Kari Wahlgren may not get recognized every day on the street, but you’re hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard her voice through their television speakers at one time or another. Currently a featured regular in Nickelodeon’s hit show “The Fairly Odd Parents” as ‘Chloe Carmichael’ and in Adult Swim’s “Rick and Morty” as ‘Jessica,’ the popular voice-over actress can be heard as the voice of hundreds of characters in animation, anime, and video games. Best known for her work in the anime series “FLCL” as ‘Haruko Haruhara,’ Wahlgren spends several hours a day recording multiple sessions for projects that include “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” and “Minecraft: Story Mode.” Boundless energy and a remarkable vocal-range have made Wahlgren one of the top voice-over actresses in Los Angeles.
Currently set to be heard in the new Square Enix game, “Final Fantasy XV” and season 3 of “Rick and Morty,” Wahlgren took the time to speak with us about the ins and outs of voice-over acting, the appreciation she has for her fans, and “Girl #2,” her first effort in writing and producing.
You are one busy woman! How do you maintain a sense of balance while working on several projects simultaneously?
It’s really hard sometimes! I think that whole idea of “balance” is a lifelong process on multiple levels. From a voice-over standpoint, you just have to be extremely flexible and in the moment for each project- and hope that the engineers save a voice reference for your characters! I often do multiple sessions in a day, so it kills me if someone says, “Do you remember what you did last time?” I can barely remember what I did yesterday.
Voice-over acting appealed to you from a very young age. What were some of the cartoons or characters that inspired you as a child to explore this field?
I was a big Disney fan as a kid. If there was a cartoon with a princess involved, I was probably watching it! “Batman: The Animated Series” had a HUGE impact on me. It was one of the shows that specifically made me want to focus on voice-over work. It really broadened my whole concept of what cartoons could be.
What kind of preparation occurs in developing a voice for a character? Is the process often a collaboration between yourself and the creators, or do you have the freedom to craft the voice to your choosing?
I use everything I’m given to help create a character. Artwork, scripts- even knowing the network can help influence the tone of my performance. In the best situations, it is a creative collaboration: you bring in ideas that influence the creators and vice versa. Every once in a while, the creators have an extremely specific idea of what they want. In those cases, I look at it as my job to try and create their specific vision, but it’s always more fun when you get to help craft the character.
What is a typical recording session like for you? Do animation, anime, and game recording sessions vary greatly from one another?
Yes, they vary a lot. In anime, the cartoons have already been created, so you have to sync up every line to a pre-existing picture. Video games almost always record individually, while a lot of original cartoons record the actors together as a cast.
Your first role as ‘Haruko Haruhara’ in “FLCL” remains a beloved anime character and fan favorite. How has your relationship with the character evolved over the years?
I think my appreciation for the character of ‘Haruko’ grows with each passing year. I had no idea when I recorded it that it would mean so much to people. To have someone say, “You were my childhood” makes me feel so honored. Old…but honored!
Will you be reprising your role as ‘Haruko’ in the newly announced “FLCL” seasons?
I don’t know yet if I’ll be coming back for the new seasons, but I really, really hope so.
Last month “Girl #2,” a short film that you wrote and produced, premiered at the 12th Annual HollyShorts Film Festival. Can you tell us a little about the film and how the project unfolded? Do you plan to do more writing and producing in the future?
I’m very excited about this project! It’s my first foray into writing and producing, and I’d like to do more of that in the future. The short film is basically a horror story about two sorority girls trying to survive a serial killer’s rampage in their sorority house. I don’t want to give away anything else, but I think it turned out great and the response so far has been amazing! The film has now gotten into festivals in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Arizona and England, so I’m hoping people will check it out!
I hear that you are a huge bookworm. Would you ever consider doing audio-book narration?
I love to read! I usually have two books going at any given time. Audio-books are very draining vocally; I have a lot of respect for the voice actors that do them regularly! I’ve never done one, but there are some amazing charity organizations that record books for the blind, so if I ever did one, it would probably be for a cause like that.
You often take the time to engage with fans, and your appreciation of them shows. What does your relationship with your fans mean to you?
Wow, that means a lot…thank you. I’m an incredibly private person, and things like conventions and social media make me pretty anxious. But I’m making an effort to reach out and connect with the fans, because they’re wonderful. I feel incredibly grateful for them. When you hear that someone got through a difficult time in life because of one of your characters or that a parent is watching one of your shows with their kids…aw crap, now I’m getting choked up…
Any shows you’d like to work on that you haven’t gotten a chance to yet?
DC Superhero Girls!
As a voice-over actor, I imagine one has to always be willing to try new things and not be overly consumed by what other people may think of them. What advice would you give to someone who struggles to free themselves from the fear of judgement?
I make fart sounds and baby noises for a living. Embrace your inner dork. Love your inner dork.
To stay up to date with Kari Walgren, follow her on Twitter @KariWalgren