Michael Sinterniklaas Interview: Fire Emblem Heroes, Your Name, and Using Voice Acting for Evil

Michael Sinterniklaas is a Voice Actor who's done work for many different forms of media. GamePress staff member Hakurai sat down with him in November at 2017 Anime NYC.




How does the workflow differ between Japanese and American shows and games?


In American stuff you have a little more liberty on the way you perform it, because that informs the way it’s animated later.  Sometimes they’re animating it as soon as it's being performed, and they might do pick-ups because they animated a choice that was a different performance.  


But at least you don’t need to worry about timing, which you need to worry about for anime.  Animation usually happens first for anime.  The whole performance has been chosen for you, and you need to justify your vocal performance to retroactively fit into what they’ve done, which is really challenging.


I heard there was a session happening at Studiopolis, and Mark Hamill stuck his head in to say, “You guys are dubbing?  Oh man, I used to do that. Good luck, guys, that’s tough stuff!”  He’s a top of the pops voice actor, but when it comes to dubbing and all the stuff you want to do, you get shackled a bit.  Which I think is a fun challenge, but it’s more of a puzzle.


Other than this, you typically aren’t allowed to do group recordings when you’re dubbing.  It’s great to have a group because you can have conversations, really inspire each other, listen, respond and the chemistry is there!   At NYAV post, we work really really hard to try and make it so that everyone really sounds like they’re talking to each other specifically, not just giving nice performances one line at a time.


How about Video Games?


When it comes to video games, I feel like it’s not that different.  Though in some of the American games I’ve done, getting to do mocap and stuff is really, really cool.


The difference with video games is that you don’t always have much context.  Very few video games record as a group, and even fewer do rehearsals.  Naughty Dog is considered the kings of narrative.  They do rehearsals, and like any real theatre, TV, or film, you should be able to rehearse so you can work out some stuff and dig a little deeper, so when you shoot it, you have some experience.


So much of what we do in voiceover is a first take, or a cold read.  A lot of times it’s about non-disclosure, so you don’t even get your script ahead of time sometimes.  There’s no substitute for homework, and getting to prepare would really elevate everything.  

Do you have any fun stories of using your voice acting skills?


For like, evil?


Sure, let’s go with that!


I had an apartment in New York, Chelsea, when Chelsea had become real expensive.  It was my high school buddy’s apartment.  It was no great shakes, but it was so cheap that it was super worth it!  The problem was, when I was paying rent, I paid his parents and they would send a check.  Because the return address was in Woodstock, [the landlords] were like, “Haha!  You’re not living there, you’re going to lose the apartment!.  


So the landlords would call up all the time, and I would use the power of my voice acting to sound like [my friend’s] step-dad, who worked for the MTA, had a very thick New York accent, and was much older and deeper sounding than me.  They’d go, “Hello, we’re calling for Dennis,” and I’d grunt, “Yes, this is Dennis”, and sort of mumble, “Not the time, call me back later”.  They thought they were talking to Dennis!  That’s the only thing I’ve done outside of the booth with my voice acting.


A lot of our readers are fans of Fire Emblem Heroes, as well as other Nintendo games.   What are your thoughts on characters you voiced, like Takumi, Niles, Lucius?


I was in a convention at North Carolina, and a trans fan came up to me and said, “Hey, I just want you to know that getting to play Niles is really important to me.  I love what you did with the character; it makes me feel so included, and empowered.”  It meant a lot to this person, and we love hearing stories like that. Since it’s also a mobile game, it can reach more people.  It’s personal, it’s right there, in your pocket. **Niles Voice** “I know what’s in your pocket.”

What were your favorite projects to work on both as an actor, and as a director?


The first answer that I have to give, partly because it’s current, and also because I did both, was Your Name.  And what was really extraordinary about that was Stephanie Sheh, who I respect ultimately. There are very few people who really understand and care about and love and are able to tell anime stories like her.  


When we met Shinkai at the Oscar screening in LA, we got to tell him, “We’re the American Actors who played Mitsuha and Taki.”  Because we’ve been friends for so long, we’ve been able to direct each other being ourselves, which was an extraordinary experience.  He was like, “That’s great, that’s a perfect situation!”  I felt like that was a really rare thing, and also fortunate that it happened after working in an industry and knowing each other for so long.

What projects can your fans look forward to?


This week, I’m mixing Birdboy, which is a Spanish language feature film.  It’s a dark adult fairy tale, and it’s up for Oscar nomination consideration.  We’re doing Satellite Girl next weekend, with GKIDS.  


I also just completed an amazing series called The Lastman, a French series.  It’s been called a French anime, but it’s so brilliant;  I can’t recommend it enough.  It’s as if Grand Theft Auto were a series, and it’s also really intelligent.  [Lastman] starts off with some of the fun you can do in the game, like carjacking, but it becomes the most incredible story.


Other projects include:


  • Season 7 of Venture Brothers, I can’t wait for that to happen.  

  • They just premiered the Fairy Tail movie, where I played the bad guy in that, this dragon man, and I don’t often get to play the bad guy, so that’s cool.  

  • Gundam SEED and Gundam Destiny, which NYAV Post is redubbing.


One more thing, I’m doing a series with LeSean Thomas.  It’s going to be a Netflix original, called Cannonbusters, which was kickstarted a while ago.  He is creating more worlds, and I can’t wait because I love what he does.  


What are the thoughts on the work you’ve done before, like watching anime that you dubbed, or played some of the games you’ve voiced?


I am always my own worst critic.  Some people have like a sound and you’re like, “Wow, I want to hear you read the phonebook.”  I don’t have that sound.  What I try to do is be authentic and bring honesty to whatever I do, to show people that we’re not alone.  


In this media, you get to see into someone’s life, in a way you don’t when you’re talking to people.  Seeing all that made me realize the value of this career for me.


Looking back I think I’ve mostly done that, not always, but that’s my hope.  Rather than critique myself for not sounding more bassy or awesome, I can always go, “I think that sounded real!”  


Thank you so much!  


Yeah!  It was a pleasure!