Kyle Hebert: MCM Expo 2010 interview

A large man, who would be intimidating were it not for the disarmingly infectious smile, enters the room. He is wearing an extremely cool (and, we later discover, sadly out of print) Decepticon shirt. He is followed by two young ladies who Michael, once safely out of earshot, decides must surely be his groupies; but are actually a girl he has known for almost ten years through chatting, and her friend. The man is Kyle Hebert.

Where would you like me to sit, guys? Which chair should I sit in?”

Preferably one of the empty ones.” I say, which I consider to be enormously amusing; though sadly, nobody seems to have heard me.

Iain Boulton from Geek Planet Online, two guys from – sorry if I remember this wrong, fellas – MadDog Magazine, Michael, and myself are gathered for a roundtable interview with Kyle Hebert. Brilliantly, we are all actually sat at a round table. Kyle – whose seemingly endless credits include Ryu in Street Fighter IV, Rai ‘uk in the videogame of James Cameron’s Avatar, Kiba in the Naruto anime and Aizen in Bleach – is there to face our questions, whether he likes it or not.

Things start at the beginning – always the best place to go first – when Kyle explains, as he has elsewhere, that his career in voice acting started with radio work, and a love for the legendary Mel Blanc. “A lot of voice actors come from the stage, or on camera; but I specifically wanted to do voice acting for animation since I was a kid. I would watch Looney Tunes, and when my dad said ‘Yeah, one guy voices all these characters’, it’s like ‘I want that job!’. I also wanted to be a DJ, so I came at this from a radio angle. A lot of DJs do voiceover work to supplement their income. I heard about auditions at Funimation in Texas, this was back in August of 2000. I landed the part in Dragonball, that was great, I’ve always been a fan; and that spiralled into other things.

In 2005 I moved to LA, because I knew that’s where the work is – cartoons, and videogames. Ryu in Street Fighter IV… I got the lead character you can play as in the Wii version of Avatar. I did some bit parts on the new Avengers series that Marvel’s working on, to lead in to the live action movie. I’m pretty psyched about that, it’s the first [English language] cartoon I’ve done. That’s what I really wanna do, that’s why I moved to LA. I’m auditioning away, and hopefully something’ll stick!”

I ask Kyle if varying his voice across so many roles ever becomes a problem or a challenge, blissfully unaware that there’s a very specific example in his work.

I think with any actor, you’re going to run into a lot of similarities. There are only so many voices one can do, and eventually you’re going to repeat yourself. I came right out and admitted before Naruto aired that my Kiba voice sounds just like Gohan.”

Great, now I look like I made an unsubtle dig at his performance in Naruto.

This is Kyle...

The difference is in the attitude, the difference is in the character traits, his disposition, the way these characters interact with one another. A lot of voice actors have maybe just one or two signature sounds they keep working over and over, and it’s like ‘Oh, he’s just using the same voice’. But, you know what? Why he gets that role, or she gets that role, is because they’re good actors. That’s really the key, to underline the ‘acting’ in ‘voice acting’. A lot of people believe the misnomer that it’s all about voices, but it’s so much more than that. You have to put some of yourself into the performance, and see what you can pick up along the way. Fortunately, I’ve been at this for ten years. I’ve been very fortunate to have the opportunity to go on these different games and shows, and it’s an opportunity I wouldn’t trade for the world.”

When asked if there are any parts he went for but missed out on, that he’d love to have got, Kyle answers “Anything I’ve ever gone for! I think any actor will tell you that. It’s not a nine to five job, it’s not a steady paycheck. You work when you get called. I audition for one or two things a day, and I get… one out of fifty maybe, sometimes. If I can get onto a show like Naruto or Bleach, a franchise show, that is a little more consistent. Like, I just did another Naruto game, I did two Dragonball Z games. Yay, good paydays! But there are fewer shows getting licensed and even fewer being dubbed, because of the way the economy’s going, and because of the effects of piracy and illegal downloading on DVD sales. That affects the anime industry.”

Oh, yeah!” says Kyle, asked if the role of Ryu brings pressure with it. “There’s always pressure. The good part is, I didn’t have any shoes to fill in an English sense, because this is the first time that Ryu’s been dubbed on a game. When we dub games, there’s always a Non Disclosure Agreement, NDA, so it’s like ‘You can’t talk about it!’. I’ve got this iconic character… and I suck at Street Fighter. I still suck at Street Fighter. But everyone knows who Ryu is, or they know what Street Fighter is, even if they’re not a games fan. Sweet!

I’ve always loved fighting games. I’m a gamer, but again, I’m not the best at it. I had a blast voicing Ryu, and fingers crossed I’ll be heard in future incarnations as well.”

Does he ever get used to seeing an on – screen character talking with his voice?

“Used to? I suppose a little bit. I used to get really excited whenever I saw a performance on TV, or saw it on DVD, and I think that happens with anybody. ‘Ooh, I’m on TV!’. Dragonball Z back in its heyday, was aired daily on Cartoon Network in America, and got huge ratings. Eventually I got to the point where I was used to that, and nowadays I get more of a thrill playing as my own character in a game.

I can play as Ryu for example, and ‘Yay, I suck as my own character!’.”

This is met with friendly laughter around the table; but at night, when I’m alone, I wonder if perhaps a little piece of Kyle died that sunny afternoon.

...and so is this...

That’s the thrill I get nowadays, is getting to select my own character – if it’s unlocked from the beginning. If you have to unlock it…?” More laughter and oh, how my heart now aches thinking back to such cruelty. “I have to rely on friends for that. I don’t have one of those arcade sticks, I couldn’t really justify spending a hundred and fifty US dollars on an arcade stick that’d just get used for one game.”

Pause.

But if someone wants to donate one for the cause, I’m not gonna turn that down!”

If you would like to donate an arcade stick to poor little Kyle, please visit www.kylehebert.com and let him know. You’ll get an adoption certificate, an update twice a year, and a photograph of his little eyes lighting up as he’s presented with the stick.

Please note: the previous paragraph may well be nonsense.

“Obviously Gohan and the narrator in Dragonball Z are gonna be big, because that was the first show.” says Kyle, in regard to roles close to his heart. “That’s what led to everything else, kind of a domino effect. Voicing Kiba on Naruto because it’s another big, popular show that really resonates with the fans. Even though he’s not a main character, he’s cool, he still sticks out. He’s loyal. Kamina on Gurren Lagann; that’s an epic, manly character. He’s not around too long unfortunately, but it’s still a really, really cool show. Yeah it’s got giant robots in it but it’s not a giant robot show, it’s not just another Gundam show.

A lot of people are very specific about their genres. ‘I like horror, I like romance, I like giant robots’. But Gurren Lagann transcends that I think, it’s one of those shows that’s very character driven. Kamina’s epic and awesome.”

The first difference between anime work and videogame work that Kyle brings to mind is…

“The pay.” Again we all laugh, though this time I’m not quite sure why; capitalism has twisted our tender young minds. “Anime pay’s low, videogames pay much better and are easier. Because videogames don’t have lip synch issues. With anime the product is obviously already done, you must not only act, but also match lip synch. Games… if it’s a Japanese game we’re only matching the timing of the Japanese audio, it’s like ‘Okay, you’ve got ten seconds to say this line’. So okay cool, at least I have some freedom. I can emphasise different words, this that and the other.

The perk to anime obviously is seeing the finished product, right there as you record it. If you do a [English language] cartoon, you record with the whole cast, and it’s animated later. Like, I won’t see the Avengers stuff that I did for another year or two. That’s depressing! But that’s just the way it is. Videogames are kind of the same thing, where the finished product is being done simultaneously, or after the audio’s laid down.

Sometimes, I end up voicing characters, they come out on the game, and the look of the character doesn’t match the voice! But the director and even the client for the game company didn’t even know. It’s like ‘This is generic warrior B’. ‘What is he, old, young?’. ‘Ah, he’s young, why not?’.”

It’s surely a testament to Kyle’s acting that this casual performance got a big laugh all round.

“So he’s young and spry, then he comes out on the game and ‘That’s not the right voice for that character’. ‘Oops, So much for that…’. Still I have a blast, I work with a great community of people. A lot of the directors are also voice actors themselves. There’s a hierarchy; you move up there, you act first, some people move on to writing, adapting the scripts; and from there they move on to directing. I would love to direct, but those chances are few and far between. They also eat up a lot of your time.

If you’re a working voice actor and you have an agent, they’re not gonna be too happy that your entire eight hour day is blocked off because you’re busy doing something they can’t make money from. From working on these shows and games, I know for a fact how much fun it is to go in there and do the job that’s expected. It’s just a big playground, honestly.”

...and yes, this guy too. And we haven't scratched the surface.

And doing the rounds at shows such as MCM?

Well it’s different from those actors from the stage, who get that immediate feedback. When we’re in the booth, all we’re told is ‘Great! Move on. Next line.’ that’s the director. That’s your job as an actor; please the director, give them the performance they’re looking for, and move on. Then six months later, a year or two down the line it comes out and it has its impact, and thankfully we have the internet. Facebook and things like that, where fans can go on. The extra perk is I get to travel the world, here I am in London England which I’ve never been to before, and I never thought would happen in a million years; but because of the job that I do, I got to come out here and meet the fans face to face. That’s always a fantastic perk, I think.

It’s really creatively satisfying, and personally, mentally satisfying. When you get people saying ‘You really helped me through a dark time in my life when I played this game, or watched this show’, or ‘I went to fight in Iraq and I watched this show or played this game, and you really made a difference’. That really touches you deep down, and it satisfies your soul. It’s not just another job, it’s just… so rewarding on so many levels. The convention scene is such a huge part of that. I love doing these things.”

We weren’t given any specific tales of recording out-takes, but one thing that I’m sure everyone at the table will remember was Kyle telling us:

“There’s hours and hours of horridly obscene out-takes that are on the hard drives, that are ready to ruin our careers at any moment. I wish they would put them out on DVD, because it’s hysterical! Our director for Naruto Mary McGlynn actually said ‘You know, we can’t put that stuff out, because you guys are just too dirty’. And we are!”

Disappointed/relieved that we can’t find out just how dirty Kyle can get, talk switches to roles he’d like to get.

Major roles! I would like to have more major roles, I think any actor would. I wish my guy in Bleach talked more. Aizen is the main villain, but he disappears for entire story arcs. He comes back, sits on his pimp throne, says ‘I’m awesome and evil’ and then he disappears again! It’s like ‘Oookay, how am I gonna pay rent this month?’. It’s an intense struggle. When you don’t work you don’t make money, and this is how I make a living; so a lot of voice actors have to get other jobs. I don’t have one right now -”

www.kylehebert.com

“So it’s particularly stressful. But again, once that phone lights up and I start booking work and getting more games, it’ll keep the bills paid. We have real jobs, real lives, real obligations, just like anyone else.”

Playing evil is particularly cool, I think any actor will tell you that, just because it’s so far from who you are as a person.” says Kyle, on a lighter note. “I can say and do things that I would never do in real life. Any actor’s dream is to just be someone else for that small window of time. I love playing evil, I love playing cartoony over the top because again, lifelong dream, cartoon voices. Anything funny and insane I love.”

So what’s coming up starring Kyle Hebert?

Well with videogames they always make you sign Non Disclosure Agreements, so you sign your life away and you can’t talk about it, blah blah blah blah blah. I have a lot of projects brewing, unfortunately I can’t talk about them! All Marvel would let me say is ‘Yeah you can say you’re on the Avengers, you just can’t say what’. I’m one of those actors who gets on Facebook and Twitter, and promotes all the time. Rest assured whenever the projects come out, usually within a week or two I start pimping it online like crazy. You’ll hear about it soon enough!”

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

4 comments

  1. Awesome write-up man! Was great sitting round the table with this guy – and yeah, it was maddog magazine, you didn’t get it wrong! :p

  2. Hey – I’m the girl that’s talked to Kyle for several years and I am definitely not a groupie LOL!! But I’m not offended, just really made me laugh. 🙂 I wrote a blog about the entire day there and this website is linked with my blog, so feel free to read if you’re interested 😀

    Caz
    x

  3. Michael J /

    You’ll have to forgive my astonishingly poor sense of humour for the groupie joke Caroline!

  4. It’s all good, I’m not offended in the slightest LOL.

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