Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Eric Kelso Answers Your Questions! | Interview with the Voice Actor for Ren, Guizhang & Fuku-san

The characters of Fukuhara-san, Guizhang and Ren are certainly some of the most memorable characters in the first two Shenmue games.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the actor behind the English-language voices of all three of these Shenmue characters, voice talent Eric Kelso.

Guizhang, Ren, Fuku-san, Nagashima
As well as voicing [from left] Guizhang, Ren and Fuku-san, Eric also voiced a number of minor characters in Shenmue. One of his other lesser-known characters is Nagashima, one of the pair of thugs that Ryo runs into on Dobuita Street. *Correction: Nagashima was voiced by Dario Toda; Eric also voiced some of the security guards at the harbor.
Questions for Eric were gathered beforehand from all over the Shenmue community, including through blogs, fan sites, Facebook and Twitter. Although not every question could be covered, the majority of them were able to be asked. The name of the person / people who suggested the question is noted above alongside each question.

The full interview transcription starts below. As you will see, Eric is a fan of the Shenmue series and very supportive of the fan community, and it was a really fun interview to do.

Plus, following the transcript, listen to an audio compilation of a selection of Eric's answers from the interview.

Eric Kelso

Eric Kelso is originally from California and has been a voice actor and narrator in Tokyo since 1988. His work includes voices for video games, movies, TV programs, animation, TV commercials, radio, events and educational materials. In Shenmue he is the voice of Guizhang, Ren and Fukuhara-san as well as several other minor characters.
View Eric's profile on  Wikipedia and IMDB, as well as his personal website for details of his career.

Interview Start:

Your Background

[sand4fish & Domosuke via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Could you describe what made you come over to Japan, and how you came to be a voice actor?

EK: In University, I majored in Film Studies at UC Santa Barbara, and I wanted to make documentaries about different cultures around the world. But I had never really been out of California. So, I thought, well, the first thing I have to do is learn some things.

My plan was to spend 10 years traveling around the world learning about life and different cultures and finding interesting topics to make documentaries about, then go back to The States and get the grants to make the documentaries. So, I sold everything I had and I got on a plane for Japan.

I had no job waiting for me, no hotel reservation and only $300 in my pocket. But I wanted an adventure, I was interested in Japanese culture and food and film, and the yen was strong at the time with the bubble economy. I thought, “OK, two years in Japan and save up some money” and then I could travel around Asia and wouldn’t have to work. But after two years teaching English I didn’t really save any money and I was really enjoying Japan, so I thought “OK, I’ll stay two more years.”

And during those two years I started doing voice work. A friend asked me to fill in for him for a recording and I found that I really liked it and the client seemed to like me, so I started getting more work. And since I was loving my life in Japan, I decided to change my plan to travel the world and stay in Japan longer. And after 30 years I couldn’t be happier.

Voice acting in Japan can be anything from animation to TV commercials to educational materials to corporate videos. So, I started doing a lot of different things and one of those was video games, which is my favorite.

[Domosuke via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: What advantages are there to being a voice actor in Japan as opposed to being one in the West?

EK: As an English speaker in a foreign country I have less competition, which is good. Unfortunately, because it’s a foreign country there is less opportunity because there aren’t as many things to do voices for in English. I do a lot of voices for international projects, promotions and advertising but I haven’t really recorded in the States, so I don’t know exactly what the difference working there would be.

Q: How did you get to be involved with voice acting for video games?

EK: I had been doing voice work for about 7 years before I did a video game. I was recording a lot of educational and testing materials, a lot of work for NHK TV and radio, corporate videos, things like that.

Siegfried in Soul Blade for PS1
Seigfried in Soul Blade for PS1:
he first video game character Eric voiced
And then in 1996 I did Soul Blade for PlayStation. And as far as I can remember, that was the first game I did. And that was through one of my agents – I have probably about 20 different agents, although I don’t use all of them that much, but a few of them I use a lot. One of my favorite agents asked me if I could do that job and I was excited to do it. I thought “Wow, video games! That sounds like a lot of fun!” And I loved it. It was voice acting, not just narration, which was a big difference.

Q: So, was that one of the first opportunities for you to do voice acting?

EK: Well, I had done some animation characters and dialogues, but to actually represent a character on a screen going through emotions and fighting and movement – that was real acting and that was exciting.

Q: Is there more of a chance with video games for you to be called back for the next games in the series?

EK: Well, you hope that they are going to use you for the whole series, but I’ve found that even with games like Tekken or Virtua Fighter, I’m not in every game in the series. I think I entered Tekken at Tekken 3 and I did 4 and 5 after that. For Virtua Fighter, I came in at 4 as Jacky Bryant. So, they do change along the way - I’m not sure why, if it’s fan appeal or they decide to record it in a different country. It also depends on the accessibility of the voice actors.

[Rakim via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Growing up, who were your biggest influences or inspirations?

EK: Wow [laughs]. I love movies, like I said before I majored in film. So, I think probably characters in movies were great inspirations for me. I remember being influenced by Clint Eastwood in the Spaghetti Westerns. I thought his character as the Man with No Name was the coolest thing in the world. Because he would just ride into town and not say a word, but never back down: never start a fight but always end a fight, and support people who needed his help. And he never asked for anything, unless it was like in A Fistful of Dollars. Then he was just being a good businessman.

You know, people have those bracelets you see sometimes with “What would Jesus do?” My thought was always “What would Clint do?”, you know? It was kind of my code that I lived by. That character in that situation – would he just be quiet, would he say something, complain, punch somebody? He was just cool on ice. So, I thought “What would Clint do? How would he handle this situation?”
Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name
Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name
Another one would have to be Bill Murray, who I think has the greatest philosophy on life – in his films and in his interviews. And I actually met him twice, just by chance! One time he pulled up next to me in Santa Barbara and asked for directions. I panicked and gave him the wrong directions. Then years later, just a couple of years ago, I saw him at LAX airport in Los Angeles and he was having a salad with someone at a table. I sat down at the counter and was like “Man, that’s Bill Murray!” So, I kind of slyly took a shot of him with my iPhone, hoping he wouldn’t be offended. And he saw me doing that, and actually when he got up to walk out of the restaurant he stopped right in front of me, like 10 inches from my face and smiled at me and said “Hi”. I didn’t want to bother him so I just said “I’m a big fan, take care!” and put my head down. And he was like, “OK...” and walked away. I think my trying not to bother him, trying to be cool and not an annoying fan, by doing that, I was actually ruder. And I thought, “Man, two shots in my life and I wasted both of them!” So that was pretty humiliating!

But it’s like looking at the face of God or something. What do you do in that situation, you know? I’m not the kind of person who usually panics, but I just froze.

Q: So, would it be Bill Murray the actor rather than Bill Murray as a character?

EK: I think both. His characters in like Stripes or Ghostbusters; that kind of relaxed, confident, nonchalant “everything’s going to be OK” humorous attitude. Such flexibility and such strength at the same time, yet still with compassion. And as himself in interviews, he’s just such a cool, genuine guy.

[Rakim via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Apart from voice acting (and movies), what are your other hobbies?

EK: When I was younger, I liked any kind of art. I did sketching, woodcarving, leatherwork, stained-glass windows, sculpting, I did some jewelry design, some metalwork… I loved any kind of craft or art.

At the moment though, for the past 20 years probably, I’ve really been into cooking. I just love cooking – it’s art you can eat, you know? And it’s temporary. There’s something really philosophical about it as well. It’s beautiful when it goes in your mouth – you experience it with all of your senses, and then a few hours later it literally comes out the other end as crxp! There’s something very Zen about that.

Recording for Shenmue

[Domosuke via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: How were you first contacted about recording for Shenmue, and what was the audition like?

EK: Luckily, with voice acting there are very few auditions that you actually have to do, because your voice is recorded and your agent gives the [demo] recording to the clients. If the client likes you they choose you based on that. Sometimes there are secondary auditions where they break it down to the top 2 or 3 on their shortlist and they ask you to say specific lines, then you record it and send it to them.

For Shenmue, I got a call from one of my agents and she said, “Hey, I’ve got a video game for you”. And I thought “Great, I love voicing video games.” And she said “This one’s kind of special. It’s going to be a lot longer, and there’s going to be more action and more of a story”. And I thought “Cool, I can’t wait” and I was really curious about what it was going to be. So, I went to Sega studio in Ōtorii, Tokyo, which was a big studio, a big room, and really nice people. Everyone was casual and friendly. I didn’t know what the game was going to be. I didn’t see a script ahead of time, nothing. So, they told me the story and it was an interesting story. They explained my characters and I had two very different characters.
The Sega Enterprises head office in Ōtori (early 2000's)
The Sega Enterprises head office in Ōtori (early 2000's).
Fukuhara – “Fuku-chan” – was such a nice guy. I really could feel that he cared a lot about Ryo. I was working with Corey [Marshall] and we became friends. So, we had a bit of comradery as well. Fukuhara didn’t have much confidence but he had a lot of passion and guts and dedication and loyalty. So, I tried to bring out those qualities in him, especially his heart. I really enjoyed playing him.

And then Guizhang was the Chinese Clint Eastwood! So, I just imagined he was Clint Eastwood. He doesn’t say much but he’s always cool.

Q: So, before you turned up at the Sega studio, had your parts already been decided?

EK: As far as I know.

Q: So, it would have been decided off your demo recordings?

EK: Yeah, I already had the job confirmed before I went to the studio. My agent met me at the station, went with me and introduced me to everyone. Then they said “Here’s the script, here’s the story. Let’s record”. I gave them a few different voices and they chose what they wanted; a higher tone, a lower tone, faster, slower, lighter, darker and so on. And once we had zeroed in on the voice they said “OK, that’s it. Let’s roll”.

Q: Was that on the first day?

EK: Yes, that was in the first ten minutes.

[Andrew Vladykin via Phantom River Stone]
Q: How long did the voice recording for Shenmue take?

EK: I think the second game took longer, because I had more lines as Ren and I was in more scenes. I think that took about a month to do in total – not every day, but we would shoot for four hours a day, maybe three or four days a week. In the first game I had fewer lines, so it was shorter.

Q: Was the recording for the two games done within the same season?

EK: No, we didn’t even know there was going to be a Shenmue 2. We had no idea whether it was going to be a hit or not. At the time, I really enjoyed doing it because it was more like acting in a movie. But I had no idea that there would ever be another one. So, when the second one came out, everyone was really excited.

Q: Do you remember the date of the recordings?

EK: I don’t remember the exact date, but I know there’s a photograph of me, Lisle and Corey standing together in the studio and I’m wearing a jacket and scarf. I don’t get cold very easily so that must have been winter.

Eric, Lisle and Corey at Sega.
At the Sega studio, during the recording of Shenmue II.
Eric Kelso with Lisle Wilkerson [voice of Joy / Xiuying / Yuan] & Corey Marshall [Ryo Hazuki].
Photo courtesy of Corey through Eric.
[Rachmat Kemal via Phantom River Stone]
Q: Can you describe the Sega recording studio set-up and how did the recording process work? How were retakes handled?

EK: The studio we were in was the main one and it was quite large. It could fit a small orchestra or band in there. But we just used one corner of it, right in front of the window, kind of like a fish tank, with the engineers and directors on the other side. There were mics hanging down, music stands for the scripts, and then in front of us was the TV monitor where they would play the scenes from the game.

They didn’t have all the scenes from the game; some of them hadn’t been made yet. So that’s why sometimes you hear a line in the game where it seems like a pretty casual situation but the character is like  “OK! ARE YOU READY! LET’S GO!” - because the line before that had that kind of excitement. But actually, if you see it in the game you feel like, “Why are you yelling? Why are you so excited?” We didn’t see the visual; we didn’t get enough information to really know the scene. Sometimes things kind of fall through the cracks as to exactly what kind of scene the voice is for.

And as far as retakes, basically if the director doesn’t like something or if it doesn’t fit the timing, then they just say “OK, let’s do it again” and you quickly do it again.

Q: Just at that time?
EK: Yeah, just at that time.

[Andrew Vladykin via Phantom River Stone]
Q: Were there any lines you remember that were cut from the final game?

EK: I don’t really remember all the lines, and I haven’t gone through the whole game so I’m not really sure. But I’m sure there were.

[Andrew Vladykin via Phantom River Stone]
Q: Do you still sometimes get in touch with Corey Marshall, Lisle Wilkerson and the other voice actors?

EK: Lisle has been a dear old friend of mine for like 25 years, and so I used to run into her quite a lot on jobs and socializing as well. But she moved to LA a while ago, so I don’t see her anymore, but we still keep in touch on Facebook. Especially with Shenmue 3 coming, we’ve been in contact more.

Paul and I have also been friends for about 25 years. But he’s in Singapore now, so we don’t have a chance to see each other for work. But we have been connecting for Shenmue 3, which is great. He’s a nut, he always cracks me up [laughs].

Corey and I lost touch soon after we finished recording Shenmue II, because he wasn’t based in Tokyo. But we’re all Facebook friends, you know. And we get along really well, so we’re all really looking forward to seeing each other for the new recording.

Q: What was it like recording a scene together with Corey?

EK: [laughs] It was fun! It was good, we both really got into our characters. He would get into his character and be cool, and a bit reserved. And then I would get into my Ren mode and be a little bit more wild and sarcastic. And we were recording standing just 3 feet apart from each other. So, he had his mic, I had my mic and we’re both watching the same monitor. So, especially when we were handcuffed together and running and everything, we were practically holding hands, so we could get that emotion and muscle and tension and breathing and everything, so we had the timing. We had a really good time doing it.

We became friends as well. We’d go out and have dinner and drinks together, and so it was always very comfortable and a lot of fun.

[Henry Spencer via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Have you ever met the game’s creator, Yu Suzuki?

EK: Sure, he was at the recordings. At the first recording, he was introduced. “This is the director, Suzuki-san” – “Hello”. “This is the assistant director” and so on. Then it was “This is the project. OK, let’s do it”. And that’s pretty much how it is with any recording. You don’t really get too close to the director. Mostly you don’t even see them, they’re just on the other side of the glass, so they’re not in the room with you. You just hear their voice over the headphones. And sometimes you don’t even hear their voice, you hear the assistant director’s voice. But as far as I can remember, he was a very nice, pleasant man with a nice smile and very charming.

Q: Did you get to keep any physical items from your time recording Shenmue at Sega?

EK: No, aside from a couple of photos of us recording together. I try not to take anything – scripts are pretty top secret, so you leave them there. I wish, but no [laughs].

Q: How thick were the scripts you were using for Shenmue? Was it one massive script, or did they give you several pages each time?

EK: Every day you get the pages for that day. Depending on the script – if it’s a four hour recording, you’re going through 30 pages maybe. It depends on what it is. If it’s just like “Urr!” “Aarr!” fighting sounds, you can go through that pretty fast. But if it’s a dialogue between two people then you have twice the chance of speaking or timing mistakes and having to do it again.

[yuc02 via Phantom River Stone]
Q: Were all the English voice-overs for Shenmue 1 and 2 done within Japan? Or did Sega do any recordings in the US or Europe? If only in Japan, do you know how they found all the voice talent?

EK: I’m pretty sure it was all done in Japan. Corey was brought over from the States. I know a lot of my fellow voice actors in Tokyo had parts in Shenmue. It had so many characters – I think it set a Guinness world record for the most expensive video game ever made at the time. And a lot of that has to do with of course, the amazing graphics and production value – but also the sheer number of characters and voice actors.

But a lot of us did multiple parts. I did some main characters but I also did a lot of “guy in bar”, “thug”, or something [laughs].

Q: Did you have any interaction with the Japanese voice actors for Shenmue?

EK: Not at all. Japanese voice actors and foreign voice actors really don’t mix at all. Because they’re done on completely different schedules, a whole different thing.

Shenmue Characters

[Henry Spencer & sand4fish via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Eric, I believe your work is among the best voice work in the series. How did you come up with your voices for Guizhang, Fuku-san and Ren? What instructions did the director give you for their voices?

EK: Well, thank you for saying that, that means a lot.

Luckily, I had three very different characters. And that’s kind of what you’re looking for as a voice actor. Sometimes you get “OK, we need three average high school students” or something, and that’s tough because they’re pretty similar. But if they say they need a little boy and an old man, it makes it much easier. And with the three main characters I had, I really just tried to feel their backstory and their personalities. And they were such interesting characters with unique qualities, so that made it easier.

[Englishhedgehog & Mr357 via Shenmue Dojo, yuc02 & Brendan Walshvia Phantom River Stone]
Q: Which is your favorite character among the ones you voiced?

EK: I liked all three. But I would have to say Ren was my favorite because I think he’s closest to me. And he had a very strong personality. He was kind of the comic relief of the game – he was the Bill Murray in a way, you know? He had the best lines, and had to kind of break the tension when it was getting too serious. So, I like that kind of character a lot.

Ren winning the coin toss
Ren wins the coin toss against Ryo (Shenmue II)
Q: So, the director didn’t steer you down a particular path too much for the voices?

EK: He would give a basic direction. Like for Ren, I think he said he is very sarcastic, he doesn’t care about anything except money and just his own stuff – he doesn’t even care about his gang members. He’s just very selfish and very arrogant. And I thought, “OK, that’s a very distinct character, so I think I can do that”. And I gave him a couple of reads. He would say “pull back a little bit” or “go a little bit more this way” or a slightly higher voice or lower voice. And once we had that zone that he wanted, he said “OK, let’s do it”, and we did it.

[Jibby via Shenmue Dojo, Ramón Guzmán via Shenmue 500k]
Q: How does the way you voice a wimpy/weak character like Fuku-san differ from the way you voice a strong/brave character like Guizhang or Ren?

EK: For me, I just try to really get into the character’s mind - I know that sounds kind of cliché, but I just assume that I am that character. What would I do in that situation? And that’s where the real voice actor part comes in. That’s what makes it interesting.

Also, I like to change my body movements. Like with Fukuhara-san, I would kind of bring my arms in and my shoulders in, in a type of fetal position as I was speaking, and I would get down low and look up at the mic. And I found that that helped me to bring out a little more of, not necessarily weakness, but a little more frailty to him.

And for Guizhang, I would stand up straight and I wouldn’t open my mouth much. I would get kind of steely-eyed and pissed off. And I found that that helped me to do his voice.

And with Ren I just thought “I’m the biggest swinging thing out there”, you know? And I don’t care at all. That kind of cocky attitude helped me to really get into the character.

Q: So, you were actually making those actions inside the studio?

EK: Right. When I was Ren my arms were outreached [demonstrating with arms out wide], my chest was out, my head was up and I had an evil smile on my face. And to me, that body position is Ren.

[Etno & Mileena Maia via Phantom River Stone]
Q: I’ve always wondered what exactly lies in the relationship between Ren and Ryo – are they enemies? Frenemies? Is there a touch of bromance?

EK: Major bromance [laughs]! Well, I think in the story Ryo needed Ren’s help, and Ren knew that. And he wanted to see how much money he could get out of him, and that was it. But along the way, Ren started to feel a bit of a responsibility for taking care of Ryo. And he knew Ryo was kind of green - even though he could fight, he was kind of green in the ways of the world and he was out on a journey that held a lot of danger. And I think Ren felt a bit of a responsibility to take care of him, because they did end up becoming friends

Ren is not really good at showing his friendship side. But to me, Ren, as self-centered as he is - there is nobody I would rather have guarding my back than him.

Shenmue - Miscellaneous

[Andrew Vladykin via Phantom River Stone]
Q: In what ways has the voice acting for Shenmue influenced your life?

EK: Voicing the characters was a lot of fun and a great challenge, and I think I became a better voice actor because of it.

But even more than just doing the voices; meeting the very dedicated, active fans of the games who have been making the blogs and podcasts and films, and making the journey to Japan – which amazed me, with that dedication.

Of course, meeting you, Switch – we’re worked on projects together now and I’m so happy and lucky to have that. And meeting Adam and Peter, and Alex, and the Kitchen brothers and James – and all the people who came to Japan to do their projects were just amazing. And I’m sorry if I left anybody out - there are just so many wonderful people.

Seeing those guys doing such amazing work has made me feel like, I wish I had something so exciting in my life that I could be otaku about, you know? I don’t really have an otaku thing. I love movies and I love cooking, and I love my girlfriend – but I don’t have that one thing that when you wake up in the morning you’re excited to work on, that you’re passionate about researching and learning more about all the time. So, I wish I was otaku!

[Jaime Dario Araujo Lopez via Shenmue Facebook]
Q: Do you think there are any lessons about life children can learn from Shenmue?

EK: Yes, the most important thing children should learn from Shenmue is revenge! Avenge thy father [laughs]! No, actually, I think that there are so many lessons to be learned. And a lot of them are just about dedication and persistence. In the modern world, we get things so easily and so quickly and so conveniently, you know? Everything is either online or at a convenience store or it’s just a button push away. And I think seeing Ryo’s journey - he knows he’s going to be in trouble, he knows it’s going to be hard. He doesn’t know what’s out there but he doesn’t give up. And he makes friends and he meets people. And they either try to kill him or help stop other people from killing him. Like Ren and Ryo’s friendship, it’s a great friendship and I hope that it continues. But if you really want something in life that you believe in so much, even if it’s revenge, it’s something that you’ve got to suffer for and you ‘ve gotta work hard on. So, I think that’s a good lesson.

[Tristan Bush, Benwah via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you don’t play video games. Have you ever played the Shenmue games yourself, or maybe watched someone else playing?

EK: I’ve never been much of a gamer myself. When I was young, I grew up in the mountains and on the beach, so I was building tree forts or surfing or something outside. And I was born a little bit too early to grow up with video games. When I was in high school Pong came out. Then Space Invaders and Asteroids, which I really liked. I think I was in University when Pacman came out, so I never had the chance to play the really amazing games until I was much older and already busy doing other things. But I love watching other people playing. I’m also not a good player, so I’m killed very quickly. But I like to watch somebody who’s skilled and knows what’s going on. I appreciate the graphics and story and the character development, and the player’s ability. I watched the Shenmue movie and I watch scenes from both games on YouTube. I do really love the world of Shenmue.

Q: So when you were recording for Sega, they didn’t give you a copy of the game to play with or anything like that?

EK: They gave me a copy of the movie when that came out. So, I was able to watch it. But I was never given a copy of the actual game .

[Rachmat Kemal via Phantom River Stone]
Q: How do you imagine Fuku-san is doing now back at the Hazuki Dojo after Ryo beat him up at sparring, took all his savings and went off to China?

EK: [laughs] I think he’s probably working on his money-counting skills! Because he should be on the road in a magic show or something with those talents. But I think he’s probably holding down the fort. He’s such a loyal guy, and I’m sure he has no bad feelings toward Ryo at all. I think he’s probably still worried about him and just doing his best to become better at his Hazuki style of fighting.

A classic cut-scene from Shenmue: Fukuhara-san counts his savings at a glance.
See also our parody video in an older post!
[Bluecast via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: When do you think Guizhang will move out of his father’s warehouse in Yokosuka. It’s not a good place to bring a date to… (I’m not sure he actually lives there, but he hangs out there a lot).

EK: [laughs] I’m not sure that Guizhang actually has dates, but I’m sure he would like to. So, it would be nice for him to get his own place eventually. Maybe then he can unbutton his jacket and loosen up his tie.

Thoughts About Shenmue III

[Brandon Conklin via Phantom River Stone]
Q: What was your reaction when you heard that Shenmue 3 was going to be made at last?

EK: I had two very strong feelings.

One was, first, for the fans. Because they had been so loyal and dedicated and inspired through 14 years of trying to make it happen. And the fans had formed such a bond with each other and created so many blogs and podcasts and websites. And, even after 14 years of nothing happening, they were still growing stronger. And that just amazed me. And so that the game was being made for them was on the top of my list of happy things.

Secondly, if my characters would continue, or if I could even do a new character, just to be part of it – I was ecstatic. I thought that that would be so fun. Because 1 and 2 were a blast and I’m sure 3 will be even more amazing with new technology and the story continuing as it is. And so hopefully – I still haven’t gotten word – but hopefully, if I can continue in Shenmue 3 I’ll just be over the moon.

Shenmue III: Shenhua's house

[yuc02, Adnan Ali via Phantom River Stone, Matthew Waterman via Shenmue 500k, DFan LaClair, Hyo Razuki & Henry Spencer via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Have you been contacted, or have you started doing any work for Shenmue 3 yet? Are you in the know regarding other actors, and whether any of the original actors are returning for 3?

EK: Only Corey [Marshall] has gotten the official word so far that I know of. Lisle [Wilkerson] and Paul [Lucas] and I discussed earlier about our being used in the game, and we promised each other that if one of us found out any information we would contact the others [laughs].

[The_Fuzileiro via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Is it difficult to contact the same voice that you made many years ago? How do you go about trying to match the same tone as when you were recording for Shenmue the first time?

EK: As long as your voice doesn’t fundamentally change by getting older, or having surgery, or an accident, or sickness it should be possible to do the same voice. The general policy is for the studio to play the previous voice that was in the game. And then you try to match that tone. You hear the tone, the cadence, the resonance, the pitch – you hear all those things and you try to mimic that sound. You go through a few lines with that voice, and then it comes back to you. And the director is on top of it too – if your tone is too high or you’re getting too fast – if you’re coming off the original sound they’ll tell you.

[Hazzer Marriott via Shenmue Facebook]
Q: What are your thoughts about whether Guizhang will be returning to Shenmue 3 to help Ryo track down Lan Di?

EK: He’d better! The poor guy was about to jump on the boat, and just before that he hurts his leg. And he was right there! He’s good, strong, dependable – you want him in the fight! But he gets hurt and left on the docks. I was so pissed off! So he’s gotta come back. He’s gotta be redeemed. He’s gotta have his chance to fight.

Guizhang lies injured at the end of Shenmue
Guizhang lying injured at the end of Shenmue.
[Michael Roglitz via Phantom River Stone]
Q: If Guizhang and Ren do meet in Shenmue 3, would you enjoy having a conversation with yourself?

EK: I want to fight myself [laughs]! I think that would be insane! But yeah, I think they would get along because they’re both pretty hard-nosed guys. Ren would definitely give him a hard time and say some stupid sarcastic joke, and Guizhang would not even show any emotion and just kick his butt!

[Brian Murphy via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Hope to hear you in Shenmue 3! If you had the chance, where would you like to take Ren’s character (a personal character arc, or a different side of him)? 

EK: I hope that he always stays rough and tough, and cold. I don’t want to see him change too much. But I would like to see his compassionate side come out a little bit in maybe a certain scene. I don’t want to weaken him at all, but I would like to show that, yeah, he does have a heart. Maybe open up to Ryo a little bit, or sacrifice himself to show that he’s not so selfish.

Other Odds & Ends

[Henry Spencer via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: As a voice actor, do you ever get any news regarding new games. In particular is there a new Virtua Fighter or a new F-Zero game coming out?

EK: Not that I know of. I don’t really know if games are coming out unless I’m asked to do the voice for them. And sometimes characters change, so even if one of my old characters is in a new game they might actually use a different guy. I wish I could help you, but I just don’t know.

[myshtuff via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: Is there a game series you would like to be part of that you haven’t been in already?

EK: Shenmue 3 is the one I’m looking forward the most! Um... anything that’s a challenge for acting and fun to do, I love.

[Henry Spencer via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: I’ve noticed that you often get cast as a protagonist or reluctant hero in game (for example, Paul Phoenix in Tekken, Jacky Bryant in Virtua Fighter or your roles in Shenmue). Would you like more opportunities to play the villain?

EK: Definitely! The bad guys are always the most fun to play because there are no consequences. You can just lay everything out there and be as evil as you want and take everything. With the good guy, you always have to balance power with protection, or you’re trying to cause someone pain and yet feeling slightly guilty for it. So, good guys have to walk a tightrope of emotion, but bad guys are just a bulldozer. It’s fun just to let it all out sometimes. Everyone has an evil side but we can’t really let it out in our daily lives. But when you can do it in front of a mic as a character, it’s very cathartic.

[Benwah via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: I have done a bit of amateur dramatics and I can’t stand my own voice when I listen back to it. How do you feel about hearing your own recorded voice?

EK: Honestly, I don’t think anybody really likes their own recorded voice that much. But when I do a project that I think I did well on, I like to hear it. I’m very critical of myself, so I’ll often think “Oh, I could have it done it better” or “I should have done it this way, or that way”. Like a lot of actors who don’t like watching their own movies. But if I do something that I’m really proud of, I like listening to it. And it kind of reminds me that hey, you’re not so bad. It gives me a little more confidence sometimes.

Also, your own voice never sounds the same to you, When you’re speaking, your voice is resonating through the bones in your body which go up to your eardrum, so it’s much deeper and more resonant in your ear. If you listen to a recording of your voice it sounds like you’re on an AM radio, like “Who’s that kid with the high voice?” because it’s literally just your voice. So, if your recorded voice sounds very high and funny to you, that’s OK, that happens to everyone. It sounds different from what you hear yourself when you’re speaking.

Q: What’s the weirdest question or request a fan has every asked you?

EK: Nothing really weird at all, and I’m happy to give an interview or sign anything or attend a conference or anything, I love to support the game. But one thing that bothered me was a guy who asked me to sign some things and sent me some color copied photos of some characters. Because I was on Ebay checking something and I found my name, and it was a picture of Fukuhara-san with my signature on it for sale, just a month after the person asked me to sign it for their personal collection. And I know people want to make money, but how it was presented to me was that the person really wanted it for their own personal collection, and they said “Thank you so much” and I said “Sure, I love the game too and I’d love to support your collection”. Then a month later it was on Ebay, and that was kind of disappointing.

Other than that, nothing but golden remarks for everyone.

[Rakim via Shenmue Dojo]
Q: In Bizarro World, what do you think Bizarro Eric Kelso is like?

EK: [laughs] Not so different! Um… Wow. [thinking] He would probably never wear clothes, live in the water and… drink wine and eat Kobe beef for breakfast!

Q: Could you explain the part about “living in the water?”

EK: I love water – I should be doing the voice for Aquaman. I take a bath every morning, a bath every night, and I swim as much as possible. I grew up surfing and sailing and I just love the water.

[yuc02 via Phantom River Stone]
Q: Will you be coming to the UK anytime? I’ll buy you a beer!

EK: Cheers! I will definitely let you know if I'm in the UK, I'd love to have a drink with you.

Bonus: Audio Clips! 

An audio compilation of Eric's responses to a selection of questions from the interview.

Interview conducted by Switch from on 15th June, 2017.


  • Thanks to Eric Kelso for taking the time to participate in this interview.
  • Thank you to everyone in the community who contributed questions.
  • And a  shout-out to James Reiner, for introducing me to Eric during his trip here in Japan.

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  1. This is a fantastic interview!

    Thank you very much to both of you Switch and Mr. Eric Kelso!


  2. So happy my question was selected and answered by Mr. Eric! Thank you so much Switch!
    You are awesome!


    1. Haha, you're welcome! Thanks for taking the time to submit a question.

  3. Replies
    1. Fantastic interview Switch, loved it :D :D

    2. Eric's such a great guy to interview, it was really fun to do!