If you've ever watched a popular English dub of anime, chances are high that you've heard Christopher Sabat's voice. His two-decades-long career in voice acting has included such popular characters as Vegeta and Piccolo from Dragon Ball Z, Roronoa Zoro from One Piece, Alex Louis Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist, and Kazuma Kuwabara in YuYu Hakusho.
BuzzFeed had the chance to speak with Sabat about his career as a voice actor, the latest feature-length project in the Dragon Ball Z series, and his attitude toward his fans.
1. It requires a LOT of screaming.
Especially when you work on a show like Dragon Ball Z.
Chris Sabat: I went to college on a scholarship to study opera, and the voice training required for opera has helped me control the power of my screaming. But the screaming hasn't done me any good when it comes to my vocal health.
It's rough, man. I come home after hours of working on Vegeta or one of the video games I do and I will literally be sick the next day. I will have flu-like symptoms. Because you have to use so much energy, and use up so much of your voice to put power into those scenes, that it will make you sick. That's not an exaggeration; I will be bedridden sometimes after screaming for too long.
2. Voice acting is a day job like any other profession.
CS: I record at least four hours a day, every day. I'm very, very lucky that I have a very deep voice and a unique voice, and I also have a lot of experience working in anime, so studios hire me for a lot of different projects. I'm quick, and I'm pretty good at what I do. I also have my own studio in Dallas, and we do voice production for a whole bunch of shows and games.
3. Shows may come and go, but some fandoms last forever.
Some even lead to full-length motion pictures, like Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F, which was recently released on the big screen in the USA.
CS: It's been so fun and so rewarding to see Dragon Ball Z get so much attention, and not in an ironic way. Last night, I saw a review in the LA Times for Resurrection F, and it wasn't sarcastic or one of those "Well you know it's anime after all" kind of things. It was a legitimately good review of our movie, and it reminded me that Dragon Ball Z is a serious thing, and that people love and understand it.
For so many years, we'd have all these new actors who came on board asking, "So...explain this whole Dragon Ball thing?" I'd have to explain what the whole series was about each time. But lately, everyone knows what it is because they grew up with it. I'll start explaining the show to them and they go, "No, no I know. That's the kamehameha, that's Goku's signature move." And I'm like, "You know?" And of course they do, they grew up watching the series, everybody's seen it some place or another.
And the new movies are so beautiful. All of the cast members on Dragon Ball are so talented, and working on this for over a decade makes us feel like we've been preparing for this. The movies just look fantastic and sound fantastic, and they fit so well on the big screen.
4. It can be smart to admire the very people who mock your work, such as Team Four Star and their Dragon Ball Z Abridged parodies.
CS: I absolutely know that we owe something to Team Four Star. For some of the actors, it can be a little frustrating to talk about Team Four Star after pouring blood, sweat, and tears into these roles, but there's no denying that Team Four Star was instrumental in keeping Dragon Ball Z fresh and relevant when there really wasn't new material coming out. And I was one of the people realizing that they were actually very positive toward the series and especially toward people who love Dragon Ball Z.
I know those guys personally, and I know that they do everything they do out of genuine love and respect for the series and for the people who make it. And their sincerest form of flattery is the amazing imitation of our voices they pull off. The first time I heard their Piccolo, my jaw dropped. It is REMARKABLY close to my voice.
I think a majority of us who work on Dragon Ball Z think that the Team Four Star guys have been a really positive influence on the series, and I'm so happy with the creative work they put out.
5. Comedic voice roles can offer more freedom for the actor.
CS: Drama, to me, is hard. In anime, when you're reading the lines, it's especially hard in a dramatic role to match the mouth movements. So I like the freedom of comedy. And the most fun roles I've ever had were comedic. I loved working on the show Panty & Stocking, where I played Garterbelt. And I did some work for the musical episode of Space Dandy, which was hysterical and so fun to do.
6. It's easy to get tired of animation when you work on it each day.
CS: Anime is something I do for a living. Every single day I'm recording for an anime of some sort, whether it's Dragon Ball Z or any of the other of shows I'm working on for FUNimation. And I do love working on anime, because I love production and I like doing voice work, and I like anime as a medium, but when I get home at the end of the day I just don't want to have to see anymore. I just have so much of it to work with every day. There's voicing and reviewing frames, and when I need to relax I just can't look at it anymore.
7. Sometimes, you just want to play some video games and feel like a badass.
CS: To relax, I usually play video games. I used to love to play games like Call of Duty but I found that I'm absolutely terrible at them, and that there are too many people who are already way too good. When I play video games, I want to feel like a badass, but when I play online I do NOT feel like a badass. It just makes me feel stupid, because a 12-year-old can just completely destroy me.
Lately I've been trying to sneak in as much time on Grand Theft Auto 5 as I can. I've been waiting patiently for a sequel to Red Dead Redemption, which is probably my favorite game of all time.
I've been playing a lot of indie games recently, too. There's a really funny game called Nidhogg that's great. And I think my current favorite game is a party game called Mount Your Friends. It's basically a game where the objective is to get to the top of a pile of naked dudes. And it has these ridiculous penis physics. It's a great time for everyone.
8. You're allowed to think that your character is the best.
CS: I think I am the luckiest actor on Dragon Ball Z, because I get to play the best character. I always thought that Vegeta was the butt of the joke early on in the series, but I've come to realize that his story is the best and the darkest on the show. If you think about where he came from and the fact that his family is gone, his planet's been destroyed, he was raised by a complete monster, he has no title...you start feeling bad for him. And every time he tries to do something awesome, he is essentially bested by a dork with a head injury, who just luckily happens to be a good guy.
I so feel for Vegeta, and I completely understand his story. I don't think you could remove Vegeta from the Dragon Ball Z story without destroying it. He is as important to Dragon Ball Z as Goku is. Goku is the hero, but if you think about who he is, he's just not a great guy. He's a great guy but by accident. It's not like he wants to save everybody or be a hero like Superman, but he's kind of a selfish dude who wants to fight everyone at their best. He doesn't care what kind of danger he puts everyone in to make it happen. So in that context, Vegeta is a much more rounded, better character than Goku ever could be.
9. Fans may swarm you with requests, but it's important to stay grateful.
CS: When fans come up to me and ask me over and over again to say, "It's over 9000!!", then yeah, deep down, I might get tired or frustrated after a while. But I can't really stay frustrated because I know how much it means to the people who ask me to do that. They aren't asking because they want to get on my nerves; they're asking because it resonates with them and it means something to them. So I can't be mad.
There was a time when I used to try to talk my way out of it, but not anymore. It makes fans happy, and what a crazy superpower that is, huh?