Nerdbot Interviews: Anime Voice Actor Sonny Strait (AKA Krillin from Dragon Ball Z)
If you’ve been an anime fan for even a minute, you know his voice. A twenty-year veteran in the voice acting field, Sonny Strait has had an extensive and impressive career. Most notably, Sonny Strait has voiced Krillin from Dragon Ball Z for two decades. He’s also the man behind Usopp from One Piece as well as Maes Hughes from Full Metal Alchemist. And with the Dragon Ball Z Double Feature that’s about to hit theaters on November 3rd and 5th, 2018 through Fathom Events and Toei Animation in the US and Fathom Events and Cineplex in Canada on November 3rd quickly on its way, we knew we needed to see what else the Sogeking himself had going on!
Hi Sonny! Thank you so much for giving Nerdbot this interview. We very much appreciate you and your work and are seriously delighted that we have the opportunity to talk to you. Now, we heard you have some exciting stuff in the pipeline with the upcoming Dragon Ball Z Double feature coming to theaters soon. Would you mind telling us a little more about that, please?
Yeah, it’s awesome! I actually dubbed those movies fifteen years ago and to see them now coming to the big screen is really amazing.
Oh wow, was it really that long ago?
I remember I had a lot less gray hair back then, so yeah, it was a long time ago now! (laughing)
Remind me please— have you been doing the English voice for Krillin the whole time the Dragon Ball franchise has been dubbed?
Well, no— the first season was dubbed in Canada and then it moved to the United States twenty years ago. So, I’ve been doing Krillin’s voice for twenty years.
That’s so amazing! Seriously, your career is just spectacular and I’m so happy for the chance to get to chat with you today.
Oh, thank you!
You’re very welcome! Now, in regard to your voice acting—who are your inspirations and what stand-out voice actors stand out to you that made you want to pursue this career?
Well, the anime dubbing field was not what it is today when I first got started. Back then, there were very few games in town. But personally, I was influenced by Mel Blanc. You know, the original Warner Bros. voice actor who did Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, all of those characters. I was also a theater major and my original intention was to be a theater professor. And I also drew comic books, so when I got published (while still in college), I dropped out to pursue comic books. I continued to work in comics for about ten years. Then, I got the acting bug again and started doing acting around Dallas. At that time, Funimation moved to Texas and I auditioned for Dragon Ball Z and got Krillin. So again, my influences as far as animation is concerned is definitely Mel Blanc. But there’s a lot of years of theater work that really influenced my acting, too.
And I’m smiling because I’m a huge fan of old, classic cartoons. You’re talking to someone who named her son ‘Avery’ after Tex Avery so I definitely understand those deep roots.
Seriously! Mel Blanc was amazing and he just set the tone and bar as well for voice actors to follow. You just had to try to be this good, at least and see if you could do it. And the way he would make people feel for these characters—it wasn’t just a funny voice. That was the real challenge, I think.
Perfectly said! Then, going back to your career, what have been some of the most challenging voice roles you’ve had to tackle?
My most challenging…well, Krillin isn’t that challenging, even though he has a kind of scratchy voice. But I also do the voice of Usopp in One Piece and he tends to scream every line. You know Usopp kind of talks like this (speaking as Usopp) and after a couple hours, that really starts to grate on you. But at the same time, he’s one of my favorite characters to play because he has such pathos in his storyline. He actually breaks down and cries. There was one episode where he was crying, and I was crying with him during the record because I was just feeling for this guy. And I was just like “Wow—I can’t believe that this goofy clown looking character is now my favorite character.
Another difficult one was Present Mic from My Hero Academia. That character actually gave me laryngitis. That’s really the most challenging thing. I mean, acting wise, you can take any character. But acting wise it’s always can you maintain that voice for a long enough time to get everything recorded.
I just wanted to take a minute to really compliment your Usopp voice. I’m not really deep into the One Piece fandom, but I’ve loved and connected with Usopp since the moment I saw that character. So please, let me thank you for bringing him to life.
Well thank you! And you know, I’ve really enjoyed playing that character. And that’s really my kind of show. Because like I said, I really love the old Warner Bros. shows and the wackier stuff. It’s what I’m drawn to.
On the topics of characters and roles, what was the character that got away? Do you have any stories of auditions that didn’t go well, or maybe a script you read and felt it wasn’t for you but then the show later went on to become a smash hit?
You know, I’ve been pretty lucky and I tend to get the parts that I’ve really, really wanted. Probably the show that I didn’t get a part on that I really wanted was Sergeant Frog. I would have taken any part on that show. But generally, I’ve been pretty fortunate. Maybe it’s because I wanted the role so badly; I’m not sure. I’m very happy with the roles I’ve had over the years.
Going back to Krillin, a character whom you’ve voiced for a long time. What goes into doing that role? For example, do you reference any of the original Japanese dialogue for timing or tone, or do you just conjure it out of yourself?
Well, when we started we didn’t have anything to reference. Back in the day, we didn’t even have YouTube and we were recording on tape. So, we couldn’t even reference the original recordings from Mayumi Tanaka in Japan. Now we get to hear what they do in Japan first so we get to listen to the emotion that’s being given and try to replicate it. Obviously, since Krillin is voiced by a woman I’m not going to try to sound like her, but I do try to emulate the emotions that she presents with it. Back in the day, it was like shooting in the dark.
And originally, I got cast because I could sound like the Canadian version. “I think Krillin’s voice is something like this. Hey everyone, wait up!” (imitating the original Dragon Ball Z Canadian Ocean Dub). And because I could mock him the best, I got the part! But the very first week I was recording, the director at FUNimation at the time, a guy named Barry Watson, told me I sounded just like the original dub, but he can’t stand that voice and never could. And I was like, oh crap! I thought he was going to replace me. Because this was my very first role, you know? And I said “Well, I can do other voices!” and he said “I know, that’s why I cast you.”
So, he wanted Krillin, who is a little guy, to sound like a tough little guy. I would have rather done a different read than what I’d given them. Because in my head, he sounded like Popeye on helium. And I said that to him! “Hey, what about Popeye on helium?” And he said, “Well what would that sound like?” and I said, “I don’t know, something like this? Hey, come on guys, let’s go!” (in character as Krillin).
Yaaaay, Krillin! I’m so happy to hear that voice!
So was he, because he thought it sounded great! And finally, I got a chance to read the manga. And when you read a comic book in your head, you hear a voice in there anyway, right? That’s the voice it sounded like to me when I read the comics. Everything came full circle. Especially since Popeye is my favorite cartoon character of all time.
Really? I’m intrigued— you have to tell me more about that, please.
Oh yeah, definitely. I don’t know, something about the design of that character. It’s like he’s part superhero too, which I’ve always been into superheroes, but he’s a funny superhero. But I don’t know, I just like the way he looks with those big freakin’ arms. I love his voice. To me, Krillin was just a little Popeye.
You know, that’s a really cool approach and I bet that no one else ever had that in their mind but you!
(laughing) Yeah, that’s definitely uniquely Sonny.
At this time, what is your dream role? Is there any American cartoon role or something from Japan that you would absolutely love to have?
You know, I’ve had a pretty good career. But honestly, if I could play Popeye, that would be a dream come true. Also, Donald Duck. That was my very first voice. My Dad used to do impressions of cartoon characters and when I was four, he taught me how to do Donald Duck. And so that one has been with me for a long time. “Oh boy!” (As Donald Duck). I would love the opportunity to do that just to make him smile, but Popeye would be the dream character.
You said you were a comic book artist and have spent a good portion of your career working in that industry. How has being in the arts, both fine arts and anime voice acting, affected your personal relationship with your interests and hobbies?
Really, my main interests have always been animation and comics. And really, they very much influence each other. When you’re drawing a comic, you’re getting inside the head of a cartoon character. When you’re acting, it’s the same thing, only you’re drawing with your voice instead of your hand. So, it feels very similar when I’m doing both. And the better I get as a voice actor, the better I get as an artist. They’ve been feeding off each other for years. I will say that it’s harder for me to draw than it is to voice act. I’ve been a pretty natural actor since I was fourteen, but drawing is a challenge for me. I think that’s why I like doing it so much, because it’s such a challenge for me to do. But I was published as a cartoonist before I was a voice actor.
Do you have any exciting projects in the pipeline or coming up that you want our readers to know about?
I started an acting school called Sonny Strait Studios about three years ago in Texas and now I have my own studio space for it. It’s doing really well. And recently, a couple of the students and I got together and started doing our own animation shorts. Hopefully we’ll be releasing those within the next few months. Stay close to my social media to see new announcements on those. We just finished our first seven-minute cartoons. We’d previously done two one-minute cartoons, just kind of trying out animation to see what we could do with it. But on the third one I said, “Lets get a little more ambitious and do a full story.”
So, we did a full seven-minute cartoon and I’m just over the moon that we were able to accomplish this we just three people. I will say this—it goes back to my roots. It’s old school cartoons; think Hanna-Barbera in the 70s. That kind of 70s pop-art sensibility is all over the internet right now. And I think the old Hanna-Barbera style is easier to animate because it’s limited animation. But if you know how to work it, you can get a lot out of that limited animation.
Sonny, you’ve been such a delight and I’ve had so much fun talking to you today. Seriously, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to hang out with me. That brings us to my last question for you. Do you have any tips or words of wisdom for prospective voice actors, artists, or the Sogeking inside all of us?
Well, I will say this. Just remember…that it’s all in your heart.
Check out the Dragon Ball Z double feature event, Bardock The Father of Goku & Fusion Reborn on Saturday Nov. 3rd or Monday Nov. 5th, 2018 brought to you by Fathom Events.