We got to talk with phenomenal voice actor Eric Stuart about his work, both old and new. You may recognize him as the voices of Brock and James in the original Pokémon series and the voice of Seto Kaiba in Yu-Gi-Oh.
He has the ability to change his voice to fit whatever role he takes on, and these days he’s been up to even more voice work—in music. Without further ado, here is our interview with Eric Stuart.
Interviewing Eric Stuart
Elise: Thank you for having this interview with Jotaku! What roles were the most significant to you in your life? Which ones are the closest to your heart?
Eric Stuart: Thank you, Elise, nice to “be” here. So… I can’t pick one. They are my children! There are three main ones that I feel very fond of voicing. Brock and James from Pokémon and Kaiba from Yu-Gi-Oh.
Brock is a good friend. Distracted by girls a bit, but he is always someone you can depend on, and it is nice to play a character that has a good moral compass, even with comedy.
James, the comedic villain in Pokémon, gives me a chance to be very campy and also channel my inner Fraiser and Tim Curry. His flamboyant attitude makes him a blast to play. Funny bad guys are always the most fun.
Kaiba is the most complicated one. He is a rival, not a villain. His job is to push our hero to stay at the top of his game. This is a fine line that I work hard not to cross. He has redeeming qualities but can also be a sarcastic jerk with fantastically biting insults. You either hate him or want to be him.
What was your experience like on each of your projects?
How much time do we have? The short versions are: with Pokemon, I auditioned and didn’t get any roles. They started with another actor playing Brock and decided to replace him before they finished episode one. I was the second choice. Yay! With James, I was asked to voice-match the original actor after the first 8 episodes (I think it was 8, may have been 5, that was a long time ago). Anyway, the director thought James was a serious villain. I disagreed. It was the episode where he dressed up as a woman where I added the silly laugh and stuff since, basically, I was right.
With Kaiba, I was brought in to be the voice director for Yu-Gi-Oh. All of the characters had already been cast except for Kaiba. After going through a ton of actors auditioning for the role and having my producer “just not hearing it yet”, my engineer Joe Shallack suggested I read for it. I said “But I can’t be hired to direct a show and then say, ‘hey I should be a main character'”. He said “But you are right for it”. I brought this suggestion up to my producer and said, “Hey, I think I know what you want. How about I dub half the show and if you hate it we will continue our search. If you like it, we may make the on-air deadline for the 1st episode”. You know the end of this story.
For every role I have booked, there are hundreds I don’t. The process can be exhausting, but with over 30 years in the business, I have learned that so much goes into the choices and that you just need to do what you do and forget about the audition as soon as you walk out of the booth. Otherwise, you will drive yourself nuts with disappointment.
What was the process like getting into each character and choosing their voices? Were there any people in your life that helped give you inspiration, celebrity or otherwise?
We all “borrow” from the greats or inspiration. Brock was inspirited by Casey Kasem. I loved Battle of the Planets as a kids and could do a mean Mark (Casey) from the show. When it came time to play a 15-year-old boy in an anime, I went with that. Gourry from Slayers is a combo of Casey and Keanu Reeves. James is a mix of the preppy kids I played sports against in school and one of the Crane brothers (Frasier and Niles). Plus, some Ed Winn is thrown in on the “Oooooooh” laugh.
Kaiba is, well, me. That character is about the personality, not doing a voice. I have never considered myself a master of impressions. What I think I do well is capturing the flavor and the attitude. I try to make my voice choices sound different from one another so that the fans hear “Brock”, not Eric Stuart doing a voice.
What has been your favorite part of voice acting?
Not having to get dressed to go to work. No, the best part is I can play any character I can sound like. Voice acting is freedom for an actor. I would be limited to what I could play on camera (without the help of a make-up person), but as a voice actor, there are so many options. I mean, I played Fergy’s mom in Viva Piñata!
What is one of the greatest things working in anime has brought you?
I love cartoons. I love fandom. I am a big gamer geek, Batman nerd, etc. It is great to be able to work in an industry that I truly enjoy. Work is work and not every gig is the most fun ever, but I make voices for a living, and that is pretty cool.
What is your favorite part of being a guest at anime conventions?
Honestly, meeting the fans and hearing their stories. With a musical performance, I can tell if the audience is enjoying the song, but not so much when you are performing in a booth. I can’t tell if a joke works, if a sad scene moves you, etc. Conventions have given me the feedback I love. Not everyone loves everything I do (trust me, they tell me) but the amount of fans who have connected to the characters I have played is very flattering and makes me feel like what I am doing has more value than “funny voices”.
Those that haven’t experienced an anime convention may think it’s just a bunch of strange kids dressing up, but to me it is a place where those who are different become the norm. A safe place to be who you are without judgement. I think the world would be a better place if we took a page out of how people treat each other at anime cons.
Do you have any moments from your career as a voice actor that stand out to you, or that you’ve been grateful for throughout the years?
I have a few. One that means a great deal took place a few years ago at a convention in Miami, FL. I was at my booth signing, and a young woman came up to me and said she wanted to tell me a story.
She told me when she was in 5th grade she transferred schools and didn’t have any friends. As a project, she decided to write me for an interview, thinking if she could get a “celebrity” to do her interview it could be a cool thing. I have always tried to answer all my fan mail. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for me to get to them, but I try. Anyway, I answered her questions (kind of like this interview) and sent them back.
She told me that when she read the interview to her class, the kids were so impressed that they wanted to talk to her. That helped her gain the confidence to do more bold things, and here she was an artist at the convention. The killer moment was when she said “I kept that interview after all of these years, would you mind signing it?” Woah. Still makes me emotional.
I will add this: to those that get a moment of fame and are lucky enough to have fans, please, please, please, treat them with respect. There is more there, sometimes, than “I like your funny voices”. You may actually have a chance to make a difference.
Eric Stuart’s musical projects
You’ve been a musician for several years, and you’ve mentioned before that your anime fans love it. Have you had any good experiences at cons in relation to your music?
I love performing my music for my anime fans. If someone likes one thing that I do, I want to give them the whole picture. I draw, play music, am a voice actor, director, producer, and writer. It is a challenge that I like to take. I am not singing anime theme songs, so they are surprised, but there are only two kinds of music, right? Good and bad. Hopefully they find my songs good. I also invite fans to get up on stage and dance with me during a few special tunes. That is a blast. It takes guts to do that, and I have yet to play a convention where fans haven’t jumped at the chance. Love that!
Can you tell our readers what type of music you and your band write and perform?
I consider my music rock, pop, with some folk thrown in. I play what I like. Some songs are heavier rock, some are sweet ballads, some are dance tunes.
What artists inspire you as a musician?
There are many, but the short list is probably Cat Stevens, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles, U2, Neil Diamond, and a ton of 80’s synth pop bands!
What are your latest projects, and what can you tell us about them?
I am releasing a series of singles (not a new album). The idea is to do a song a month in many different styles based on the music that have influenced me. There are nine songs so far, and I am about to release number four for the month of July. The continuity is my voice and my songwriting, but each song is very different. It is a fun project.
Do you have any goals or projects you’re working towards that you’re excited about?
I am producing an original series with Dan Green (Yugi) starring some of my well- known cartoon voice actor pals called Crossing the G.O.D.S. It is an illustrated audio-drama, which we coined. It is like listening to an audiobook while reading a comic. No “animation”, but more like a moving storyboard–all the focus being on the script and the voice acting. We are very excited about this project. We are also developing a podcast called “The Heart of The Cards”, which are conversations about the challenges we have in life based on the cards we are dealt.
Do you have any touching fan moments you’ve experienced while being a musician?
I don’t have one particular one but I have had many fans tell me that they felt my songs got them through tough times or made them happy when they needed to smile. I am flattered by such compliments, but honestly they are getting through those times on their own. My music may just happen to help with the process.
What do you find most rewarding about being a musician?
I write from a place of what I know. Not always literal but always conceptually. The emotional part is from an honest place. I think my music fans get that. I love to make people think, feel, dance, and react. That is what is important about art to me. Many of my songs deal in bittersweet relationships and some heartache. When you are going through those thing, one tends to feel they are the only one and why me. If you hear a song that tells that story or conveys that emotion, you may think, “hey, it isn’t just me, and if he has been through this and is still ok, maybe I can get through this too.” That is the power of music to me.
How do you think music and anime can help people during this time of distress and isolation?
We all need entertainment and a distraction. Not to say we need to ignore the problems, but we also need balance. Work to make a change, try to be proactive, but also find the moments to escape. Music and anime can do that. They may also inspire you to create while in isolation. We all have more time on our hands, so why not use that time to do something creative? It keeps me semi-sane.
Lastly, is there anything else you’d like our readers to know, either about your current/future projects or where they can follow you on social media?
I am not the best at keeping my social media current. I try, but I am more into making the products than announcing them, which may not be as lucrative but that is just the way I do things. People can visit my website at ericstuart.com and Twitter @eric_stuart, but right now my Patreon page is what I am working on. This is a way for fans to support the music and get something from me each month. It is a $10 per song pledge, and you only get charged when I release a new song, which is no more than once a month.
We want to give a big “THANKS!” to Eric Stuart for doing this interview with us. His answers were inspiring, and it was great to peer behind the curtain of what his experiences have been like throughout his career. We look forward to his future work, both in music and voice acting.
If you enjoyed this interview and Eric Stuart’s work as a voice actor and musician, feel free to follow/pledge him on Patreon to stay up to date on his work and show him your support.