Lisa Ortiz Interview | Anime NYC 2019
At Anime NYC, we had the opportunity to interview Lisa Ortiz, veteran anime voice actress and current ADR director of Pokemon. Lisa’s best known for her roles as Lina Inverse in The Slayers, Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War, and Amy Rose from Sonic. She’s also been nearly a hundred different characters in Pokemon itself, playing memorable roles like Sabrina, Flannery, Korrina, Oshawott, Litten/Torracat, Poipole, and countless others. Her experiences as an ADR director extend beyond Pokemon, as she is the president of her own audio post-house called Noise of O Productions. Additionally, she has a background in theater, and recently put on a one-woman show called “I Couldn’t Possibly Love You” at 53 Above at the Broadway Comedy Club. She’s an avid animal lover and advocate, and co-founded the animal foster resource site Voices For Fosters with fellow Pokemon voice actress Sarah Natochenny (Ash Ketchum), which provides information and guides for people interested in fostering animals from overburdened shelter programs.
With such a storied career, we had plenty of questions for Lisa about her experiences in the world of anime voice acting. We participated in a group interview, where we spoke with her alongside other outlets, asking questions in a free-for-all format. Our questions primarily focused on Lisa’s Pokemon experiences, but the interview as a whole really digs into her history and thoughts on voice acting with fascinating insight. We’re providing the full transcript of the interview below, while denoting which specific questions were asked by us on behalf of All-Comic.com.
With that in mind, here’s the full interview we conducted with Lisa Ortiz at Anime NYC! (Portions of this interview have been edited for brevity, clarity, or emphasis.)
So, I read in 2002 you got your start because your brother stole your car? That’s the most interesting voice actor story I’ve ever heard!
Lisa: I like the adjustment of time on that, because it was actually before then… but yes! But that’s okay, I’ll shave a little time off the top, it’s good.
Yes, when I did start, which was actually… I’ve been doing this actually since ‘96. So, a little bit before then. But my brother stole my car, so I had… I was in school, and I had to take a semester off because I got mono.
Yeah, exactly, everyone can relate to that.
My car also got mono, and it wouldn’t start!
So, we used to hang the keys on the hook over by the thing. My brother came one day, he took the keys, took my car, dropped it off somewhere. I wake up, my car is gone, and I get a phone call to my brother and I’m like “Hey, where’s my car?!” He’s like “It’s at George’s house!” And I’m like “WHO’S GEORGE?!”
And then he hangs up.
Yeah no, exactly. Listen, my other brother became a cop, so it all balances out in the end!
So, I wound up chasing after this, trying to figure it out. Another friend, Rob, called up. He came to pick me up, and I’m like “DO YOU KNOW WHO GEORGE IS?!” He’s like “Yeah, sure, no problem. I’ll take you to George’s house.” So, I get into the car with him, and he turned out to be interning at a company that was called Central Park Media.
So we started talking, we’re going through. I was studying theatre at the time, and he started talking to me and he said, “Listen, they asked me to bring in some people. Do you know anybody who might wanna, you know I dunno, do some voices for anime?”
And I was like, “How about me?”
So we did do that. I did get my car back. We did get a car battery – we did all that. And I went in to record for a show called Record of Lodoss War, and I wound up actually booking the role of Deedlit. So that was my first audition, my first gig.
So yes, my brother stole my car. I don’t recommend it for everyone, and most siblings will not approve of that. But like I said, my other brother became a cop and the world got balanced, so yeah.
All-Comic: Did you have any previous acting experience?
Lisa: Oh yeah, I was in school… I’m a trained theater actor. I was in school, I was getting my BFA, I was doing all that stuff. So I was trained for theater. I was a singer. I had done a bunch of theatre in the community and stuff like that.
So I was an actor already. This was just the first time that I had… I didn’t know this could be a job! I had no idea that I’d still be doing this all this time later. But yeah, so that was my first.
Were you nervous at all going in?
Lisa: I was… you know I didn’t know what to expect. I was nervous, it was really weird. I was nervous for my first sessions too.
Going in, I did – I’ve told people this before – I watched anime, I watched cartoons, it’s what I grew up watching, and I sort of went in and did my best Disney voice. Like this is my thing, because I used to practice that in the car.
But during my first sessions… I was so nervous I wouldn’t take a lunch break when we had long days. I was afraid to go to the bathroom. I didn’t do anything. I was so excited to just have the job that when people would say “Hey, do you want to take a break?”… Now I realize that everybody, when they’re like “take a break,” they want to take a break, they wanna have a sandwich. But I was like “Oh no, that’s okay! I can keep working! I can keep going through, that’s totally fine!”
And actually… one of the first directors – a man named Michael Albin – he’s since passed away but he was one there. I still work with Joe DiGorgio over at Headline Sounds, who worked with me [back then] as well. He knew… cause I was really young when I started off, and he told me… he’s like “It’s so funny seeing you. When you started, you were so shy, and… just like nervous and scared.” And then like now, you know, the last time we had seen him he was like “You’ve sort of like blossomed” and the whole thing.
But yeah, oh I was so… I was super nervous. Not while I was doing it because I was having too much fun, but like being in the room and having all those people and everything. It was… that was my first paid job! My first paid job, as an actor, was saying – and my first words that I ever say was – “Ew, it’s moldy in here!”
AND THUS LAUNCHED MY CAREER!
Do you have any rituals to, you know, kind of like reach an equilibrium before you go into a studio session that you do everyday?
Lisa: It depends. I do also because… I now am at the point where I teach voice-over and I do stuff like that as well, but it depends on the voice.
Normally, I’ll do vocal warm-ups. I do stretch out my body, and do that. Sometimes you’ll just go in and you’re sort of ready, but I’m a singer also. So, I’ll sing… I’ll do sort of like my [Lisa makes a “brrr” noise with her throat] – kind of things. I’m not going to do it now, ‘cause… [I’ll] go home and sing! But yeah, I do. I’ll sing a lot beforehand, before I go in, and… I’ll warm up my voice, but that’s… most of the things.
And I also… if you have like… a sip if you bring in apple [juice], apple cider, vinegar – I have slippery almond tea – like there’s a whole litany of things that I’ll do.
And I try to get as much sleep as I possibly can, ‘cause that’s the one thing that’ll kill you. Also, I just like sleeping. It’s fun!
What is your favorite thing to sing?
Lisa: I sing jazz, as a matter of fact! I do a show – actually, I did it Friday night [at Anime NYC] – that I call the Anime Cabaret Improv Jam. I sing jazz normally and I’ve done cabarets and stuff like that. I sing show tunes and things like that, but that’s sort of my… like an Ella Fitzgerald, like Nina Simone kind of glove, like an old-school kind of like 20’s, 30’s sort of stuff so… but I do the jam, and I tell stories about how I started and my experiences in anime. Sing some jazz, some blues, and some anime songs, and then at the end I improv a whole bunch of sets. I’m sort of like, yeah… that’s my fun!
In the beginning, I didn’t… I sort of kept everything like very anime here, but now I bring in – I’m like – these are the two things I love! I love cartoons. I love singing. Eh, you get ‘em both, together, here ya go! That’s my jam.
When it comes to the voicing of Amy [from Sonic the Hedgehog], how different is it to record for the video game lineup as opposed to the cartoon?
Lisa: When we had done that – the animation – at the time, you just have the director and maybe your engineer in your room, and when we had recorded the video games for that there were oftentimes a lot of producers in the room. At one point they had, I think, the most amount of people we had – and it was about… six or seven I think of people, so they would bring them in. So that’s a little bit different.
Also, the stuff we had done for the show was all ADR, and much of the video game stuff it’s different. Sometimes you’re doing it pre-lay, so it’s not – you know you’re not seeing the picture. Sometimes you have some animation, but they don’t necessarily have the mouths done yet. So that was the kind of stuff… but the main thing was that there were other people in the room, and you’re… doing the lines, as opposed to doing them visually to the whole story or usually doing sometimes the “banks” for games. It’s like any other game, they’ll do the bank for the games and you’ll do that…
So that was the difference, though. It’s that there was a lot of… a lot more people in the room.
All-Comic: I’m curious about the ADR process because, starting with the 19th season of Pokemon, you took over as the ADR director of the show. I’m wondering what is the day in the life of an ADR director on Pokemon? What are some of your duties, and what does that entail?
Lisa: A day in my life is madness… in a good way!
I actually was… I was a second director with Tom Wayland for a while. Started in Black & White as well, and I had been ADR directing from there. So yeah, I took over for fully for the show, so I’m the lead director… and I’m usually the only one who does that. It’s usually a long week; bring everybody in, I’ll watch the show, prep everything, cast it out, figure out all those things that’ll happen. I get about seven hours a day, of Pokemon, all the time; creatures, doing all this stuff, working with everybody. And I happen to run board as well for this, so I’ve developed a system. So I’ll run the board as I direct, I’ll talk to people, people will come in… we’re in the middle of still recording now. But… they had asked me to come back at the end for XY, when I took over, and I loved that, and so I’ve been doing it since then…
I dunno, what do you want to know? It’s great fun! I sing a lot in the booth too – [the actors] know it’s a good day when I start singing to them! I have songs for Gladion, I have songs for pretty much everybody. [James Carter Cathcart] – some of you know him as James, he’s James and Meowth – he and I will sing. He actually wrote a song with me; we wrote a song for my Cabaret that I did… But [I] mostly run boards, so a lot of it is trying to keep your flap – the lip flap, the mouths moving – accurate in there. I want to make sure that everybody has the right energy, that they’re pulling stuff in there, that everybody’s performances match, and… we have a lot of fun!
Yeah, that’s a good time.
All-Comic: Just speaking more about your involvement in Pokemon, like you’ve been with the show for… pretty much since the beginning. Counting both human and Pokemon characters, I think you’ve had over a hundred different roles in the show over the past twenty years. I feel like even in the earlier seasons… we could hear you as a new character in almost every episode!
Lisa: Yeah, when we first started out, there was… Because I have so many [Pokemon roles], you’ll see that… I don’t do as many human main characters and things like that now… but I do audition like everybody else… and I’ve gotten some starters and creatures and stuff that I’ll still do.
But… I love it, and I love that I can sort of bridge that, ‘cause I worked with the original cast – there’s a bunch of us who worked up over there – I’ve worked with the cast as it came out over here, and… I was really happy when we did I Choose You! And when we did, you know, The Power of Us and stuff. I was able to bring… there’s a couple of us who’ve been there since the beginning… my goal has always been to sort of marry those two worlds together.
Yeah, I dig it! I did not know that I was going to have SO MUCH knowledge of Pokemon! I mean, don’t get me wrong – I still have to go to the Pokedex and figure everything out… but yeah. It’s kind of crazy. Had no idea that… this would be such a big part of life. And it’s something I do… I take it very seriously, in a very fun way.
I have a good friend who – actually, my friend who got me into anime we will say – the one who came and brought me to find my car, my friend Rob, he tells me a story about his daughter who… he came home, and he just hears his daughter sobbing uncontrollably in the next room. And he freaks out, because he’s a dad, so he’s like “Oh my god! What am I gonna do?” He runs into the room and he’s like “OK! ARE YOU OKAY?! ARE YOU OKAY?! ARE YOU OKAY?!” She’s like “Yeah… I’m ok… it’s just… Ash lost.. and he tried so hard! But it’s okay! It’s okay, because he’ll do it next time.” And… we laughed! He thought that was really funny; I did too.
But in a way I’m like… that’s who I’m making it for. That’s who all the actors when they come in… you know. We have what we grew up on, you know, and we all have our own feelings and yes, it’s for all the fans who’ve done this and there’s been a lot of stuff that has come back and I try and bring that back. But at the end of the day it’s like a new generation… of kids who are getting the kind of chance to kind of – you know – go into it, which is great fun.
So yeah… I feel very blessed and very fortunate to have been a part of it for so long.
Now when it comes to Pokemon… if you had a team of six, what would your team be?
Lisa: Oh, jeez-louise! You’re really going to do this to me?
If I had a team of six…
Lisa: No legendaries… Greninja! Let’s see, who else would I use… Charizard – on no, I’m gonna lean on the fire types aren’t I? Gotta get some other things in there, let’s see….
Greninja, Torracat, Charizard… oh no, I said Torracat, I meant Incineroar! I’m going to go straight to Incineroar. Yeah, exactly. Gotta have my… kinda ThunderCat hanging out over there!
I will take Oshawatt just because… where am I on, four? I’ve got two more? No legendaries?
No legendaries. That’s too easy!
Lisa: Yeah, yep yep yep yeah.
Some balance to go with the fire!
Lisa: Yeah, I know! I know! I’m just picking the ones that I like…
Ah! Lickitung, because I think they’re funny.
Oh my god-
Lisa: That’ll be funny! And… does Shaymin count as a legendary? No, not really right? You wouldn’t count that. Can I take Shaymin?
I’ll allow it…
Lisa: C’mon, it’s on the show now regular!
I’ll allow it, I’ll allow it!
Lisa: Ok, we’ll allow it. Ok, so then there you go. That’s who I’m bringing.
All-Comic: Speaking of choosing Pokemon, two of those Pokemon you mentioned – Torracat and Oshawott – you played in the show!…
Lisa: Yes, I did!
All-Comic: …Alongside a ton of other Pokemon roles, and I was wondering… what’s it like to express emotions through characters that often can only say their name, or in the case of Torracat, meow like a regular cat?
LIsa: I… love it! When I first started, I was terrified. I auditioned for both of those – so I auditioned for Litten and Oshawott – and they cast me. So even though like, there’s a lot of things that I cast, but for all the starters and the main thing like we’ll put them forward and they get cast by Seattle and by Japan.
So they cast me… [Oshawott] was the first one that I had that sort of had personality. I was terrified. I was like “what am I gonna do? How am I gonna make this… like, all I can do is say my name? What’s gonna happen?” And it sort of had a life of its own and became one of my favorite things to do. All of my characters sort of have inspiration from other things, so Oshawott is a little inspired by Jimmy Durante, if you know that – if you know like vaudeville and other things. Just like how my Lina Inverse in Slayers is a little bit inspired by May West, so there’s a little bit of that.
But yeah, now… whenever we have large sections where the Pokemon are talking to each other, they’re having dialogues! Like you still know… if I was like [incomprehensibly mumbling], you still kind of have a sense of what I was saying. So, you’re doing that with just the sounds… and you can get a lot out of it. But whenever I work with anybody or whenever we do stuff… all of them have internal dialogues or monologues that they’re sort of giving underneath that, so they know what they’re doing.
Now I’m… strangely, sadly, joyfully – however you want to look at it – I know what all of them are saying at every single time. So yeah… it’s a little schizophrenic, but it’s okay.
Do you hope as the voice of Amy that, you know, she’ll eventually convince Sonic to date again? Now that he looks like himself again.
Lisa: LISTEN… well, now that… he looks like himself again, yes! We’ll see.
Before she would have been busy?
Lisa: Uh, well yeah. Yeah, I would have been like “you know… that’s alright.” But, (in Amy’s voice) “sure she’ll take a look at him nya-ow. We’ll see.”
But yeah, that would always be fun. It would be fun, I mean, you know – they had a lot to learn. They had growing pains like every relationship does.
Just to take you back, talk about Slayers, playing Lina Inverse. In this day and age, [she’s] a strong female character – doesn’t really need a man per say, has their own job, and is a strong fighter –
Lisa: Mmm-hmm, and she’s going after what she wants. She’s like, this is my game – it’s MINE. You want to come with me Gourry? That’s fine.
Yeah no, I loved her. Actually, that may be why I went a little May West-y with her, because she was sassy. She knew her power. She went in, she didn’t need anything else… and she just had this sharp comic wit. And she’s got some pretty… I was watching my language because I was going to say “badass moves,” but I think I can say badass, I think that’s okay. She was just really powerful… I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan as well, who’s also like kick-ass, going over there. So I was always like, The Slayers, that’s mine.
But yeah, Lina is a trip. I love her, I’ll always love her, she’s always going after what she wants… and I like also that she’s going after her own thing and she has her own intentions on there, but when the right thing to do comes along… she always like side-tracks a little bit. A little bit. A little bit over in that direction. I had so much fun, and it was so cool.
Like… when I auditioned for Lina initially… it was…the third thing I ever had auditioned for. I walked in, did my audition, and I was like “I want that so bad! She’s SO COOL!” So I was lucky to be able to walk out with her. But even when I reprised it afterward… it was great. It was walking in, and putting on like a comfy pair of pants. So much fun, had a great time. The whole cast is fantastic. But yeah.
Speaking of that, just last month we sat down with Eric Stuart…
Lisa: Ah! Love Eric, yes!
… and he just cracked up when we brought it up – the eating scenes.
Lisa: OH MY – I was about to mention them too! Yeah, what did he say? Because…
He said the eating scenes were… one of the best times on the show.
Lisa: Mmm-hmm! Oh, it was. That was one of my most fun to do things, ‘cause I was like (Lisa makes slurping sounds). Like, they just ate this whole big thing, and you never gained a pound! It was lovely. But yeah… we had a lot of fun doing that. There was like one where we had a whole table and we had like… a bunch of plates sliding up – this makes it sound like we did that in the booth, but I felt like I had. It was sort of, you know, it’s good around the holidays.
Yeah, the eating scenes were always fun. All the scenes with Gourry were fun… and his comedy was so great. Yeah, it’s really wonderful. I remember meeting [Eric Stuart] in the elevator for the first time. I would tell this story – sometimes Eric would say not – but he’s also a musician. He’s great, and he’s an amazing musician, absolutely wonderful. And I remember coming in ‘cause we record separately, so we don’t always see each other, so… I come into the elevator, and he was dressed all in black. He had this album “Blue, Dressed in Black” and he had his little… hat on that’s leather. And I walk into the elevator and there’s this guy just standing there, looking super cool, and he’s like “Hey. What’s up?” And I’m like “Oh. Hey! Uh, I think you’re Gourry! I uh… I’m in a show with you!” (laughs) It was super cool. But he’s awesome, talented, and really wonderful. And he’s a lot of fun to work with, so yes.
And we did have fun with the eating scenes, yeah. They’re all… it was always great. I love that cast, and I love the show. I have a Lina Inverse doll on my dresser, and a couple cups. I was trying to find one of the [Funko] Pops people have, but they were all sold out! So yeah… it’s all right. It’s all right, it will happen. It’ll happen, I feel it. But yeah, she has a very, very special place in my heart. I love her.
You mentioned you teach voice acting now?
Lisa: Yes I do.
Is that surreal for you?
Lisa: Well, not anymore, because I’ve been directing so long and doing this. It was stepping into it… if I look back and think about it – like the me who was over there, looking back would probably have been like “that’s insane, that’s trippy!” But I started teaching a couple years ago – I actually also teach a master class I do – I’m a guest artist at NYU, so I teach there as well, I teach dubbing.
Lisa: Yeah, in Stone Street, actually. I do a workshop with fellow voice actor and voice coach Erica Schroeder, who has played a whole bunch of things. She was the Luffy to my Chopper. And she’s Blaze (the cat, from Sonic), and a bunch of other things. So she and I teach with another woman named Jenn Sukup, who is a casting director, who cast out the most recent Transformers out in New York. So, we workshop on that. We teach character creation, using your voices… and then I do a dubbing segment at the end.
I also taught in… Korea. I also do a class that is about vocal preservation… making voices and your sound for all sorts of people. Because there’s a lot of screaming that we do, so it’s about… finding the places in your palette and things that make sound that you don’t realize and also how to support and use your voice in a way that you’re not going to damage it.
I use that in the booth a lot, because we’ll have… matches. You know, we’ve been doing the (Pokemon) League – the Alola League just started airing – the weekend before last, they did the 151 (preliminaries) and this week they had their first rounds. People screaming in there for hours. I do not go easy on these people, I will tell you. Like, they’ll do something and I’m like “yeah, no no no no no, like you’re WAY more excited than that!” I’m like “YOU’RE ABOUT TO WIN THIS GAME! GO FOR THIS!!” You know, so they go all out! But people are screaming, so we make sure that we can support… that’s part of the craft. You’re doing the thing, you’re doing your performance, but you want to make sure you can support the voice.
I work with a lot of people who are on Broadway… who’ve done stuff before. Eddy Lee, who plays Gladion, he just went on as Hamilton recently. One of our other guys… the Professor Kukui (Abe Goldfarb), he’s in Beetlejuice. Like, these guys are performing all the time, so they have hours and hours and hours of stuff in the booth, outside of the booth. So they get vocal fatigue, so that’s one of the things that’s important. I teach people not just the character creation on that, but also how to support their instrument and do that, so they’re able to perform there, do it well, and then also still do all the other work that we have to do as actors.
How do you protect your voice generally? You mentioned the screams before…
Lisa: I make sure I warm up beforehand when I do that. I still work with a voice coach myself. My mentor is a woman named Diane Towser who… works with me. I still practice, I still do that. I still workout my body. I drink a lot of water. I always sleep with a humidifier, especially in New York. We get a lot of dry… you guys know, it’s dry. It gets real dry, especially with the steam heat. But… I’ll try to get rest whenever I do things.
I do… in the booth, like I said, throat-coat: lemon and honey tea. Try not to… you don’t have any aspirin when you’re just having the thing that’s there. We have apples – you just try and take as good care of your voice as you can. If I have rougher days, I definitely make sure that I warm up and do the throat-coat and like, warm up the body as well.
Just speak to how 4Kids and Fox Box really brought, in the U.S., kids to anime?
Lisa: Yeah… and this is the thing. I will say this – this is the only comment I will make on that. Sometimes people have a little question… we’ll wrap on things, because they know we changed stuff and did things… They were at the forefront of bringing this kind of anime that was mainstream, and it’s because of those shows getting out there, that a lot of people started looking at all this other stuff and this big wave of popularity came on.
I grew up, as I said, watching… Robotech, like all these other things. Battle of the Planets, G-Force, Voltron… you think I didn’t watch every single episode of Voltron afterward? I also watched every episode of She-Ra, but we’ll talk about that too, on both sides. But… it introduced this whole group of people who didn’t know what it was, and… it changed the demographic of how the conventions had been; from like a smaller group of people who just kinda knew, to now you get a lot of people who are… You can find it on anywhere. You have all this stuff that’s coming from FUNimation, that’s coming from Crunchyroll; now it’s like a massive sort of thing that’s there. But yeah… if it hadn’t had started on the Fox Box with those kind of things, I don’t know that they would have had the huge interest in it.
‘Cause like… I’m happy to say that I was part of many gateway anime. Whether you consider Pokemon one or not, it’s up to you. There was Yu-Gi-Oh!, of course. We had One Piece when we brought it up on there. Winx, yep, we had that also. Shaman King, which was on there… which was good. And of course, Slayers! Slayers is the non-super broadcast gateway that comes up. I have people… tell me, they’re like “Yeah, I just showed it to my kids!” And I was like “I look great!” (laughs) But I’m really happy to have had that because it brings… this community is special. It brings a lot of people together, we have a lot of really cool stuff. People are super into it. But it also brings people together that found a home with each other that they wouldn’t have had. And I love that, so… here’s to gateway anime! A toast to 4Kids, and all of us over there.
After the interview, I had a chance to chat with Lisa further. I mentioned to her that I really enjoyed her cameo appearance as Lina Inverse in the Pokemon season 22 premiere. For context, the scene is a huge tribute to Jessie’s japanese seiyuu Megumi Hayashibara, showing Jessie dressed up as Hayashibara’s other iconic anime roles, ending with Lina. Lisa mentioned that on the day the episode came in, people excitedly came up and told her “You got to watch this!”, and it really made her day. The decision to have Lisa dub over Jessie-as-Lina in that scene was decided almost immediately by everyone, and Lisa told me it was a blast to have a chance to play the character again and merge two franchises she’s spent a lot of time with in her career together.
We also chatted a little bit about Voices For Fosters, a non-profit animal welfare resource that Lisa Ortiz co-founded with Ash Ketchum’s voice actress Sarah Natochenny. They were inspired to start the program after seeing the Season 20 episode “One Journey Ends, Another Begins…” where Litten (played by Lisa) finds itself homeless and alone after its mentor passes away, until Ash reaches out to it and offers it a new home to live – with him. Voices For Fosters is a resource and educational tool for animal lovers who can offer temporary homes for strays from overburdened shelter programs, giving them a loving place to stay until they are adopted and find permanent homes. For more information on Voices For Fosters and how to get involved, please visit their website here.
Thanks again to Lisa for graciously giving us her time and insight! To keep up with what she’s working on and her future con appearances, follow her on Twitter at @Lisalisejam.