If you haven't heard Mona Marshall's voice in your lifetime, then a) you must have been living in a cave, and b) you've been missing out. With many starring roles stretching back many years, some of Mona Marshall's credits include "Magic Knight Rayearth," "Eagle Riders" and "Trigun" - but that's only a small sampling. From doing various roles in classic cartoons such as "Transformers" and "Rainbow Brite" in the 80's, Marshall has continiously moved upward - recent work includes "Rurouni Kenshin," the ever-popular "Love Hina," and guest voices for "Rugrats," "The Mummy" and "Jackie Chan Adventures." One can also hear her in the roles of Sheila Broflovski and others on the infamous "South Park." And of course, to Digimon fans across America, the UK, and where ever the heck else they show the American version of the show, she's known as the voice of Koushiro "Izzy" Izumi, and also Terriermon and his evolutions in season three of the show. But acting as whole is just one of her many skills. She took some time in the middle of her busy schedule to discuss her work with me.
McFeely: I'm having trouble deciding where to begin... so I guess
I'll start where I always do. Tell us a little about yourself.
When did you decide you wanted to become an actress?
Mona Marshall: I've wanted to perform as long as I can remember. My mother used to tell me I sang before I talked. Apparently, I would stand up in the back of our car leaning against the front seat (before the days of protective child seats) humming and making up songs. I was a lonely kid and I used to come home from school go downstairs to the basement, put on recordings and sing and act out the lyrics. Later on I began to realize that as a performer I could reach out and touch an audience, especially when I began to perform my own songs.
CMcF: We more... er... "mature" Digimon fans can remember you from our childhoods, with your work on such shows as "Rainbow Brite" and "Transformers." But what was your first job in the industry? How did you get your "big break," so to speak?
MM: I was a student of the late, great Daws Butler (the original voice of Yogi Bear, Quick Draw Magraw, and Captain Crunch to name a few out of so many) and one day he announced they were having auditions for a radio show which he would be directing, based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I am also a big Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes fan, so I went to the audition somewhat familiar with the story line ("The Speckled Band") and style. I won the job and found out when I got the script that the part of the maid needed a Scottish accent. I worked really hard listening to tapes of Scottish accents and went in prepared, but slightly intimidated in the company of Edward Mulhare and Ben Wright. Ben and Daws were wonderful and supportive.
CMcF: Now, let's focus on a Digimon for a few questions... through what events were you approached for the series? How did you end up getting cast in the role of Izzy?
MM: I had just finished doing the role of Oliver Twist for Saban's Adventures Of Oliver Twist and was brought in to Saban to audition for various characters for the first season of Digimon. Apparently, they liked they way I read the part of Izzy.
CMcF: What were your impressions of Izzy as a character? He held the "honour" of being the older kid who appeared most frequently throughout the second season of the show - were you happy to keep performing him? Did you feel his character changed at all, as time went on?
MM: Izzy is super cool and a lot of fun to voice. He is intelligent, but not snotty, although he does get a bit impatient. Geniuses tend not to realize other people don't understand things as easily as they do. I totally enjoyed performing Izzy the second season. To address his "getting older, " I deepened his voice and made attitude more mature. That, along with the writing, made his character work.
CMcF: Currently, you're voicing Terriermon in the third season of the show (reprising character's role after "Digimon: The Movie"). He's something of a happy-go-lucky character, quite a contrast to Izzy. What is the difference in roles like for you? Which would you consider to be your favourite character to perform?
MM: There is a substantial difference in the two characters. They are both challenging and fun to perform, but Izzy is more straightforward. Terriermon has a wry sense of humour, and yet, he can also be silly and childlike. One of the most difficult aspects is keeping the Terriermon voice the same as he digivolves into Gargomon and Rapidmon. The attitude is more confident and assertive, but that's all they wanted changed. Izzy is certainly one of my favourites, but I honestly enjoy voicing a variety of characters. Each one is different and fun in its own way and bringing them to life is a wonderful natural high!
CMcF: What are your impressions of the third season of the show compared to the previous two? Terriermon is one of the season's more light-hearted characters, but the general plot and tone of this season is considerably darker than anything that's gone before. Do you think it's perhaps going over the target audience's heads a little? Or does having a fun, playful character like Terriermon make up for this by giving the younger audience members something to relate to?
MM: This season's writing has more layers, which lends itself to targeting a wider range. The show seems to be doing okay in the ratings, which indicates that the audience is still enjoying it. Keeping characters like Terriermon on the lighter side definitely helps.
CMcF: Moving off of Digimon again, to return to your other views on the industry and your own career - the variation in the roles you have performed and the shows you have worked on over the years is tremendous (you don't get much further apart than "Digimon" and "South Park"!). Which, of all your roles across your career, would you consider to be your favourite - your most memorable?
MM: I tend to love whatever character I'm playing at the time. I've done some villianesses like the demons in The Adventures of Jackie Chan that were delightful to perform. Izzy is high up on the list, because he was bright and cared about other people and he had an interesting relationship with Tentamon. Two of my very favourite characters are Rusty the Fox and Bearbette the Bear from The Chucklewood Critters original animation series, which is currently running throughout England and the rest of Europe. I also wrote 26 songs for the show and was the story editor, so I had some real input. The show manages to get across character building in different situations as part the growing up process in an entertaining and creative way. Very different from Digimon, but lots of fun and really positive stuff for kids. We're hoping it will get to the USA one of these days.
CMcF: Ever had your voice recognised by anyone when out and about? You're quite distinctive!
MM: Actually no. While the voices I do are quite distinct, the reason I can do so many characters with different voices is that my own voice is not particularly recognizable.
CMcF: Having performed so much within the industry, would you say you have obtained work on other projects as a result of notoriety derived from previous high-profile work such as "Digimon" (or vice versa), or would you consider each project to be independent?
MM: Most projects are pretty independent. Although producers and directors usually want actors with experience (except when they don't), which is good for me. However, if you work for directors as one type of character, they may not realize you can do anything else, even with a good voiceover CD demo. Each audition is an opportunity to show what I can do, and that's fine with me as long as I get a chance.
CMcF: It's my understanding that a lot of voice actors and actresses rarely watch the shows they work on. Does this hold true for you? If you do watch the shows you work on, what are your impressions of the finished products?
MM: It is difficult to find the time to watch these shows, mostly because my life is busy and the process of doing the show is more important. When I do actually watch, I am often amazed at how remarkable they turn out. There is so much involved, so many various aspects of creativity: writing, producing, music and editing all working together to make a good finished product.
CMcF: It's reasonable to say that voice actors and actresses are don't get a lot of public appreciation for what they do, and instead have more cult and fan followings. What are your opinions on this? Do you like the anonymity that seems to go hand-in-hand with the profession?
MM: It's much more fun to have my characters well known, than to have me well known, except when it comes to casting. I like being able to help children because of my work. I was asked by Fox Family (now ABC Family) to present an award for ANIMACTION, and event designed to help middle school kids create public service animation shorts. This year the theme was anti-smoking and the groups did an absolutely amazing job. I was thrilled to be part of them being recognized for their work and creativity. I also read to 3rd graders here for Rolling Readers, a non-profit organization, which encourages kids to read, and they think it's neat that I do cartoon voices. However, I use different character voices when I read to them. The kids are sooooo bright and hungry to use their imaginations.
CMcF: What advice do you have you for those out there who aspire to be voice actors or actresses? How should they go about making their way into the industry?
MM: First make sure they study acting and improvisation. Being able to cold read is essential, however there are several people with dyslexia who have done quite well in voice over. That's because they can ACT. I started out years ago to become a "serious" actress. After earning a degree in literature I took courses in theatre arts, improvisation, singing and dance. Every thing in life can give me an idea. I still like to observe others and listen. That really helps me to "find" characters. I also am an old movie film buff. I have used many of those old characters from the 1930's and 40's as a basis for new characters for my work. Also the better I feel about myself as person who tries to be caring and considerate in my work and in my home, the easier it is to go on audition after audition and enjoy the process, even when I don't get the job. So learn the basics of acting and work on being a healthy human being as well.
CMcF: Who would you cite as your inspirations, in life, in the industry, in anything?
MM: Certainly, professionally, Daws Butler was a real inspiration. He cared so much about his students and he always demonstrated how quality and enjoyment go hand and hand in any creation. My action teacher Bob Board and my singing coach Dr. Charles Lindsley were also very inspiring and gave me the basics for good acting and singing. On a more personal level, my husband Sal Iannotti, my dear friend Jo Williams, and my music partner, Carol Anderson have given me and continue to give me inspiration just by the way they lives and in they way they support me as an actor, artist and person. Then there are people like Cherie Wescott, the third grade teacher at McKinley Elementary school where I read to 3rd graders once a week. She is so caring and really knows how to get the kids involved and excited about learning. There are so many inspiring people and situations out there, if we really take the time to observe. I have two friends who left their respective industries (writing and counselling) to teach middle school. It pays less, is much more challenging, but the difference they are making in kids lives is significant.
CMcF: Are there any individuals in the industry who you would like to work with in the future?
MM: Any individual who brings their talent, care, imagination and a good attitude to a job is someone with whom I'd like to work.
CMcF: What do you do in your spare time? What hobbies or interests do you have?
MM: I read to children and also enjoy reading myself. I write stories, poems and songs, and do pen and ink work on almost everything from eggs to wood furniture - I design bookmarks and sell them to raise money for books for kids at some of the schools here for Rolling Readers. I also enjoy walking and playing with my dog Betsy (a rescue) and vocalizing (really) with my cockatiel. I also exercise and vocalize almost daily and enjoy spending time with my husband and friends.
CMcF: What are you working on at the moment? What can we expect to see from you next?
MM: I'm working on two Disney films, "Spirited Away" and "Treasure Planet," and also on the anime series "Ran," and another one Wendee [Lee] is directing. Within the next year I hope to again mount my one-woman musical "A Life Is A Celebration Potholes and All," and I have just completed a book of meditations with drawings which I hope to have published a workbook or journal others could use. [I'm also] working on a
project with Carol Anderson. She's busy playing keyboards and assistant conducting the L.A. run of "The Lion King" at the Pantages in Hollywood, so when we both can grab some time, it's a BIG DEAL!
CMcF: Any final words you'd like to impart to your fans?
MM: Thank you so much for the support and I am delighted that you enjoy the show and my work. I wish all of you success in whatever you choose to do.
Thanks goes out to Wendee Lee for her help in setting up this interview.