It’s been a long time since Wildstar, Nova, and Desslok were in a room together. It’s been even longer since their voices were heard live in a room together. But the clock was finally reset when Ken Meseroll, Amy Howard Wilson, and Eddie Allen made their first-ever joint public appearance at I-Con 29 in New York on Saturday, March 27, 2010.
Assembling for a Star Blazers 30th Anniversary Panel, they relaxed in a university lecture room for about an hour and relived memories of that unusual temp job from over three decades earlier that has since garnered more acclaim than all their other works put together. Friend of this website Walter Amos caught the whole thing on his video camera, which made it possible to record this transcript for all those who couldn’t attend.
This trio was very nearly a quartet; Tom Tweedy (Mark Venture) had also been invited, but had to bow out because of a scheduling conflict. But he’s still on the radar for future opportunities.
Amy has been a Star Blazers ambassador for over ten years, having been a part of the convention circuit since 1997. Ken and Eddie have had far fewer contacts with their fans, but have both pursued acting careers since fate put them into the same show–though not, as we shall hear, into the same recording booth.
Nevertheless, Eddie took it in stride when he was greeted with enthusiastic Desslok chants and the discussion began. The highlights are transcribed below…
Question: When did you discover that Star Blazers had a life of its own?
We were all theatre actors. We found the casting notice in a trade paper called Backstage, and when we went in and did it we were in the stage performers union. Actors have three unions now, Actor’s Equity which is the stage and theatre actor’s union, the Screen Actor’s Guild which is film and television and AFTRA, American Federation of Television and Radio Arts which includes news broadcasters, voice-over acting and has now branched off into television.
At that time, I was only in the stage union and when we did the show, it was done non-union which meant that we got paid per session. So we were contracted for 52 episodes. I did it and forgot about it, to be honest, because I had no idea what anime was. My only animation reference was Mel Blanc who worked on the Warner Brothers cartoons which I think is, in a different way, a benchmark.
So when I did the show I had a blast, I loved it, and then I forgot about it because we middle-class actors make our living on residuals. A residual is a payment you get when something airs after you did it. Unfortunately, because this was non-union, we didn’t see any residuals. So, for me, I kind’a put it out of my mind and went off and did theatre. I was touring, doing regional stuff off-Broadway. I was in a theatre performing somewhere doing a George Bernard Shaw play in North Carolina of all places, and somebody came up with a program–I had put it [Star Blazers] in a program at one point–somebody came up to me and said, “Oh, that’s been on in syndication for years!”
And I said, “really!” ARGH! Because, had it been union…I don’t begrudge it at all, it’s water under the bridge, but that was the first time I went, “whoah.” And I started making some phone calls and I realized, this thing’s been playing all over the country in syndication for years and years. I think maybe ten years after we stopped doing it, it was still on.
I didn’t know until the nineties. I was totally shocked. I just had no idea.
Back when it first aired, VCRs which you can now get for 50 bucks were around a thousand bucks apiece. I was poor, and comparatively speaking, a hundred bucks an episode was good money back then.
They paid you per voice, by the way. So if you did two voices, you’d get paid twice that day.
The way we did the episodes was, we were each in a booth alone. It’s the most economical and quickest way when you’re dubbing from one language to another. You bring everyone in alone. In an ensemble production you lay down the recording first and they animate to the voices. When you’re dubbing Japanese to English you go in and do your lines from the beginning and the middle and the end of the episode and then one of your fellows comes in and does theirs.
About ten or fifteen years after it had gone off the air, and I thought it was gone forever too, there was a catalogue I got in the mail of VHS tapes. And I’m flipping through it and I see Star Blazers. Was this what we did? So I ordered a couple of the tapes and sure enough! It was a couple of years after that one of my brothers-in-law and his girls, who were anime fans at the time, got to talking one day, and their dad said, “You know, Aunt Amy did a show called Star Blazers a while back. Let’s see what we can find out on the internet.”
This was 1997. And the next thing I know, I’m getting a phone call: “You will not believe what I am finding on the internet!” So I started looking up websites, and there were websites by the hundreds! And it’s been slowly growing ever since, it’s just phenomenal. I emailed one of the websites and said, “This is just blowing my mind. The show has always been very special to me and I thought it was gone forever,” and I introduced myself and whatnot. And the next thing I know, this fella named Bud Cox is forwarding email to a couple of other friends and they started contacting me and, boy, don’t you know, I got a GRILLING. They would accept no substitutes.
Question: Were your names in the credits?
Never. It was non-union, so they didn’t keep records. The show was on the air for about a year as far as I know, and then it was gone.
They contacted Kit Carter who was the casting director who contacted us. Eddie and I were both at the Weist-Barron acting school in New York. I was doing some clerical work and stuff, and Kit Carter called the school one day looking for non-union people to come and audition for this new show from Japan. As far as we knew, it was the only show of its kind being done anywhere. It wasn’t “anime” back then, it was a Japanese animated series and we were going to do the voices for it.
Question: What about The Bolar Wars?
The third series had not yet been produced in Japan when we finished The Comet Empire. There was a lag of a few years before it was even released over there, by which time I had moved out of the city. We all got scattered to the four corners, and according to Kit Carter, who I was privileged enough to get together with before she died, she said, “We looked for you. We wanted you guys back.”
It was a different producer, too. I think a big part of it was because our names weren’t on the credits, they didn’t know who we were. It was a new producer and they probably had a time frame where they had to start and they just got new people.
I’ve got a funny story about Peter Fernandez who produced it and was also one of the voice actors. He was the voice of Speed Racer, so we’re talking ‘legend’ here. He and I were introduced at Anime Weekend Atlanta. He knew who I was, I did not yet know that he was Peter Fernandez. He came over to me and the first words out of his mouth were, “Please don’t hate me.”
He wanted us to know in no uncertain terms that they did try to find us. That’s something I’ll cherish forever.
Question: What are you doing now?
I’m doing audiobooks. The thing with animation, and I guess it’s pretty much across the board, is you have to live where it’s being produced. Where I live in Virginia, there is none. So if you want to do voice work and there’s no anime production, you have to find alternatives. It’s a way to keep working.
I live in Los Angeles and I’m an actor, I do primarily television, episodic TV, dramas, mostly guest star roles. I had a recurring role on Without a Trace, I shot on Madmen last year. I direct theatre, I have a real love of directing live theatre. That’s my roots. I start directing a play in a couple weeks when I go back. I teach acting, I love to teach.
I moved back to New York from L.A. after being there for a few years. I worked in television as well, I did a bunch of things on different shows, and now I’m getting back into my theatre roots as well. I do different plays and I started an improv group. I come into the city and I audition and just go with the flow.
I am doing a web series, that’s where the industry seems to be going right now. This will be broadcast on the internet. It’s called 10,000 Days. MGM is the distributor. There will be lots of avenues to access the show, but it’s essentially about the Earth being hit by a comet, knocking the Earth off its path, so the Earth is basically ice and the few of us who survived have been trying to create a community, kind of like an adult Lord of the Flies.
John Schneider who was in Dukes of Hazzard, he’s the star. He’s the head of one family and I play opposite him as the head of another family, trying to survive and cooperate. It should be fascinating.
It’s a great story. He [Producer Eric Small] has been working on this for years and a lot of it is green-screen and CGI and models of the tundra and frozen ice and stuff. It’s amazing what he can do with his computer, but the human element is the actors, and there’s a really phenomenal cast. I know a lot of them, and a lot of them have a theatre background so there’s a good strong ensemble there. We start shooting in June, so you’ll probably start seeing the show by October.
Right now we’re scheduled to shoot 12 episodes. We did one pilot last year which sold the series, and now there are 11 more.
Question: Can you describe a typical day of recording?
It always seemed to be at night. I remember it was across from Grand Central. It was upstairs somewhere. I’d go in the booth and my image coming away from it was listening to a lot of Japanese backwards. It kept my silly sense of humor going. And after seeing some of it again, I remember being in the studio and laughing wildly and now some things are coming into focus. I remember it being very pleasant and a lot of fun.
The more you think about it and jog the memory the more things start to filter out. I started doing crosswords during this job. You’re in a booth and you have to match the lip flap on the screen from the character. Very often you do a bunch of takes if it’s a complicated bit of copy. We’d get the script the day we showed up at the studio, no idea what the storyline is. You’re there and the director says, “here’s what happens in the story,” so we’re doing it as we go.
You do a bunch of lines and then you wait because they have to cue everything up. It’s very difficult to read a book, so I found the perfect thing to fill in the downtime and that was crossword puzzles. Now, to this day, I’m a Scrabble freak and I do a crossword every day.
It usually took most of an afternoon, and we did three or four episodes in a day. So consequently, we never saw the entire episode from start to finish. It was only after it was on the air, if we were fortunate enough to catch an episode–and fast forward to when I found those video tapes–that I was able to sit and watch it from start to finish.
But it took a few hours depending on which episode I was doing and how many lines I had. It was such an amazing learning experience, because I had never done anything like it. Prior to this, I had gone to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts for two years, which was a professional theatre, taking fencing and movement and voice and stage technique and what have you.
The year before we did Star Blazers I was fortunate enough to be a contestant on the $20,000 Pyramid with the awesome Anita Gillette. [Stills shown below] If you’ve ever seen the TV show Quincy with Jack Klugman, she played his girlfriend. She was the most wonderful partner I could have had. And a very, very young David Letterman was the captain of the opposing team. Thanks to that win on the show, I was able to live off that money. I was only working at Weist-Barron part time, so when Star Blazers came along, everything worked out quite nicely.
Question to Eddie: How did you come up with the voice of Desslok?
The audition was just so much fun. We would read different parts at the audition, at least I did. Desslok came up, and I guess it just depends on when you came up generationally, what you perceive as a villain. And as a guy my age, I’ve always loved Boris Karloff, I just kind’a gave him that Boris Karloff feel. It’s me doing Boris Karloff, so it’s not really going to be him, and that was what they liked. It was more of a spontaneous choice.
The voice may have been mine, but the director just helps you so much to draw out some of the nuances of the performance as well.
(Ellen Leinoff is named as the director and Jim Fredrickson is mentioned as the sound engineer)
They wanted something completely different. So we didn’t listen to the Japanese track and try to emulate or imitate them.
Question: How specific was the direction you were receiving?
Ellen was there, I remember her being at every session. Simply because we couldn’t have rehearsals, she took the time to explain it to us and be there as our support. And one of the nicest things that I have ever heard is, when I tell people how we did it, I hear, “You’re kidding. Get outta here.”
Question: How long was it from beginning to end?
As I recall, it was about six months, but that was just my stuff.
We did more than one episode per day, per session, usually about two or three depending on the amount of material.
That really is the most efficient way to dub something, particularly from Japanese into English. You can’t have everyone sitting around waiting for you to get your takes right, it would just cost a fortune.
Question: If you had heard the original Japanese voices first, would it have influenced you?
The answer was a collective “no,” though Eddie expressed an interest in the deep, gutteral cadence of traditional Japanese male roles. Ken got more specific, describing the Japanese language track as just one more element that would have become distracting in a recording session.
The other thing I will say is that I come from a theatre training tradition and I had some really brilliant teachers in New York. One of the first things we learned was, make it your own. Which means put yourself in it. Don’t imitate somebody else. I didn’t really want to hear the Japanese because it would influence me. I’m unique enough and let me do my own thing–unless you want it done that way, which they never did.
I also want to interject here, having to adapt to American sensibilities, the type of voice means something different. A villain, for instance, here in America, sometimes has a darker tone and sometimes a lighter tone. So there are sometimes nuances just in the sound of the voice that aren’t going to translate. I think they were very wise to do what they did.
As Ken was saying, there’s so much technical stuff. You’re in a tiny little booth with a table and a mike and a script and a chair. And more than one person in that little room was a crowd. You’ve got the emotion of the scene, you’ve got the beeps in your head [timing beeps coming through headphones], you’ve got to start speaking and keep the emotion and all these technical things in your head. It was an amazing learning experience. It’s not easy.
Question: What would you say to all your loving fans around the world?
Eddie: Thank you so much for BEING a fan!
For further entertainment:
See on-camera interviews with Amy, Ken, Eddie, and Tom Tweedy on Voyager Entertainment’s Comet Empire DVDs, volumes 2-5.