Girl Talks Like a Dude

Ac­tress Colleen Clinken­beard pro­vides the voice be­hind One Piece tough guy Mon­key D. Luffy. By Charles Solomon

Animation Magazine - - Anime -

Mon­key D. Luffy ( rhymes, ap­pro­pri­ately, with “goofy”), the hero of the hit anime se­ries One Piece, is im­me­di­ately rec­og­niz­able by his straw hat, ear- to- ear grin, skinny limbs and raspy voice.

That scratchy bari­tone, which sounds like he gar­gled with Comet by mis­take, is pro­vided not by an ac­tor pro­ject­ing machismo, but by Colleen Clinken­beard, one of the busiest voice ac­tresses, line pro­duc­ers and ADR di­rec­tors in the coun­try.

Anime fans also know Clinken­beard as Erza Scar­let in Fairy Tail, Riza Hawk­eye in Full­metal Al­chemist and Rachel Moore in Case Closed, but Luffy is her most pop­u­lar char­ac­ter. Clinken­beard talked about her work and cross- gen­der voices in a re­cent in­ter­view from the FU­Ni­ma­tion Stu­dio in Flower Mound, Texas.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from col­lege, she says she “came back to my home town in Texas to try to earn some money be­fore I moved to New York to make it on Broad­way.” A friend in­tro­duced her to voice act­ing and her ca­reer took off.

Al­though she had done a male voice pre­vi­ously, Clinken­beard planned to au­di­tion for one of the fe­male char­ac­ters in One Piece. “Di­rec­tor Mike McFar­land had heard me play­ing that male role, so he de­cided to au­di­tion me for Luffy,” she says. “It was ex­cit­ing and kind of ter­ri­fy­ing, but I don’t think I’ve wanted a part as much be­fore or since.”

With his gol­li­wog face, scrawny body and out­sized feet, Luffy is hardly a mati­nee idol. But Clinken­beard in­sists that doesn’t de­tract from his charm. “You want to play the fun role, the role that gets to do the most ex­cit­ing range of things,” she says. “To play a boy- hero who is funny and stupid, but who also has dra­matic mo­ments — that’s as good as it gets.”

Fans on both sides of the Pa­cific agree. When Ei­ichiro Oda be­gan the One Piece manga, he set out to cre­ate the story he wanted to read as a boy. It proved to be a story oth­ers wanted to read — and see. There are more than 345 mil­lion vol­umes of the manga in print. The TV se­ries ran for more than 600 episodes ( with more in the works) and spun off 12 the­atri­cal fea­tures. It’s one of the fastest grow­ing anime fran­chises in Amer­ica, with more than 26 mil­lion episodes stream­ing each month.

When Clinken­beard talks about Luffy, she punches an oc­ca­sional word in his voice and with his trade­mark enthusiasm.

“Male voice ac­tors lower their voices to do the gruff- sound­ing roles: Luffy’s voice comes from the same place, I just have to lower it more and put it at that gravely place in my throat,” she says. “It’s play­ing around with the mech­a­nism in your throat. That’s part of what’s fun about voice act­ing — you don’t get to do that kind of ex­per­i­ment­ing if you’re on cam­era or in the the­ater, but with voice act­ing, you can be any­one that you can sound like.”

Be­cause he ate the ac­cursed Gum- Gum Fruit, Luffy’s limbs can stretch be­yond any­thing Elasti­girl ever imag­ined. He uses this abil­ity to launch him­self over walls, in­flate him­self into a bal­loon and pound the sushi out of vil­lains. The fights and trans­for­ma­tions re­quire Clinken­beard to sug­gest vi­o­lent phys­i­cal ac­tion with her voice, but if she moves too much, she’ll go off mic and spoil the take.

“Di­rec­tor Justin Cook had to teach me how to make all of those fight­ing sounds with­out ac­tu­ally mak­ing the mo­tions,” she says: “It has a lot to do with di­aphragm con­trol and en­ergy, but it’s be­come sec­ond na­ture. Right now, I’m preg­nant and I can do Luffy while sit­ting in a chair, re­laxed.”

As the cap­tain of the Straw Hat Pi­rates, Luffy is fa­nat­i­cally de­voted to his mates, and will go to any lengths to save them when they’re in trou­ble. But he’s clearly not the sharpest sabre in the dead­man’s chest. When nee­dle- nosed crew­man Usopp poses as a masked su­per- hero, Luffy gapes at him with a fan­boy’s awe.

“The rhythms of Luffy’s speech come from the fact that he doesn’t think: Ev­ery­thing is a lit­tle bit con­fused or overly happy,” Clinken­beard says. “There’s not a lot of lay­ers to any­thing he says, which is very dif­fer­ent from al­most ev­ery fe­male char­ac­ter I’ve played.”

“I love him not re­al­iz­ing Usopp has the mask on — he never learns, which is a huge part of his charm,” she says. “Once, he was lis­ten­ing to all the char­ac­ters de­scribe a plan to him: When we go in there, this is what we’re go­ing to do. Luffy says, ‘ Got it!’ I turned to the di­rec­tor at the end of the take and asked, ‘ Do I got it?’ He said, ‘ You don’t got it.’ I knew Luffy was go­ing to go blast­ing in!”

Clinken­beard is a pop­u­lar guest at anime con­ven­tions, where One Piece fans want their hero to speak to them. “By now most people know I’m Luffy,” she con­cludes. “But it’s fun to have people be amazed that you’re the one who made those sounds — it kind of strokes the voice ac­tor ego.”

Colleen Clinken­beard

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