I got a chance to have a short interview with one of the gaming industry’s best voice actors, James Arnold Taylor. Although you may not know his name, but he is the voice of some of Sony’s best video game heroes. Currently the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Master Plo Koon in Cartoon Network’s Star Wars Clone Wars, James Arnold Taylor is also the voice behind the interstellar hero Ratchet (Ratchet and Clank Series) as well as Tidus (Final Fantasy X).
Me: This seems to be a bit of an obvious question, but do you play the video games that you voice the characters of? If so, which is your favorite?
JAT: Well it’s not necessarily an obvious question. It is a good question, because a lot of times you hear from actors when they do a film they say, “Oh, I never watch any of my work.” Or “I never watch myself on TV.”. Well I am a bit of a ham; I enjoy hearing what I have done. I do enjoy it because, I love to act. I love to be a part of the whole thing. But I also love getting to hear what other actors have done and how it all comes together. Plus I just enjoy all of this entertainment; I think it is all good fun. And I truly try to pick roles and projects that I would want to watch or be a part of. In that I definitely play the video games that I am in. I always love the Clone Wars games, and the Ratchet and Clank games and Final Fantasy. I am looking through my window in my booth, and on a shelf I have many or the games I have been in. I love Spiderman Friend or Foe I loved being Spiderman as well as many of the characters in the Shrek games. If I was to choose a favorite, which is a tough one it is like children I can’t pick a favorite. I really do love the Ratchet and Clank series. It is such a great series and has grown. So many things end up, as they go sequel after sequel after sequel and it gets old. But these are getting better and better, and I am so amazed at the work by all the people at Insomniac Games. The writers and harnessing the storyline before going and putting it out there it is sort of the way that Pixar seems to work.
Me: You have been the voice behind characters in over 50 video games, are there any that are more or less your favorite?
JAT: Well like I said before it is very hard to choose a favorite. I do love playing Ratchet and I love playing as Obi-Wan. But I would have to say an overall favorite, or one that I owe so much of my video game career to, would be the voice of Tidus from Final Fantasy X and the sequel to it. But yes, I would say that it is one of my favorites.
Me: You have been with the Developer Insomniac quite a bit; you have been the voice of Ratchet from Ratchet and Clank since Going Commando. How do you view Ratchet as a hero? Can you relate to him on a down to earth, personal level?
JAT: I absolutely can relate to him on a personal level. I think he is someone, like most of us that wants to be a good guy. He wants to be the hero, he wants to be the good guy but also is trying to balance that out with, “I want to be myself and hang out with my buddy.” and be relaxed and not have to save the world all the time. I relate to him on that level, I can relate to his great kinship to his buddy Clank. I love the relationship David (David Kaye) and I have been able to pull out of this, because he and I have only met a couple of times. Ratchet and Clank are just great characters, and I am so blessed to be a part of that. I am so happy that Insomniac has asked me to be a part of that and I will be involved with this as long as I have to.
Me: There is a new game coming out soon called, “Heroes on the Move”, which features Ratchet and Clank among other Platforming stars. Will you return to be the voice for Ratchet?
JAT: Yes I do believe it is safe to say I am returning as the voice of Ratchet. I have actually already voiced it and I had a blast doing it.
Me: How did you prepare for the role of Tidus? Can you compare to him in any way that gives you a more personal connection rather than it being a job?
JAT: Well absolutely, when I first was approached to play the role of Tidus, I was in the process of recording a show call Atlantis: The Lost Empire based on the Disney film taking the role of Milo Thatch. I was recording in the same building as they were recording the Final Fantasy film, Spirits Within. And at the time Jack Fletcher, the director was also going to be directing Final Fantasy X. So we became friends after hanging out some, and he said, “You know I really want you to read for this part.” So I got to read for it and I was amazed at how much Tidus and I have in common. *Chuckles* Not in the athletic realm at all, Tidus is an amazing athlete. But he has a lot of family issues that I can relate to. Coming from a divorced family, coming from a place where I didn’t really know my father. I could have had a lot of resentment towards that and have anger and frustration with just wanting that acceptance from a father figure. I certainly can relate to that, and sort of like Ratchet he is this reluctant hero and he really wants to do the right thing and he really does want to save his friends and family and the world if he can. I think we all have that desire to be seen and to be known and Tidus definitely has that. I am sure I portray Tidus differently than my Japanese counterpart; I think Tidus is a young teenage man that is searching for himself his identity. And we try to counterbalance that with “Listen to my story”, you know, the narration parts where he had an older more controlled sound. So it makes the audience wonder, “Well is he telling the story from later in time?”. Of course if you have played the game you will know what happens to him in the end. So I really tried to take it from those different aspects of his life and how he grows. You know, he first starts of cocky and sure of himself because he is a champion Blitzball player. And as his journey goes he gets more controlled, and when you play through the game you will notice how his voice changes. And we tried our best in doing that, as well as, still having to deal with a game that already has been done in another language. Particularly with the Japanese language, such a beautiful and so different from our American English language in ways of speaking, to convey information comes out so differently. So they would add words or take out words then time crunch it to make it match up and make it work. It is amazing it is almost been ten years since Final Fantasy X came out and I still get email about it, and I am just so touched by my involvement with it.
Me: Final Fantasy X is the first Final Fantasy to showcase voice acting, what was it like to be a part of a game that broke out of its shell like that?
JAT: It was amazing to be the first, kind of lead character in this series where there was going to be voice. And I don’t think I knew at first how much of a big deal it was. I looked at it like, I knew the series and I knew the games and I knew the importance of the characters in the games. But I did not realize at the time how history making it would be. And, would that have made a difference if I knew? I don’t know probably not. I am still very pleased with the performance, would I have changed things? Of course I would. Have I had the opportunity to change them? Yes I have when we do different version of the game. Even in the Dissidia game we were still bound by the language barrier so you still lose some of the emotional aspects you get to do when you are an actor. When you are voicing a video game normally you will go in and get the script and here is the scene. They play it out for you, and the director is leading the other characters because you are always voicing alone. But normally when you go in and voice a video game you are still allowed to have more of a voice, more emotion. But when you do a dub such as the final fantasy games you have to fit it in and work with the confinements or that and still try to get the emotions and hope it allows players to get the emotion. It is tougher work than going in and voicing a character like Ratchet and Clank or the Ninja Turtle games or Shrek games.
Me: What is it like to be a voice actor? How do you prepare for huge roles like being the voice of characters like Obi-Wan in Clone Wars and other Star Wars games?
JAT: Well it is great, for Obi-Wan they are of course doing the Clone Wars TV series, on Cartoon Network that is always great to do because I get to be a main character as well as Plo Koon, In the Star Wars games I am always voicing Plo Koon and Obi-Wan. Usually their scenes are together so I always have to keep that in mind. Both are british, and you have to know that they are always talking to each other. And I will always concentrate to make sure they are different, I try to give them both different accents. The way I prepare for them is the way I prepare for anything. I study the script, if I have it. With video games you generally don’t get the scripts ahead of time. You get the script when you step into the booth, so you are reading most of your lines cold. There is no prep time beforehand. Recently Obi-Wan has been the exposition, the guy that tells the player what to do. He is always doing these narration bits, *As Obi-Wan* “Hold the Command Key and push ALT and Tab”. So when you are reading those things you just have to go cold. So you prepare by not being prepared, if that makes any sense at all. Because you never know what’s being thrown at you. You just do it the best you can. Voice actors are very different “breed” than on screen actors. We are ready to give you any emotion you want at any point in time. We are always there and ready to perform and to the best of our ability on the drop of a hat. So they will say, “Ok James now you are falling, now do one with your arms flailing. And now give us a laugh.” If you want to be a voice actor you have to know you are always in the spotlight and you just have to be able to do it. Don’t be embarrassed ashamed you just have to do it. I love being a voice actor, I am blessed to do it.
Me: You also lent your vocal talents to the game Kingdom Hearts 2 as the voice of Captain Jack Sparrow and Timon. Were you nervous to be the voice of such iconic characters?
JAT: Well being the voice of Fred Flintstone *As Fred* “Yabba Dabba Do” or Johnny Test *As Johnny* WOAH! Johnny Test is amazing!” or Obi-Wan or Master Plo Koon or Leonardo the Ninja Turtle, or Ratchet. These characters have become so iconic that when I get up I get on my knees and I am so thankful to be able to bring life to these characters in whatever way I can. It is a great honor to voice double and I just hope people will know how much we voice actors appreciate doing what we do.
Me: Is being the voice actor in a video game any different than in a movie or TV show?
JAT: Yes it is, as I mentioned before we are in a room with just ourselves the directors the writers the producers and we just record. And with most animated TV shows you are all together as a cast. You get to joke around and play off each other’s lines. In movies it can be a mixed bag, sometimes you are alone sometimes you are with other actors. When we first recorded TMNT all four of us got to record together. But then later when Weinstien bought the movie and rewrote everything we ended up ADR-ing, which means Audio Dialogue Replacement and replacing every line that we previously did. But with a video game we have that freedom to just go for it. With video games it is very much based on time, like we have 1.5 seconds to get this line etc. And other times you are just recording isolated with not too much interaction with others, besides the director. Video game directors are coming into their own now. They are able to give a story rather than just catching the grunts and groans. They are telling stories that go far greater than films today have. They are getting it and the writers as well. They are coming up with great storylines. It is harder with video games because you are just concentrated by yourself. You know, you are in the booth for 4 hours just hitting every line and jumping from character to character depending on the game. Usually when I am doing Ratchet and Clank I am just ratchet so they go out and book 4 hours and we take our time and enjoy ourselves. We go through the story and really get it into my head. If there are games that I am doing multiple characters that can get very strenuous. And it is very different from TV or movie work. If someone does want to be a voice actor, take care of it and learn all aspects of their own voice before going out and trying to be 10 different, or 100 different voices, or 1000 different voices. If you can do your voice great then you can do any one you and it will all fall into place.