Kari Wahlgren is an American voice actress. She’s been in the business for well over a decade and you have definitely heard her voice in your favorite video game, cartoon series, or anime. Her voices as Celty from DURARARA and Haruko from FLCL, have been my personal favorites from her extremely long resume. She has been nominated for several voice-acting awards in both television and video-games, even winning Voice Actress of the Year for being involved in projects like FATE/ZERO, STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS, TIGER & BUNNY and THE WONDERFUL 101.

I had the chance to interview Kari and discuss how she got into voice acting and what it was like voicing the illustrious Haruko in the new seasons FLCL: PROGRESSIVE & FLCL: ALTERNATIVE.

George Forchuk: So how did you get into voice acting?

Kari Wahlgren: I was always a big fan of cartoons and I’ve kind of always had this sense that people were doing the voices. I always wanted that to be a part of my career. When I moved out to Los Angeles, I thought, “I’d really like to do on-camera and voice-over work if I can.” I started auditioning and the voice-over side of it just really took off.

GF: What films or cartoons in particular inspired you as a kid?

Kari Wahlgren: I definitely loved Disney when I was a little girl. I was very much into the Disney princesses and all of that. When I got a little older, the most influential show was BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES. That was a huge one that made me think, “I want to be a voice actor, I want to do this as part of my career.” I would say that those were two of the biggest influences over the course of my life.

Medicine Men: MUSHI-SHI and MONONOKE Heal Humanity

GF: Have you gotten to work with Kevin Conroy!?

Kari Wahlgren: Not Kevin Conroy, but I’ve gotten to work with Bruce Timm, who created the series. James Tucker, Mark Hamill, just a number of other people involved with that show. So yeah, I didn’t get a chance to be a part of that one, but I’ve definitely gotten to dip my toes into the waters of Bruce Tim’s world.

GF: I remember the BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and the SUPERMAN series were really big for me. Some of my favorite villains and it showed how broken a superhero and a villain can be.

Kari Wahlgren: Who was your favorite villain?

GF: Concept-wise, Scarecrow was actually my favorite.

Kari Wahlgren: Mine too! That was my favorite villain on BATMAN.

GF: I would say my favorite character through pathos, as someone I actually cared about, was Mr. Freeze though.

Kari Wahlgren: Oh yeah! He’s a sympathetic one, definitely.

GF: The SUBZERO movie was super heartfelt.

Kari Wahlgren: Yes! I feel the same way.

GF: So out of all the series’ you’ve done so far, what has been your favorite to be a part of?

Kari Wahlgren: Gosh. I always get asked that and what my favorite character is and I can never think of what my favorites are. It’s always kind of, the next one, or the one I’m working on currently. It’s hard to pick a favorite.

GF: Is there a particular voice you just love the sound of or that’s comfortable for you? I don’t do voice-acting, but I love impersonations. I’ll always go back to 90’s cartoons, whether RUGRATS or Spongebob (not so 90’s).

Kari Wahlgren: I always love when I get a chance to do baby voices, just baby noises. I do a lot of the babies on Doc McStuffins and on Henry Hugglemonster. Some things like that. You just can’t help but leave a session without a huge smile on your face when you’re doing baby noises! Those are always a lot of fun for me.

Interview with STEVEN UNIVERSE Artist Katy Farina at Flame Con 2017

GF: Any particular characters that you found to be a difficult challenge? Whether it was creating them as a voice, finding a voice, or it’s just tough on your voice.

Kari Wahlgren: Well, my biggest challenge was probably Haruko from FLCL. It was my very first animation job in LA. I think I’d been out in LA for a year? I responded to this ad in the paper, they were holding some secret animation audition. They said, “Oh! We like you, we’d like to bring you in for a callback. Can you watch this video? You won’t understand it, cause it’s all in Japanese, but just kinda see if you can get the tone of the character.” So I went and did the callback, and they asked if I had any experience with dubbing. I said, “No, but I’m really happy to learn.”

FLCL promotional from the first season.
Image: Adult Swim

So I ended up getting the part of Haruko. It was such a challenge, because not only was I trying to learn how to dub on the job, but also figure out the very very technical ins and outs of how to sync up to picture. Haruko is such a multi-dimensional character, she’s all over the place. Sometimes she’s tender, sometimes she’s crazy, so there were so many levels to find with her character. The Japanese clients were there for the first few sessions, they were also very conscious of trying to keep it faithful to the original. There was so much riding on that and it was very very challenging for me.

DEATH MARCH TO THE PARALLEL WORLD RHAPSODY Official Dub Clip Released

GF: That added pressure of taking care of someone else’s baby from a totally different culture and fulfilling that goal.

Kari Wahlgren: Absolutely! It’s like being thrown into the deep end of the pool and having to figure out how to swim.

GF: It’s crazy, cause dubbing is an aspect of voice-acting, but it’s on the opposite spectrum.

Kari Wahlgren: It really is. It adds a whole technical element that’s extra work.

FLCL: PROGRESSIVE Promo for June 2nd
Image: Adult Swim

GF: Well you came back for the second season. Were you excited about that?

Kari Wahlgren: Yeah! It’s so funny cause people said, “Did you think they would ever make a sequel?” Ya know, after thirteen or fifteen years you just say, “No! People, let it go. They’re never going to make this sequel!” And then sure enough, towards the end of last year, they called and said, “Hey, just hypothetically, if we were going to make a sequel, would you come back for it?” So it’s been really fun and emotional, just overwhelming to come back for this sequel. I think about where I was at in my life when I recorded that first one. A lot’s changed since then. To revisit this character that sort of launched my career, is a pretty cool experience.

GF: Especially with FLCL, to me, there was only two or three anime that people praised when it came to the English voice-acting. Everything else seemed to fall short. I only watch FLCL in English—that and DRAGONBALL Z (or anything Steve Blum).

Kari Wahlgren: That’s so cool, thank you!

I think a huge part of that, they took a lot of time with FLCL. I didn’t realize it back then, but now I know that you have to be able to dub really quickly. Things move very very fast in anime! For a show that’s only six episodes long, they took a lot of time to do that dub, cause they really wanted to get it right. Dive into little, tiny moments here and there in the show. I think that it really showed in how it turned out. Luckily, we were fortunate enough that they took a lot of time with the sequels as well. I definitely feel like I got to dive into things a little bit more with the sequels than I do on the average anime show.

GF: What did you think of Haruko as a character? You mentioned multi-dimensional. She can be sexual, sympathetic, crazy. I think a lot of anime fans can agree, she’s one of the most fascinating characters.

Kari Wahlgren: Absolutely, I think that’s what makes her so much fun to play. I think with most characters, you at least have a sense of where they’re going. What may happen next or what they may do next. With Haruko, you just never know! As an actor, that’s really fun. I show up and in one scene she may be completely sane, and in the next, she may be really sexy or playful, and in the next scene, she may be having a really sincere, emotional moment. You just never know what to expect next from here. I think that’s what makes her so unbelievably fun to play.

GF: Can we expect a lot of that in this new season?

Kari Wahlgren: Oh yes! I think they did a really great job of capturing the tone, feel and heart of the original. But, they still pushed the envelope and tried some different and new things. Hopefully, it’s going to appeal to the fans of the first one, but it’s still doing something different and new, so it’s not just a rehash of the first.

GF: From the trailer, it seems it’s still a coming of age story, but from a new perspective and a new plot.

It was interesting doing this season so many years later, but in some ways, it would make sense. Everyone who watched the first one was probably coming of age in their own sense. Well now they’re young adults or older, they’re the reliable fan-base that will return for the sequel and maybe show their own kids. Whether that’s appropriate or not.

Kari Wahlgren: Haha! Yeah, it’s going to be really interesting. It’s just now when I go to conventions, I’m starting to meet so many people and they’re saying, “Oh my gosh! You were my childhood” or “This is the show that got me through adolescence.” It’s very interesting that now those people are the adults, so to speak. It will be interesting to see how they perceive it and to see if it captures another generation. Another generation of young people going through that stuff that we all go through.

Masakazu Ogawa and Kyle McCarley talk Gundam Series at Anime NYC 2017

GF: I saw your warm-up video of you singing Marilyn Manson’s The Mephitopheles of Los Angeles. As a metal fan, are you a legit metal fan?

Kari Wahlgren: Sometimes when I answer this question in conversation, people will say, “Oh, well I don’t technically consider that metal” or “This is more rock, that’s more southern rock, blah blah.” I will say this, I’m a hardcore hair band fan, that’s for sure. I do love rock music, but as far as my hardcore fandom, it’s probably for hair bands like Slaughter (Haha). But a couple of Marilyn Manson’s songs are just my favorite things to warm-up to in a car. I don’t know why. He’s put a couple of really really great albums in recent years, so yeah, I’m at least that much of a fan.

And it’s just that fun thing where I’m going to sing this hardcore song in the car like a six-year-old girl, on my way to play something very perky. I just have that subversive sense of humor, so that kind of thing appeals to me.

GF: Since FLCL is all set, is there any projects you’re working on that you want to talk about?

Kari Wahlgren: Boss Baby just came out on Netflix, BOSS BABY: BACK IN BUSINESS. I play Marsha Krinkle, this soulless news anchor, and that’s been fantastically fun to play. I’m doing more episodes of OK K.O.! LET’S BE HEROES for Cartoon Network, I play Shannon. And there’s a couple of new things that are in the work I can’t talk about yet, but hopefully, we’ll be able to announce those sometime soon!

GF: And finally, your call out!

Kari: People can keep in touch with me on social media. I’m on Instagram @kari_wahlgren and Twitter @KariWahlgren and I love hearing from the fans!

FLCL Season 2!

Hear Kari Wahlgren voice Haruko in the latest season of FLCL: PROGRESSIVE, premiering June, 2nd at midnight. That’s today, in case some of you weren’t able to catch a glimpse during Adult Swim’s April Fools special. Though, that was an episode from the third season FLCL: ALTERNATIVE, coupled with the film MIND GAME and episodes of JOJO’S BIZARRE ADVENTURE and COWBOY BEBOP. Be sure to catch the actual premiere of FLCL’s third season in September.

If you want to keep up with Kari Wahlgren and all of her voice-acting adventures, be sure to follow her on Instagram @kari_wahlgren and Twitter @KariWahlgren.

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