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Erika Ishii Q&A

Ask her nicely and Erika Ishii will sing songs from the famed Broadway show “Hamilton” for you… only with a twist. Specifically, she’s got her own Destiny-themed version of the musical’s song “Dear Theodosia,” with lyrics centered on everyone’s favorite Warmind.

Dearest Rasputin
What to say to you?
You’re my Warmind, you have a Russian name
When you came online you launched warsats
And it warmed my heart

As the new voice of Ana Bray and with an ever-growing resume of on-camera and voice acting roles under her belt, Ishii is no stranger to performing. If you’ve played games like Shenmue III, Fallout 76, Smite, or seen anime films like Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative, you’ve heard Ishii’s work. As a host with shows on Geek & Sundry and Nerdist, Ishii is deeply immersed in the world of geek culture. She’s also a big Destiny fan (and a Warlock main, in case you’re curious), who told us that getting the role of Ana was “a real honor.”

“My agent, if she has really good news for me, a lot of times she'll call me to deliver it in person, and so she did,” Ishii recalls. “There was a lot of screaming and crying, definitely.”

We recently caught up with Ishii in her home in Los Angeles, where we talked about what she wanted to bring to the role of Ana Bray, how her career has progressed, and what it’s like to hear her own voice in a videogame.

How did you prepare for the role of Ana?

I was very fortunate that there was already this wealth of lore. The game has been out for a while. I played Destiny 1, but I hadn't had a chance to play [Destiny 2] yet. The Bungie guys were so sweet and they sent me codes to pop in [and] play some Destiny. Also I watched some "Let's Plays" to catch up on lore and any background information I might need.

I make playlists for almost every character I play, and there's definitely an Ana playlist. 

What kind of music made the Ana Bray playlist?

When I make a character playlist, it's songs that define who they are, how they feel about events or others. Of course there's stuff from the Destiny 2 soundtrack. And then a lot of songs about her isolation; there's a couple of songs from my favorite artists Vian Izak and Juniper Vale -- "The Astronaut" and "The Expanse." It has a lonely and hopeful feeling to it.

I would listen to it before I went to sessions or in between session weeks to keep fresh. Music is a huge touchstone of how I get into character or formulate and focus character.

Right tunes, right frame of mind. Makes sense. According to your Web site, you’ve got a musical background.

Most voice actors I know are musical. There's something about the rhythm and the musicality of phrasing and performance and breath control that I think music prepares you for. People who are drawn to music are also drawn to voice acting. It's very common. 

What were the Destiny recording sessions like?

It was just so much fun. It was criminal amount of fun. It's really just getting to play; I feel so lucky to get to do this. 

Voice acting presents a unique challenge as far as acting goes, because you have to imagine everything yourself. What are the weather conditions like? Are you speaking to someone who is far away from you, or close? Then you have to layer all of the physical conditions on top. [Things like] how are you feeling? What is your character trying to get across? Is your character an expert on this topic? There's so many elements you need to keep in mind while you're performing. It's a wonderful, exciting challenge.

Are there any specific challenges to building a scene?

One of my favorite challenges is fight scenes. I love the efforts that go into it. I'm a former martial artist so [I know] what it sounds like to get hit or to deliver a blow. But you also have to find out what the conditions are for that scene. So for the opening cinematic [in Season of the Worthy], you know [Ana is] trying to be quiet, but she's distracted because she's on the radio. It's fun to slot in all of those elements and see them come into place because you don’t know what it's going to look like when you record it.

Sometimes animators or developers will be able to build a scene around your performance. But a lot of times they have this idea [like], “You're carrying a heavy gun here, so you're doing all of this exposition while you're jogging with a heavy gun.” It's so cool to layer on the imagined physicality for things. 

The director and everyone over at Bungie, they allowed me to bring a lot of my own take to things. They allowed me to interpret the character as I saw it and it happened to align with their vision. The best directors will have their vision in mind, and have the vision of the developers in mind, but also see what you're bringing to the table. I was very fortunate that, with Ana, there was an element of that. 

What was your vision for your Ana performance? How do you relate to her?

I think every character that you play you find something of them in yourself, or put a bit of yourself into them. Ana is inquisitive and I think she really wants to help in the way that she best knows how. Exploring your past and your history -- whether it's in an undiscovered “sci-fi” sense, or just you as a person -- is difficult. That was something that was interesting to explore.

What’s it like to be part of the Destiny cast?

I still can't believe that I got to join this cast. That cast is stacked. Some of the greats of voiceover and on-camera. Such incredible actors that I get to say I'm in an ensemble with. A lot of people that I looked up to, or were idols of mine. I've joined the ranks and it's unbelievable to me.

I love seeing the diverse and really rich characters of the world of Destiny. The fact that [Ana is a] queer Asian woman was kind of huge for me. I identify as pansexual. It's really amazing because that's not something you get to see a lot in media; queer women of color. That felt very significant to me. 

Have you played the game since you've been in it?

Not yet! I want to jump back in, especially since I was power leveling my Warlock before the season dropped. Now that [my performance is] in, I'm a little nervous. It's odd hearing myself; most artists are very self-critical but I haven't jumped in yet.

We’re sure the fans are loving it. What’s it like to hear YOUR voice when playing a game or watching a movie you’re in?

I was in the Gundam movie [Mobile Suit Gundam Narrative] and I got to take my mom to the screening premier of it. And the first time a character speaks, [it was] just an out-of-body experience. I was like "Oh, that's me!" That happened in the trailer where Ana has those lines. It didn't feel real seeing her mouth move and my voice come out of it. It was so wild. I have friends who play Destiny. They would send me clips and say, "I heard you in my living room!"

What has your path to voice-over acting been like?

I feel like no VO actor has the same story. Everybody comes from different backgrounds. I did on-camera acting for a long time. I always wanted to do voice over. I grew up with cartoons and videogames. One day I made the decision that I wanted to do VO specifically for videogames because it's this new exciting medium that we have growing up in our lifetimes. Imagine being at the advent of cinema and getting a chance to make films. I wanted to be part of performing for this exciting new narrative medium. 

Was there a game that served as your inspiration?

I grew up with videogames. There have been so many incredible performances by legends and pioneers. I think it was playing The Last of Us that I decided, "Oh for sure, this is what I'm going to do." 

I was always so scared to do it because it's a different skill than on-camera acting. Other than the different techniques you need to learn, there's a financial investment involved with it; paying for a demo, paying for classes, workshops and everything you need to be ready and have a calling card and show that you're serious in the industry.

But it was playing The Last of Us that I said, "Yeah it's worth it to me. I want to make art like this. I want to be a part of this medium that I really love."

I was very fortunate to have a lot of good mentors, friends, and colleagues that gave me opportunities. I was lucky to have a lot of background that prepared me for a lot of those opportunities when they arose. On-camera acting, improv, [and] music helped so much. 

It's really truly wild to me that I get to do my dream job.

--
In the near term, Erika will be narrating the new Vampire: The Masquerade novella that’s due for release this summer, and she looks forward to her next opportunity to jump back in the role of Ana Bray.

Thanks to Erika for spending time with us. 

If you’d like to learn more about her, check out her website, or follow her on Twitter (@erikaishii) or Instagram (@theerikeishii). 

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