It seems only fitting that J. Michael Tatum should be a driving force behind ‘Steins;Gate’, as it is only through the powers of time travel that one could possibly conceive to describe his greatness. Without such skill, there is simply too little time in which to properly express the impact of his work and artistry he gives to every role as voice actor, writer, director, and inspiring public figure. He does not only give voice to a character, but becomes them, evoking that which is most central to their being and giving such depth to his performance that near all become an instant classic. From ‘Steins;Gate’ to ‘Black Butler’, ‘Hetalia’, ‘FMA’, ‘Baccano!’ and more, the credits to his name are near as endless as the list of those with greater joy for having known of his existence. To hear him speak is to hear from one of undeniable appeal, so inspiring in essence that he is a beacon to his fans and so prolific with his words that he is easily regarded as a modern Oscar Wilde. Writer, artist, hero, icon, and lover of all things Frenchie, these names are far from false in their description but no word could even come close to describing the unique being that is J. Michael Tatum. 

 

Why do you think that anime, as an art form, seems to reach people in a way that other styles of acting do not?

  • I think live performance and on camera work does reach a lot of people but it depends on the generation. A lot of young people don’t have the opportunity to see a great deal of live theater and thus don’t really have a chance to see something like ‘Death of a Salesman’ or ‘Wicked’ until they’re in their teenage years or older, and even then you have to sort of live where there’s a theater community. 
  • As far as movies are concerned, I suspect a lot has changed in the way we watch them as a culture, and even more so with television. The way we watch television has changed so much in just my lifetime as now people sit down and binge watch, which was never something that you could do even ten years ago. Back then, you had to wait for a show to air every week and it was really an event. People kind of rallied around it and saw the same things and had the same cultural currency between each other because they all saw the same films and caught the same episodes of shows each week.
  • I guess, in a weird way, those types of media have become less communal because everyone’s off doing their own things and following their own tastes and binge watching the shows that they like, so it’s less common to find people that may be into the same things that you are. I think that those forms can reach people but it’s just so much more sporadic.
  • There’s another element to anime that I think makes it really resonate with people, especially young people, which is that it’s animated. There’s something about the fact that it’s animated that draws you in. It’s a completely immersive experience. Let’s suppose you’re watching your favourite live-action sci-fi film. It may be brilliantly done and wonderfully acted, and the special effects may be great, but there’s always some part of your brain that’s aware that that’s a CGI dragon or that’s Sean Bean who I remember from this other movie, so it’s harder to let go of the reality behind the show because you’re so much more aware of what goes into it. When something is animated, it’s totally, wall to wall, it’s own universe, and I think it’s easier to get lost in it because of that. So maybe that has something to do with it. 
  • Obviously, something about anime draws a great deal of people because they are not only incredibly dedicated but it really means something to them. Their favorite shows really become part of their lives and those characters become family to them, in much the same way that they become family to those of us who have the great fortune to get to voice them or write them
  • In Stephen King’s book ‘Danse Macabre’, which is about writing in general but specifically horror writing, he said that the worst horror movie is always going to be so much worse than the worst horror novel because at least in the novel you never see the zipper on the monster’s back (laughs). I think that kind of applies to animated features or animates series. You’re just so absolutely enveloped in that world and there’s nothing to remind you “Oh, that’s really that person” or “Oh, they’re filming in Seattle”. I think it just really gets into the imagination because it creates this entire universe for you to get lost in.
Sebastian Michaelis (top) of 'Black Butler'

Sebastian Michaelis (top) of 'Black Butler'

 

Do you think anime has thus been more sheltered from the changing ways in which audiences are consuming media these days?

  • No. In fact, I find the exact opposite. I think the way we have classically watched animeis not only certainly on board with how we watch media now, but I think it’s also on board with how that change came about. I don’t know, I can’t prove it (laughs), but I suspect that the anime world, particularly how its produced and watched here, had a lot to do with how shows in general are now produced and how they are distributed watched by the audience. 
  • I find that anime lends itself extremely well to binge watching because anime has always been concerned with long story arcs. It’s not often that you see an anime that’s produced to be an episodic series where any episode can more or less stand alone. Anime was always something that you had to start at the beginning and watch all the way through to the end, you couldn’t just dip in anywhere and expect to get your footing. I feel that’s only become true of mainstream media in the past ten years with shows like ‘Lost’ or ‘Breaking Bad’ where it was really a large story and each episode was a chapter of that tale rather than a stand alone story within an established universe. 
  • Anime has been doing that for much longer than the traditional Western media, and so I think it had to have had some influence on how we watch media now. It had to have. I’m waiting for someone to prove it on a whiteboard or chalkboard in a basement somewhere (laughs).

 

Anime clearly has a very powerful meaning to many of its viewers, do you find that acting resonates with you in a particularly strongly manner given that your introduction to the acting world came from quite a personal place in helping you to overcome a stutter?

  • Yes, I found acting because it quite literally helped me find my voice. It’s weird to think that I now make my living as a voice actor as if you told people that when I was a child they would have said, “That’s not possible. That’s not within the realm of things he’s able to do.” But now that’s what I do all the time. 
  • I think acting is a very powerful tool for personal growth if you approach it the right way. To be at all good at it, you have to be a little crazy and a little fearless, and you have to tap into sides of your own personality that you don’t necessarily believe are there or are comfortable with. Sometimes the script or a character may call for you to reach into something that you don’t even acknowledge, but then as the work gets going you realise “Oh, this was part of me all the time. Somewhere inside of me is this horrible person that does these things”, if you’re playing a villain for example, or you might be playing a particularly nice, heroic character and find “I suddenly get how people are able to do these incredibly bold, brave acts but I just never thought of myself as a brave person.” 
  • I’ve always described acting, if done right, as something that helps you as a human being because it assists you to get away from yourself by pretending to be someone else, but in the process you find out that you are really just finding another facet of your personality, and that gives you an incredible tool for dealing with reality. 
  • I’m a big believer that life is more or less the business of cultivating perspectives and the more perspectives you have at your beck and call, the more you can kind of negotiate reality. Life is hard. Life can be really difficult, and being able to look at it through a multitude of different points of view is important. The people I’ve known in my life that are the happiest and are always able to rise to the occasion are the ones who can draw from the largest wells within themselves of points of view. Acting has certainly taught me how to cultivate points of view and has always appealed to me because it has helped me find myself and at the same time let go of myself. 
  • We all have this running narrative in ourselves of who we are and how we’d like to be seen and we tend to produce, and over produce, our impression on other people to the point where we’re not really real and I think acting helps you let go of that. You understand “Oh, I do this all the time. I do this unconsciously” so you learn, as an actor, to let go of how you want to be seen and give yourself over to the character.
  • When I first was playing Rikichi in ‘Samurai 7’, my very first voice over role, I was terribly nervous. There are no words to describe how petrified I was, and Christopher Bevins, who was of course a dear friend and is still a dear friend, is a terribly mean director (laughs). I’m only half joking - he’s very intense and I’d just never seen that side of his personality before so I was like, “Oh my god, I’m being judged!” It was really harsh as the character was really emotional, and I realised that I was so nervous I couldn’t perform. 
  • Bevins gave me what I still regard as the single best piece of advice that any director has given me in anything and that was, “Look, you’re wasting so much energy trying to convince me that you’re not nervous that you have no energy left over for the performance, so why don’t you just give that nervous anxiety to the character, let him deal with it, and we’ll see where it takes us in the script?” And I did. I let go and I was like, “Oh, I can still do this. I don’t need to pretend I’m not nervous”.
  • The point I’m laboring towards is that acting taught me how to let go of the need to appear in control at all times, because it’s such a waste of energy not only in acting but in life in general. For that reason, acting very much is a needful thing for me. Without acting I don’t feel I would get anything done (laughs)
Rintaro Okabe of 'Steins;Gate'

Rintaro Okabe of 'Steins;Gate'

 

Do you feel more freedom in performing a character that is a bit more removed from yourself, whether that be in a technical basis such as them having a different accent or pitch to your own voice, or the personality of the character themselves?

  • Sometimes. Again, I may enter into it thinking “Oh this character is nothing like me, this is going to be a lot of fun because I get to kind of pretend”, and you can kind of let go of yourself, but always during the course of the work you realise “Oh I’m not pretending at all. This is just me”. That’s always the big revelation. Even if it’s you with an accent, speaking say as Sebastian [from ‘Black Butler’] or France [from ‘Hetalia’], I’m still thinking “This is still me”. There is no magical cloak called “a character” that I suddenly put on and transform into the role - all these characters are just different facets of my own personality. 
  • One of the key thing about the whole process to me is that discovery and realising “Oh, it was me all along!” (laughs). There’s no getting away from yourself. That’s something I learned a long time ago with acting - it’s not a retreat from the self, but rather it causes you to go deeper in

 

Do you ever feel you have to distance yourself from the character to a certain degree then as to not become too overwhelmed? You have mentioned in the past that your role as Okabe in ‘Steins;Gate’, while one of the most spectacular performances ever given, became quite overwhelming in the end, did your approach to how closely you envelop a character change after that experience?

  • There is a line you definitely have to draw and sometimes you only learn too late where it should have been (laughs). Okabe was a great example of that. 
  • Okabe was special because I was also writing his English language dialogue so I couldn’t get away from it in my day-to-day life. Normally, most actors have a process where even when playing a very intense, emotionally-demanding character they can then go home and have some ritual or activity that allows them to get out of that frame of mind and just relax and become their normal everyday self again. The reason that I had the break down with Okabe was because, as much as I loved playing him and writing it and everything about that show, it was such an intense schedule and I never had a chance to get away from that mindset. I had to record him eight hours a day and then come home and write him for another 3,4 or 5 five hours, depending on the demands of the script. My entire waking moment was spent in Okabe’s head space and eventually it just became too much. 
  • That doesn’t happen very often as Okabe was a special case. In every other instance and with every other character, however, when I record them I do abandon myself to the role and I don’t bother drawing a line because I think “Well, I can draw the line when I’ve left the booth”  - and that’s important. When I’m out of the booth I’m like “Ok, we’re letting go of that reality and we’re entering my everyday, rather boring, reality now” (laughs). Now I have a French bulldog named Genji and he becomes a very importantpart of that process for me. I come home and play with my French bulldog and then I’m Michael again (laughs). 
The ever-gorgeous Genji

The ever-gorgeous Genji

 

Since you are such an avid reader and writer, do you think the best preparation for becoming a writer is to read as much as possible? Do you feel there is value in studying a university writing course or has that become a more redundant pursuit these days?

  • It depends on the person. With something as personal as writing or acting, or really any art, I think every journey has to be tailor made to the person because there are no hard and fast rules for finding your way into it. I definitely believe that no matter how you do it, whether it be in a university setting, book club, or on your own, reading is absolutely essential, and I encourage anyone who writes, no matter what they write, to read continually outside of their comfort zone. 
  • We all have a certain genre of book that we like to read the most and will gravitate more naturally towards that than something else, but if, say, you’ve never read Jane Austen, even if you hate it -  read it! (laughs) Reading it will affect your brain in a way that gives you something more to draw from. I always encourage writers to read. Read, read read! I find, myself, that if I’m reading less than I’m writing then I’m doing it wrong. I should always be several hours behind in my writing so I can catch up to my reading (laughs). 
  • There are some really marvelous university professors out there who are really passionate about the subject and can really open their students eyes to seeing, and that’s indispensable if you have such an opportunity, but, of course, there’s also going to be bad teachers out there who might completely turn those students off from reading all together, so you have to be careful. 
  • However and wherever you do it, reading is absolutely invaluable to the writer. You have to read all the time and read stuff that you don’t like. I’ve been reading since I was very little and I read all the time, very quickly, but I still have not read even one tenth of the books that I ought to. Read, read, read!

 

Are you a fan of digital books or do you prefer the classic hard covers?

  • I think I prefer the old school hard covers, and more often than not, the soft covers. I love soft covers! They are so weightless and easy to pick up and store. 
  • I’m not against the digital revolution, I’m just kind of set in my ways so digital seems a little weird to me, but I have a lot of books. To me, books make a home. Frenchies and books make a home. I have so many books now that it’s kind of ridiculous to the point where I can’t move that book because it’s a load bearing stack (laughs). I’ve been surrounded by books my whole life and I don’t think anything could ever replace them, but I understand the appeal of digital because it makes it so much more portable. 
  • I discovered too that if I did all my reading primarily digitally then I would only read what was recommended to me based on what the algorithm, the all omnipotent “algorithm”, was able to suss of my reading habits. I have found so many books that I would have never found otherwise just by abandoning myself to the aisles of some bookstore in the middle of nowhere and just going “Huh that looks interesting” and picking it up off the shelf, but it’s not a book that an algorithm would have ever put me in the purview of. 
  • I’m a big fan of going where all the books are and looking around and almost just kind of randomly letting your hand fall on one and seeing what it’s like. For me, that is the big plus of the physical book store and the physical book - that you’re more likely to find great surprises than if you would digitally.
France of 'Hetalia', and Kyoya Otori of 'Ouran High School Host Club'

France of 'Hetalia', and Kyoya Otori of 'Ouran High School Host Club'

 

Had you always hoped to have a career in writing, even before you began doing adaptive writing for anime projects?

  • No, to be honest. I’ve always been a writer and I’ve always written, but I never thought it could be something I could make a living at. I don’t know why (laughs). I think it’s like if, say, you jog every morning and it’s just so much a part of who you are that you don’t have an opinion about it -  like having a fingernail or a hair colour - and suddenly someone comes and says you can get paid for it, you can jog for a living, most people would be like, “What?!” (laughs) and that’s kind of how I felt. It’s just a part of me that I don’t really think about it. 
  • I’ve noticed that when you’re in this little, bizarre niche industry of anime and voice over, the more you do, the more you get to do. I happened to be playing the main villain in a show called ‘Aquarion’, and because I was the one character who was kind of the chief architect of the plot I was the one actor who knew the most of what was going on because I had access to the larger story. The producer came to me and said, “Hey, would you like to direct the last six episodes because the director has to move to New York and you kind of know the show because of your role your playing?” So I got to take on the role of director. 
  • Then, because I was directing, I got the chance to write. Just kind of saying “yes and” all the time put me in a position where they were like, “Can you write?” and I was like, “I don’t know. Let’s see! I’ve been writing all my life, let’s see if I can do this kind of writing” (laughs) and happily I was able to do it after several years of struggling to get my head around how it worked. 
  • So, I don’t think I ever saw myself being a professional writer in any capacity, it just kind of happened and although I’m very glad it did, I’m still surprised (laughs)

 

When doing the adaptive writing, there are obviously quite a lot of differences between Japanese and Western audiences, so are you given any guidelines and/or restrictions as to what things need to be altered for the differing sensibilities, or is that largely left up to your own interpretation and judgement?

  • Most of the time, it’s up to the us, the writers, to the extent that we want to take liberties. Now with the broadcast dub process, which is still relatively new, things are much more difficult. In the old days, your classical DVD release anime dub production schedule was such that we had the entire show in Japanese and translated for us to look at, as writers, before you sat down to write the first script. You were able to watch the entire story unfold and get to know “Oh, that’s where this character is going. That’s how they’ll end up. Here’s the twist. Here’s who ends up with who” - all these things which are important for a writer as it colours how you will make the person speak from the very beginning. If, for example, you know that this character is a good guy in episode one but turns out to be a bad guy in episode twelve, you’re going to approach him or her very differently than if you didn’t know. 
  • With broadcast dubs, that has changed. We only know what is going on one week at a time, so we have to take it episode by episode and the liberties you have to take to make the idioms more resonant with English language audiences become much more tricky because you don’t know if it will come back to haunt you at some point down the line.
  • A great example that I love to bring up is that one of the many quirks of Japanese is that you can only infer whether a noun is plural or singular from context. There is no such thing as a tense in Japanese when it comes to nouns, and it is not always easy. Japanese is a very, very high context language, so at times you run into problems like this:  We were doing a show called ‘Laughing Under the Clouds’ which was my first broadcast dub as an adaptive writer and it was only going one episode at a time and it was clear that there was a larger story going on but it wasn’t entirely certain what the larger story was in the first few episodes. I wasn’t sure about the tone, so I was just having to play around with it and leave a lot of elbow room for the ADR director to make their own decisions, and there’s a point in which one of the main characters is referencing a family heirloom and they refer to it as a “sword”. It’s not something that you ever see in the first episodes, the “sword” itself is only seen in a later episode and it turned out to be two swords (laughs). We didn’t know that because we just figured that it was one sword because there was no way to distinguish between singular and plural in Japanese so we were just like “Oh crap” (laughs). We did go back and change some stuff, but not before the original episodes were released. So, that’s just a little thing, but imagine that when you’re talking about the vicissitudes of character and who ends up with who. The way they say something here might actually be a bit of foreshadowing that only begins to carry that meaning in retrospect a few episodes on. Those are all things that you no longer have access to as a writer when you’re working on broadcast dubs, so you have to tread much more lightly.
  • In the old days, you’d have the entire series and you'd binge watch it in a couple of days, make your notes a writer, and then I would map out each character's journey on a little board like “Ok, here are the key points in this characters story” because it all relates. To me, an important part of writing is knowing where it’s going to end so you can decide how you want to colour their dialogue and their personal journey. 
  • It’s not impossible to do with broadcast dubs, it’s just a lot harder because you are taking that journey with the audience like “I can’t wait to see what happens next! (laughs) 

 

Wabisuki of the incredible anime film 'Summer Wars'

Wabisuki of the incredible anime film 'Summer Wars'

 

Anime seems to celebrate love in a lot more styles than Western animation, particularly their common use of LGBT characters, what are your thoughts on this topic? 

  • That is very true. I find that there are a lot more LGBT characters in anime than in Western mainstream shows, and certainly in animated Western mainstream shows, although that is changing. 
  • I don’t know why that is in Japanese, because, and I don’t say this as a judgement I just say this as an observation, Japanese culture is not nearly as open to the LGBT community as the Western cultures have become. They are getting there, slowly but surely, and I think that anime maybe having a role to play in that change, but it’s not anywhere near as accepted in day-to-day life as it is, thankfully, in Western countries in general. 
  • I feel like maybe LGBT characters appear in anime a lot because for some reason that is ok. Maybe Japanese culture is ok with relegating the existence of the LGBT community to a fictional world but not in the real world. It’s unfortunate if that is the case. I’m glad that we have these characters in anime and, again, I think that they have a role to play in changing the real world as well and they certainly are doing that, but I don’t know why that is. 
  • I think very healthy that there are so many LGBT characters and that they are just kind of there. If a character happens to be LGBT, the anime series doesn’t necessarily play it up, it’s not necessarily even part of the character’s story, it’s just part of the background in a way that I think is very healthy. Not in the sense that they are being swept under the rug, but that it’s so accepted that it’s not even a talking point which to someone like myself is a dream. 
  • I would love for everyone to be so tolerant that it never had to be brought up, that it’s jus this person’s gay or bisexual or whatever and it’s no more important than the color of their hair or their shoe size. It would be lovely if we, as a culture, could get away from having to over identify in order to seek tolerance, but that’s just my own perosonal philosophy. 
  • It is interesting to me that, as you said, love is celebrated in so many different ways in anime because that’s not always the case in day-to-day life in Japan, whereas here in the United States, that’s a very different equation. You don’t see LGBT characters so much in mainstream media, although that is beginning to change just by baby steps, but in day-to-day life it has become a lot more tolerated and even celebrated.  
  • I grew up in the 90s, and that was a very different time to be an LGBT young person. Looking at how far we have come as a culture is amazing as a discussion of gay marriage was not even conceivable twenty year ago. It would not have even been on the table. The fact that we have come as far as we have is really amazing because I didn’t expect to live to see it

 

 

Do you feel that there is a need to focus on the fact that an artist, creator, or even character, is LGBT in the mainstream media as a means of promoting awareness, or does doing this then detract from the work they are creating? Do you feel we should celebrate the fact that they are a great artist, and not regard them as a great gay artist?

  • I totally agree and I see where you’re coming from, but I will say, though, that that sort of thing used to really bother me when I was younger because I was like, “No it shouldn’t matter that they’re gay. It matters that they are turning in good art and that’s the point!” But I’ve come to understand that for the wider culture to become tolerant of difference, there’s a very necessary phase at which that difference does need to be celebrated before it’s fully accepted. It’s kind of a growing pain thing and I find that I’m happy for it. 
  • For example, I’m a gay man and I don’t necessarily think of myself as a gay actor but I am whetherI like it or not. I may be hesitant to be celebrated as a gay actor because I would rather just be celebrated as an actor when it comes to my professional life, but at the same time I realise that we never ever are just what we do or who we love. 
  • I’m also very deeply grateful that I’m in a position to, I hesitate to say an “inspiration” because I don’t want to aggrandize myself (laughs), but I feel because I am a gay actor and I’m a gay successful person who has made a name for themselves, it puts me in a position to help other people who may not be comfortable with who they are or who may not have found their tribe yet, so to speak. I’ve become grateful for that, and in that sense I’m grateful for my gayness to be celebrated alongside my acting credits because it does mean something to someone. I may never know what it means to someone and I may never meet the people who see my success and think they too can do it.
  • I myself, growing up as a gay man, felt terrible disenfranchised until I became aware that, say, Oscar Wilde was gay. Oscar Wilde was a huge influence on me. He was the first writer I ever discovered who I knew was gay, and then onto Virginia Wolfe and many other figures, and understanding that those authors, and later actors and other artists, were gay I realised “Wow! There’s nothing about me being gay that ought to bar me from the things I want to do. If I want to write or I want to act, or I want to be the CEO of a company, I can!” 
  • There is a point in our progress as a culture and a civilization that we do have to celebrate difference in order to accept it. It would be great if in a few generations from now we get to a point where that sort of thing no longer matters and it would make no more sense to talk about this wonderfully successful gay artist than to say this wonderful artist who happens to wear size twelve loafers. I think we will get there but celebrating that difference first is a necessary step, so I’ve learnt to just be grateful for it because it helps a lot of young disenfranchised people feel franchised and for that it’s a good thing. 
Isaac (left) of 'Baccano!'

Isaac (left) of 'Baccano!'

 

You’ve worked alongside Patrick Seitz on several adaptive writing projects now, such as the incredible ‘Steins;Gate’, do you recall what your first project together was?

  • ‘Steins;Gate’ was by far the most profound experience we’ve had together because that show is what it is and both of us were just such fan boys for it so we would have these really great late night deep discussions about what it all meant and what these characters were going through and how that applies to us at some point in our lives, and it was a very wonderful experience. 
  • We had been working together professionally in different capacities for several years up to that point, but ‘Steins;Gate’ was definitely the show that sort of solidified our bond and we will always share that. 
  • Patrick is a sublime writer. I still insist that the best stuff about ‘Steins;Gate’ on the writing side is Patrick’s, I just kind of followed his lead. He is the reason the character Mayuri was so beautifully adapted because he had some wonderful ideas about how to approach that character. I was honestly having some trouble with Mayuri when we were writing the first few episodes and Patrick was like, “What about this?” and “How about we look at her like this?” and I was like “Oh my God! That really opened my eyes!” 
  • So much about what makes the English adaptation of ‘Steins;Gate’ work is because of Patrick Seitz and I’ll always be very grateful that I got the honor to work with someone so talented and who is also such a nice, genuinely decent and thoughtful human being. Thatpart of Patrick definitely comes through in his work. Any chance I get to sing Patrick’s praises I take because I just think he is phenomenal human being. 

 

I have no doubt he would probably say the same about you. You both form one of the most powerfully talented pairings in the artistic world, and ‘Steins;Gate’ is by far one of the most amazing series created. 

  • Patrick and I definitely share brain, although 75% of that brain is his (laughs)

 

You’ve said in the past that when working on an adaptive script you turn the sound off and let the characters speak to you, thus I have always wondered to what level aspects such as the soundtrack and score come into play when capturing the essence of a scene?

  • When I turn the sound off and let the characters speak to me, that’s the last stage of a very long process where I completely immerse myself in the Japanese version of the show. I may be watching a scene on mute, but I am very well aware of the music because I’ve heard it many times before up to that point. I don’t want to give impression that I just mute everything and purely go by the visuals (laughs). The visuals are the main part, but they aren’t the only part. The music and the sound effects and tone of voice in the Japanese are all essential parts. 
  • My process is to sit and watch an episode at least three times before I start writing. I’ll watch it in Japanese those three times and I’ll allow myself to be completely immersed in it, then when I start writing I’ll mute it but only scene by scene. Then I’ll go back and recite the lines I’ve written along with the Japanese track to make sure that everything fits, not only with the mouth flaps bu that it also fits the tone of whatever is going on musically or effects wise. 
  • The muting part is only part of the process. I assure you the sound is still there, it still has a very vital role to play (laughs). I almost now want to try to do a show just muting it entirely never having once hard the Japanese (laughs). I don’t think that would be very good of me though (laughs).

 

Some anime series have amazing soundtracks

  • I have a large collection of soundtracks for anime shows I’ve worked on, and even shows that I haven’t worked on if I happen to like the soundtrack. I used to live right up the street from an anime store. It’s a shame I can’t go in there anymore (laughs). I used to collect soundtracks on CD but now I just get them on itunes or wherever, but I used to have quite the collection. 
Nagi (far right) of 'Deadman Wonderland'

Nagi (far right) of 'Deadman Wonderland'

 

You are quite a music aficionado, do you think that has helped not only with your voice acting but with directing others too? It must be useful to have a musical knowledge when getting the pacing and beats of recording anime dubs in particular.

  • Oh, very much so. Brina Palencia, who’s my work spouse - we are each other’s work wife and work husband (laughs) - I love Brina to death, but she actually directed me in my very first lead role which was in ‘Black Blood Brothers’ in the role of Jiro and she, of course, has a music background being a singer and I have a music background being a pianist. This was my firs lead role as I’d just become a full time voice actor, so I was terribly nervous and way too much in my head and Brina directed me musically. She’d say, “Ok, the words are coming out very staccato right now and I need more cello,” and I would just get it! That’s how we did that entire show and it was lovely.
  • There’s always a musically in the way everyone talks whether they are aware of it or not. Everyone has a certain pattern, a certain flow, a certian tendency of inflection that makes the way they sound their own. It’s not just the words they use, which is part of it, but it’s also the melody they give the words and I’m very conscious of that as a person who suffered with a speech impediment when I was very young. Music was a very big part of how I overcame my stutter because one of the techniques you use is to try to sing the words you wanted to say and sometimes giving a quite literal melody to the words you were trying to get out would help carry them. 
  • That’s been with me for a very long time so I think of the voice very musically. I think of character arcs and the narratives in general as very musical unfoldings. Music is very very much a part of my gestalt. I cannot imagine how I would see the world if music was not part of how I saw things
Tatum with "work spouse", Brina Palencia

Tatum with "work spouse", Brina Palencia

 

You mentioned before that you left your job in advertising...

  • Right. I was in advertising for about seven or eight years - the better part of a decade. I started at this little place and the people I worked with were lovely, but I was in account management and I wasn’t very good at it and I certainly wasn’t very happy because it wasn’t creative and I’m a creative soul whether I liked it or not, so luckily I ended up here. I acted when I was very young and luckily acting found me again.

 

Do you think having come from a job that you feel isn’t really right for you makes you more determined and passionate in pursuing a career in the arts which is comparatively less stable, so to speak?

  • I certainly think it makes me feel more grateful for the opportunities I have as an artist. I’ve known what it is to have a 9-5 job that you just kind of do because it pays the bills, and while you love the people you work with, you don’t love the work. 
  • I’ve been a voice actor for over twelve years but it still feels very new to me. I still feel very grateful to be given the chances I am given on a day-to-day basis. When I’m called in to auditions, or when I get that gig, or I’m asked to write, I always feel like that stray dog that’s been taken in from the rain and been given a nice meal and place to sleep and I think “Really? I can sit here? I can eat this? Are you sure?” (laughs). 
  • I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity because it’s not something I sought out for myself. I do think it makes me work harder because I do not feel that I deserve the great luck that I have had in this career. I feel that there are two ways to approach luck -  most people work really really hard to build luck and other people have an immense amount of really good luck at the start and then have to spend the rest of their career building to be worthy of that good luck, and that’s certainly my case. I toil every day to be worthy of the great amazing crazy completely undeserving great fortune that I’ve had in my career

 

I don’t think it’s undeserved at all. You are clearly and insanely talent individual.

  • Oh it is! (laughs) It’s just one of those things that happened. I tried to get out of my first gig because I didn’t want to do it. I was like, “No, no I can’t possibly do this. It’s too nerve wracking,” and I got it anyway (laughs). I had my directer, Bevins, kind of compel me to turn in a performance that was what it was, but I never accepted that I deserve the career that I have because I don’t. 
  • I’m very happy and very, very fulfilled by it, but I’ll never feel like I deserve it. I have a very strange relationship to what I do because of the luck I have have. Luck humbles you. I don’t know how that works, but it does (laughs).
Doumeki (middle) of 'xxxHolic'

Doumeki (middle) of 'xxxHolic'

 

Since you are frequently a guest on the convention circuit, do you have any recommendation for fans of things they can do to ensure it is an enjoyable experience for all involved?

 

  • I have such a good time at cons, I really do. The biggest thing I see with fans is how nervous they get around voice actors, writers, directors and whatnot, which is completely understandable as I get completely nervous when I’m around real celebrities, as it’s hard to not be overwhelmed by the magnificence of their presence (laughs). But as someone who’s often on the other side of that equation in the niche little world of anime cons, I just say don’t be nervous. We’re just people like you, and I’d like fans to know that they are really the best part about what I get to do for a living. It’s so much fun to act and to write, it really is fulfilling, but the fans are exceptional. 
  • Every other type of voice acting is a fairly anonymous pursuit. Very few fans of a given show know the actors behind the characters they love but in anime for some reason that’s very different. Voice actors that bring life to these characters for an anime audience get known and recognised in public, and for a voice actor that’s nearly unheard of. It’s delightful! 
  • Knowing that when you’re in the booth, as a voice actor, this show might be a delightful one hour’s worth of work before you move onto something else, but without knowing it, that one hour of work for you translated into a life or death decision for someone else is incredible. I have been in the situation, and many of us have been in situations, where we’ve been told by fans that this particular show or this particular film got them through a really tough time and that always really takes me aback and humbles me. I realise that every time I’m in the booth, I have a responsibility to take this really, really seriously because I may not even be the intended audience for the show I’m working on, which is frequently the case, but that doesn’t give me an excuse not to honour the audience it is for. I feel very strongly about giving it my all because you never know when this hour’s worth of work might make a difference in someone else's’ life who you’re never going to meet, and a difference to them in ways that you would never ever imagine. 
  • I want fans to know that getting to meet you guys, to just hang out and see you for a few minutes and sign something, or get a picture with you - that I’m able to make your day and make you feel like you’re on top of the world and all I had to do was to just be there is a wonderful feeling. Sos whenever you feel nervous approaching one of us, please know that we think of you, and I don’t know of a voice actor who doesn’t feel this way, we all think of you as the best part of what we get to do for a living. Know that the home advantage is yours (laughs)

 

To see more of Tatum's incredible work, you can follow him on Twitter @JMichaelTatum and Instagram @j_michael_tatum