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Actress and comedian Maile Flanagan sat down with the Western Herald for an exclusive interview where she talked about her career, life, and what it’s like to be the voice of a cartoon character with millions of fans. Flanagan made an appearance at the Grand Rapids Comic Con hosting a panel and giving out autographs and pictures.
Flanagan provides the English-dubbed voice of famed anime character Naruto Uzumaki in the television series and movies. She also stars as Principal Perry in the Disney television series “Lab Rats.”
Flanagan attended Boston College and graduated with a degree in political science concentrating in history and mathematics.
Flanagan began her career in improv which opened the door to comedy and acting.
“I love having an immediate reaction from an audience,” Flanagan said referring to acting on stage versus voice acting.
Flanagan has been in a show that has has become a cult hit in Los Angeles, but also says that voice acting is fun. “It’s a really unique and fun career,” Flanagan said.
For those looking to get into voice acting, or acting in general, Flanagan recommends getting involved with the local theatre and improv groups. “Hang around the theatre. They always need volunteers. You’ll learn a lot and meet other people," Flanagan said.
Flanagan stated that she does very little to take care of her voice, and that most of her abilities come naturally to her. She joked in her panel that she “smokes and drinks vodka,” but then said, “no, I actually drink a lot of water.”
Doing voice acting for video games is the hardest part of Flanagan’s job. She said that if she’s’ doing a video game she tries to take rests and spaces out studio time so that her voice has time to recuperate.
“When I do video games it’s very vocally taxing,” Flanagan said, continuing on to say that the studios will book her for three hours which is the maximum she can do. “The last video game I did I had 12,000 loops, which is 12,000 lines.”
“Honestly, I go home and I don’t talk after that.” Flanagan said referring to how she handles recovering from voice work.
One of the shows that Flanagan wishes would have received more acclaim was the 2005 PBS show “Jakers! The Adventures of Piggly Winks.”
“I hope another generation of people rediscovers it. The animation was phenomenal,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan is looking forward to one of her new roles and thinks it will be a big show. “This Pig Goat Banana Cricket [show] that I’m just recurring on I do a lot of different voices.. That is going to be a really big huge show I think. I’m already proud to be involved in it.” She has also recorded five new pilots as a lead role, one of which has the same directors as the Disney show “Phineas and Ferb.”
When Flanagan auditioned for Naruto, she had no idea who the title character was. It wasn’t until she got the job that she used Google to search for Naruto’s name and the search engine came back with thousands of links that she knew it was going to be big.
Flanagan said she didn’t watch a lot of T.V. growing up. She said her favorite cartoons growing up were Bugs Bunny and the Flintstones. “I grew up in Bangkok, Thailand and Germany mostly, so we didn’t really have a whole lot of T.V. It was really just being creative in other ways.”
Flanagan said, “I loved Bugs Bunny and I loved the Flintstones, those are about the only two [shows] that I really, really remember watching and loving. We didn’t get a lot of cartoons.” Flanagan grew up in multiple locations across the globe as her father worked for the Department of Defense.
Working in the industry as an openly gay woman has been at times challenging for Flanagan, but she states that it really hasn't effected her or her career.
“I was a little worried about that [being gay] on Disney before I did a lot of Lab Rats, just because I knew its a family show,” Flanagan said. She went on to say that despite her fear, she hasn’t had any huge problems. “I don’t want people to know anything about me when I walk on the set. I just want to do what I’m hired to do, which is be that character, that person,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan gets recognized the most for being Naruto’s voice, but most people don’t expect it to come from a middle-aged woman. She stated that often the animators and people at conventions are surprised at who she is when they meet her and put a face with the voice. She also says that she has no regrets for being recognized as the voice of Naruto over her other characters and works.
“Let’s face it, we’re actors,” Flanagan said, “If someone recognizes you, you appreciate it,” Flanagan said.
The Naruto manga series has officially run its course and in print, the series has wrapped up with the last issue, number 700 being published in November. Flanagan stated that she isn’t worried about finding work after the series ends. “I couldn’t tell you what I’m doing next week,” she said nonchalantly, “I’ll take whatever, I can do anything,” she said, referring to what her plans were after the Naruto English-dub wraps.
People often don’t know how funny and Flanagan is in person or that she loves to do comedy. Often at conventions people find out for the first time that it’s a woman who does Naruto’s voice and that her personality is vivacious and warm.
“I think because Naruto is fairly dramatic… I think they are just surprised by the fact that I do comedy… and because they’re kids they always come out and say exactly what they feel. ‘I didn’t know you were a woman! I didn’t know you were funny!,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan stated how much she loves her job no matter how stressful it is she enjoys every second of it, even after long days where she does three jobs in one day. “It was very intense, it was just scattered. I was at Lab Rats, I was at Nickleodeon and then I did Naruto.”
“We’re not breaking rocks,” Flanagan said, reflecting on her job, “I mean, I have a sweet dressing room,” she says laughingly, “Who has a dressing room at work? Free food, all day. The world would be a better place if everyone had a dressing room.”