Along with the creators, these characters would not have been able to come to life without their designated voice actors. It’s always been a goal of mine to attend a panel to see what these people are like in real life; I wanted to see face to face the people who were able to bring some of my favorite characters to life. Never in a million years did I think I’d have the opportunity to talk to one of the voice actors one-on-one.
Thanks to the power of the Internet and social media platform Twitter, I took a giant leap with a less than 25% success rate, to reach out and achieve my goal.
In a not entirely creepy manner, I sent a message to voice actor, Grey DeLisle, in hopes she’d be willing to partake in an interview for Random Nerds. A few hours later, in the midst of my failed attempts to fall asleep early for work the following Monday morning, I received a response from Grey DeLisle saying she’d be more than happy to do an interview. A few seconds later we arranged to talk Wednesday night and exchanged phone numbers not too soon after.
I didn’t sleep that Sunday night.
In my head, I originally thought it was going to be easy to come up with questions to ask, solely because of my love for the series and the fact DeLisle portrays one of the more complex characters in the series, Princess Azula. Monday through Wednesday turned out to be much more heart attack-inducing than anticipated. But before I knew it, it was time to make a call to the Princess of the Fire Nation, so she could answer some of my most burning questions.
For those who are not familiar with the series, Princess Azula is the daughter of the Fire Lord, who tries to take over all four nations for supreme power. Azula’s father favorites her, due to her prodigy-like status with firebending, compared to her brother Prince Zuko, who continually fell into Azula’s shadow while growing up. Due to her poor relationship with her mother, Azula finds it hard to trust the people around her, so she uses power and fear tactics to basically force people to be her friends. Throughout the series, Azula experiences something close to victory, in that she manipulatively forces her brother to his lowest point while conquering various cities in the name of her father. But in the end, it’s her tactics that bring her to her ultimate demise when she is suddenly betrayed by her forced friendships, which trigger the slow process of her character going through a mental breakdown. By the end of the series, she is defeated by her brother Zuko, with the help of Katara, in a duel to the death. Azula’s character is raw and easily misunderstood, but really, she became one of the more relatable characters in the series.
I had never done an interview like this one, and saying I was incredibly nervous is the understatement of the year. My heart threatened to beat right out through my chest, but Grey DeLisle’s personable attributes quickly dismissed any anxiety I had been experiencing up until she picked up the phone. A good portion of our conversation was just casual chit-chatting about the Internet and her new found love for tumblr, for which she recently created an account.
As much as I was enjoying our conversations about the never ending depths of the Internet and all its wonder, I didn’t want to keep her tied up for too long, so we dove right into the interview questions.
Disclaimer: Please excuse my fangirlness throughout the interview.
1. What was it like portraying one of Nickelodeon’s most villainous characters? (Azula PoV)
They went through a lot of famous actresses because they didn’t want a voice virgin taking this amazing roll, and they came crawling back — the peasants that they were — to me, and I was able to do it, by not yelling or screaming too much.
Oh! Someone is calling me, it must be Zuko!
2. If you could switch voice acting roles with any other character from Avatar: The Last Airbender, who would it be, and why?
I love Katara; I think she’s such an amazing character. I love the character so much, they let me play her in the play that they did. I played the actress Katara. She’s just a really strong character and I love the tension between her and Aang, and the kiss…and I love that she wasn’t oversimplified, that she didn’t want to do the bloodbending, but she ended up using it. She’s not a perfect character that’s like “Oh, I would never do anything wrong”, and then she never does. I love that she was tempted by the darkness a few times. But she ended up victorious through her own strength. And I love Mai.
3. Throughout the show, the audience doesn’t really see Azula show any “human” emotions. But in the finale we see her; almost this human side of her she’s been hiding through all three seasons. So I was just wondering what it was like to portray someone who is just so cut-throat and cold, and just has this complete mental breakdown over multiple things.
I just love villains that aren’t all bad, where you have some kind of sympathy and see why it is they’re so troubled and why they lash out and why they’re insecure. I had a strange relationship with my own mom, so I completely relate with that and getting approval and how it kinda turns into anger, and hurt. There’s just nothing like… a mother’s love is so important, if you don’t have that, it can just really mess with people.
I cried during the last episode when I was recording it because I just felt so much empathy for her and what she (Azula) was going through…it really hurt me to see her come to such a terrible end. It was also a really big high because, you know, I’ve been acting since I was a little girl. I went to college and got my degree in acting and you go and do cartoons and usually it’s really fun voices but, it was just so satisfying to use all of my acting education and all the background and all the studying I’ve done. I don’t know, it just felt really satisfying to bring that character to life and to be able to voice her ultimate demise. I really did get tears in my eyes. And I really did, kinda, breakdown a little bit. I remember my hair was messy and my eyes were watering.
And everyone was like “Grey DeLisle are you okay!?” And it just felt really good; this is what I studied my whole life for, characters like this, and it was an honor to be chosen to do her voice. It was such beautiful writing and you don’t get a lot of projects like that.
You see why she is the way she is. I feel like she was so afraid that she won’t have people in her life, that she just has to conquer everybody. She’s like, “I will threaten them into being my friends, they’re not going to be my friends because they want to, I have to intimidate them into it. ” And I just think it’s so sad she has to do that, which, in turn makes everybody hate her more.
4. What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about Azula’s character?
Hmm… well I think people think she and Ty Lee are in a gay relationship. It didn’t really occur to me… I don’t know. But if that’s what you want to think, that’s cool!
5. The “Ember Island Players” episode is a fan favorite for obvious reasons. What was it like to voice an exaggerated version of Katara’s character?
They played Mae for me, I mean, I knew what Mae (Whitman) sounded like, just try to make fun of her, crying, exaggerated… it was honestly a 15 minute session. But I was like, “Oh my god, Katara is my favorite character, I’m excited I get to do something of her…” even though it was kind of irreverent and making fun of her.
6. Now it’s time to move onto the new Avatar series, The Legend of Korra. Many Avatar fans were hoping voice actors from The Last Airbender would make an appearance in the new series, so when it was announced that you and Dante Basco would be voicing new characters, everyone went into a state of sheer happiness. Without giving too much away, can you tell us anything about your new role as “The Dark Spirit”?
Okay, well I can’t say anything about it! I mean, they’re so freakin’ protective about it! I feel bad that I even mentioned one thing that one time. That’s when I knew the power of Twitter and tumblr with off-hand comments. And all of a sudden I was like “OH MY GOD!” I was afraid I was going to get in trouble, and they didn’t say anything to me about it, and I was kinda afraid I was going to get in trouble because they hadn’t said anything about Legend of Korra yet, or Book 2.
All I can say is that I have a teeny, tiny part. It’s not a huge deal at all, so don’t get too excited, haha. It would be amazing if they brought back Azula, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen. But maybe if the fans wanted her to come back, she would because the creators really seem to care about the fans’ opinions.
[The Dark Spirit] It’s a totally different kind of voice and it’s a totally different kind of character. It’s a very different voice than anything I’ve ever done. It’s super creepy and super scary. It was a challenge, vocally.
Grey Delisle, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions for us hardcore Avatar fans! I think it’s really awesome how you interact with all of us on both Twitter and tumblr. It makes us feel like we’re not some insignificant fan in the universe.
So, Princess Azula of the Fire Nation, are there any last words you’d like to say to the Avatar fandom? Oh, and that tumblr prom thing with Zuko, how’s that going?
Well, I plan on wearing a red dress with shoulder pads, like an ’80s sort of thing. And umm, there will be no kissing at the end of the night. Anyway, thank you very much. I hope they have a good song. Proms are for losers and peasants, but I feel like I must go. They need a leader.
Thanks so much, and this has been so much fun! Thanks to everybody who’s listening on tumblr or Twitter or whatever, and all the Avatar fans are amazing. Cartoon fans, in general, are just really cool people. I haven’t had any bad experiences with anyone I’ve ever met or interacted with, and I just want to thank you for all the love and support everyday. It just makes me feel really good and it makes me happy.
I’m providing a link to download the audio until we install a plugin! The audio file contains even more from the interview that I had to cut-out due to keeping the blog post at a somewhat reasonable word count. Grey DeLisle and I talked about Azula’s friendship with Ty Lee and her co-workers from the series, such as Dante Basco who voiced Prince Zuko and Janet Varney who voices Korra in The Legend of Korra.
You can download the interview at the source.
p.s i'm sort of making a September round-up post of news that haven't been posted here since i've been a flop and didn't update the comm like i should. sry ;_;