At Momocon 2019, I attended an open panel with Gaku Space, Carolina Ravassa and Jonny Cruz, the voices of Genji, Sombra and Lucio from the popular multiplayer game: Overwatch.
But one of the best parts about gaming and anime conventions is being able to meet the actors behind some of your favorite games and shows. I had a chance to step into a more intimate Q & A with Gaku Space and Jonny Cruz on the last day of the convention. Gaku Space started the Q & A and Jonny Cruz came in two questions deep:
How did you get into acting and voice acting?
Gaku Space: “My initial goal was to open the doors for Asian actors. As a foreigner, English isn’t my first language and we have visa issues and everything, but I want to encourage people that they can do it. So, that’s what I’m doing right now. For voice acting, I moved to L.A. for camera work and I started voice acting because I wanted to make money. But in L.A. there is so much competition, right? As an actor, your first goal is to survive as an actor. I used to work for a restaurant for seven years and people would ask me, ‘Hey what do you do?’ I hesitated to say I was an actor because I was working at a restaurant five nights a week. I really wanted to make money as a professional actor to survive and pay my rent and everything I have to buy — expensive stuff or go to a good restaurant — so that’s why I auditioned for movies and TV and commercials and whatever else I could do. For voice over, I made a demo reel and sent them out to the voice over agencies and one of them called me. ‘Hey, I want to have an interview with you,’ and I went there, and she said she didn’t have any Japanese guys on her lineup, so I’ll take you in. She happened to be one of the biggest voice agents in town and that’s how she got me into Overwatch.”
How is the industry different in Japan vs. here in America?
Gaku Space: “Oh, it’s totally different. Here, you need a big agency and a good manager to get auditions. It’s up to you to book the job. In Japan, all the jobs go to the agency and then the agency gives the jobs, so if the agency is big and they like you, you get the job automatically. Most of the time, the actors get salaries, because they can get the job from them [agency], which sucks, because you can’t choose and then once you get a salary, they smash you with jobs that you don’t want to do. Then you don’t have any time off and you have no control or anything.”
This is when Jonny Cruz walks in fashionably late. As he settles in, Gaku asked Jonny the same question:
How did you get into acting and voice acting?
Jonny Cruz: “When I was a kid, I was a huge ham, you know? I learned I could get out of trouble if I made my mom laugh, and that was kind of the beginning of my understanding of entertainment and how powerful it was. And then through school, I kind of got into it. In the seventh grade, I got into acting because I didn’t make the basketball team and my acting teacher took an interest that I could say lines pretty sincerely in my acting classes. He said, ‘You should really do this and pursue this and be in the play.’ And I was like, ‘Sure why not?’ and then when I did it, I thought it was exhilarating, it was fun and exciting and better than basketball. I just stuck with it over the years by taking classes and I kind of got the same thing from my acting teachers to continue doing this and so I did, all the way up until college. In college, I got an agent and then I didn’t really focus on voice acting. I was always on camera and that was what I was mostly pursuing, but I got lucky. My manager set me up with an agency for voice over and I went in and just smashed it out of the park and they took me on. And then I didn’t book anything for the longest time and I was scared that they would drop me, but at some point, I really started to focus on the style of voice over, which is different from on camera, finding my voice. Then I slowly started booking small video game roles, not knowing this was a thing. My database credits for voice acting is mostly video games, so that kind of just started happening, and here I am. Because of the video game.”
With Overwatch being as big as it is, have you guys gotten a chance to go out to Burbank and experience the games live? If so, do you have a favorite team or players?
Gaku Space: “I did. I went with Lucie (Pohl), the Mercy voice actor. I monitored for five minutes and then I was done. It was too fast and it makes me dizzy, but it’s fun. I also stopped by the New York and Dallas teams and realized they don’t care about us [voice actors]. They’re playing for six to seven hours a day, six days a week, so they are sick and tired of hearing us. So, when you say, ‘Hey, this is the voice over actor of Genji and Mercy,’ they just [nod] and say, ‘Uh huh,’ and don’t care. It’s a fun experience to see the fans and the excitement, and it’s really impressive. My team for now, is Dallas — the director of Dallas Fuel is my friend. But once they make a Tokyo team, it’s gonna be my team for sure.”
Jonny Cruz: “I haven’t been to Burbank yet, but I did get to go to BlizzCon and watch the finals there about two years ago — it was wild. But yeah, I went to Houston and the whole team just treated me right. It’s all about those vibes, man, and I really enjoyed the time down there, so Houston Outlaws, for now. But if anyone is wanting to court me, I like beignets. Send away and I will endorse.”
Both of you are accomplished screen actors. What has been the biggest challenge transitioning between screen acting and voice acting?
Jonny Cruz: “For me, the biggest thing is memorizing lines. That is a huge “get you out of your head.” Voice acting, the paper is right there — you don’t have to worry about remembering your lines, you just have to emote. I think there’s a freedom in voice acting, because you don’t have to worry about what your face looks like. Without memorizing lines, you just have to be able to deliver a character through reading and a part of that — which I also love — is the freedom that you can be anything! It doesn’t matter what your physical look is, you could be an animal or a helicopter — which I’ve played before. The imagination is vast and it’s an amazing medium to be a part of.”
Gaku Space: “For voice acting, you have to make instant acting choices. On camera, you have a script, so there’s a beginning, a middle and an end, so you know the makeup of the character. But in voice acting, you only get your lines, so you don’t know the arc of the story. We have to use a lot of imagination to make the character right. That’s my challenge, but I’m good at it because I’m talented.” (JOKING of course).
Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Gaku Space: “Tough. No.”
Jonny Cruz: “No, but I do have some things coming out that I can’t wait to share.”
Gaku Space: “Oh, I have one I’m producing. I’m making action stunts with my co-star from Street Fighter, Christian Howard. We are going to make action shorts that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We’ve already locked down the location in a warehouse, and we are using all the wires and probably fire and everything for action stunts. It’s going to be cool because we know many stunt people and for behind the camera, too. It’s a good team, so I’m focusing on that.”
Jonny Cruz: “Speaking of projects that we do, because we also produce, I think that’s always something to do. If nothing is coming to you, make it! And that’s what we’ve done a bunch. The last season of Teenage Dad is coming out, if you guys are fans. It’s ridiculous and will be the payoff I think everybody wants. It won’t be the Game of Thrones payoff — which I loved, but some people didn’t — but it’ll definitely be the one you wish you had — not Game of Thrones.”
How do you feel about the way social media is used for shows like this? Has it been a hindrance or help?
Jonny Cruz: “Well, social media has been a way to connect with fans. For me, my experience with it, especially from the video that I created a few years ago at BlizzCon, I didn’t expect millions on millions of views. Right? That kind of brought a lot of attention to us, as actors, vs. in the past. In voice over, you don’t get that kind of forefront from the voice actors and this shot us to the forefront, and that brought us to you guys. It opened up and people started finding me on Twitter and my Instagram. I was chatting with fans and I didn’t realize the frenzy was so hot! And so it opened that door for me to connect with you guys, and it opened doors for conventions. Social media can be a helpful thing or a hindrance depending on the way that you use it and how it affects you. But for me, it’s been such a positive thing and my fan base — which is crazy and so positive on my page and the fan base for Overwatch and things that I’m doing, I’m kind of floored by the love there is there.”
Gaku Space: “He [points to Jonny] opened the door for us. I’m not so good at social media. I had nothing [Twitter or any social media]. I opened one because he [Jonny] was telling me to open one, and I opened one on the first anniversary of Overwatch, so it’s been two years now. It’s great, connecting with fans is fun. I got hacked once and I considered closing my account as well, but I decided to stay because of the fans. He [Jonny] helped me get unhacked. I texted Jonny.”
And then they go on a full rant together about how Carolina Ravassa [voice of Sombra] hacked him and Gaku needed help, haha.
You guys play heroes on the game. How have you been able to become heroes in your everyday lives?
Jonny Cruz: “For me, starting with the smallest of the small. I hope we have an impact on the world and can change the world, but a good friend of mine was having a moment of realization. He’s like, ‘Man, how can I change the world if I can’t even help my friends?’ The biggest thing for me is truly listening without judgement to the people around me — my family and friends. It’s a constant, not doing anything but listening and seeing this person. That is, at the simplest level, paying attention and being aware of being present to the people around you causes a level of seeingness that fills us all up. When we’re heard, that does so much. Not to be just, ‘I hear what you’re saying,’ but here to change your life. To hear what you are going through, to be silent and listen and say, ‘I hear what you’re going through, thank you for sharing.’ That’s it. That’s the hardest thing to do, just to listen is the smallest thing you can do that’s the hardest, but has the biggest impact.”
Gaku Space: “For me, for now, I want to focus on myself. As I said, I want to open the doors for Asian actors, especially from foreign seas. That’s why I want to focus on myself to prove that I can do it, which makes them think they can do it. Eventually I can tell them, ‘Hey, you can do it because I did it.’ And I want to produce something to give them opportunities to shine, because they have so much potential and possibility to shine in this country [America].”
What are your passions outside of working?
Jonny Cruz: “I like to shop. No, for many years, I’ve been doing improv and it’s been such a big thing in my life. Even if I’m not doing it onstage, I’m doing it constantly in my house or just with my friends. It’s kind of an addiction, and it’s just doing dumb bits, making characters. That has been a big thing that releases my weird creativity in the moment of just doing a scene with someone or pretending to be weird characters for a bit. That is something I have to do. If you find me making a weird voice with somebody, that’s just me living life to the fullest.”
Gaku Space: “Go to the gym and take a nap afterward.”
How important is it to bring the right representation to all ethnicities, especially people of color? And how do you continue to do that throughout your career?
Gaku Space: “In a good and bad way, I don’t listen to people and I don’t have much stress, because I do what I believe. Once you start listening to other people too much, you get lost. I am just doing what I believe, and I believe in myself and I know it’s going to happen someday, hopefully soon. If it doesn’t happen, it’s OK because I am doing it and I made the decision, so I am responsible for all the decisions I made.”
Jonny Cruz: “For me, it’s what am I putting out there that is the representation that I want people to see? And I think moving beyond stereotypes. I’ve turned things down because I didn’t want to be represented that way, so I’m not going to do it. I think I’m in a place where I can do that [turn down jobs], which is nice. But that’s it, if it’s also not being made, how could I be a part of making that a reality? Making brown people heroes, Asian people heroes and right now is the time. Overwatch did that and it’s been such a need and I think that’s why the game became what it was. To take that into account — people are — I think things are changing in a really great way.”
Gaku, any sick tips on how to play Genji?
Gaku Space: “I suck, so just don’t spam, ‘I need healing!’ That’s my tip.”
There were a lot of laughs during this interview with Gaku Space and Jonny Cruz. It’s evident that they have become really good friends and have a great dynamic and chemistry between them. Jonny and Gaku were genuine and very caring people, and although I don’t play Overwatch much, I will always remember their kindness.
To see the full video interview:
You can also follow Gaku Space and Jonny Cruz here:
Gaku Instragram: @gakuspace
Jonny Instagram: @jonnycruzzz
Jonny Twitter: @JonnyCruzzz
Jonny YouTube: youtu.be/TgM_rKrMEA8