Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

One Piece recently aired its 1,000th episode, which is an incredible milestone for any show. To celebrate the mark, ComingSoon spoke with voice actress Colleen Clinkenbeard, who voices Luffy in the English dub, about the series, finding her voice for the pirate, and what the show has meant to her.

Tyler Treese: Since we are looking at One Piece hitting such a milestone, I want to go back into the past for you. What did it mean for you when you first got the role of Luffy? Just take me back to that moment. That was such a big role for you to land.

Colleen Clinkenbeard: It’s funny, I have the worst memory in the world, but I have a very distinct memory of the audition process because my emotions were so heightened. I was so nervous. I don’t remember the moment I found out that I got the role. I remember the excitement afterward and like being in the building, recording and trying so hard to get the voice right. But I don’t remember the moment that I found out. When we auditioned, I thought I was auditioning for Nami and Robin. Then Mike McFarland, who was doing the auditions, he asked me to audition for Luffy and the way he said it made me know that he was, it was actually something he was thinking that might be possible. Immediately, my heart was racing and was like, “Wait, could that be a thing?”

So I went away and I practiced the lines more because I had no idea that I was going to be auditioning for that, and I’d only ever played a boy really once. Then I came back and auditioned for him and I remember feeling like he had given me the indication that it might be a possibility. So, I was more amped up than I would usually be because usually an audition that, I like forget about it and try not to assume anything. But this one, it was heart-pounding, but apparently, I’ve blacked out on the time when I found out that I got the role [laughs].

You talked about having to find that voice, what was the process like of really finding the right tone for Luffy, and then the series also has that time skip. So, did that alter how you approach the character slightly?

I had played a boy once before, like I said, just recently before I auditioned for Luffy. So I knew that Mike was thinking about that voice when he asked me to audition. So I already had kind of a boy voice that I was working with, which is stolen directly from Laura Bailey. She is a friend of mine, and we were best friends, we were roommates, and she was the one who kind of taught me how to do a boy voice. Then after the first round of auditions, what we did got sent off to Toei for approval. When they came back, they asked that we changed certain things to try things out before they officially accepted the cast. The thing that they wanted me to work on is they wanted it to be gruffer.

So Luffy actually started out in my mind as not being quite that gruff. And then, Toei guided me a little bit gruffer for the final voice. Then, like you said, time goes on in One Piece and Luffy goes through changes and there’s that time skip. So we had to find ways to kind of age him over the years, uh, and give him a little bit more depth as things got more and more serious on the show. So there have been a lot of different iterations of that voice.

I love you mentioning Laura Bailey. I just got to speak with her for Call of Duty. One of my favorite shows is Case Closed and she was talking about being at Funimation was kind of like college for her, her, and she had so much fun voicing Serena Sebastian, and being so sassy with your character, Rachel Moore. What are your memories of just working on that show and having a character that has a sensitive side, but isn’t afraid to stand up for herself? I just love that what you did with that character.

Oh, thank you. Well, that was before this one and it was kind of one of my first roles that I ever did and certainly the first role that I ever auditioned for. Laura taught me a lot throughout that whole process. I feel like from that show to this one, that was right in the timeframe when Laura was transitioning out of doing as much work with Funimation, she was moving to different areas of her career. I think that kind of left room for me and some other voice actresses who were coming into the business to step up. I will be forever thankful for the tutorials that I got.

Then also just the opportunity that was, the fact that I was given opportunities when I was, because it was absolutely just a perfect timing scenario. I think with One Piece that’s what happened. It was just the right time, and I was kind of coming up in my career right at the right moment for that to take place.

Luffy has such a range that he shows. There are a lot of humorous scenes, there are scenes where he’s eating and he’s talking with his mouth full. Then he has these passionate speeches. Can we talk about just the range that character goes through, and when you are doing an eating moment, are you putting food in your mouth? How does that work out?

Luffy’s range is what makes him the most interesting and dynamic anime character in the world, in my opinion. He’s my favorite character to play for exactly that reason. He’s never static. It’s never just the same, which is interesting because in a lot of ways, he is just the same. Like he doesn’t fluctuate much in who he is as a person. He knows who he is. He is from the beginning and he stays that way throughout. And yet there’s a lot of dynamic range in his character just by virtue of the situations that he’s going through, and his mood.

Like you said, there’s the hilarious aspects of like shoving food in his face, which no, I don’t shove food in my face. Every now and again, I’ll get a knuckle in there, just to be talking around something. But for the most part, I’ve had to get really good at pretending to have food in my mouth. But I think the silly parts of Luffy are the parts that I love the most to record. Then the active and adventurous and frequently fighting parts of Luffy are the ones that I would most like to watch as an audience member. So we experience it very differently depending on where you are in the industry. But my favorite stuff is Luffy chasing around a raw ham melon. That’s just fun.

One Piece has such a great gallery of villains. Who are some of your favorite villains to really see Luffy go up against and are fun to play off of?

I get myself in so much trouble with this because my answers are not the same as the fan answers for this. My favorite villain is Foxy, which I know is not a popular answer because he’s not really a villain or at least he kind of transforms into not. I don’t know. It depends on how you’re looking at it, but I really like the villains that have heart, have reason for what they’re doing. That you can see from their perspective and the ones that Luffy ends up kind of bonding with them certain ways, and he always thinks Foxy is hilarious. So I liked that. And Bon Kurei, the fun villains are the ones that I gravitate toward just as a fan.

But then I also have the experience of actually vocally fighting the people like Eneru, Crocodile, and Lucci. Like the ones that hurt me the most. There’s some venom in there for me [laughs]. So I think audience members get mad at them in a way that’s like, “Oh, I love that villain,” and I get mad at them in a way that’s like, “Stop making me do this. It hurts.” But I still love them. So I dunno, it just depends on which Colleen you’re asking, the fan Colleen or the actor Colleen.

You mentioned the fans and they are just so passionate. Has any other role really ever compared to this? It just seems like the fan support is incredible, and the support for the English dub as well to see it come back and do so well. What does that mean to you to have this role just resonate so much with so many people worldwide?

It’s pretty incredible. I mean, there is absolutely a One Piece community, and it’s fluctuated through the years as people kind of get daunted by how many episodes there are to catch up on, and then the pandemic hit and suddenly everybody had time to watch. It’s like, now is the time. This is when you get in. So we’re seeing a resurgence of it, especially when it’s coming up to the thousandth episode. But it’s been such a beautiful ride to watch how the show has transformed itself and how the fan base transforms itself at the same time.

Especially with the advent of social media, it’s a different experience to be voicing a character when social media is keeping up with what you’re doing versus in the early years of doing it, when we would be dubbing episodes for months, and then they would come out like six months to a year later. So what I’m experiencing and what the fans are experiencing has a time skip in there of its own. It’s a little bit disjointed, and it feels more of a community now because we’re all experiencing the same things at the same time. And that, to me, that’s been the biggest change over the years in how I interact with engage with the fans, and I love that.

Making this even more impressive that it’s hitting this thousand-episode mark is that while other anime have hit that milestone, this is one long story. It’s pretty unprecedented. When you got this role, you certainly weren’t thinking that you’d be doing it 14 years later. Just how wild it is to see all these twists and turns play out?

It’s so wild. Also like if you had told me back in the day that I would be doing this up to a thousand episodes, 15 years in the future, I would assume that there would be a dip in interest. Particularly for me, like I would think that there would be some boring times. That you can’t keep a story going for that long, but I mean, they have kept the story going for that long, not by the skin of their teeth, but like through the, the force of will of the mangaka. It’s been interesting the entire way through every new step. Every new arc is interesting. Every new villain is interesting and it all feels like a piece of the whole, rather than little bits and pieces that are kind of getting shoved together. It’s beautifully crafted. It’s a tapestry that I would not be able to weave together. I am endlessly, I want to say proud of, but that takes ownership. I am endlessly fascinated with and impressed by their ability to do that.

You’re in a really neat spot in your career. We’re seeing Borderlands come out, where we’re going to see Lilith played by Cate Blanchett, and then we have the One Piece Netflix show. How cool is it getting to see these live-action versions of these characters that you’ve voiced for so long?

So wild to think of a One Piece that is live-action. I just found out the cast, I saw the video clip of that go up and I am already in. I’m already kind of hoping that it is done in a format that I can show my kid. He’s seven, and so he’s not quite old enough to be watching this yet, and I would love for him to be able to share it. So I’m hoping it’s amazing. I think people get kind of protective on our behalf. I see a lot of fans going, oh, why didn’t they involve you? It’s a whole different thing. Live-action is a completely different thing, and I just want to sit back and watch as a fan and be excited about it. I have no jealousy. I have no interest in being on camera, but I am really excited to see how it turns out.

Yeah, you can voice a boy very well, but I don’t think you could maybe pull it off in live-action.

I’ll be a transponder snail [laughs].

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