James Arnold Taylor's ProfileFave Voices: Fred Flintstone, Obi-Wan Kenobi
Hometown: Santa Barbara, USA
Games: Final Fantasy X & X-2, Kingdom Hearts 2
Sheila: Hi James, my first question is how did you get started in voice acting?
James: Well, to make a really long, boring story considerably shorter, I began about sixteen years ago as a stand up comic, and then became a disc jockey at a local radio station back in my home town of Santa Barbara, and then began a career combining the two as a comedy writer and producer for a radio network out here in Los Angeles, where I presently live. From there I got an agent and then began auditioning and working in the voice-over community.
Sheila: Your voice acting career has consisted mostly of cartoons. What led your transition to a video game?
James: Well, I think that what really brought me to doing video games was the advancement of the technology. Since video games can now like support high quality audio and the makers of the games have greater stories to tell than they did in the past, they want them to play out the same way a movie or a cartoon does and so they started asking for actors like myself to supply the voices. It's really gotten to the point where there's hardly any difference, as a voice actor, between doing a video game or doing a cartoon.
Sheila: What personal interests or inspirations made you want pursue the role of Tidus and ultimately be in Final Fantasy X?
James: You know, I was actually really fortunate to have this role offered to me by the voice director, Jack Fletcher, who is a great guy. I had met Jack while he was recording the voices for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the movie, and I was recording Team Atlantis, which is the upcoming sequel to the Disney movie Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and both were being recorded at the same studio.
I guess he just felt that my voice was right for the part of Tidus and I didn't even have to audition. In fact, when I first came in, I had no idea that it was going to be for the lead character. I thought I was going to be doing like some background voices or just like a day's worth of work and two and a half months and like hundreds of pages of dialog later, it really then kinda hit me exactly how big of a project this game was.
Sheila: So did you take any interest in any other Final Fantasy titles in the series, in general, to kind of get an idea of what Final Fantasy is and what it has become over the years?
James: Well, yeah, I had certainly known about Final Fantasy and being connected with this huge, amazing, franchise was definitely exciting enough, but I really didn't want to know too much about the previous characters because I wanted Tidus, as a character, to really stand on his own.
Sheila: So how many details were you given about him before you even started doing the voice acting?
James: Very few. One of the producers, Alex Smith (great guy, he's a really nice guy), he sat me down literally about ten minutes before I went into the studio for the first time, and he gave me this quick overview, so my head is spinning with all this information and as I had said before, it helped coming at Tidus with a bit of naivety since that's really how his character is first kind of presented to us, the game players.
Sheila: So, basically you had a lot of freedom. Now, were there a lot of retakes involved before something was actually used?
James: Well, generally we will do like three takes of each line. I'd first read it like the way I'd hear it in my head. We'd do like an ABC, and then I'd give them two varied versions. So, if the line is 'What are you talking about?' like he says to Auron in the beginning. I would say it the first way, see it right off the page, 'What are you talking about?' And then I might go, 'WHAT are YOU talking about?' then 'Whaddya talking about?'
So, I'd just give them different versions of it, different speeds, and different inflections and then they would pick the one they like best or the one that fit the time the best for the game. If I just wasn't getting it, the director would give me his thoughts or we would add lines or subtract lines to fit it in the amount of time given for each line.
Sheila: You basically had the biggest responsibility in pushing the story forward, letting it develop, getting the player involved in the story and wanting more. Did you add any personal elements into Tidus or improvise in areas you felt would better suit the character and his role?
James: Well, the American version of Tidus is definitely more of a 'dude.' You know, he's a little whiney at times, like when he's hungry. 'I'm so hungry, oh my stomach!' you know. I played him a little younger than my Japanese counterpart did (he was phenomenal, by the way, I thought he was wonderful). But there's just some things that did have to change in the translation, a lot of them were just reactions to situations.
I made him a little less serious when encountering obstacles and I think really because (and it was agreed by all of us, the producers, the director, and everybody) that the American attitude seems to just kind of naturally come off that way as opposed to the Japanese attitude which is a little more serious in things, so I would just put myself in the situation and react however I would naturally as this 'California Dude' and a lot times it would be very different than what would already be recorded in Japanese.
Sheila: Tidus makes a lot of remarks and comments and has an attitude in the game where he really doesn't like his father, doesn't care for the guy at all, mostly due to abandonment issues, his father left him as a kid. Did you relate to that in any way?
James: Yes, my parents were divorced when I was an infant and I was raised by my mother and my older sister and brother. My father would really only be around at the holidays like a lot of kids nowadays living with divorced families. So, he and I have never really been that close and when it was explained to me that Tidus' father left he and his mother and was going to be showing some angst or aggression towards him, I had a lot of personal knowledge to draw from and that really helped.
Sheila: Many cartoon and video game voice actors play their roles without actually physically interacting with the other actors or even meeting them. Did you get a chance to meet the other actors?
James: Well, I didn't get a chance to meet the other actors right then, but I actually know a lot of them because we've worked together on other projects. Now, Hedy Burress, who plays Yuna (and does also a wonderful job), I had actually never worked with her before and really only got to see her when we we'd be like in the hallways saying to each other, 'Hey, how's it going?' of the studio or between sessions or at publicity shoots after we had recorded everything. Then we really got to sit down and talk and she's just fantastic. But they would play me her lines at times so I could have something to react to, but that would be the closest we go to actually working together on the game.
But there's also just some fantastic voice actors in Final Fantasy X. Corey Burton, who is a really good friend of mine and a fabulous voice actor, you've heard him in so many things, he's done like a million different things, tons of stuff for Disney and all, and he can be heard as various characters throughout the game.
And Cree Summer, who is also an amazing voice actor, she does a ton of cartoons. She does Suzie on the Rugrats, she also played Princess Kida in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and I co-star with her and Corey Burton (Corey plays Mole in Atlantis) in the upcoming Team Atlantis, the one I mentioned earlier. I play Milo Thatch, I took over for Michael J. Fox, and Cree plays Princess Kida. But the funny thing is in Final Fantasy X is Cree is doing the voice of Tidus as a ten year old. So when you see those parts where there's the little Tidus, that's actually Cree Summer doing the voice of Tidus. So we were actually doing the same character on that and then we would across the hallway and record Atlantis and she would be my girlfriend, Milo's girlfriend, in that. So, it was pretty funny.
John DiMaggio who plays Wakka and Kimahri is, of course, Bender on Futurama, you know, Bender the robot. And I got to work on Futurama for two seasons in the past couple of years and I had a great time doing that. So, none of us got to work together on the game, but we all definitely get to see each other on a regular basis doing other projects.
Sheila: Alright. With that being the case did you guys have the opportunity to contribute your own ideas outside of the script to try and improve the character interactions and relationships?
James: Well, we certainly would want to personalize it as much as possible, the interaction between them, but as a rule, we rarely got to hear what the other cast members were voicing. So, we pretty much were all working blind, you know. A lot of voice work is done that way. That's why direction is really crucial. You have to just trust that what you're doing is going to work with what everybody else is voicing, and in the end, hope it all comes together.
Sheila: The original script has Tidus doing a lot of impromptu to-picture dubbing with cute noises, sighs, and grunts, basic sounds for his actions that don't have words to them. Did you find redoing these moments or lines awkward at all?
James: Well, you know, the scenes that you're talking about I'm actually pretty much unaware of those because a lot of this we didn't do to-picture, meaning I didn't look at the actual game and put my voice to it. I just had a script in front of me. So, a lot of times it would just say 'Tidus acts puzzled or surprised' and they would feed me lines and say, 'James, we need you to make this noise or that noise.' or play me the sound files of the Japanese actor and what he's doing and they would just literally have me copy exactly whatever he's doing.
So, if it comes off a little awkward, it's because it didn't get Americanized. I didn't get to actually watch it and react the way the American Tidus would react in that situation. I was just mimicking what they were playing me and not actually telling me what the real scene was there. I haven't seen everything yet and we'll just see if I cringe along with everyone else when they look at that scene. I hope not, but I'm sure I probably will.
Sheila: Do you own the game? Have you played it?
James: Yes, I have played it. They actually sent me a copy a couple weeks before the game came out. They sent me a couple and I was fortunate enough to see it before a lot of people and I was truly amazed with the graphics, the music (the music is phenomenal), the sound is great, and I've only had a chance to play it for a few hours, though. I'm hoping someday to say that I've completed the entire game.
Sheila: With what you have played, have you seen any scenes where you think to yourself, 'I should've redone that line.' or 'I could've done that a little better.'?
James: Yes. I hear quite a bit that I listen to now and go, 'Aw man, I would've done that differently.' if I had, again, been able to see the action on the screen or hear what the other actors had done or know the full context of the scene. But there's certainly no going back on it, so I guess I just have to live with what is there forever.
Sheila: How was it working with Squaresoft? Did you get a chance to meet Hironobu?
James: Working with everyone at Squaresoft was fantastic. They were all really excited about the project and we always had a lot of fun in the studio. We spent a large portion of the time laughing and joking around. With a lot of jobs, you go in as the voice actor and you're in this little voice booth and everybody's behind the glass there, looking at you in the control room, and they're very serious and they just want you to read the copy and just go along.
A project this size, for this amount of time we spent with it, if it been like that it would've been extremely monotonous and I'm glad it didn't turn out like that. We had a bit of a language barrier at times, but Alex Smith, one of the producers, is fluent in both languages and he was always able to translate jokes for anybody that was missing out, either one side or the other. I didn't get a chance to meet Hironobu, but it would be great to meet him someday and thank him.
Sheila: Did you get a chance to meet anyone else? Any other head honchos or big names over at Squaresoft?
James: Well, over two and a half months or so of recording there was definitely people coming in and out all the time, producers, directors, what have you, people I would wave to through the glass and say hi to. The usual group was Jack Fletcher, the director, Alex Smith, one of the producers, Yoshinori was one of the producers, and Tetsu was I believe the monster designer and Kyoko, who works out in Los Angeles for Squaresoft and she helped put together the DVD extras and things and the interviews they did with us. So, yeah, I got to meet a lot of folks, but I don't have a list of names of everybody, but it was a great experience doing that.
Sheila: I wanted to ask you about some rumors that've been going around from Squaresoft themselves, which is really unusual, about a Final Fantasy X sequel. Comments on that?
James: Really? Well, no. This is actually the first I've heard of a sequel, although I've received a lot of e-mails from gamers asking my opinion of the game or the end of the game. Of course, I don't want to give anything away about the end of the game (for anybody that hasn't gotten there yet), but I will say that I am just as curious as everybody else about the possibilities of a sequel because I think that they're certainly there.
Sheila: Alright. Well, let's pretend it's going to happen. Would you reprise your voice talents as Tidus for a sequel?
James: Absolutely. I would love voicing Tidus again. I mean, he's definitely like an old friend to me now. I know so much more about him now than I did when we first started, knowing hardly anything about him. I would really hate it if anybody else voiced him. That would pain me greatly, so yes please, if anybody from Squaresoft is hearing this, give me a call, you guys have my number, c'mon!
Sheila: My final question for you is what advice do you have to give for those at Final Fantasy Online listening to this and just people out there in general who are aspiring to be voice actors, who want to make it their life and their career?
James: Well, I've had some really great e-mails from folks all over the world, actually. From Japan to Italy to the U.K. to Canada and everybody asking different questions and a lot of the questions that are asked is 'How do you get into voiceover and how do you do this?' In a nutshell what I would say is take care of your voice. I rest my voice whenever I can. I never overexert my voice. I don't yell and if I do I pull it from the air from my diaphragm in my stomach instead of blowing out my throat. I drink a lot of water. I have a spray, actually, for my throat that takes care of your throat.
I do exercises to make sure my voice is in good shape and I practice reading copy and reading scripts, rather. You know, you always have to be ready to read stuff without ever seeing it, so if you have comic books or whatever, read your comic books out loud and practice the different voices in the characters.
Get yourself on tape. Record yourself, record your voice and hear it, so you can get used to it. Once you get a tape together of all of your different voices and different acting abilities, you want to send that out to agents and most importantly, if you're real serious about it, you've got to stay with it. It's a tough field to break into, especially in the cartoon industry. I couldn't imagine doing anything else with my life. I just love it. So I would encourage anybody to just stay at it.
Sheila: James, thanks for your time. Appreciate you doing this for us.
James: Well, thank you. Thank you again. I had a great time doing the interview and it was a great interview and a lot of fun questions. It's always good to feed my ego. You guys also have a great web site. My nephew, Dalton, was the one that originally told me about your web site and I was just thrilled when you guys contacted me for an interview.
Plus, speaking of web sites and e-mails and all that, if anybody out there would like to e-mail me, they can visit my web site at jamesarnoldtaylor.com. You can e-mail me from that as well. I'm going to be putting some new stuff in there about Final Fantasy and maybe get some links up, get a link to your site, to keep people posted on any new, exciting things happening in the world of James Taylor or the world of Tidus and Final Fantasy, so thanks again and enjoy.
Note: This interview was originally conducted in 2002 by Sheila for FFOnline.com using a voiceover by Dh for the audio download.