Anime Weekend Atlanta Interview: Vic Mignogna, Anime Voice Actor & ‘Star Trek Continues’ Captain Kirk
If you’ve watched any (English language) Anime in the last twenty plus years then there’s an extremely high chance that you’ve heard Vic Mignogna‘s voice. He’s been doing anime voice work for some of the most popular anime shows like Full Metal Alchemist, Attack on Titan, Bleach, and many, many others. Recently, at Anime Weekend Atlanta 2014 I got the chance to sit down with Vic. What first brought him to my attention was his web series Star Trek Continues. Once I started watching and looked him up I realized that I had heard his voice work countless times in a ton of the anime I had watched over the years. I like anime, but I’m really a Star Trek nerd. Star Trek is what started my love of all things sci-fi and nerdy back in the day and Vic and I share that background. You’ll see what I’m talking about in the interview because we ended up talking a lot about Star Trek and Star Trek Continues.
After the interview Vic had an hour-long solo panel in the Grand Ballroom. It was quickly packed with just over 500 plus anime fans and I have to say that Vic knows how to work a convention crowd. About five minutes before the panel was scheduled to start he grabbed a mic and was off to the races. Working the crowd with a mixture of Carnival Barker, Comedian, and genuinely interested anime fan. He took questions from the audience moving all around the hall, in fact I don’t remember him on the stage except to come out and at the end when he left. He was delighted with the cosplay in the audience, often running to someone in costume complimenting them and showing that person’s cosplay off to the crowd. By the end of what turned out to be 90 minutes instead of the scheduled 60 he had the room in the palm of his hand. He’s a very entertaining speaker. At a later panel he handed out his Christmas CD to fans.Vic runs the gambit when it comes to entertainment, he does voice work, acting, directing, film production, plays music (I know he plays the piano and probably plays other instruments), singing, song lyrics and composing, set and prop design and creation, he’s got his hand in just about every skill needed to bring a show like Star Trek Continues to the small screen. I know I’m gushing here, but while going into the interview I knew that I enjoyed his acting and voice work, by the time the interview was over I was equally impressed with his knowledge and skills in his chosen craft.
Let’s get to the interview and after I’ll put in a bunch of links, clips and other stuff that you can check out.
How did your career in entertainment begin?
I started acting and getting interested in acting and performing when I was around eight or nine years old, started in church as a lot of people did, singing and performing. My first (voice acting) role was Vega in Street Fighter II and that was probably 1999 or 2000.
Which anime voice role do you get the most fan reaction from?
Full Metal Alchemist without question is the top one. I’m very privileged and honored to have been a part of that show, it’s a great series. A close second to that would probably be Tamaki from Ouran High School Host Club and then you know Dragonball Z, Vampire Knight, Pokemon.
What do you find more creatively challenging at this point in your career, acting, directing, or voice work?
To be honest with you , I think the Star Trek production that I’ve mounted is the most challenging because.. it’s enormous. My degree is in Film, I’ve spent my whole life working in film production, completely unrelated to voice acting. When I decided I wanted to do this Star Trek production (Star Trek Continues) I thought I had a pretty fair idea what would be involved in executing such a thing. I was so wrong, underestimated I should say, I so underestimated what was involved. It’s enormous, and to sit back and watch a finished episode, and say, “Holy crap look at what we did,” all that went into it. All the people, all the time, talent, skills, the effort, the hours and hours of preparation, in writing scripts and re-writing scripts, trying to find the right costume fabrics, trying to find the right wigs, and casting, organization and building the sets that you need, it doesn’t end. It’s really been a big challenge. I’m very, very proud of the team that I’ve assembled, and I think the quality of the work we’re doing shows. I think it speaks for itself. We’ve won two awards in the last month alone for the web series. It’s challenging, but clearly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Do you find it more difficult to direct others or yourself?
Oh you can’t direct yourself. You have no objective perspective at all. You think you’re doing something, and you’re not doing that. or it’s not coming across to others the way.. in fact the first episode we did of Star Trek Continues I directed it, and it turned out great, but I felt very much at a disadvantage because I could not devote all of my energy just to performing and I could not devote all of my energy just to directing So something had to give, I would say it was first 60/40 and then 70/30, it was always fluctuating back and forth.
I don’t like directing and acting at the same time, because I don’t feel like I can give my best to either one. I do it, and I think I do it OK, but based on my experience it wouldn’t be my first choice.
Your love of the original series is easily seen in the quality of the episodes you’ve produced so far, What goals did you set yourself in making Star Trek Continues?
I had been involved with some other fan productions and, as a professional, one of the first things I noticed when I walked in was how horribly inefficient they were. A lot of people didn’t really know what they were doing, it was very disorganized, and I thought how did they ever accomplish anything. I started thinking this could be done so much better, I’m sorry that sounds critical, but that’s the fact. These guys are not actors, most people, if you were to poll most people they would say one of the biggest criticisms of fan films is what? The acting. Their not actors and it’s painful to watch sometimes. Anyone can build a set. A bad actor can destroy a good script, even with good sets and good costumes, that’s great, but it’s all about the story and the actor’s ability to tell the story, that’s what it comes down to.
So I thought, if I could put together something that raised the bar in every way, the lighting, the camera work, the stories and the acting first and foremost. Get friends of mine who are actors, who are not afraid to take on serious things. I mean anyone can run around and fire phasers, anyone can beam down and flip open a communicator, but to really tell the stories the original series told, you must have actors. The original series didn’t win awards for effects, they won awards for story and it’s endearing because of the relationships and the stories. The performances of the actors so that was what inspired me from working with other productions that I felt like there were several areas of production that could be improved upon.
I’ve been doing this stuff my whole life, preparing for, I’ve developed skills in acting, production, directing, sound design, lighting, camera, building sets, making props. What if I were to take all of that accumulated knowledge from the last 45 years and merged it with my childhood love that inspired me in the first place, to do all those creative things.
Do that’s what I did, and I didn’t know how it would be received, I was telling someone the other day, I never had a clue, I just wanted to do it. I never imagined that it would be as well received as it has been. Now there’s an expectation, of more and better, and when’s the next one? So now there’s this added stress.
Michael Forrest reprised his Apollo role over 40 years later, can you tell us about how that came about?
Wasn’t that awesome, wasn’t that the coolest thing ever? I did a Star Trek fan production with Barbara Luna, who played Marlena, in the original Mirror Mirror episode. She and I hit it off and became friends. We stayed in touch and one day she said to me, “You know Michael Forrest would love to do some kind of Star Trek thing.” This was a year or two at least before I put together Star Trek Continues. So I just kind of logged that away in the back of my mind.
When it came time to start the production we were looking for a first episode idea I thought, hey I wonder… so I wrote the story and I got Barbara Luna to get me in touch with Mike. We met for lunch at a Deli in LA and I told him my Apollo redemption story. He loved it. He was retired, done acting, but he came out of retirement to play this role for us. We were so enormously grateful and everyone on our production absolutely fell in love with him, he is such a wonderful, kind, gentle man and amazing actor. He’s Star Trek Royalty, what a great way to christen the premiere episode.
You’ve gathered a great cast for Star Trek Continues and had some great guest stars with Erin Grey and Lou Ferrigno, who can we expect to see next?
Wait till you see who we’re going to see next. You know who else we’ve had, Jamie Bamber from Battlestar Galactica, He was the guy on the hull with Sulu. Who did he play in Battlestar Galactica? Apollo, and now he’s in our episode with Apollo. How great is that?
In episode two, the Lolani episode, Checkov (Wyatt Lenhart) wasn’t able to be there, so there was this New Zealander at the helm, that was Daniel Logan, he played little Boba Fett in Star Wars.
Who else? In the Mirror Mirror episode, the Halken leader who was on the view screen, that was Bobby Clark. He was the Gorn in the original series. He was the guy in the Gorn suit that fought Kirk and he was also an extra in the original Mirror Mirror. He was one of Checkov’s henchmen, so we actually had someone from the original Mirror episode in our Mirror episode.
So who can you expect to see to see in the future? I will tell you that, without giving you any names, and not confirming anything, I will tell you that I always wanted to, my goal is to bring people in from different genres, Battlestar, Buck Rodgers, Star Wars, I know several people who I’ve met from doing conventions that are big Star Trek fans that would do something with us if we asked them to. Actors from shows like Warehouse 13, Babylon 5, Doctor Who, so we’ve got something exciting planned for the next episode, that I think the fans will really enjoy.
You’ve gone so far as to shave your chest hair just like Roddenberry made William Shatner do back in the original series for those shirtless scenes, what other original series detail brought you the most pleasure to bring back to the screen?
There are millions, I’m not kidding, you probably don’t have enough memory space on that recorder. In Captain Kirk’s quarters alone, he had all these little sculptures and knickknacks on the counter. Personal things like you’d dress a set with. Well they don’t exist anymore. You can’t just go buy them at Target. So I actually had people, and I myself sculpted pieces that just sit on the counter. There’s this terracotta statue about twelve inches tall of a little Mayan guy, it’s always been there, and it’s not essential to the story, but the more you can make the set look like Kirk’s quarters, the more quickly the audience accepts, that this is Captain Kirk’s quarters, now let’s watch the story. As opposed to fixating on, “There was something back there that’s not there and that doesn’t look right.” That’s the only reason you pay attention to those details is to allow the audience to accept it quickly and move on.
There’s a painting on the wall in the Transporter room, a star field with tow lines that go through it. I had an artist recreate it to scale and then I had it printed. The discs that we stand on, the transporter discs. Those were actually Fresnel lenses that go in movie lights. Back in the 60’s they were lying around everywhere around the studio. Where do you get them now without paying thousands of dollars? They’re vintage. So we borrowed one form a rental company in LA and we resin cast it so that we’re standing on replica Fresnel lenses.
The zippers in the uniforms, most people who are big Star Trek fans know that this seam here (Pointing to armpit) it’s a raglan seam. A hidden zipper, that allowed them to put on the shirt without messing up their makeup, and zip it up tight. Even the hardcore fans that know they had zippers in the uniforms, know that back in the 60’s those zippers were metal. They didn’t have plastic zippers yet. The metal zippers are very flexible. Now a days you can’t even find metal zippers. Even the high-end licensed replica uniforms have plastic invisible zippers, well they tend to pucker because the plastic is more stiff it doesn’t give and move like a metal zipper. One of our costumers scoured the Internet and found metal invisible zippers in Michigan. So some of our uniforms have metal zippers, little things like that make it more special.
Do you find that all the effort that you put into the details of the sets and costumes helps you get into character easier?
I don’t know if it does for me, I couldn’t answer for the other actors, maybe it does for them, but I will tell you that once we get those sets lite. You could go down there right now and look at them in existing light and say these are amazing sets, but it literally transports you back in time when they are lite properly and you walk onto the set when we’re getting ready to film. It looks exactly like you remember watching it in your mind’s eye. So it’s incredibly special to step into those sets and play those iconic characters, knowing how amazing it all looks behind you.
Your Kickstarter raised enough for 3 more episodes and we’ve seen two. When can we expect the next episode of Star Trek Continues and can you give us a hint about the subject matter?
I’m not going to give you a hint, but I will tell you that it’s a very dramatic episode that is a nice contrast to the action oriented episode we just did. Star Trek was action adventure. but there was a lot of drama and a lot of pathos in the original series. There are episodes even to this day make me tear up at certain moments. I wanted to tell one of those stories, something that would really just grab people.
We have made good one our Kickstarter promise. A lot of people take money for Kickstarters and you’re like, “What ever happened to that thing?” We made a conservative estimate on what it would take for us to make three more and by Golly we’ve delivered the goods just like we promised we would. After this next episode it will be time to crowd fund again. Either crowd fund or find some really wealthy people who love Star Trek and wanna help fund the series. That would be my hope I would far prefer never to have to crowd fund. I don’t like doing it, the first episode I funded personally myself, because I didn’t feel like it was ethical, that is was right, that I should ask people to give me money for something that we hadn’t even done or proven we could do. So I put my money where my mouth was and I paid tens of thousands of dollars to fly everybody down, and put everybody in hotels and rent equipment, and feed everybody, to make the first one. The first one was used as proof of concept of what we were capable of. Hopefully there are many more to come.
When the AWA Press Director announced that I had a couple of minutes left I asked Vic about the possibility of touring the Kingsland Ga. studios and he said:
Our partner productions Starship Farragut, we partnered up to acquire that building and build the sets. They’re facilitating something they call Farragut Fest in December the 6th and 7th. It’s like a big open house, they’ll have vendors there, the studio will be open to tour through. Let’s put you in touch with them.
If you haven’t seen any of Star Trek Continues yet, I urge you to check it out. The cast has more than a few familiar faces that includes:
They’ve even made mock-up DVD cases for each episode.
Here’s a video tour of those fantastic sets I’m planning on seeing in December at Farragut Fest:
My advice is that if Vic is at your next convention, stop by and meet him or check out one of his panels. You’ll have a good time.