Veronica Taylor: “It’s humbling and honouring to see Pokémon thriving.”
Since it stormed onto the scene in the 90s, Pokémon has taken over the world. Nowadays, you’d struggle to find someone who hasn’t at least heard ofPokémon, and it has transcended beyond just a video game series. Now, you can find watch the anime, read manga, trade cards, buy merchandise, and more. Few might be able to name every single Pokémon, but many know Pikachu. Of course, wherever Pikachu is, so is his trainer, Ash Ketchum. For the first eight seasons of the show, Veronica Taylor voiced Ash and gave him the signature husky voice her successor, Sarah Natochenny, uses even today. She came to FAN EXPO Canada for a Q&A session alongside her daughter, Rena, who also does voice acting.
“My first professional voicing job was a radio play for WGBH in Boston [when] I was in grad school,” Taylor shared. “It was live on stage but played on the radio.” But in terms of voice acting for a character, her first time was playing a theme park character in New Jersey.
Voice Acting 101
Initially, Taylor answered some general questions about voice acting. The first question steered towards her was how long it usually took for an episode to go from the studio to the air. “A week to a week and a half per episode to record and mix [it],” Taylor answered. For the actress herself, this meant “two to eight hours a week of work depending on how many characters I had to play.” Looking back on her career, Taylor profusely thanked the fans, stating that “without you, I’d just be [someone] in a box speaking.”
Despite her own success, she issued a warning to aspiring voice actors: “Being a voice actor is very freelance,” Taylor stated, “you never know if you’ll have another job after this one.” She also added that “vocal hygiene is very important.”
Ninja Turtles, Fire Emblem and Slayers
Ash’s voice propelled Taylor’s career, but she played many other roles in prominent IPs too. As she would later go on to explain, some of these roles became pivotal in launching her career.
Taylor lent her voice to April O’Neil in the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. “We all got to rehearse first,” Taylor explained. “We would go through the script like a play and then record it,[And] we all know Ninja Turtles; to be working on something so iconic was an incredible experience.”
Not limiting herself to animation, Taylor also played the role of Micaiah in the videogame, Fire Emblem: Heroes. “She’s spiritual, she’s lovely,” Taylor said about Micaiah. “I’m against fighting even though so many shows I work on are about fighting,” she remarked, “[but] Micaiah fights for peace, not vengeance.”
Lastly, there is Taylor’s role as Amelia Wil Tesla Saillune in Slayers. The anime was one of the most popular series in the 90s. Taylor calls Amelia “great, exuberant” and that she “loved the eating,” referring to the characters in Slayers often ingesting copious amounts of food every episode. Interestingly, she adds that she would “love to continue playing [Amelia].” While the original Slayers series ran for three seasons from 1995 to 1997, two new seasons aired over two decades later, with Taylor stating that she “would like [Amelia’s] journey to continue.” Could she possibly be hinting towards a return of Slayers?
“We didn’t even know how to pronounce Pokémon names sometimes.”
The importance of Slayers in Taylor’s career cannot be overstated. After all, it was her gateway to her role as Ash. “Slayers had the same casting directors [as Pokémon],” Taylor revealed. “[Auditioners] had to watch clips and match [their] voices, and after a few takes, I was cast.”
Veronica Taylor also spoke about the general work environment when working on Pokémon. “We were working so fast that barely anything stuck with me forever,” she stated. “We didn’t even know how to pronounce Pokémon names sometimes [and] needed to make changes.” However, being a mother made some moments unique and even presented her with an opportunity. “Rena voiced several Pokémon,” she admitted. “I remember [when] she was tiny and I would have to lift her to say ‘Sentret!’ in the microphone,” she described. “That stuck with me.”
Beyond her voice acting work, fans wanted to know Taylor’s opinions on the world of Pokémon itself. When a fan asked about her favourite Pokémon, Taylor named Charizard and Treecko. However, she also admitted that Snorlax is her least favourite.
In the anime, Ash’s first and main rival is Gary Oak. Taylor weighed in on their rivalry. “Ash loves to hate Gary, but they are also rivals,” Taylor explained, “Ash wanted to win, but he also wants to learn from his rival and win fairly.” At the end of the day, as in any relationship, “it’s complicated,” she added, “[but] it’s hard to hate someone for so long and I think Ash is the same.”
Taylor also shared that May was her favourite female protagonist of the show. She attributed this in large part to Ash and May’s relationship dynamic. “Ash is 10 [years old], May is maybe 11,” Taylor stated, “Ash leaves his [mother’s] house, but May also has to take care of her brother, Max.” According to the voice actor, that’s why “she’s so upset when she loses; she has more on the line.” She also added that “[Ash and May] are similar in that they’re both very passionate, but Ash only has to care about himself.” Moreover, Taylor likes that May is a more genuine, less cartoony character. And who can call themselves a May fan without mentioning her cool bandana?
When the topic of Ash and May came up, a fan inevitably had to inquire about Ash’s romantic connections. Ships are a very common subject of discussion among fans of anime, but Taylor was quick to refresh the audience’s memory. “He’s 10!” she shouted. But even Taylor wasn’t above speculating and she continued with “when he can, probably Misty. It would be a rom-com setup and they would be friends [too].” Taylor’s daughter, Rena, agreed and added that “Ash needs to care about someone other than himself,” implying that being with Misty would help him achieve that.
The classic villains from the Pokémon anime are Jesse and James from Team Rocket, of course. A fan asked Taylor what her favourite moment from the duo was. “I don’t know, I never recognise them because they’re disguised,” she admitted. “[Team Rocket] is the best part of the show,” she added, “without them as a foil the show wouldn’t be as much fun.”
Another fan asked about Taylor’s favorite moment in the Pokémon show. “The first episode when the Dodrio alarm clock sounded, Ash woke up late and ran to get his starter Pokémon,” she answered. “That was such a real life moment.”
As for her favourite line, the voice actor didn’t have one in particular, but a recurring one. Whether Ash won or lost, Win or lose, he always told Pikachu something along the lines of: “Good job Pikachu. You deserve a good long rest!” Taylor acknowledged that the line isn’t “the most dramatic,” but still “has the most meaning.”
A fan asked Taylor whether she ever cosplayed as a character she played. “No,” Taylor answered. However, she did “wear Ash’s hat and turn it backwards.” That counts as cosplaying, doesn’t it? Another fan asked Taylor how she felt about being so important in people’s lives. “It affects me incredibly deeply,” she admitted, “it’s humbling and honouring to see Pokémon thriving after 20 years.”
Pokémon: The First Movie was a Box Office success. Taylor spoke about her experience voicing for the movie as opposed to the anime. For the TV show, she described having to squeeze “into a little box.” However, “For the first movie, I got to go into a big studio,” she stated. “After the [movie] premiere, I walked on the red carpet, [which] felt larger than life.”
“In high school, my teachers started talking to me about Pokémon and [asking for] autographs.”
In an earlier Q&A, Steve Downes talked about how he found out about Halo’s popularity. Indeed, very few voice actors go into the booth expecting to find fame and Veronica Taylor is no exception. In her case, she found out when “the New York Times had an article about Pokémon in it, then I saw kids playing with Pokémon cards in the bus, and then my dad asked me about it.” Despite the show’s success, she maintains that work didn’t really change from Pokémon’s beginnings to when it became popular.
A lack of fanfare after the red carpet seems surprising, but Rena supported her mother’s statement. A fan asked Rena whether her mom’s role was a big deal during her childhood. “No,” she answered, “most of my life, no one cared about that aspect of my life.” However, she added that “in high school, my teachers, who were in their early 30s, started talking to me about Pokémon and [asking for] autographs. A couple of my friends care now.” In fact, Taylor even recently infiltrated a gang of teenagers playing Pokémon Go and revealed that she was Ash’s original voice actor. According to her, one of the players turned and said “oh, ok, that’s cool” before going back to his game. On the bright side, it means the two also lived very normal lives. After all, celebrities often can’t appear in public without fans or journalists swarming them.
“I would have liked to play Ash until eternity.”
Veronica Taylor was the voice actor for Ash for the first eight seasons of Pokémon. Sarah Natochenny replaced her in 2006 and still holds the role today. Earlier in the convention we spoke to Charles Martinet and Steven Downes who both wished to keep their roles until their death. Within that context, we asked Taylor about relinquishing her role as Ash and the entire cast’s replacement. “I was sad,” she admitted, “but I wouldn’t go as far to say that I would die for it!”
“I would have liked to play Ash until eternity, but when Pokémon USA bought the show from 4Kids, [the cast] did not have a choice to go on with that,” she explained, “I had to be mature about it.” It’s not uncommon for characters to change voice actors, but Taylor nonetheless points out that “so many characters I played changed voice actors; it feels strange to [watch] a character you played, [but] a different voice comes out.”