Talking Heads: Dragon Ball Z & One Piece’s Eric Vale
by Matt Cohen on July 30, 2013
Eric Vale is a name you may not know, but the owner of a voice you’re surely familiar with. In his 12 years in the anime industry, Eric has been a voice actor/writer for such shows as Dragon Ball Z, One Piece, Hetalia, Spice and Wolf, and many more. In a relatively short time, the voice actor has made a big splash, portraying iconic characters like Trunks, Sanji, America, and Yuki Sohma. We were lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Eric at Anime Expo in Los Angeles to discuss his career, the art of voice acting as a whole, and branching out into feature films.
Nerdist: Did you grow up loving cartoons? What were some influences on you?
Eric Vale: Yeah, I grew up loving cartoons. I remember the first anime I ever saw was Star Blazers. In fact, my mom would drop me off at this preschool when I was three years old, and they would just stick us in front of this gigantic television where – you know in the ’70s, it was one of those hand-dial televisions – I remember they would play Star Blazers all the time. That’s all I would watch at like three years old, and yeah I loved cartoons, but I grew up on cartoons, and it wasn’t just stuff like anime. I grew up on stuff like Scooby Doo; that was my stuff growing up. All the Looney Tunes and the old Mickey and stuff like that. I’m proud to pass all that stuff and the stuff I’m doing on to my kids, and they love that too.
N: At what point did it go from something you were passionate about, to you realizing, “Oh, this is a job that people have, and it’s what I want”?
EV: I started acting really young, like when I was twelve, and I only wanted to act, so it became that when I booked the job. It was in 2000 when I booked the part of Trunks on Dragon Ball Z, and from that point I realized this is something I can do. I didn’t realize voiceover was anything I had any kind of a skill-set for. Then I started doing it, and I starting booking more jobs on it. I started working harder on my voice and, in that kind of capacity, learning more about that. I didn’t realize that was a viable option for me. Then it became a main source of income for me and my family.
N: You mentioned that your first V.O. experience was on one of the biggest anime series in Western culture, Dragon Ball Z. What was it like to get your feet wet on such a grand scale like that?
EV: It was unique. I don’t know that anyone else will ever be able to have the same kind of experience that I had. Here we are at Anime Expo in 2013, and my first convention ever was Anime Expo in 2000. I didn’t know what was going on. I show up and people want my autograph, and people want to take pictures of me and stuff. And it blew my mind because I’d been voicing the character Trunks for six months, and all of a sudden THAT happened. It floored me. I was wholly unprepared for it. It’s a unique experience for me, and I think the best thing I can say is that for a couple of years, I just sat there in awe of what the hell was happening and then after that I thought, “I gotta get my crap together here and make this into my career!” From that point, I got serious with work.
N: Was it a pretty quick learning curve, going from what you could call “traditional acting” to voice acting? How did you start honing your voices?
EV: I still do it everyday. Every audition, every job is a learning experience. There’s nothing newer about it today than there was then; it’s still different, I’m still trying new things. At some point I realized I don’t have the kind of vocal range that a lot of voice actors have. Going from on-camera work or stage work to voice acting is hard because you don’t get to use all the faculties you’re trained to use. So, here I am, only able to use my voice, and I had to learn tricks and little things that I had to kind of teach myself because I wasn’t surrounded by a whole bunch of people who could show me how to do things. I learned to do things on my own and just picked up things here and there, and I’m not sure if all of them are right, but they work for me.
N: You’ve been on basically every anime ever. With your work on high-profile projects, do you ever find the time to seek out smaller roles, like a on-camera actor would in an indie film or such? Is it about picking the right projects or do you like to just stay busy and hone your craft?
EV: Yeah, kind of. I do things from time to time to just keep me sharp, you know? I’ll take a short film from time to time that may not pay me any money because the project sounds interesting or because I get the chance to work with people I haven’t worked with before because I know they are talented and are going to go places. As an actor, you do what keeps you fresh and keeps you working with interesting people on interesting projects, but at the same time, you’ve got to pay the bills. Voice acting in anime alone would never pay the bills, so I’ve got to diversify into other areas.
N: With such a range of characters you play and projects you’re involved with, what is the process for finding a voice for each character?
EV: I usually try and find a way to take one character and incorporate qualities from people I know, and If I can use those as references, not so much for the voice but for the acting; for the personality, then the voice is always secondary. I always say that it’s voice ACTING, so the acting comes first really. As long as I can deliver a good performance, the voice usually settles itself.
N: Is there any difference in voicing an anime or a cartoon, versus a video game, which you’ve done quite a bit of?
EV: The audition process is the audition process, across the board, wherever you are. Settling the voice is usually a decision you make in conjunction with the director, or whoever you’re working with. In anime, it’s a lot more cut-and-dry. Let’s say in a video game, or film, or television, or something like that, basically you’re cast for something and you come in and do it. On anime, there’s a little bit more working involved to find things. A lot of times I get cast in a role, and the director doesn’t exactly know what my voice is going to sound like – they just know I’ll be able to get to that point, so we’ll work on it some.
N: Other than voice acting, you’re pretty much involved in the industry across the board. You’ve been a writer on shows, you’ve done ADR stuff, and you’ve been head writer on shows like One Piece, Baccano, Initial D, and Ouran High School Host Club. Was writing always a career goal for you, and how does the process compare to your voice acting?
EV: Writing has always been a passion of mine. I started writing very young, but really what ended up happening – talk about diversification – I was voicing Trunks and was hearing that they needed writers, because we were working on the show so fast the scripts couldn’t catch up. The head writer was complaining to me that he didn’t have enough writers, so I brought him a screenplay I wrote and said, “Look at this,” and he hired me on the spot. From that point on, for about 10 years, I wrote anime. I think I was head writer for over 50 different shows. It helped my income, it helped train me. It was kind of like boot camp as a writer because, in anime, you really have to engage a lot of brevity. I moved on to doing other things like screenplays and whatnot. I love writing because writing is where I get to be very creative by myself; I get to do one thing, at home, alone, and that’s where I get to be the most creative. I enjoy the collaborative process you get with acting, but writing is like painting.
N: You’ve got some of your own projects coming out, like Chariot. Can you tell us about that?
EV: Chariot is a feature film I wrote and produced which will be released this fall in all retailers in North America and video on demand, and all that kind of good stuff. The film is a single-location thriller; the whole thing takes place on a 727 plane. It’s about 7 people who wake up on the plane with no idea how they got there and the United States is being destroyed by nuclear weapons beneath their feet, and they’ve got to figure out how the hell to land the plane. That’s the story. It’s finished; we literally finish the film next week.
N: Is that a direction you want to move towards in the future, producing films and things like that?
EV: Absolutely. I’ve got four other scripts ready to go, and it’s just a matter of getting the funds to do that and getting the right production teams together. I think we’re about ready to roll on a couple of them.
N: We’re here at Anime Expo, and I’m sure you travel to conventions all the time. What is the fan reaction like?
EV: At home I’m just like any other guy. I go to work, come home, cook dinner, play with the kids, mow the yard, go to the grocery store, and it’s just normal stuff. Then you go to a convention like this, and you get mobbed. It’s interesting, because for lack of a better word, this fame, is compartmentalized. It only exists for me in certain locations and certain times, which is nice. I don’t have to deal with some of the trouble that some other people have to do deal with.
N: Lastly, where can folks keep up with you on the internet?
EV: I’m all over Twitter. Twitter is easy, the handle is @EricVale. So hit me up on Twitter. I try to post funny stuff on there all the time, and some pictures and stuff and that’s it. And check out ChariotMovie.com!