Home Interview: Alex Organ on Journey From Theater to Voice Acting

Interview: Alex Organ on Journey From Theater to Voice Acting

We had an opportunity to meet and interview voice actor Alex Organ at SakuraCon 2024. Organ is an American voice actor known for his work in anime English-language dubs of Japanese animation. He has voiced characters in popular series such as One Piece, Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, and Tokyo Ghoul, among others. In addition to his voice acting work, he has also worked on stage productions. He is voicing Loid Forger in the English dub of the SPY x FAMILY anime.

Q: What was your journey to voice acting?
A: I come from the theater world; I did theater as a child in high school. I studied that in college, then went to grad school and got a degree in acting. So that’s what I have done primarily for the bulk of my career. [I used to live] in Dallas, Texas, which is where Crunchyroll Studio is—it used to be Funimation, of course. The majority of the voices come from the theater community of actors in the Dallas area. I lived in New York for a time during grad school, and then my wife and I moved to Dallas about 14-15 years ago. I was very involved with the theater scene there but I got opportunities in other ways.

I had a buddy from high school who was one of the directors at Funimation at the time when I moved to Texas. He called me up and said, “Hey, I know you’re trying to be an actor, do you want to come in and do these little parts just to see if it’s something you’re interested in?” And I said, “Sure.” I should say — I did not grow up with anime. It wasn’t really a part of what we watched growing up; I wasn’t really introduced to it until college. I didn’t have a big frame of reference for the genre, so I was a little intimidated starting out. But after doing a few parts and a few little shows, [they] just started gradually giving me slightly larger roles. And I think that intertwined. In 2011, I was cast as the lead role, [as Shogo] Makishima in Psycho-Pass, and very quickly after that, we did Death Parade with the same crew, the same director, and engineer. And then I kind of hovered for about a decade doing roles. That was always a side job for me because my primary job was theater. And then when the pandemic hit, theater became impossible. Even now, on the other side of the pandemic, the theater industry is really struggling to get back to where it was before. SPY x FAMILY came along at just the right time.

My friend Cris George, who was the director of the English dub of SPY x FAMILY, also directed those shows long ago. He and I had a really good working relationship, and he called me up one day and said, “We got this show coming along, and we think it’s gonna be a pretty big one. You are kind of in my head for this character, would you submit an audition?” I said, “Sure.” And then we started recording the next week. I got really fortunate in a lot of ways, and [the role] came along at just the right time to allow me to kind of take a hard turn into voice acting and start doing conventions and stuff.

Q: You’ve voiced both heroes and villains in your career. Is there a particular type of character you find more challenging or rewarding to portray? Why?
A: Challenging and rewarding…what I find rewarding about a character is not if they’re a hero or a villain because, frankly, very few villains think of themselves as villains. It doesn’t really do me a lot of good to think of a character I’m playing as a bad guy because bad guys don’t think what they’re doing is bad. So I tend not to think about it in those terms. The roles that I find most satisfying are the most human [roles]. The ones that are most human, the ones that are three-dimensional, dealing with real human issues, complex interpersonal relationships, you know, dealing with balances of power, that kind of stuff. I’m less drawn to the stuff that is broader and a little bit more, I guess I would say, cartoony. I’m more interested in stories and characters that are rooted in reality — in the rules of our universe.

Q: Do you have a voice actor by whom you are inspired?
A: Oh goodness, I didn’t really grow up on this stuff. So by the time I started listening to other people, I had already been doing this for years. I kind of did it backward in that way, I guess. You know, I don’t even really think about it that much. I don’t think I draw on a whole lot of people specifically for voice acting. I could give you a long list of actors who have inspired me over the years, but I don’t really think about it in those terms with voice acting.

Q: If you had to fight a character you voiced who would you pick if you wanted to win? Who would you win a fight with, with the characters that you had voice acted? And how about as a friend?
A: Goodness, I don’t know. It’s very possible there’s not a single character I have voiced that I would be able to best in a fight. Most of them are pretty impressively trained to do that sort of thing. I think I’d get my butt kicked pretty good by pretty much all of them.

Q: And if you had to befriend one of them?
A: You know, I will actually say… I’ll actually say Twilight, Loid in SPY x FAMILY. I think that Loid is so good at balancing and juggling so many things. I think that he would be a really good friend if he was actively being a good friend.

Q: Would you like to try out voicing a character in a video game?
Sure, absolutely. I know it can be tedious. Screaming can involve a lot. I know some actors who have done a daily session for a video game and come out completely shredded because they had to do 200 different versions of “UH” or something like that for 8 hours. It sounds pretty grueling, but I’d be open to it as long as I didn’t have to damage my voice to do it.

© Kohei Horikoshi / Shueisha, My Hero Academia Project

Q: If you could choose any anime that you’re not a part of right now, what would you pick?
A: I would — I’m going to give a weird answer. I would like to retroactively jump back into My Hero Academia after having abandoned it after the first season. Maybe I can fight Christopher Wehkamp in a cage and reclaim my job from that show.

Q: Do you have a specific character that you wish you would redo?
A: No, not necessarily. I tend to, when I start a role, take a lot of time at the beginning, the first couple of episodes, to really explore a lot of options with the director. We do a lot of takes in those first couple of episodes, really trying to hone in on where the center of the voice is. Since we do the work early in the meat of the series, I feel really confident about the choices we’ve made with the voice. So I don’t really have any super [big] regrets about roles and how they came out because we spent a lot of time in the early days getting them right.

Q: A lot of anime are adapted from manga. Do you like to read it before or after? Sometimes voice actors like to get the role and start touching the manga, have you ever done it before? 
A: I’m going to be honest, I’m going back and forth with that these days. I guess I’m starting to take it on a case-by-case basis. Maybe with this one [SPY x FAMILY]; we have the luxury of the Japanese episode being released a week before we do ours. So I’ve just been watching the source material [when I record]. Usually right before I go in the booth, I’ll watch the episode [in Japanese]. I have been going back and forth with whether or not to read forward in the manga for this one. I haven’t yet. I have them all on my shelf, I can do it at any time, but I haven’t yet, and I don’t really know why. There’s a part of me that kind of wants to be surprised, I guess. But I probably should do some due diligence and read ahead a little bit with Loid, just because, you know, I could learn that he’s been keeping super secrets this whole time that I need to be aware of. But I don’t have a hard and fast rule. I guess I tend to take it on a case-by-case basis.

Q: Do you have any good memories of interaction while voice acting with your co-stars?
A: I don’t, because we never record together. Yeah, we all record individually. It’s been one of the trickiest transitions to make coming from the theater because, in the theater, everything is like this: I’m talking with a real human and looking into their eyes and all of that. And when you record, you’re just in a booth by yourself, and there’s a glass wall, and on the other side is the director and an engineer. And sometimes, weirdly, you’ll be the first one to record in an episode, so you’re really acting with nobody. You don’t—they haven’t recorded their parts yet, so you don’t know what they’re going to sound like or anything. Sometimes, you get to come in at the end of the week when everyone else has already recorded their parts, and so then you can actually hear how they sound and you can respond to what they’ve done.

It’s a weird thing, acting kind of in a vacuum without another actor in front of you. So there are actually zero memories of the three of us in the booth because it’s just not something that happens. Natalie and Megan, for the first time, met at Anime Expo in 2022 after we recorded the first season. We met for 30 seconds right before going out on stage to do a panel in front of 2,000 people. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know them, but I’ve gotten to know them by doing conventions. I’ve never run into one of them at the studio. […] Unfortunately, there are no memories. A lot of people, I think, operate under the assumption that we all get in the booth together and act scenes out to help each other out, but that is not how it works. It’s tough. It’s a little awkward, but it’s one of those things you figure out tricks to help you along. But it was a big learning curve, by myself, you know?

Q: So there aren’t other times you guys get to interact other than conventions? 
A: This year, I think we are doing about 20 conventions together, so I will typically see them at the gate at the airport when they stumble in and say, “Oh hey!” “Hey!” We board a plane together, fly to a city, and sometimes grab a meal when we get into town, you know, and visit a little bit. I’m very fond of Natalie and Megan. I get along really, really well with them, but 99% of our interactions have happened in other cities.

Q: Do you think you have any character that you are very connected to?
A: I’m connected to Loid Forger quite a bit. At the end of the day, what he is, you could argue, is an actor. That’s his skill set. He knows how to convince other people that he is someone other than himself, which is exactly the job of an actor. So, I connect with him on that level. We both kind of do the same job in different fields. But you know, there’s also this thing about Loid where he’s so good at his job, he’s so good at being a spy, and he has such confidence in his work. But sometimes, he lacks confidence in dealing with humans and how to interact interpersonally. You could say he… how do I say this… sometimes, for me personally, it feels like I am better at being an actor than I am at being a person. So I’m better at being another person than I am at being myself, or I have more confidence as someone else than I do with myself. And I think a lot of actors feel that way to some degree. It’s nice to connect to Loid in that way, that he has such confidence in himself when he’s working when he has to put on another person, another identity, but that when he is forced to be himself, he feels vulnerable and maybe a little unsure and a little awkward. I definitely relate to that a little bit.

Q: How do you balance your personal life and job as a voice actor?
A: You know, I know I’m supposed to say “Oh, it’s really hard,” but I don’t find it too difficult. I have a pretty contained life. I’ve worked really hard to have a pretty small, contained life the way I wanted. My wife and I, we don’t have kids. We chose not to have kids, and so it’s just the two of us and our cat. That means we have a lot of freedom that folks with kids don’t necessarily have. And I put a lot into this job. I’m traveling quite a bit, but I’ve been fortunate enough to kind of carve out a path where, at the moment, I’m able to just do this, which leaves me quite a bit of time to work on my marriage, if that makes sense actively. So, I actually find the balance pretty easy to achieve, but that’s because I’ve worked hard not to take on more than I can chew, you know?

Q: Since you don’t have good memories/general memories with other voice actors, how about the writer and directors?
A: I mean, we do, but it’s because some of the writers are also occasionally directors and actors, popping in and out of studios. But my primary relationship is with the director. And I will say that I have had maybe a unique path in that I’ve primarily worked with one director on most of my big projects. The same guy directed Psycho-Pass and Death Parade and is also directing Spy x Family. So he and I now have a 13-year working relationship. We get along very well as humans, but we’ve also been able to develop a really efficient, fruitful way of working together after those first couple of episodes where we’re forcing ourselves to go slow and take our time.

Cris and I are able to work at a remarkably fast pace after this many years, which is beneficial. But the biggest deal is that he and I have learned over the years to really implicitly trust each other and trust each other’s instincts. We rarely disagree about something, but when we do, Cris is really, really good at explaining his points and explaining why it should be this and not that. He’s very convincing. But, you know, he lives and breathes this stuff. He is a full-time employee of Crunchyroll, and I am not. I come in and I do my thing, and then I go home.

I’ve learned to lean on him and trust his instincts, even when I think I’m right and he’s wrong. And that trust over the years is really… it just lets us feel we’re working at our peak because we’ve been working together for so long. There are many other directors I’ve worked with over the years who are excellent, don’t get me wrong. I loved working with Colleen Clinkenbeard on the first season of My Hero [Academia] because Colleen is… how do I say… she, more than any director I’ve ever worked with, knows what she wants and she will not accept anything less than exactly what she wants. And I love stuff like that. I love a director who is willing to keep going until we get it right. I learned a lot from working with her in that first season about, I guess, perfection maybe in the craft. Mike McFarland, who directed One Piece for a long time, who directed me in the arc that I did in One Piece, is also a brilliant actor himself. But there’s a handful of really talented directors out there. I just happened to have fallen in with Cris, and we’ve got a good thing going.

Q: You play multiple characters and all of them have different backgrounds. Do you have any specific techniques that you use for them?
A: No, not necessarily. I tend to try to approach a voice role as much as I can, in the same way, I would approach a theater role or a movie role or something which is focusing on a series of questions that will help me unlock some answers. The most important question for any character you’re playing is, what does this person want? What’s their goal? What’s their intention? What’s their objective? What are they trying to get? And if you can really hone in on that and define that really specifically, everything kind of flows out of that. Then you start to ask yourself, okay, what are the obstacles in the way of this person getting what they want? And then, what tactics is this person going to use to overcome these obstacles to try to get what they want? I will begin with those questions for an anime character just like I would with a theater role. And then, vocally, I will come in with an idea of where I think the voice lives placement-wise. And that’s what we’re doing in those first couple of episodes, is that Cris and I are negotiating back and forth about where we think the voice lives, and we’re experimenting with different tones and that sort of thing until we land on something we feel really good about. But in terms of a specific technique to find it, I don’t really think I do anything specific other than that.

Q: Do you have characters that you have found hard to voice? Or do you just go with the flow? Was anyone especially challenging?
They’re frequently hard. Word-finding the real answers to those questions is sometimes a bit of a scavenger hunt, and you have to — for instance, sometimes I will answer the question and then play with it for a while and then realize, “Oh no, I actually think what he wants is actually more complicated. It’s actually this and not this.” Spy x Family we got pretty quick, actually. Trying to think if there were any that were [especially challenging]… oh, you know, I will say I do a bit of an effect for Kaku in One Piece that sounds quite different from other stuff I’ve done. That one was kind of hard to find, a little longer than normal to kind of find that guy’s unique voice. And he was kind of a challenge because the One Piece world is so vast, everything’s been done in the One Piece world. But other than that, no, I don’t recall anything being particularly more difficult than the others.

Q: Do you find yourself a picky voice actor when you pick your characters to play?
A: I definitely am now, yes. I have not always been. The majority of actors go through a huge phase, and maybe never leave the phase, where you don’t get to choose your projects. You’ve got to take the projects that are offered to you, you know what I mean? Especially in the years when I was primarily doing theater and this was my side job, I would do anything they asked me to do. So, I’ve probably been in 50 or 60 shows, and probably 35 or 40 of those roles are just little things I had to come in and do for an hour, and then I never go back in for that character again, you know, just little episodic characters.

Q: So, beforehand, you were that picky? 
A: So yeah, I wasn’t. I used to kind of indiscriminately just say, “Yeah, sure, I’ll be there, whatever,” you know? And especially if it was a small part, you don’t need to do any prep work for those. You go in the booth, and they say, “Okay, this guy is a businessman who is moonlighting as an assassin. He’s going to come in and have a fight with the main guy.” So, for a while, no, I wasn’t particularly picky. I was happy to do whatever they had for me. When my theater obligations became so huge, then I started… I actually just removed myself from the casting pool for three or four years. When I dropped out of My Hero and took the theater job, I had to tell them, “Hey guys, I’m sorry, I just don’t have the bandwidth to do this currently.” And it wasn’t until Spy x Family came around that I really kind of dove back in. So now, especially because I’m traveling so much and because the show is taking up so much of our time, I can afford to be pretty picky with projects.

Q: Was there a role you wanted to get but got rejected for but you wish you wanted to have? 
A: I will say, again, you know, until very recently, I was not that involved with the genre, so I didn’t really know what shows were big and what weren’t, and what was good. In other words, I never had much investment when I was auditioning for things because I didn’t really know what the projects were. I don’t think I’ve experienced, with voice acting, a time where something came along and I thought, “Oh my gosh, I have to have this, this has to be me.” That’s happened a bunch of times in my other acting world, but for so long, I don’t think I knew enough about the material to form that much of an opinion on it. Now, I don’t recall one that I missed out on.

Q: Finally, do you have any tips for any aspiring voice actors?
A: Yeah, absolutely. My tip is: don’t neglect the acting half of voice acting. I feel like a lot of young people who really want to get into voice acting want to just immediately start being on shows. My advice is to form a foundation of real acting techniques, learn about the questions to ask, and get some vocal training. I mean, I got really lucky. I have seven years of higher education in vocal training, and so when I started this work, I was already way ahead of the game because I know my instrument, I know how to use my instrument, and all of those things, even if I didn’t know how to do things with my voice, because I’ve been trained to do that. I would recommend not neglecting that part of it. Seek out some real face-to-face voice training or acting training, get into a scene study class where you’re able to actually act in scenes with people one-on-one, and then bring all of that to the voice acting work. And you will, I think, find that you’re able to access a whole lot more of your humanity to put into a character when you have that background. So, don’t just focus on voice, also focus on actually learning how to be an actor.

This interview took place during Sakura-con in Seattle, Washington, a little before the Spy × Family Code: White US premiere on April 18th!

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