I mentioned in my last article that a girl drove all the way down from New Jersey to North Carolina to Ichibancon meet Vic Mignogna, the star of Fullmetal Alchemist (he voices the main character, Edward Elric). This time, Anthony Aycock and I went to New Jersey from North Carolina to meet Aaron Dismuke, where Vic was also present. Aaron voices Edward Elric’s iron giant little brother, Alphonse. Aaron doesn’t do many conventions–mainly due to not being invited, he said–so I thought I would see him while I had the chance.
It was called Anime Fan Fest. With both Vic and Aaron as guests, plus other actors from Fullmetal Alchemist, Pokemon, and Yu-Gi-Oh, I expected it to be pretty big. However, it never seemed terribly crowded, even on Saturday afternoon. Then one of the dealers told me that this was the convention’s first year. I was immediately impressed.
The convention was held in one massive room at the Garden State Exhibition Center. Dealers (about 30), artist alley (about 10), cosplay registration, autograph sessions, and panels all took place in that one room. This layout had pros and cons. Everything was easy to find, but not everything was easy to hear. During Aaron’s Q&A, noise from the dealer area kept hitting me like Izumi Curtis’s fists.
I did hear a couple of things, though. One was Aaron talking about how his voice cracked during filming of the movie Fullmetal Alchemist: Conqueror of Shamballa. He asked to do the scene again, but director Mike McFarland told him, “No, we’ll keep that one. It shows the emotion of the character”–probably while stifling a laugh. I also heard Aaron talk about being recognized in public. Once was by a cashier at Kroger, who took a selfie with Aaron and his groceries. Another was someone who kept calling for Aaron at his parents’ house (he says he now lives off the grid). Still another was the guy in college who waited at a men’s room for Aaron to emerge and shake his hand. “You know my hands are wet,” Aaron said he told the guy. “You watched me wash them.” (Not creepy at all.)
After the Q&A, we had the pleasure of getting an interview with Aaron..
I have heard Vic talk about you falling in the booth a few times during Fullmetal Alchemist. Can you tell the story in your perspective?
Yeah, sure. Okay I was eleven whenever I started and so I was very absent minded and kind of
ADD acting, like I actually had been diagnosed. So I would like move around a lot, I had a stool and so I’d be in the booth, leaning back and picking at the walls because there’s soft soundproofing material. I destroyed those walls honestly. Like who am I kidding? It was bad. I might have even written on them at one point.
“Aaron was here”?
Yeah, I think that’s exactly what I wrote, honestly! Anyway, so yeah I was a little turd. And so I was leaning back and what I got into was this mode where I’d be leaning back and I would hear the beeps. You have three beeps and on the fourth imaginary beep is when you’d start recording your line. I was leaning back, and Mike said [Mike McFarland, director of Fullmetal Alchemist], “Alright let’s do this line.” It would go beep beep beep, and I’d go up real fast and I’d be like “Brother.” ‘Kay. And so this time I was leaning back and beep beep and I tried to lean forward but the stool like gives out. It goes the wrong way. It goes forward instead of backwards and I go backwards and it pushes me against the wall and the stool props up in the front of the booth. And so like I just end up with my legs sandwiched against my chest. And the stool like pinning me there. And the only way for me to get out myself would have been to like twist out and fall straight to the ground. And so I didn’t want to do that but I also didn’t want to admit what had happened and they had heard the sound of the stool and all the crash. That’s recorded somewhere. And so there’s this pause where Mike says “Aaron?” He looks up trying to see me but he can’t because I’m too far down. And I was just like – all I could think of – I finally realized I was going to need help. So I asked for it. A little “Help me.” He had to pull me out.
And they’ve never let you live it down.
You have mentioned before that you got into voice acting because you were related to someone who was a voice actor. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Yeah, okay. Justin Cook is currently a director of production at Funimation, but at the time he was acting and directing a bit and he basically got the impression that I was a good reader because I was reading Lord of the Rings. I wasn’t really understanding it all, but I was reading it. And you know, I was like in third grade, I was like nine. So I was a bit above my reading level, and as a result he decided, “Why don’t I try using an actual boy who I know who I have a rapport with so he won’t be nervous for this little part of a little boy instead of using a woman. It’ll sound more authentic.” And so he did, and it ended up turning out pretty good. I felt pretty good about it. And he felt pretty good about it and so he had me do a larger part from the same show and then ultimately I started auditioning for other stuff and Alphonse was the first or second character I landed actually. And I think part of the reason they gave me that part was because there were no flaps [mouth movements for animated characters] so I didn’t have to focus too much on the mouth movements and they were able to do what they needed to to adjust. So I just had to do the acting. And I think that’s a big part of what allowed me to do that at such a young age. It wasn’t as hard as what all the other actors were having to do. So it was nice. It was like having training wheels on for my first part.
What sort of shows do you like that aren’t anime?
I like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. I read Game of Thrones before the series came out so I was super excited about it. I’m a big fan of Peaky Blinders, it’s a British crime show. It’s on Netflix right now. I also like westerns: Bonanza. I’m also a big fan of M*A*S*H which is so good. It has some of the best comedy ever. I have almost every episode memorized, I’ve watched it so many times. That’s what I grew up on.
Which actors would you actually ‘fangirl’ over?
Alan Alda. He plays Hawkeye [in M*A*S*H]. I forget her name, but I recently started watching Jessica Jones, and that actress is fantastic.
I love Jessica Jones. I’ve actually met David Tennant.
Oh cool, yeah! He plays Kilgrave [in Jessica Jones]. That guy’s awesome.
You said you did some directing for Funimation. What sort of skillset do you need to be a successful director?
I think that the acting and writing are both important because there comes a point where you have to know whether an actor could give you the read for a certain line or whether between the way the line was written and the flaps and their personal cadence, whether they’re capable of doing that line or whether or not it needs to be rewritten. And once you know it needs to be rewritten, it needs to be able to. So you need the writing skill to alter the line if need be. And you also need the acting experience and also the ability to describe how you need a certain read. So I found I was able to mostly harness my acting experience and be able to like use – and also my acting experience with like hearing the different directors and the way that they would direct me. So you can either give someone the read you want and see how they respond to that and you can say “No, say it like this” and then say it. Like I was a good parrot when I was an early actor. As Al I could easily say something back exactly how you had said it to me. That was a good training wheels thing. And then slowly I was able to predict what it was they were going to want and do it in the first round. Other than that, sometimes I use like little analogies. I’d say something like “Could you say that as more of a languid predator? You know, a leopard stalking its prey?” Or “Make it sound more like you dipped your hand in what you thought was a crate of berries, but instead it was acid.” Things like that. Colorful things. That sort of idea that they were pretending that happened and then get a little more of the nuance of what the line is than from just hearing where the character is coming from.
What do you do if the actor just can’t get the line right?
You either settle for what they can do or you say “Okay good, thanks,” and then you get someone else to do it. I have never had to do that. But I’ve also never had the authority to do that even on the show that I was directing. That was always Tyler’s call. He was my producer. He did the casting for me because it was my first show. So he took care of the hard parts.
How did you get started on doing conventions?
My first convention was before – okay so Anizona, which was a first year con, had me and the entire cast of – It was me, Laura Bailey, Travis Willingham, Vic Mignogna, I think Caitlin Glass – everybody was there. It was a tiny con, maybe like eight hundred people. That was my first real con. I don’t know if it’s even going anymore but I did it and I was super nervous and I was like “What am I supposed to say?” Because we were going through opening ceremonies and we were going through and everyone was like “Hey! I’m really glad to be here! My name is Travis Willingham and I play Roy Mustang.” And I didn’t even know what to say. They were all popping jokes and they were all like “What, you’re nervous?” And I was like “Yeah I’m nervous!” “Just tell them you’re nervous.” So I was like “Hey I’m Aaron, I play Al and I’m really nervous and there was a chorus of “Awwww” and uproarious applause. And I was like “That’s weird.”
Okay, one last question. What was your first experience with fangirls?
I ran from the first girl that tried to glomp [to pounce on and hug aggressively, often with a running start] me. I actually ran. She was a titan. She was really tall and she was wearing a Sailor Moon costume and I wasn’t familiar with Sailor Moon. I was only thirteen probably. Fourteen? Her friends met me first, and Vic said, “Do you know who this is? This guy is going to play Al.” And this was before Anizona. I was going to this con to get adjusted to it. It was a con in Fort Worth, my hometown. So I just went there for kicks to check out the scene and Vic happened to be there as a guest and he happened to recognize me and he told some other fans who I was and they were like, “We have to call our friend.” They called their friend and it was the 6’7 Amazon woman in a Sailor Moon outfit. She was like [bellows like a screaming fangirl]. People are like spilling to either side and it was an anime moment. I ran to the bathroom and then I slowly came back and hugged her calmly.
After the interview, Anthony and I went around the dealer room one last time when I noticed something very familiar. I am a yaoi fangirl, so I would recognize fan art from a fandom I am deeply involved in–in this case, Durarara!! What I saw was a wall scroll depicting the show’s most popular characters, Shizuo Heiwajima and Izaya Orihara, as they appeared in high school. They were embracing aggressively. The image was a popular piece of fan art. Someone had ripped it off, altered it slightly, and stuck it on a wall scroll that was now for sale.
I spoke to a very close friend, Kawaiikisshu, who is also an artist. This particular image she had seen on Zerochan.net, and I found it in other places such as tumblr. She said there are a lot of these on eBay and it is sad that work gets robbed and turned into merchandise for money. I heard the same sentiment from Irene Y. Lee, who draws the Li’l Deadpool for Marvel Comics. We saw a picture at her booth of Li’l Deadpool looking through a box of comics, which I totally do not have a T-shirt of. No one obtained Irene’s permission to make the shirt, and she receives no payment from it. I wish now I had told some of the staff what I saw because I knew it was illegal. Artists deserve all the credit and the money their art is worth. I know how I would feel if someone copied and pasted this article into their own web site and pretended that they were me. If they were me, they can buy food for my eight cats. (Disclaimer: I am not a crazy cat lady.)
Aside from copyright infringement and the need for more than one room, Anime Fan Fest was a spectacular experience. It was organized, the guests were terrific, and the staff was superb. When I interviewed Vic at Ichibancon, the staff member who was supposed to handle his schedule told me to ask him myself. Aaron’s handler, however, worked with me to create a seamless interview process.
I guess the worst part about Anime Fan Fest was the drive. In North Carolina, it had already been raining for about a week, and it did not stop until we left New Jersey, which, by the way, is the capital of RUDE. In our 24 hours in the state, we were honked at fourteen times. I haven’t been honked at fourteen times in North Carolina in my nineteen years of living.
Just kidding. I HEART New Jersey.