Interview with Hellsing actor, Crispin Freeman
To celebrate the release of Hellsing Ultimate we were lucky enough to speak with the long time voice of Alucard, Mr Crispin Freeman.
After years in "the biz" Mr Freeman lends us his knowledge of acting and mythology and shows why he is just as interesting as the characters he portrays.
Also, at the end of our interview you'll find details on how YOU could chat with Mr Freeman thanks to the good folks at Madman!
Ryan: First of all, welcome back to Hellsing! How did you get back into the Alucard headspace since the original series which was released close to 10 years ago?
Crispin: Thank you! It’s good to be back. Well, we actually announced the release of Hellsing Ultimate back in 2006, and that was only about 4 or 5 years after the dubbing of the original Hellsing TV series in 2002. However, it has taken a long time to get past the first 4 episodes of the OVA and record up through episode 8. Let’s just say that dubbing Hellsing is more of a marathon than a short sprint. It’s nice to be able to have this much time to meditate on the character, but it does require you to get your bearings again before diving back into the show.
I don’t necessarily have a difficult time getting back into character of Alucard, it’s more that I need to understand the specifics of the plot in whatever episode we’re working on and how it relates to earlier events in the story. Usually that means I just need to watch the episodes we’re working on ahead of time so I can get a feel for where the story is going as a whole and how my part contributes to that larger tapestry. Sometimes Alucard is the main thread, but many times he is not and another character takes over the primary theme.
Alucard carries many archetypical vampire traits. That is to say, he's one sexy predator! You certainly seem to relish in this type of role, not just when playing the predacious lead but also one in a mythological setting. Why so?
I have a personal fetish for mythological storytelling. It’s been a fascination of mine ever since my graduate acting school days when I discovered Joseph Campbell’s work on comparative mythology. I actually give academic presentations on the patterns of mythological storytelling in Film and Animation. I’ve lectured at universities, conventions and film festivals. I’ve also just launched an entire website on the subject called Mythology & Meaning. You can find it at MythologyAndMeaning.com.
To answer your question in more detail, I enjoy archetypal heroes primarily because they tend to transcend the merely personal level and also work on a metaphysical level. Let me give you an example to explain. A normal fictional story that is trying to be realistic in tone usually talks about how an important subject, like death, affects an individual character or even a group of characters. However, when working on the archetypal level, a mythological story that is more fantastical in tone addresses an important subject, like death, and how it applies to humanity as whole. Normal fiction asks what does death mean to a specific character, Mythological fiction asks what is the meaning of death.
I am fascinated with those larger, metaphysical questions. Storytelling genres like Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Animation tend to tackle those subjects head on. When all of that is combined into one show, like Hellsing, I’m really in my element. When you also add in a psychologically complex character like Alucard, it really doesn’t get any better. It’s an honor (and a challenge) to play a character that represents such a visceral force of nature. I’ve always been attracted to those kinds of characters in storytelling and I tend to get cast as them often. I love being able to portray a character where I can pull out all the stops. It’s very cathartic!
Hellsing Ultimate has been nearly 6 years in the making and yet fans are just as hungry for blood as ever. What makes Hellsing so enduring?
I think Hellsing is so attractive because it takes a classic mythological trope, the vampire, and gives it an edgy, up-to-date sensibility. It takes Bram Stoker’s novel out of the English drawing room, and places it smack in the middle of a modern war between opposing forces on a global scale. While the action of Hellsing is taking place on this larger-than-life stage, the characters in the story are still extremely personable and relatable. This is the magic formula that happens when a story works on both the psychological and the metaphysical levels at the same time.
Vampire mythology is steeped in sexual metaphor. Do you think the fact that Hellsing is still relevant is indicative of how transgressive the series was upon its original release?
Vampires tend to be a metaphor for dangerous or forbidden sex. In Bram Stoker’s day, he perceived that danger to be the supposedly impure gypsy blood of Eastern Europe threatening the purportedly upstanding sensibilities of the English people. Stoker played on that cultural fear in his novel, even though it was not rooted in reality. Also, the homosexual nature of the relationship between Dracula and Jonathan Harker was very taboo at the time. If you watch Murnau’s silent film version of Dracula, Nosferatu, you will see that the way the Count is defeated is by having Wilhelmina give herself to the vampire willingly as a source of blood, in a way weaning him of his homosexual tendencies and bringing him back in line with the more traditional, heterosexual norms of the time.
In order to make a vampire relevant now, you have to take him to the edge of what is socially acceptable sexually. Hellsing attempts that by using a more BDSM or kinky sensibility about sex. It also adds in a Chthulu or demonic sensibility that is far more alchemical than strictly biblical. If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on the subject, I did an extensive interview on the mythological roots of Vampires and Zombies for a web show called Movies You May Have Missed. You can watch it by heading to the Media section of MythologyAndMeaning.com.
Certainly the BDSM culture has gotten a lot more exposure in mainstream media than ever before with the success of books like Fifty Shades of Grey. So yes, I would say that Hellsing was ahead of the curve when it came to exploring issues of sexual relationships and behavior back in 2002.
Working in anime is the dream of every anime geek. Can you offer advice on how to break into “the biz” or voice coaching?
Far and away the most common question I get is how can one become a voice actor. That’s why I started my blog and podcast on the subject at VoiceActingMastery.com. While the question about how to break into the biz is a seemingly simple one, the answer is far more complicated. Rather than give trite advice like “Know Thyself” or “Get in touch with your feelings” I created my blog and podcast to give people practical, useful advice on how to go about developing your skills and your mindset so that you can be competitive in the world of professional voice acting. I’ve been running the podcast since the Summer of 2011 and the response has been amazing. I also offer classes online through the site as well.
What about us often forgotten Aussies? Is there anyway that we can get in on the action?
That’s a very good question! Most of my knowledge of the voice acting business is rooted in the U.S. I’m not always as aware of the opportunities in other countries. That’s what’s so great about my Voice Acting Mastery blog. I’ve had people from all over the world ask questions and share their experiences working in countries like the U.K., the Netherlands and Australia! Voice Acting Mastery has become a community where aspiring voice actors can share their experiences and I can give advice about how to further their careers.
You've certainly got the face and presence worthy of a screen actor so why have you devoted your voice to a life behind the mic?
It’s not that I decided to avoid getting on-camera, it’s more that I followed what fascinated me. Initially what fascinated me was theatre. I got my masters degree in theatrical acting and was working on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Regionally as an actor when I got the opportunity to start my voice acting career. Once I discovered voice acting, I followed what appealed to me and made my heart sing. That lead me to leave New York City and move to Los Angeles to pursue voice acting in animation, video games and anime more full time. During all of that I was still exploring mythological structures in storytelling and expanding my scholarship on comparative religions. I’m not opposed to working on-camera, it’s just that I’m so busy working on the things that fascinate me that I don’t really think about on-camera work much.
Apart from Alucard, you've also voiced Togusa from Ghost in the Shell and Itachi Uchiha from Naruto a number of times. Are there any other characters you'd love to revisit?
Well, sometimes it feels like we’ll be working on Naruto forever! It’s the longest lived franchise I’ve ever been a part of! It’s always nice to get the call to revisit Itachi whenever he comes back into the story. I’ve also heard rumors that they’re doing a new Ghost in the Shell series. I’d love to come back and play Togusa. Hopefully they’ll hire me! I’ve even been able to revisit Zelgadis from the series The Slayers. In that situation, there really was a 10 year gap between when we finished the third series, Slayers Try and when we began the fourth series, Slayers Revolution. That was certainly a challenge! The only other character I might like to revisit is Kagetsu from a little OVA I worked on called Shamanic Princess. I thought we could’ve done more episodes of that.
After so many years in the anime industry, do you think that Japanese pop culture in the form of anime has managed to shed its “subversive” tag and successfully infiltrate American pop culture?
Not really. I think anime is wonderfully subversive, not because it intends to be, but because it can’t help itself. Japanese pop culture in general works on a completely different set of cultural assumptions than American pop culture. I address this in great detail in my Anime Mythology presentations. You can watch a trailer for them in the Animation Mythology section of MythologyAndMeaning.com. Pop culture tends to affirm the cultural values of the status quo. That’s how it becomes “popular”. Pop culture is rarely subversive in its own cultural setting. However, when you take what is considered culturally normal in one country, like Japan, and transport it to a country that is very different culturally, like America, then that Japanese culture can’t help but be subversive to an American audience. As long as Japanese and American culture are different, their pop culture will be different as well. I think that’s fantastic! It would be boring if everything started to coalesce around one set of cultural sensibilities. I like having all the colors in the crayon box. I think what will happen is that the notion of a “mainstream” will become less and less tenable. That’s already well under way. As audiences splinter into different specialized niches, everyone will become a sub-culture and “mainstream” culture will become just one minority among many. I like the idea of a pluralistic, multi-cultural sensibility to the world of art and entertainment.
A big thanks go to the good folks at Madman for making this interview happen and an even BIGGER thanks go to Mr. Freeman for taking time out to speak with us.