Interview with Pokemon voice actress, Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld
Voice actors and actresses are quickly rising in notoriety, becoming household names on level with the characters they portray. Still, this medium of performance remains a mystery to most of us outside the industry. Actress Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld however took the time to describe her journey here on IkigaiSpin.com, and shed some light on the industry and how much goes into voice acting.
Best known for her work as Nurse Joy and Bonnie in the animated dubbed Pokemon series and Rio in Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL, Alyson has also been featured in movies, video games, and web series. To learn more about Alyson and her complete list of roles, be sure to check out here website here and to follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
You are best known for your work on Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc V, but are also active in the New York theatre and music scene as well, taking parts in over twenty productions. How would you say these different mediums have helped you to develop as an actress?
My first love is and will always be theatre. It's where I learned how to act, to sing, and helped me develop my full physical, emotional and vocal abilities. Sometimes people make a distinction between voice acting and "real" acting, but they are one and the same. I couldn't bring any real truth to my voiceover characters if I weren't really acting them. Even though what you're expressing is only being conveyed with your voice, it is helpful to be connected physically as well. Singing has also been extremely instrumental in developing my chops as a voice actor. Because I'm a singer, I have an awareness of my instrument and what it's capable of, I can understand things in terms of their dynamics, pitch, tone and tempo, which comes in handy when a director is trying to get you to take something in a different direction vocally.
The life of an actor/actress is rarely centered in a single medium, how did you find yourself highlighting your current career in voice acting? Was this a goal of yours from the beginning or more of a seized opportunity?
I went to NYU Tisch for college, where I majored in acting. I started my studies at Playwrights Horizons Theater School, where I was taught the importance of a whole theatre education. We didn't just act and sing, we directed, designed, and learned about the business of theatre. The idea is that you need to have a full understanding of what goes into making theatre before you can hone in on whatever you feel your desired focus may be. Having this background in a full theatre education helped me develop as an actor and have an appreciation for all that goes into the form. My senior year, I studied at Stonestreet Studio for Film & TV and I happened to take a voiceover class. My teacher, Karen Braga, was extremely encouraging and suggested I record a demo and really give voiceover a try. I followed her advice and (fortunately) started booking work fairly quickly. After college it was very much a "throw things against the wall and see what sticks" strategy, and I saw that where I was getting the most positive response was in voiceover, so I decided to make it my focus.
What sources of inspiration or direction have helped to shape you as a actress? Have there been specific people in your life that have helped to push you forward in a positive way?
Mom, Dad, get ready to grab some tissues. I would first and foremost have to say my parents. They have nurtured my artistic leanings since day one (even though neither of them are artists themselves by trade) and have always encouraged me to follow my joy. Weirdly, I never had a backup plan, and I think it's largely due to their unmitigated faith in my talent and drive, and for that I am eternally grateful. My fiancé James Clark is my biggest cheerleader and I could never go through the highs and lows of this industry without him by my side... and he's a voice actor as well, so he really gets it! From elementary school through college I had the good fortune of having inspiring teachers who were engaged with me as the funny (and very loquacious) girl I was, and found ways to encourage me rather than reprimand or redirect. Mrs. Ajamian was my first chorus teacher and gave me my first solo and the permission to use my voice, Ms. Gentile and Mr. Picchioni gave me the courage to be emotionally vulnerable in creative endeavors, Mrs. Riley gave me the opportunity and confidence to feel like a star on stage, Michael Krass encouraged me to see, feel and express things with a unique perspective. And of course this list wouldn't be complete without mentioning Tom Wayland, my fairy godfather, without whom I wouldn't have my career.
Of the various characters you have voiced, which would you say has come the most naturally to you, perhaps reflective of your own personality?
On a purely vocal level, Nurse Joy is the closest to my natural speaking voice, but in terms of temperament and personality, Bonnie and I are a lot alike. While I don't go around proposing to women on my brother's behalf (although, now that I think of it, not a bad idea...)
I am a caretaker by nature and am usually very bubbly, not to mention the fact that I am a small person. Bonnie is sweet and smart and funny and I think the quality I admire most in her is her bravery. She is always the first one to leap into a scary situation, especially if it is to protect someone she loves.
To juxtapose, which characters would you say have pushed you out of your comfort zone and into new territory as an actress?
Vocally, getting to play little boys is always a really fun challenge. Their physical energy is so different than mine, and that helps me find where they sit vocally. Emotionally, doing more adult anime has been an awesome stretch out of my comfort zone. I voiced Kahori Harukawa in Psychic School Wars and can now happily announce that I play Fraw Bow in Gundam: The Origin 4, and both of those required extreme emotional depth and vulnerability. On stage they sometimes say try not to cry even if the stage direction is telling you that your character is sobbing, in the booth if your character is sobbing on screen, you are wailing into the microphone!
It's interesting what you say about the roles of these more adult targeted anime demanding more emotional depth. How else would you say the execution style varies across these remarkably different types of storytelling?
I think the biggest difference is subtlety. The more adult-centric anime shows and movies have these incredibly small, delicate and realistic moments. I am often told that I can pull it back and do less when we record. What I am trying to convey will come across with the smallest of vocalizations rather than needing to broadcast the emotion. On child-centric shows, most things are broad and without subtext. Pokémon has more in common with Scooby Doo than it does with a CW teen drama. However, there is definitely crossover with both. When there's a really boisterous moment in an otherwise quiet scene (like many inPsychic School Wars), it really stands out... and when there's a quiet moment of real emotional depth on Pokémon, it can really land with the audience.
Lets take Bonnie as an example, she is a well-written character bursting with personality throughout the Kalos arc of Pokemon. How does the creation of her personality come about given your freedom as a voice actor, the directing staff of the show, and the Japanese source material?
Because Pokémon is a dub, the show has already been animated and voiced by a fantastic cast of actors in Japan. Once it gets to me, it's my job to try and make something that in many ways is already done seem new and full of life with my unique take on it. I hope that Bonnie's sense of humor reads, as it's probably one of the biggest ways I feel like I can distinguish my performance from what is in the script and what is done already on screen. I often feel like Bonnie is the one character who gets to wink at the fans, remarking on things like Serena's obvious crush on Ash and the insistent continued recurrence of Team Rocket. It is totally fun to play how self aware she is, especially for comedic effect. It is also absolutely a collaboration with our fabulous director Lisa Ortiz to find the magic that makes each episode a discovery, even though it's already been aired in Japan.
A challenge of voice acting is that you do not have other actors to engage with in the recording booth. What was your experience like entering this new medium?
Weird! But really fun. Learning how to match flap as we call it (making sure what you're saying matches how many times your character's mouth opens and closes on screen) is a truly unique skill, one I am so glad to have honed over the years. It is always easier to react to someone, so I'm always happiest when I'm the last one in to record for an episode, since I can play off of my fellow actors' voices, but more often than not I am reacting to nothing, so it is an interesting challenge to manufacture how you think your character would be responding at any one moment. There are times where we do get to record together, however, just not for dubs like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! When we do get to not only do prelay (recording our parts before it is animated, which gives actors more freedom) but get to do it in a room together, a unique alchemy is created that often makes for really special and hilarious performances.
Outside of voice acting, you have also worked on projects like the online comedy series Crumbly Kitchen and various independent feature films. What impact have these projects had on you? Are there any highlights that you would like to tell us about?
I wasn't working as often as I wanted to be and wasn't feeling challenged creatively, so my dear friend and collaborator Kyle Fox and I decided to do what all artists should do when the work isn't coming to you: we created our own work. I had recently gotten into cooking and was even keeping a blog of all my real adventures in the kitchen. Kyle thought it would be a hilarious jumping off point for a comedy show where my character, Liz Berger, hosts a cooking show, but messes up every recipe she tries to create. One of my favorite moments happens in the pilot, where Liz is going to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. As she is taking us through the recipe, Liz reveals she was just dumped. So instead of baking the cookies, Liz ends up in mascara-running tears eating raw cookie dough. I still crack up thinking about this moment. The show was such a wonderful moment where friends of ours who are talented and hilarious - Anna Drezen (now a writer for SNL!), Courtney Fitzgerald and Whit Leyenberger - came to play with us. (If you haven't watched the show, you can check it out anytime at crumblykitchen.com)
Creating my own work is the most challenging and rewarding thing I have to push myself constantly to keep doing. There is no one paying you money to do it, no one telling you your weird idea is a good one (at first anyway), but it is so crucial as an artist to keep challenging yourself. What is it I want to say? How do I want to say it?
I recently wrote a draft of a book about my and my brother's experience with our voices. My brother has autism and his verbal communication skills are fairly limited, I make my living using my voice. We both have a pretty unique perspective on verbal communication. It was the biggest challenge I've undertaken in a while, but one I felt compelled to take.
What advice or direction would you give actors and actresses interested in pursuing voice acting?
My biggest piece of advice is to remember that voice acting is acting. Take acting classes, get involved in your local community theatre, put yourself out there artistically. You have to believe in your talent and in what you bring to the table before anyone else is going to want to watch or listen to you. Being a mimic doth not a voice actor make, so while it's awesome you can sound like Pikachu, that part is already cast. What can you do that is uniquely you? That's the real question.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you would like to tell us about?
I am super excited for folks to see Gundam: The Origin 4, and there are a ton of exciting things coming up that I can't announce yet, but as soon as Ican they will be on my website alysonleighrosenfeld.com, Twitter (@AlysonRosenfeld), Facebook (Alyson Leigh Rosenfeld), and Instagram (@alysonleighrosenfeld) - yay!
Thank you again, Alyson for spending time with us for this interview. Be sure to follow Alyson not only with her upcoming performance in Gundam: The Origin 4 but all of her upcoming work as well! For more interviews and exclusive content be sure to follow Ikigai Spin on Instagram and Twitter!