It is interview time again here at RPGSite, and this time we're chatting to Yuri Lowenthal, the voice of such RPG heroes as Final Fantasy IV's Cecil, Luke from Tales of the Abyss and Blue Dragon's Shu in the anime based off the game.
Yuri tells us all about his work on these titles and more, including some of his non-video game work. Without further ado, here's the interview!
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RPGSite: Hi Yuri, thanks for taking the time out to talk to us. How are you today?
Yuri Lowenthal: Great, thanks.
RPGSite: I have just been reading the bio on your official website and man, are you a busy guy; acting, writing, painting, and more. Where do you find the time for it all?
Yuri: Well, I don’t do all that stuff all the time. Lately I’ve been focusing on the writing, acting and producing, although I’d love to find a new place to continue my martial arts study. Oh, and killing zombies. But you really have to make an effort to make time for all that.
RPGSite: I could never hope to cover all of your pursuits adequately, so before we go any further are there any projects in particular that you are working on right now?
Yuri: Several video games that I’m unfortunately not allowed to talk about, but besides that, still recording Ben 10: Alien Force for Cartoon Network on a fairly regular basis, publishing a book with my wife and partner Tara Platt called Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic, and trying to find distribution for the feature film we produced, Tumbling After.
RPGSite: I am actually signed up to your newsletter and recently received a message about your book. How did that first come about and what do you hope for it?
Yuri: Enough people were asking how we got into voice acting and advice on how they could too that we couldn't respond to everyone but still wanted to, so we wrote a book. So far, people seem to be digging it! We're certainly proud of it.
RPGSite: Your site also mentions that you grew up not only in several different countries but on several different continents. Would you say growing up and living in a number of different cultures has influenced your work?
Yuri: Absolutely. I think travel makes a person more well-rounded in every area of their life, so it must influence my work.
RPGSite: Before finding success as an actor, you lived and worked in Japan – for the Japanese government, no less. You were a secret agent, right? You can tell me.
Yuri: I could tell you, but we all know how that ends, don’t we? Actually, because it was the Japanese government I was working for, I would actually have to kill myself if I told you. Let’s not do that.
RPGSite: What prompted you to leave all that behind and focus on your creative side in general and acting in particular?
Yuri: I had fallen in love with acting and I had always been a writer and … let’s just say very imaginative. Even when I was living in Japan I was doing theatre, making movies with my friends and writing. I felt that because I loved it so much, I had to give it a chance, despite what seemed at the time to be my career path.
RPGSite: Most of us know you through your voice acting but you can be seen on stage and screen as well. Is it just chance that you have found the most success behind the microphone or was voice acting always your primary passion?
Yuri: Acting is my passion. I certainly love voice acting, but it just happens to be what broke first for me. And I’m thankful it has, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t still love all the other joys acting has to offer.
RPGSite: Given that you can speak Japanese fluently, do you ever do voice work in Japan? The same question for French actually, as a fair bit of animation is done in French in Canada.
Yuri: I have never been asked to go to other countries and voice act in different languages. They have perfectly good actors in those countries who speak those languages even better than I do. I have been asked to do some voice acting in foreign languages here in the US, though.
RPGSite: You have worked extensively in the RPG genre and recently you voiced Cecil Harvey in Dissidia: Final Fantasy, having previously voiced the character for the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy IV. Had you played the original version of FFIV?
Yuri: Actually, I never have, despite my fanatical RPG obsession growing up.
RPGSite: In a DS RPG there is obviously not as much voice work as on a home console; do you think having so few scenes to work on results in a weaker performance than you might have been able to produce with more time, or is there no difference?
Yuri: It all depends on the writing and how strong the character is built. It’s fun to have more to play with, sure, but I think brilliant characters can be created in a very short time if you do it right.
RPGSite: Because Final Fantasy IV is a classic game with a strong fan base, was more care taken with selecting the right voice actors than in a completely new game where the audience has no pre-conceived ideas about how the characters should sound?
Yuri: Absolutely. That’s always a HUGE concern when approaching a sacred cow fan favorite like FF.
RPGSite: Did you know that the FFIV remake inspired the developers to create a sequel in the style of the original SNES game entitled Final Fantasy IV: The After Years?
Yuri: I did not, but that excites me terribly.
RPGSite: Given there is only one year between the release of the two games, Dissidia must have been in development when you were working on FFIV. Were you told that you would be needed again down the line or did the call for Dissidia come as a surprise?
Yuri: Dissidia was actually a surprise to me. No doubt they were working on developing the game long before they told me I would be back to play Cecil again, though.
RPGSite: While the majority of your voice work on Dissidia would have been battle cries, was there more freedom to do what you wanted with the lines due to the extra space available on the PSP discs compared to the DS cartridges?
Yuri: That’s really a technical question. I’m sure they had more space on the disc, but I’m not sure how that affected the way they wrote the script.
RPGSite: Tetsuya Nomura has been talking about the possibility of a Dissidia 2 – has anyone spoken to you about coming back to voice Cecil again in the future?
Yuri: Not yet, but I’m ready. Let’s do it.
RPGSite: As the first Dissidia is very light on plot, do you think a more plot focussed sequel is the way do to go or should they stick to being a straight forward fighting game?
Yuri: As an actor I love plot, dialogue and character development, because the alternative is just me screaming battle cries for hours and shredding my vocal cords, but in the end, it’s the fans who win out. If that’s what you want, that’s probably what you’ll get. I hope so, anyway.
RPGSite: Another title of interest is Tales of the Abyss, in which you voiced the lead character, Luke fon Fabre. Abyss was one of many Tales games that never made it to Europe so could you tell us about your character and the basic story of the game?
Yuri: It never made it to Europe?? That’s a shame. It’s a great game. Hopefully one day you’ll get to play it. The story is too complicated to fully flesh out for you, but suffice to say, my character, Luke Fon Fabre, grows throughout the game, from being young, selfish and petulant into a hero.
RPGSite: Could you relate to him at all?
Yuri: Yes, only he grew. I’m still selfish and petulant.
RPGSite: The next Tales game to be released outside of Japan was Tales of Vesperia, which featured a lead character named Yuri. There can be little doubt that he was named after you, so how did you feel when you found out?
Yuri: I was thrilled, and assumed that it meant that I would get the job. Alas, they couldn’t cast the same actor as the lead to two concurrent games, so then I was sad. But at least my friend Troy Baker got to play him!
RPGSite: We recently had the opportunity to talk to Troy about his role as Yuri. Have you heard his portrayal of your namesake at all?
Yuri: I haven't, but I love Troy. He sounds much cooler than me, so I'm kinda glad it was him. If I was gonna have anyone play the me I WISH I was, might as well be Troy.
RPGSite: Another RPG property that you have been involved in is Blue Dragon, as you worked on the anime adaptation of the video game as the character of Shu, who was voiced by Mona Marshall in the game. When you inherit a character from someone else, do you listen to their performance and try to emulate it or do you just do your own thing?
Yuri: It depends on what the client wants. If they want the character to sound as close as possible to the original, then that’s what we strive for. If not, then we can take a little more liberty, which is what I did in this case. Only because I could never copy Mona’s awesomeness.
RPGSite: What is the Blue Dragon animé all about – is it a retelling of the game or an entirely new story?
Yuri: Haven't played the original game. Pretty sure it's a different story. As for what it's all about, it's about Shu and his pals fighting bad people with their shadows. Over and over and over again. Kind of like DBZ, which was, incidentally, created by the same person. Hm....
RPGSite: We also recently spoke with Danielle Judovits and Liam O’Brien, both of whom had worked on Wolverine and the X-Men, and then today who should I discover voices Iceman in the same show but one Yuri Lowenthal. Are Danielle and Liam a nightmare to work with or is the show as much fun to work on as they said?
Yuri: Oh, they’re terrible. Both of them. Okay, I’m lying, I love them both. And yes, it was hardly work showing up for that job. It was like playtime. Which is probably why it took so long to record an episode of that show…
RPGSite: Were you a fan of Iceman before being cast as him for the series?
Yuri: Not necessarily of him in particular, but of the team, sure. Most teams, actually. The X-Men, The Avengers, The Inhumans, Alpha Flight, you name it. I was easy. I still kinda am.
RPGSite: When you are first approaching a new character, how do you find their voice? Do you have a system?
Yuri: It's different for each character. I don't have a stock way of doing it. It depends on how much time I have to prepare and what information they've given me before we begin. And I depend on the director to give me some background as well.
RPGSite: Do you have a set warm up before a recording session?
Yuri: Once again, it depends on the character, how taxing the job might be, and how warm my voice is already.
RPGSite: Our time is nearly up, but earlier I mentioned that you have appeared on both stage and screen, so I was wondering whether you have a favourite live action appearance?
Yuri: I have to say, the time I spent working on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was some of the most fun I’ve ever had onscreen, hands down. I got to run around a nuclear sub in a post-apocalyptic future chased by killer robots. What could be more fun? Jobs like that are why I got into this business.
RPGSite: And do you have an ultimate ambition as an actor?
Yuri: To keep working with people I love and respect, and to maintain some control over my career.
RPGSite: Yuri, thank you for your time; it’s been a real pleasure.
Yuri: The pleasure was mine. But, you’re welcome.
Thanks again to Yuri for giving us so much of his time and be sure to pre-order your copy of Voice-Over Voice Actor: What It’s Like Behind the Mic by Yuri and his partner Tara Platt!