It didn’t feel that long ago that the Western side of the anime fandom was pro-subtitles. Growing up in the community, watching anime with Japanese audio and English subtitles was spoken about proudly, while the English dub was often shunned. Times have changed now, and not only are English dubs in games and animation enjoyed just as much, the voice actors behind them are also gaining recognition for their craft. One such voice actor is Aleks Le.

Even if you’ve not heard his name, you’ve probably heard him speak. Le is the English voice of Zenitsu Agatsuma, the sleepy, Thunder-Breathing boy from Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, and Mash Burnedead, the protagonist of Mashle: Magic and Muscles. For Solo Leveling, he voices the main character, Sung Jinwoo. In video games, he voices Luke Sullivan from Street Fighter VI, Eiji Mitamura in Like A Dragon: Infinite Wealth and Makoto Yuki in Persona 3 Reload. It’s an impressive list of AAA video games, all released within the last 12 months. 

Aleks Le voice actor interview

Early Anime Beginnings

As with most people in this field, Le grew up playing and watching the content that he now helps to create. However, he has a particularly special relationship with animation and video games. 

“I grew up all over Asia and moved to the United States at the age of 10. I didn’t speak a word of English and ended up learning it through watching cartoons and playing video games,” says Le.

As a child, Le admired anime art. He would draw Kakashi from Naruto, one of his favorite characters. Though he once harbored a dream of being a manga artist, he ended up on the path of voice acting instead.

“There was a point in my life where I realized that what I loved most was storytelling. I would watch documentaries about how animation was made, how shots were composed and produced, and the way voices could bring characters to life,” he shares.

Le faced a lot of challenges in the pursuit of his goal. Acting and voice acting classes are readily available in America, but he couldn’t afford them. Instead, he adapted his earlier methods of learning how to draw. Beginning with self-study, he would listen to his favorite performances in English and Japanese, break down their methods and go over their lines again and again in his own voice. This was how he honed his ear and developed an understanding for what makes an engaging voice.

“The early days were brutal,” he says. “I would do 16-18 hour days of just practicing and doing auditions. That ultimately made me no money. It was such a grind with no end in sight. Voice acting is one of those careers where you have no idea if you’re going to succeed and no guarantee if it will work out. Succeeding takes such a precise combination of skill, talent, luck and ability. You need to act on that luck when the time comes. It’s very rare when all of these things align.”

Aleks Le voice actor

A Day in the Life of a Voice Actor

There is no typical day for a freelance voice actor. However, Le says he wakes up early to submit his recordings to new auditions and feed his cats. He might have a recording session that starts at 9 a.m. and another in the afternoon. These sessions last up to four hours. While driving from studio to studio, he does some vocal warm-ups in the car. At the studios, he’s the voice actor known for going through all of the water supplies to hydrate himself. Recording work might end around 6 p.m., but that’s not the end of the day. 

“There’s a lot of work involved in voice acting, that isn’t voice acting,” he says. “As a freelancer you’re doing your own bookkeeping, reading your own contracts and managing an ever-changing schedule. Sometimes production schedules shift and clash with each other, and I’ll need to spend hours on the phone resolving this. I try to organize everything from Monday to Thursday, because on Friday I might fly out to a weekend convention to meet with fans or talk on a panel. I usually fly back on a Sunday, so I can get back to work.”

Nowadays, Le is focused on honing his craft to ensure he can be a vessel for the characters he’s engaged to play. He attempts to embody the spirit of the Japanese voice actor, with nothing lost in translation. There’s an almost obsessive attention to detail as he explains how he focuses on the way someone talks and pauses, their pitch and the dip in their voices. Le also spends a lot of time researching manga and watching anime in Japanese, as being able to pay homage to the source material is important to him.

“I want whatever I ship out to be the best that it can be. I never want to hear a performance and think that I could have done better,” says Le.

In person, Le is quiet and thoughtful in his demeanor. It’s not what one would usually expect from someone who talks for a living. But he pushes himself, especially when it comes to meeting fans who may be at a convention just to meet him. Le recalls a heartwarming memory where he met an entire family of Demon Slayer fans, from a younger daughter to her mother and 76-year-old grandmother. It’s moments like this that make him realize how much his work has touched the lives of others. Last month, Le was in Tokyo for the Kimetsu Festival, an event where he was able to connect with the Demon Slayer voice acting cast and meet with his Japanese fans.

Key to his success, Le says, is having a good support network. He is grateful that many of his closest friends now are voice actors he looked up to when he was in his early teens. Le counts the likes of Bryce Papenbrook (Blue Exorcist), Ray Chase (Final Fantasy XV) and Max Mittelman (One-Punch Man) as some of his greatest inspirations. 

“I was the biggest fan of Yuri Lowenthal, having grown up with Naruto as one of my first anime and learning English from his voice work in the Ben 10 cartoons,” says Le. “When he handed off the role of the protagonist in Persona 3 to me, it was such a surreal moment. He gave me the biggest hug, and it felt incredible to hear my childhood hero tell me ‘I believe in you.’”

Should You Be a Voice Actor?

So, is voice acting a career worth pursuing? Le thinks only those with a certain kind of mettle can make it.

“I don’t recommend this job to just anybody,” he says. “You need to have iron skin to survive in the acting world. You will often be rejected and hear the word ‘no’ all the time while your insecurities are put to light every single day. You will constantly question whether you’re good enough. 

“Stories told at conventions are summed up versions of a good ending,” Le continues. “Behind every success or win I attain are a thousand losses. These are my lessons to learn and reflect on, but it can be hard on the mind.”

You can catch Aleks Le’s voice over work in Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Mashle: Magic and Muscles and Solo Leveling on Crunchyroll.

Aleks’ Social Handles

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