Few jobs in the realm of voice acting are more coveted than an eponymous role in a new Hayao Miyazaki movie. And given how frequently the Studio Ghibli legend retires, a voice role in one of his features is the kind of opportunity that few actors will turn down. But Miyazaki’s penchant for creating elaborate fantasy worlds means that his films often require actors to make sounds for which there are no obvious points of reference. As it turns out, the 82-year-old director is well aware of the unique challenges that he sometimes poses to actors.
In a new conversation published by Entertainment Weekly, Japanese actor Masaki Suda recalled the unique experience of collaborating with Miyazaki on the auteur’s latest swan song, “The Boy and the Heron.” The actor revealed that Miyazaki apologized to him for the strange nature of his role, which saw him voicing an old man who disguises himself as a grotesque heron, who counsels a young boy grieving the death of his mother in World War II, sending the boy on a path into a surreal world.
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“He told me, ‘Sorry for giving you such a strange role,'” Suda said of Miyazaki. “It wasn’t a problem at all, though.”
Suda went on to detail the unorthodox recording process, which saw him attempting to incorporate versions of human and heron noises to craft a voice that fit Miyazaki’s vision. Once he stumbled onto the winning combination, the director let him know immediately.
“I didn’t really know how to approach it. I tried different voices and having exchanges with the other woman from production,” Suda said. “Hayao Miyazaki himself hadn’t spoken until then. But there was a sense of tension, since he was listening. And then, while I was trying different voices, I heard him say, ‘That’s it!'”
Fans interested in hearing Suda’s heron voice will need to seek out the original Japanese version of the film, which opened theatrically in Japan this summer. The English dubbed version that will hit American theaters features a predictably stacked voice cast that includes Christian Bale, Dave Bautista, Gemma Chan, Willem Dafoe, Karen Fukuhara, Mark Hamill, Florence Pugh, and Robert Pattinson as the Heron.
A GKIDS release, “The Boy and the Heron” is set to open in theaters nationwide on Friday, December 8.
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