This interview is, for me, a particularly 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?

Colleen O'ShaughnesseyColleen 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 planned on 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 exam 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 was 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 World 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 ultimate 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 then, so I had no desire to go to New York.  LA was the place for animation, so off I went.  I had a friend that owned a tape duplication business and started working for him.  Anyone that came in with a demo I plied with questions about v/o - agents, casting directors, demos, etc.  One of my 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 gradual process?

CO: My first professional acting step was in the Peanut Butter  Players, a children's luncheon theatre group.  Theatre for kids, by kids.  I started it at 12 and continued through high school.  We did  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 Room 402", followed by "Digimon".  Still haven't done my Disney feature.  Well, I was in "Spirited Away", but additional voices is not quite mermaid material.  The quest continues.

CMcF: 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 of users of sarcasm.  My mom says I perfected it, though.  When I first moved to LA, I joined an acting class.  I wanted to do everything - on camera, commercials, v/o, of course.  My instructor JD Lewis was always 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 stab at it.  It went surprisingly well.  I could always see myself doing 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 basically a comedy school.  It's very structured - start at beginning level, no matter your experience, move your way up.  Lots of popular funny people have come out of the Groundlings - Lisa Kudrow, Will Farrell.) so I joined an improv group called The Empty Stage.

SoraI started performing after a couple of weeks.  It was a lot of fun.  One of the guys I performed with, David Koff, was starting his own group called Social Extortion and he invited me to join.  He wanted to 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 first 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 returned, David had changed his idea to doing an improvised sitcom.  I thought that was an amazing idea.  We developed characters and the audience would provide the topic for each weeks' "episode".  Parts of it worked, 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 with voice overs.  Improv frees you up, gets you out of your head, so you don't think, you just do.  It's great for commercial copy, where you're given a little more license to ad lib.  I tend to be an over-thinker, which doesn't work for me as an actor.  I'm at a point, now where I just do it.  I read the copy through once or twice, just to figure out what's happening in the scene, then put it down until I have to read it on mic.

CMcF: To turn briefly to 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 ended up getting Sora.  It was a different animal for me.  I had never done dubbing before.  I had done some looping with a walla group, but never had to be precise with dialog.  I had to learn along the way.  Fortunately, I was a quick study.  To me, dubbing is far more difficult 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 little higher.

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 things interesting.

CMcF: Now, turning back to a wider look at your career - what are you favourite kinds of roles to play? Any that you dread?

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.

Sora in Season 2CMcF: Across the face of your career, is there any one role, or several roles, that you could pick out as your favourite(s)?

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 head.

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 the profession?

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 those...

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 thick skin.

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: 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.

Jazz, "Danny Phantom"CMcF: What are you currently working on?

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 you next?

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 filled with?

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.