A regular member of the stable of FUNimation actors as of 2012, Brina has been featured in many of FUNimation's recent big-selling titles: Black Butler (as Ciel Phantomhive), Spice & Wolf (as the wolf of the title, Holo), and Rebuild of Evangelion (none other than Rei Ayanami). Aside from voice-acting duties, she's also served as an ADR director and music director for other FUNimation productions, acted in a number of indie films, and is co-creator of The Troubadors, a Kickstarter-funded musical comedy web series. What follows is an interview with her, edited somewhat for clarity and content.
Q: Claymore was the first place I associated your name with a particular role (Priscilla), in particular because it was a show with an all-female cast -- and a very different kind of show than most with an all-female cast!
Brina Palencia: Yeah! Especially with powerful female characters, not just the typical, “Oh! I’m in love with a boy!” Much more hardcore.
Q: Are roles like Claymore the sort of thing you’d like to get more of, if you can?
Brina Palencia: It depends -- I mean, with the character, I don’t think I could do another character like that again; it was too painful on my voice! I don’t like doing a lot of the -- well, I do like it, but I don’t like doing a lot of it, the fighting stuff, because it hurts to do all that screaming, and it does damage. There are techniques to do it to where it doesn’t hurt your voice as much, but no matter what, it’s going to hurt your voice. So, I try to avoid that kind of stuff!
Q: One of the other roles that stood out most was Rei Ayanami from Rebuild of Evangelion. That must have been pretty intimidating, to step into a role of that stature.
Brina Palencia: Yeah! It really was. When Mike McFarland, the ADR director, first told me about it, I had never watched the show before, so I didn’t realize how intense it was. He tried to give me an idea, but it wasn’t until they did the cast announcement and I had several people email me and write me online saying, “Hey, this is the best character ever! Don’t screw it up! Or else I’ll hate you forever!” So that was a little intimidating, and then going to Anime Expo when they premiered the first movie, just seeing the response from people was really intense. But so far I’ve had nothing but positive comments that I’ve seen, or that people have made to me, so that’s good!
Q: So you didn’t really have an idea at first of how gigantic and intimidating this could be.
Brina Palencia: Naw, oh, yeah.
Q: You didn’t go back and study the previous English version?
Brina Palencia: I was actually told not to. Mike asked me, because the Rebuild series is so different from the original, he told me to not watch it. Because he didn’t want it to affect my performance, he just wanted to be able to direct me the way it needed to be done. And I trust Mike!
Q: They do call it Rebuild of Evangelion; they’re restarting entirely from scratch.
Brina Palencia: Exactly.
Q: Another role that stood out in your filmography was Holo, from Spice & Wolf. Describe a bit about getting into that role?
Brina Palencia: I love that character, and I actually based the performance for that character off of Katharine Hepburn.
Brina Palencia: Yeah, it’s the first time I have done that; that I have based it off a specific actor or anything like that. So that was really fun. And Jamie Marchi, who directed the first part of it, she helped me find that voice. I really liked being paired with [J. Michael] Tatum, and I think that was -- yes, that was the first time we were paired together. After that it was Black Butler, so it was really fun. We had worked together, as far as me directing him and him directing me, but that was the first time that we were first paired up, whether romantically or anything else!
Q: That’s interesting -- directing someone, and then turning around and having them direct you in turn. That sounds like it could be problematic?
Brina Palencia: No -- as long as people aren’t jerks about it! Most of the people that work a lot at FUNimation, one of the reasons they work a lot at FUNimation is because they’re not [jerks]. Because they don’t have the ego. I mean, there are so many actors who come in, and they will ... you know, I did bit parts for two years before I ever got a featured character. And there are people who will come in and audition for two shows and be like, “Why haven’t I got a lead yet? I don’t understand why I don’t have a lead.” Or they’ll say, “Uhh, I know this show way better than you,” and they’ll try to pretend they know everything, and they just don’t have enough humility to be directed by anybody, and that’s why they don’t get cast! But people like Tatum, and myself, if I’m an actor, I’m an actor. If I’m a director, I’m a director. That’s just the two roles you have to switch back and forth from. If someone’s directing me, it’s not my job; I don’t have to think about all that stuff. They just tell me what to do, and that’s what I do!
Q: You touched on another role I was about to talk about -- Ciel Phantomhive from Black Butler. Was that based on anyone in particular, or was that put together from scratch?
Brina Palencia: That was ... well, he kind of reminded me of, slightly, only because he kind of looks like him, of Miharu from Nabari no Ou. What’s funny is, I had seen artwork from Black Butler because I knew what it was, and because Ciel looks a little like Miharu, and Sebastian looks a little like Yoite, I thought that it might be some sort of fan-fiction, like, spinoff of the two of them, because they looked so alike to me! But turns out there very different -- two very completely different shows! But I didn’t realize that when I first saw pictures of it. But he’s a lot different from Miharu; he’s a lot darker. Somebody -- I didn’t come up with this -- somebody pointed out that he’s almost like Batman, which made me really happy to hear that, because Batman is my favorite comic book character. That was cool. I didn’t base the character off that at all, but I liked the fact that someone interpreted it that way.
Q: Another credit I see attached to you is “music director” -- can you tell us a little of what that entails?
Brina Palencia: For music director, usually, it means that I adapted the lyrics into English. I didn’t translate them, I just took the translation, made it fit rhythmically while still maintaining the poetic aspect of it -- so, adapted the lyrics, then directed the singers on the song. Sometimes I’ll only be adapting the lyrics, depending on the schedules, but most of the time it means I adapted the lyrics and I directed the singer.
Q: You have both directors’ and actors’ credits, but is there a particular direction between the two that you want to move more in -- being behind the mike, or out in the control booth?
Brina Palencia: I actually prefer doing voice acting over directing, and I love doing music directing, but it’s very few and far between whenever I get that gig. But I prefer being a voice actor. I only directed for two years and I quit, because directing takes up all of your time. It’s so intense. I mean, granted, once a show is done, I have a lot more pride in ownership in a show if I directed it versus if I just voice-acted in it. But voice acting is just a lot more fun and a lot less stressful, and I’m trying to focus a lot on doing on-camera work as well, and so it’s easier to switch back and forth, and I have so much more time to be able to do both, whereas if I’m directing, that’s all I’m doing.
Q: You've done more reticent characters [e.g., Ai Enma from Hell Girl] and more assertive ones [Holo]; which do you prefer?
Brina Palencia: I get this question a lot because I do so many different types of roles. What I like is the fact that I do get to do all of them. I like that one day I can be super high and crazy like Tamama or [Tony Tony] Chopper [from One Piece], and the next day I can be very quiet and low, like Rei or Eve [from Black Cat], and then the next day I could do a brassy, fun teenager like Mikoto or Sayaka. I like having that versatility, and I like not being pigeonholed or typecast in anything.