Todd Haberkorn spoke to The Natural Aristocrat at Anime NYC 2019 about Sword Art Online’s villain Sugou Nobuyuki/Oberon, Asuna voice actor Cherami Leigh, ad-libbing, and the business of voice acting.
During an interview at Anime NYC 2019, SAO voice actor Todd Haberkorn went in-depth on the balance act in Anime between business and art. Haberkorn reflected on playing some of the cruelest villains in recent history between Sword Art Online’s chilling Sugou Nobuyuki/Fairy King Oberon suggesting taking sexual liberties with Asuna Yuuki to Re:Zero’s Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti. The SAO English Dub actor went the extra mile and made an on-the-spot, humorous phone call to co-star Cherami Leigh! Leaving a dinner request in Leigh’s voicemail in classic Sugou to Asuna fashion if you get the drift…
Haberkorn noticeably has a good sense of humor about the entertainment industry at large and its wild west style chaos. Hope and Fear come from the same place so he doesn’t live with exceptions for roles or success, a zen-like state of mind. You never know what’s going to happen in the business but life does imitate art. As Haberkorn gets to play up to his naturally comedic instincts in shows like Dragon Ball Super where he plays Galactic Patrol’s Jaco.
Watch the full interview with Todd Haberkorn above or read the transcript below:
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: What was it like voicing such a massive villain in Sword Art Online where your character Sugou Nobuyuki/Fairy King Oberon was teasing sexual assault with Asuna?
Todd Haberkorn: Yeah, that character is probably not a CEO anywhere today! You know, with a role like that and every role, you have to find something that you can latch onto so that you can be that character’s champion. When it’s a character like that, for me, I strip away the actual actions of what he’s doing and ask, “What at the core does he want?” And so then I try to get behind that and rally behind that, and that helps give me the fuel to move forward.
I thought that was kind of the craziest, creepiest character I ever played but there’s a character in Re:Zero (Petelgeuse Romanee-Conti) who is nuts and he’s basically like Anime Joker in a weird sadistic way. He’s the worst! When I played him, I remember turning to Chris Cason who directed it and I’m like, “This is the one. This is the weirdest, creepiest role I’ve ever done. Ever!” I knew it right there. So Oberon could take a few villain lessons from him I guess. But yeah it was weird. (laughs)
Do you believe that it’s more freeing to play a villain as an actor?
I think definitely, villains do have more fun in the sense that they don’t subscribe to rules. The hero does! The hero is always gonna have a really not strict but pretty set structure of how they’re going to proceed through the story. Whereas a villain just makes up the rules as they go along. So it is in a way pretty freeing. I mean I like playing both. I think playing a hero is better because the villain usually dies! (laughs)
Did you get to go into the recording booth and play off other actors like Cherami Leigh (Asuna Yuuki) in Sword Art Online?
To do Anime or any kind of dubbing, no, we record it separately. When I work on shows like Scooby-Doo (Aiden, David) or Ben 10 (Grey Matter), we’re recording together and it’s great. It’s always great to to work off other people for sure. But it’s kind of an isolated existence for dubbing, with good reason. I mean with each line, the engineer has to take it and make sure it fits in the exact pre-existing animation. And with Anime of course, there’s moments where it’s like, ‘Little, Big, Small, Crying, Sad, Nosebleed, Happy, Eating Food!’ You know all in a moment. So, it would be difficult to do with more than one person at once.
Unfortunately, I don’t get to see Cherami (Leigh) as much as people think we hang out. Even though we are kind of neighbors, like we don’t live that far from each other. Actually, you know what? Thank you for bringing that up. I’m actually going to send her a Marco Polo right now. [takes out cellphone, dials on speaker phone to leave voicemail]
Hey Cherami, we’re sitting here and I’m hanging out with some folks and doing a lot of interview action. We were just talking about you, how amazing you are, how fantastic you are behind the mic, and how that we don’t get to hang out very much even though we kind of live next to each other… So, let’s do this! December, we have to get together and have dinner. Deal? If it’s a deal, say nothing. Perfect! Okay. December. So, she’ll get that message and she’ll let me see know what she thinks.
Do you have rituals that you practice before each voice acting session? How many takes do you generally get to do?
I mean, for me it’s like one or two takes but I’m grateful for those situations. But sometimes I work with actors where it’s a few more than that, it just depends on the on the situation. There’s a lot of different extenuating circumstances that could lead to more takes. Maybe for the engineer, something happened with Pro Tools and stopped recording or maybe there’s a loud bang in the other room. Maybe I was off mic or someone was off mic or somebody hit the mic. There’s a variety of reasons but luckily it’s about one or two takes and then they get what they need. Which might mean the Director is not paying attention at all. But it makes me feel good! (laughs)
I typically don’t. For Sgt. Frog (Keroro/Kululu) I improved a lot and lots of it stayed in. But typically I won’t improv because I have a weird reason why I don’t. It revolves around the fact that, essentially if you start improving and they keep something in there you’ve now become a writer on the show. But are you getting credit for that? Noooo. The writer gets credit for that! And if there’s a cool line you come up with that is yours and maybe it becomes your catchphrase… Who gets credit for that? The writer. I’m cool with it if they’re like Todd co-wrote ‘blah blah blah’ in this episode but it doesn’t ever go down that way.
So, I’m really kind of resistant to improv like that behind the mic because it happens a lot. I’ll get Directors that are like, “Go ahead and feel free to give us one take as written but if you want to give us another take improv,” all I do is I go, “Okay.” And I don’t do it! (laughs)
Have you ever spoken beforehand about getting some kind of writing credit?
Yeah, not specifically for improv but when I was directing Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, I rewrote those scripts extensively. And I asked for a writing credit on it because it wasn’t like one line here, two lines here. Entire scripts I rewrote throughout the twenty-six episodes.
There’s another show, not sure if people have heard of it, Crow’s Blood. It’s a show where they took a girl pop band and they made a series with them. Like you know, how sometimes they take a big band and say, “Let’s capitalize on your popularity and let’s make a show!” They did that with Crow’s Blood, it’s an interesting show, like on purpose, cool B-Movie Horror. But with those scripts I rewrote every one of them. So, I asked for credit for that.
On the Entertainment Industry:
Not knowing, especially in the Entertainment Industry when things can change like that [snaps finger]! When you have a movie like Terminator: Dark Fate bomb at the box office and then Tim Miller who directed it, has his Kitty Pryde movie gets canned. You know, you’re like, “Oh was that… Did that happen because of that?” I mean Chewbacca mom comes out on YouTube out of nowhere and then it was like, “Oh my God, millions of viewers let’s get her to a con!” And then she goes to a convention… Doesn’t work.
The Entertainment Industry is sooooo weird. It’s like who would have thought, let’s put all the Beverly Hills Housewives together, and let’s make a show about that. How do you come up with that? So, you can’t really gauge what’s going to happen.
Another example is D.Gray-man. Sh*t, I didn’t know that 10 years later we would come back to that show. I thought for surrrre we wouldn’t. That’s why I made the bet about piercing my ears cause I’m like I guarantee you we’re not doing D.Gray-man. Earlier in that day I’d seen a guy with pierced ears that looked cool, and so it stuck in my head. And so when someone asked about D.Gray-man and I was like that show comes back I’ll pierce my ears because I thought she’d been 10 years.
Two months later! I get a tweet from a fan, he’s like congratulations on D.Gray-man. And I’m like, “Wait a minute….” I went and got my ears pierced, and I made good on the bet. But so who knows? I have no idea what’s going to happen but I hope for the best.
As a book that I’m reading says, Fear and Hope come from the same place. Think about it. Fear and Hope are dealing with things that haven’t happened yet in the future. They both are just a source of stress. So I try to be like, “Okay, I don’t want stress, so I’m not going to hope for it. I would like it but I’m not going to hope for it. So that when I get it, it’s an awesome surprise. And if I don’t get it, I’m like “Oh, okay.”
On Jaco in Dragon Ball Super:
Jaco’s a lot of fun. I like being the, legitimate, on purpose comic relief as opposed to things just being funny in the show. Like, “Oh, that’s a funny moment”
You mentioned Terminator: Dark Fate before. Would you ever reject a character based on the fact that you think it won’t succeed and might hurt your career?
Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I try to be very selective about stuff like that, especially if it’s a character that that I felt went out on a high note. If it’s like a cash grab that isn’t solidified in quality. I wouldn’t do it.
Do you read Fan Comments often?
I’ll pop down there if I’m feeling particularly arrogant some days, if I need to bust myself down and get humble. I’ll go down there and read it! It’s like, “Why would you say that about my Mom?!” It’s so funny, they’re so funny in those comment sections! I do occasionally. [laughs]
Todd Haberkorn on Social Media:
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