It’s rare to have a chance to talk with someone with such a successful career. Lisle Wilkerson is not only personable, she is talented and successful in her field. Having voiced some of the most popular characters from Tekken, Shenmu, and Virtual Fighter, she has also translated for top celebrities like Keanu Reeves. NCG had a short interview with her at Animeland Wasabi 2017 to learn about her voice acting and translating career. This is what she had to say:
Stellar.ice: Let’s start off by having you introduce yourself.
Lisle: I grew up in Tokyo, Japan. I’ve done a lot of voice acting for Video Games such as Virtual Fighter, Tekken, Shenmue; a lot of old school video games specially. I did most of my work in Japan. I lived there for over 30 years. So that’s just a little bit about me. I’m much more complex than that, though.
Stellar.ice: So, who is your favorite character to voice?
Lisle: You know, a lot of voice actors would say, “I can’t choose one!” But, for me, in all honesty, I love doing Nina just because of the whole complexity of her character. Cause she’s this really strong, cold-blooded assassin, and yet she has a vulnerability when it comes to family so I really like that whole backstory with her. However, I also do like the sassy-ness of Virtual Fighter Sarah Bryant. In some ways, I see a lot of myself in that. And also with Joy from Shenmue. At the end of the day, it would probably be Nina. But I always see something I can identify with in a character.
Stellar.ice: I just like Nina, because I like playing her.
Lisle: And this is another thing I love about Nina, is, I am the most terrible button masher in this world, and yet I can sometimes win with Nina. Now with Christie, I’ve tried playing Christie because she does the Copoeria, and it’s a lot more, to me, complicated. But somehow, with all that I do, can sometimes win a match.
Stellar.ice: Do you play a lot of fighting games or video games in general?
Lisle: Sometimes. I didn’t really grow up playing very many video games. Except for the really old school games, like Pac-Man and such. It kind of dates me. I do play sometimes. It’s a great way to relieve stress or sometimes get even more stressed when you don’t win.
Stellar.ice: So also in your career, you do interpretation and you’ve done a lot of interpretation for a lot of famous celebrities. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Lisle: I’ve done all kinds of interpreting. One would be Keanu Reeves. He had a film about four years ago; it was his directorial debut. Man of Tai Chi was the name of the film. With that he used Yohei Taneda, who is probably one of the best and most famous set designers/ art directors in Japan. He’s done a lot of work with Quentin Tarantino and I think right now he’s working with John Woo in a film. He’s a very wonderful guy. So, he was working with Keanu Reeves and they needed,-even though he speaks great English- they needed someone to interpret. Usually with something like that I follow him. I’m kind of like a shadow. Wherever Yohei goes, I go, and when there are times that he will speak in English -espcially with Keeanu Reeves he will speak in English- but if there’s a time when he gets stuck, then I’m there to help facilitate things. That was a really great experience. I did it for probably about a month in Hong Kong which was really cool and a lot of fun. Keanu Reeves was great; a really cool guy to work with.
I’ve also done a lot of the Red Carpet events. In fact, I will be at the Grammy’s coming up. I do the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards, and a lot of times with that I do the Red Carpet, and because the crew is Japanese, and it’s the very high pace environment, you only get about a minute with a star so you have to do your questions in English and repeat in Japanese, and it’s a very high pressure environment. Some of the people I’ve interpreted and interviewed for are people like Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Kevin Spacy who is so much fun; I love him. Another one who is getting a lot of attention right now is Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s one of my favorite interviews. He’s quite sassy and I love that. I love sassy types because I’m kind of a little bit of a smart ass. I like teasing, so I love when someone teases me back and we can kind of banter like that.
I’ve done all kinds of interpreting. It’s a really wonderful skill set to have. I think I really enjoy doing it because of the satisfaction I have that you’re helping to facilitate communication.
Stellar.ice: How did you get into it? How were you able to get to this position where you can translate for all of these famous people?
Lisle: Well, it actually, and even with voice acting, everything that I’ve done really comes from radio. I started a radio [station] when I was 19 in Tokyo. We would have guests come from the States and other parts of the world and we would have them on our show, it was the same fast paced environment because it’s live radio. So I would have them on my show and I would ask them a question in English, but first ask the question in Japanese to my audience, then they would say it in English and then- I interviewed Pink like three times- So Pink would respond and I would give that in Japanese so it was like this catch-ball kind of thing. Because I came from that environment, needing to or being able to interpret in other areas kind of came naturally. I think I was very fortunate.
But you know, at the end of the day, it’s still a work in progress. I’m still finding I don’t know a word and I’m like, “hmmmmmm”.
It’s really taken off. I never thought I’d be doing it. It’s not like it’s something I really set out to do, but I think that I thrive in that kind of environment so it’s a lot of fun.
Stellar.ice: What are the struggles of being an interpreter?
Lisle: Not knowing every word. So, for instance, I do a lot of the entertainment stuff, but I also do a lot of work with big companies such as Intel or Toyota and Panasonic. A lot of the time I’ll do simultaneous interpreting which is a whole other level of craziness. I just did a big job a few days ago where I had to interpret for clinical trials and it was really big Japanese pharmaceutical company and I knew none of the words in English so I had a lot of work ahead of me. The day before we were supposed to do the focus groups they gave me a long list of terms that I needed to know in Japanese. I’m like, “I don’t even know these in English! Oh my god!” But I’ve now come to figure out, and this is something you see a lot in voice acting as well, you figure out a system in order to make it work. For me, I will make a cheat sheet and have all the pages in front of me and circle the words that keep coming up and then highlight with a pink pen of something so that it’s really easy to catch my eye. I have a few things that I will use and it will get me through. Once I get through the first focus group, then I’ll be good. As long as I can get through the first one it’s like, “ahhh. Now I know what’s going on!”
There are a lot of voice actors out there who only want to do voice acting and I think that’s absolutely admirable and I love that. I’m not that kind of person. I like to do a lot of things and I like to really challenge myself in a lot of areas so I’m always saying, “yeah, sure, I’ll do that!” and I’m like “what did I just agree to?” I find myself doing that all the time.
Stellar.ice: You grew up in Tokyo and you lived there 30 years. Going from a Japanese atmosphere to an American atmosphere, what is the difference? How do they compare?
Lisle: Even working in Japan is very different than it is here. One of the things that I quickly realized here is you have to kind of toot your own horn a little bit. Talk about, “Yah, I’m pretty awesome and I can do this.” In Japan, you can’t do that because people don’t do that. And this would also be voice acting as well. People don’t really talk about themselves. Sometimes you’ll get blacklisted if you do that because they don’t like that. So I learned even with voice acting, when people came over here they were like, “Yeah! This this and this. This is what I do.” and I’m like, “Oh my gooosh.” I learned that that is kind of what you have to do, you have to sell yourself more. Japanese don’t like that. They don’t like the hard sell.
I think another difference is even just the way… here it’s time is money… In Japan you’ll have 5,000 meetings before you get into a work environment. So with the Keanu Reeves film, I had to Skype with them two or three times, and I’m like, “Dudes! I’m not getting paid for this yet!” But it’s this whole ‘establish a working relationship’ before you start working together and that’s something really important with a lot of Japanese sometimes. Here it’s like, “Nope, let’s get it. Let’s do it. Ok. We committed we’re working together, let’s just go.”
Even just culturally it’s so different. I’ve had so many culture shock moments just coming back to the states. Which is the reason why I started “The Misadventures of the Blonde Geishas” panel because I’m like, “What’s going on here? How come I’m the only one acting this way?”
It’s been a really wonderful journey to come over here and work with a lot of people. I am hoping to go to the Olympics for 2020 so that’s really exciting because it’s coming up in a few years.
Stellar.ice: Any projects you have coming up that you want to talk about?
Lisle: Right now I’m doing the ULTRAMAN live action films that are out right now in the movie theaters. It’s an independent thing, it’s not in big theaters, but I’m doing some work with that.
Also, some other stuff I can’t talk about yet. But I’m also planning on starting -I haven’t really worked on it yet- but I’m planning on starting a podcast about my adventures growing up in Japan by giving peoples insight into the Japanese culture and it’s one of the ways I want to start bridging the Olympics coming up. I want to start putting material out there to start getting ready for it.
Stellar.ice: Any closing comments?
Lisle: I have to say, I love the Fighting Game Community. They’ve been very gracious because I do my “Playing Tekken with Nina” panel where I smack talk and I try to use their control and I do all these crazy things but it’s been really wonderful to meet people who enjoy the work that I was apart of and I just want to say “Thank you.” I really enjoy meeting fans. I’m very very blessed so thank you! Thank you!