Need a break from the Fringe Festival this weekend? The Florida Anime Experience invades I-Drive’s International Palms Resort May 24-26 with guest of honor Maile Flanagan. She’s appeared on stages and screens large and small (500 Days of Summer, Transformers 3, Grey’s Anatomy) but is best known for her voice-over work as Naruto, eponymous teenage ninja hero of an animated franchise popular here and in Japan for over a decade. I spoke by phone with Flanagan last week about her diverse career.
On Naruto’s appeal to adults: “He’s kind of a loner because he didn’t know who his parents were. He screws up a lot, which is a funny character trait. In Disney you don’t always have these really flawed characters, but in anime you do.
“I think it’s got very adult themes, and even though it’s animated and a lot of kids watch it, a lot of adults also watch it and follow it. I think it’s because the animation is great, and the story is great. It doesn’t shy away from some tough, tough issues either, [like] death and betrayal.”
On Naruto’s future: “I’ll be an old, old woman recording this. I’ll be 100 years old and still recording, if I’m lucky.”
On voicing games: “There’s a lot of repetition. It’s very vocally taxing; there’s a lot of reactions and attack sounds. The longest one I did, I think I did 12,000 loops, which is like 1,000 lines. Instead of therapy, I guess I go work out in the booth.”
On portraying male voices: “The great majority of [voice-over] jobs that I get, I play boys, so it’s sort of second nature for me.”
On fans and conventions: “What I expect to see is a lot of people dressed as anime characters and I have no idea what they are or who they are dressed as … I don’t have a lot of time to watch a lot of anime, so people ask me about other anime and I sort of appear like I’m a total idiot. …The people that go [to conventions] remember more about the show than I do. They really study it.
“You’re recording in a booth alone, and it’s sort of a vacuum and you don’t realize until you go somewhere like a convention and people say, ‘Oh my god, I love this show!’ … Kids will come up to me at these conventions and say, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but I didn’t think you were so old.’ It makes me laugh.”
On appearing in adult shows (Weeds, Shameless, Reno 911): “I’m kind of a whore – I pretty much do what people pay me to do, and sometimes I do things that people don’t pay me to do. There’s very little that I turn down. … Everyone asks if you prefer one or the other, and I don’t. I liked doing Shameless, I like doing kids’ shows, I like doing Naruto, and I like doing theater. God knows theater doesn’t pay, so if I didn’t love it I sure wouldn’t do it.”
On the many unaired pilots she’s made: “It sucks. Sometimes you think, ‘There’s no way they can pass on this one.’ I did a pilot with Haley Joel Osment, Phyllis Diller and me. It was an odd but wonderful trio. It was based on a successful comic strip. It was funny, it was great … and nothing happened; it just went away.”
On growing up on military bases: “I think that living all over the world definitely helped me as a voice actor. I went to school with kids who had accents from all over the world, and of course I would always imitate them. … I meet a lot of actors who are military brats.”
On thanking her wife after winning a 2006 Emmy for PBS’s Jakers!: “I’m not closeted and I never was … I just sort of said it, but the entire Ellen DeGeneres crew was in the front, and when I thanked my wife, Lisa, they just went crazy.
“When I’m in the make-up trailer … I’ll say something like ‘my wife and I’ and four or five heads will turn around. But I think we’re in a pretty cool place. The funny thing about Disney is although they’re a very clean-cut organization, that doesn’t matter at all. It has never affected me.”