INTERVIEW WITH COLLEEN O'SHAUGHNESSEY
This interview is, for me, a
exciting one, as it is one that I have sought to conduct from the very
beginning of this website. Michigan native and comedienne Colleen
O'Shaughnessey stood out in
her role as Sora on Digimon, but
seemed to drop off the anime radar a little afterwards - though you
might have picked out her voice in a certain little movie called Spirited
Away. Well, now she's
back on the small screen in Nickelodeon's
Danny Phantom, with new
anime projects including Zatch Bell.
In an interview
that's unique for me in that it began with a phone call, she took some
time to talk with a happy fanboy.
Chris McFeely: When did you decide
that a career in performing was for you?
O'Shaughnessey: I had never heard the term voice-over until I
was in my senior year in college. (I went to the University of
Michigan and studied Psychology and Musical Theatre. I had
using the two degrees to segue into music therapy, but the performing
sort of took over.) I was leaving a dance class and discussing an
with a classmate and was apparently doing some kind of a voice, because
our instructor ran over and asked if that had been me talking. I
embarrassed and apologized, explaining that the voices just come out, I
don't even realize I'm doing it. Always, growing up, I would give
voices to babies or animals...she interrupted me and said, "No, you
need to do voice-overs".
I had always loved animation. I grew up watching "The Wonderful
of Disney" every Sunday night and "The Muppet Show", cartoons on
Saturday morning, but it never occurred to me that that was somebody's
job. So, I began my quest to become a voice-over artist. My
goal was to do a Disney animated feature. I wanted to be the next
"Little Mermaid". I was pretty fed up with musical theatre by
I had no desire to go to New York. LA was the place for
off I went. I had a friend that owned a tape duplication business
started working for him. Anyone that came in with a demo I plied
questions about v/o - agents, casting directors, demos, etc. One
boss' friends made demos, so he gave me a deal, I took a couple of
classes, shopped my tape around and got an agent.
CMcF: What was your first step into
the professional world? Was there a “big break” or was it a
CO: My first professional acting step was in the Peanut Butter
Players, a children's luncheon theatre group. Theatre for kids,
kids. I started it at 12 and continued through high school.
productions like "Snoopy", "Cinderella", "Pinnocchio"... we served the
kids lunch and then did the show.
[After I moved to LA], I won't bore you with the whole path, but it
took me about 4 years to book my first job. It was a reporter Barbie
book and I played Skipper. Shortly after that came the "Kids From
402", followed by "Digimon". Still haven't done my Disney
Well, I was in "Spirited Away", but additional voices is not quite
mermaid material. The quest continues.
Tell us about your work with the
Social Extortion improv group. Has comedy always been in your veins?
CO: People have always
told me I'm funny. I come from a long line
users of sarcasm. My mom says I perfected it, though. When
moved to LA, I joined an acting class. I wanted to do everything
camera, commercials, v/o, of course. My instructor JD Lewis was
challenging us to face our fears and made us each do the thing that
scared us the most. For me, it was stand up. So, I took a
it. It went surprisingly well. I could always see myself
sitcoms, I didn't want to join anything as intense as the Groundlings,
(I don't know if you're familiar with the Groundlings. It's
a comedy school. It's very structured - start at beginning level,
matter your experience, move your way up. Lots of popular funny
have come out of the Groundlings - Lisa Kudrow, Will Farrell.) so I
joined an improv group called The Empty Stage.
I started performing after
a couple of weeks. It was a lot of
One of the guys I performed with, David Koff, was starting his own
group called Social Extortion and he invited me to join. He
do improvisational plays, at first with some social commentary, getting
ideas from the audience that had to do with things happening in the
world. I did it for a while, then took some time off to have my
baby, Connor, who was born on St. Patrick's Day, which I know is not as
big a deal in Ireland as it is here. (I actually performed hugely
pregnant a couple of times. Added to the funny.) When I
David had changed his idea to doing an improvised sitcom. I
that was an amazing idea. We developed characters and the
would provide the topic for each weeks' "episode". Parts of it
parts of it didn't. The group ended up dissolving, I got pregnant
again... (Miss Maggie, who will be one tomorrow, March 3rd)
I'd like to get back to it some day. I think it helped me a lot
voice overs. Improv frees you up, gets you out of your head, so
don't think, you just do. It's great for commercial copy, where
given a little more license to ad lib. I tend to be an
which doesn't work for me as an actor. I'm at a point, now where
just do it. I read the copy through once or twice, just to figure
what's happening in the scene, then put it down until I have to read it
CMcF: To turn briefly
Digimon… how did you come to be involved with the show? Simply a
case of auditioning and getting it?
CO: Pretty much. I auditioned for several different roles and
getting Sora. It was a different animal for me. I had never
dubbing before. I had done some looping with a walla group, but
had to be precise with dialog. I had to learn along the
Fortunately, I was a quick study. To me, dubbing is far more
than an original show. You have to get the line within a certain
amount of time and in a certain amount of flaps, while maintaining the
intention or emotion of the scene.
CMcF: What were your impressions of
Sora? Did you try to bring anything of yourself to the role, or did you
take anything away from it?
CO: I liked her spunkiness and her humor. I think I always bring
a little of myself to every role I play. For Sora, I think I
brought my sarcasm and a little bit of smart-alec. Whenever
people have asked me to do her voice, I always feel a little funny,
because she's very much my natural speaking voice, just pitched a
CMcF: Although her role in the second
season was considerably reduced, Sora still turned up, a little older.
Did you employ any vocal tricks to make her sound older? Did you feel
that personality changed as time went on - would you agree she seemed
to lean towards being more "girlish"?
CO: No tricks, really. I may have pitched her down a smidge, but
for me, it's more in the attitude of the character. She was a
little more grown up, more experienced, so I played on those
things. She wasn't exactly bossy, but she did show the new kids
the ropes, a bit. I think the girlishness came from the
age. She was growing up, in her pre/early teens. It's
almost like she was just trying the girly thing out to see how it felt.
CMcF: After Sora and Tai's interaction
in the first season and especially the movie, was it a surprise to you
that in the second season, Sora wound up dating Matt?
CO: I agree that
there was a romantic interest in Tai and I was surprised that she wound up
dating Matt. Maybe she was trying to make Tai jealous. I
guess you'd have to consult the writers on that one. It's a
pretty typical scenario, though. So many shows make you wait for
the romantic payoff you're hoping for. Sexual tension makes
Now, turning back to a wider look at
your career - what are you favourite kinds of roles to play? Any that
CO: My favorite kinds of roles are the silly, quirky, off the wall ones
with lots of personality. I don’t think there are any
characters that I dread, I pretty much love to do anything in front of
the mic. I guess the only thing I dislike is when a director
either doesn’t know what they want or doesn’t know how to
tell me what they want, which doesn’t happen very often, but when
it does can be very distressing.
CMcF: Across the face of your career,
is there any one role, or several roles, that you could pick out as
CO: My absolute favorite role was Polly from The Kids from Room 402. She
made me laugh and other people, too. She was smart and silly and
oblivious. I’ve had a chance to sort of steal from her
twice with new characters I’ve created. I did a pilot for
Cartoon Network that will hopefully get picked up where I did a
Polly-ish boy with no lisp and I’m working on a show for PBS
called the Zula Patrol in
which one of my characters has a Polly flavor. I really like
playing Jazz on Danny Phantom,
too, mostly for her attitude and sarcasm.
CMcF: As I understand it, a lot of
voice actors don't always see the finished versions of shows they work
on. How do you react to see the finished product, not just involving
voice-acting, but in anything you do?
CO: I’m more used to it now, but it was very strange for me in
the beginning. I think Digimon was the first one to air and it
was especially weird to hear my voice coming out of a cartoon. I
know a lot of actors that can’t watch there own stuff.
You’re always your own worst critic. I have a harder time
watching on camera things that I do than v/o. I guess because
there’s so much more to critique – hair, make-up, clothes,
Do I look fat? Do I look stupid? I actually like watching
the animation that I do, though. Lots of times I’m
surprised at how it sounds. It always sounds different in your
CMcF: It would be fair to say that
voice actors recieve comparatively little appreciation for what they
do, beyond niche followings in certain fan communities. We've talked a
little about the technical differences in dubbing, but what about
personal - what are you opinions on the anonymity generally inherent to
CO: I think it’s great. You get to be creative, silly, have
an outlet for your craft and (if you’re lucky) make a decent
living (some get to make huge livings) and also be able to leave your
house without being hounded and scrutinized. When I get to the
point in my career where hounding would even be an issue, I’ll
probably appreciate it even more.
CMcF: Have there been any incidents
behind the mic or on stage that you'd rather forget? I imagine
(and correct me if I'm wrong!) that improv could lead to a few of
CO: Yeah, I can think of few times doing improv that I just wanted the
stage to open up and swallow me. You get stuck and nothing comes
out. Nothing worse than complete silence on stage or a bit that
just doesn’t work when it’s supposed to be funny. I
can only think of one time behind the mic that makes me cringe and
it’s more that I’d like to go back and fix it rather than
forget it. On Juniper Lee
(new Cartoon Network show) they cast me as the Puss Goblin for one
episode. I was really excited, because I don’t get to play
goofy characters on that show. I had an idea in my head and
it’s not what they wanted and we worked on it throughout the
session, I took all of their notes, but I just never felt like I got
anywhere close to getting it right. I wouldn’t be surprised
it they re-cast it at a later date.
CMcF: Have you ever found your face or
voice recognised when out and about?
CO: No. I did have a kid follow me around a birthday party when
he found out I played Jazz, though.
CMcF: This is the old itch of a
question that you just can't permanently scratch - what advice do you
have for those who aspire to a career in the voice acting industry?
CO: Find your niche. Know your strengths, weaknesses and
instrument. Steal from everyone and then make it your own.
Develop characters not funny voices. Know that what works for
someone very successful may not work for you. Ask
questions. Absorb the answers. Be persistent without being
a pain in the ass. Take classes. Take risks. Grow a
CMcF: Who would you cite as your
inspirations in your work...
CO: Mel Blanc, Jim Henson, Frank Oz. I grew up on Disney, Sesame
Street, The Muppet Show and Saturday morning cartoons. I found
out that was someone’s job and said sign me up! On a daily
basis I get inspiration from the people I work with. They are
some of the most talented individuals in the industry and I often find
myself in awe of their range and consistency.
CMcF: ...in your life, or in anything
that you do?
CO: My mom – she was an amazing mom (still is) and is an
exceptional woman. If I can do half as well with my kids,
they’ll turn out alright.
My kids – they are the two most fantastic humans I have ever had
the privilege to meet. They inspire me daily to be a good person
and to be better at everything I do.
CMcF: What are your children's
reactions to your shows? Do they have trouble believing that it's their
mom's voice coming out of the characters?
CO: My son watches Danny Phantom every once in a while.
It’s regular time is too late for him, but it airs in the
afternoons sometimes. He loves it. He knows it’s
mommy’s show, but I don’t think he quite gets that
it’s my voice.
CMcF: It strikes me that children have
never really come up in any of my past interviews, but as I think about
it now, it must be an incredibly rewarding feeling, having your
toughest, most discerning audience waiting for you when you get home
and knowing that they love it.
CO: Very true. I actually can’t wait for Zula Patrol to air, because
it’s the perfect age range for Connor. And he’ll
learn science stuff, too.
CMcF: Are there any names in the
industry that you aspire to work with? What's a dream project for you?
CO: I have been extremely fortunate to work with most of the top
v/o artists in LA, as well as some celebrities. I feel very
honored and lucky to be included in their circles. My dream
project is a full length feature where I voice the lead as well as sing.
CMcF: What are you
CO: I am currently working on Danny
Phantom. I play the part of Jazz (right). It's airing on
Nickelodeon. I have two new shows on Cartoon Network - The Life & Times of Juniper Lee,
the role of Jodi, set to air here in June and Zatch Bell, an anime show Jeff
Nimoy is directing. I play the part of Suzy. [I'm also playing] Zeeter
and Wizzy on Zula Patrol [on]
PBS in the fall, [and] a couple of guest roles on Bdaman. I don’t know which
network [it's airing on].
CMcF: What can we expect to see from
CO: Hopefully, some pilots I’ve done will get picked up and
I’ll book some of the call-backs I’ve had recently.
CMcF: What's your spare time
CO: What’s that? Hee hee. Kids, play dates, the dog,
laundry... fun stuff.
CMcF: Any hobbies or interests?
CO: My new favorite thing to do is pilates. If I had more time
and money I’d do it every day. I love to read and do cross
word puzzles. I love to read to my kids and laugh with my
kids. I love going to the movies with my husband and nights out
with the girls.
CMcF: And what of the future? What
does Colleen O'Shaughnessey want to do that she has yet to?
As I said before, I want to do a full length animated feature. It
is my absolute, ultimate goal, career-wise. I would also like to
be the lead in a series. I’ve been one of the leads, in
lots of ensemble-type shows, but I want my character to be the pivotal,
this show is about this character character. That might sound a
little ego-centric, but you asked, so there it is.
CMcF: How about outside your career?
CO: One of [my dreams] was to swim with dolphins and I just got to do
that on my trip to Mexico. It was pretty amazing. I want to
go on safari in Africa, take a whale-watching cruise in Alaska, go
white water rafting in Colorado, ride in a gondola in Venice, see Rome
and Florence, pretty much all of Italy. Don’t hate me, but
I want to go to the Highlands in Scotland. (I’ve seen most
of Ireland and absolutely love it. That’s why it’s
not on the list. I’ll definitely be back some day.)
I’d like to learn another language.
CMcF: And lastly, any final words for
the fans out there?
CO: Thanks for watching and thanks for being fans. I am always
surprised and touched to receive fan mail. Someone took time out of
their day to write to me and let me know they enjoy what I do.
That is ever amazing to me. It validates my work and I am very
humbled by and grateful for that.