Doug- May I be harsh? Don’t bother trying to get in. Most of the people reading this are probably anime fans. Here’s the bad news. Anime pays the least of all forms of voice acting. It doesn’t seem like it should, does it? It’s hard to do and anime sells a lot. But the payment is awful. And if you’re non-union some places pay even less than standard. You CANNOT make a living only doing anime. Not unless you direct or write too. The Naruto cast, for instance, had tons of work, but they couldn’t survive on just it. As far as games go, they do pay better. But they pay no residuals. You get a buy-out. Well, how many games do you think you’ll get to do per year? To make a living you must also book commercials, Industrials, Audio Books, etc.
All of the above are almost impossible to get. The field is crowded. With the new technology people can audition from home. Where once you were auditioning against 70 people, you’re now in contention with hundreds.
If you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York your chance of making a living are pretty much non-existent.
If you are absolutely determined to take a shot at the business bear in mind that there are plenty of people willing to take your money who will be of no help. Take a class with someone who is active in the business. If they were active twenty years ago they’ll be no help to you. Take a beginner’s class. Develop your own voices. Being able to imitate Steve Blum isn’t going to do you any good. There already is a Steve Blum. If you don’t shine in that beginner’s class than quit and save your money. If you excel move on. When you are in a professional level class you must be as good as the best. If you are then you’re ready to take a shot at it.
Investigate people who make demos. Go to someone who has made demos for working actors. Spend the money to do it right. Submit yourself to agents and studios or anyone else who might help you out. Keep your cover letter short and your resume easy to read. You’re new and they simply might not care about you. Don’t expect a welcome mat. Maybe they’ve got 20 experienced people who can already do what you do. Your enthusiasm and love for Anime means nothing to them. Voice-over is a business. You must spend a great deal of energy promoting yourself.
I’d suggest saving enough money to sustain yourself for a year in L.A. or N.Y. or be prepared to wait tables, etc. If it doesn’t work out you’ll be able to say you tried. That was my attitude going into it. I knew I couldn’t rest if I didn’t give it a solid try. I got lucky. Very few do.
Retroplayer- Are you a gamer yourself? If so, what have you played?
Doug- No, I’m not a gamer. Too old for it, I guess.
Retroplayer- If you had to choose one project or role that you’ve been most proud of what would it be?
Doug- Well I guess M.A.S.K. and Psycho Mantis are right up there. There was another game, Maisy, which I did years ago that was for little kids. Consumer’s Reports made it it’s only recommended game of the year. I was very proud and gratified about that. I am a strong advocate of positive entertainment for the youngsters. Another was “Where In the U.S.A. is Carmen Sandiego.” I had to do accurate accents for about 15 states. It gave me a lot of satisfaction.Lastly, I have what is called a, “loop group,” which supplies voices for TV shows and Films. It’s pretty inactive now but in the 90′s we supplied all the voices for the Hercules and Xena shows. I did the casting and led the group. We won five Golden Reel awards for sound. That was great. It was also wonderful being able to give so many talented actors union work.
Retroplayer- How do you want Psycho Mantis to be remembered?
Doug- If he were remembered as someone who felt real and honest to his character that would be great. For an actor it’s not so much what the character does that matters, it’s how much we bring him to life with our interpretation. If he is remembered in the future then I’ll be very happy.
Retroplayer- And finally, do you have a message for all your fans here on TGL?
Doug- That I am grateful for all of you taking an interest not only in anime and games, but in the people who voice on them. Voice Actors used to be invisible but you have shown interest in who we are and what we do. For myself, I don’t go to conventions and such as I don’t feel I have much to offer. More than the projects and story lines, my joy comes from the process of creation of characters. Sometimes I have no idea what the game is about in its entirety.
Thank you for supporting me and all the voice actors. The fact that you folks want to hear from me tells me I must be doing something right.
I’d like to thank Doug for taking part in this interview. I’ve been a huge fan of his work ever since watch M.A.S.K as a kid but it was only until Metal Gear Solid when I found out who he was. Since then I wanted to chat with him and now that it’s done I feel, and I hope you do too, that I have an even greater respect for the work, the man and the characters he brings life to. Thanks, Doug!