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One Piece Red: Colleen Clinkenbeard on Voicing Monkey D. Luffy & More

It's hard to believe that One Piece has become a Manga staple for over 25 years. The Eiichiro Oda-created franchise spawned an equally successful anime series that's been airing since 1999, going on 20 seasons, 13 specials, seen OVAs, four shorts, 15 films, and counting. The latest is the film One Piece Red, currently the highest-grossing film in Japan for 2022. It follows the Straw Hat Pirates, who visit the world-famous singer Uta, not knowing about sinister intentions looming. Colleen Clinkenbeard voices the lead character Monkey D. Luffy for Funimation and spoke to Bleeding Cool about returning to the role, the series' longevity, her career & more.

One Piece Red: Colleen Clinkenbeard on Luffy, Franchise & Voice Acting
Toei / Funimation

Colleen Clinkenbeard on Returning to Luffy for One Piece Red

Bleeding Cool: How does it feel having to be Luffy again for One Piece Red?

Clinkenbeard: I'm always thrilled whenever I get [these opportunities]. Now, it's back-to-back, and I know it's coming and I'm fully prepared. There was a time when I wasn't sure if we were moving forward, and I desperately wanted to. There was a lot of hullabaloo and joy when we found out we were continuing. At the moment, it's just "What's next? I can't wait to catch up."

Are you surprised by the show's continued longevity?

Yes. I knew from the beginning that it was going to be a somewhat long show, but I had no idea how long. I couldn't have told you when I first started this process that I'd be doing it 16 years later, and we still are looking forward to more. I am surprised but certainly not disappointed.

Having been in the voice acting industry as long as you have and looking back since your start in Dragon Ball: Curse of the Body Rubies, was it something that you envisioned yourself doing the right way and making a career out of?

That is exactly what happened. When I first started, I graduated from college with an acting degree and moved back to Dallas-Fort Worth to make some money so that I could eventually move to New York. The plan was to be in soap operas and on Broadway. When I met Laura Bailey, and she brought me into the voice acting gig at Funimation, it hit immediately. "This is what I should be doing." It always felt right, and it always felt like where my skill set lay. Also, it removed so much of the anxiety that comes along with your acting career being tied to your physicality. I can be anything in the booth, anyone, and I love that.

What are the biggest differences when you started compared to how things are in the industry today?

When I started at Funimation, we were still recording to tape. There have been technological changes that completely changed the game. Now, we have the ability and the time to be able to perfect each moment in a way that we just didn't back then because you had to wait for every moment for the digital to catch up with you. There was a lot of waiting for tapes to rewind, and every flubbed take was taking a moment away from you. The magic they can do is insane. I can start recording before the engineer presses record, and he can still manage to capture what was recorded before he pressed record. Does that make sense? It's crazy.

One Piece Red: Colleen Clinkenbeard on Luffy, Franchise & Voice Acting
Cr: Colleen Clinkenbeard

Have streamers been a game changer for the genre?

One of the main things that have changed because of accessibility is we're all invested at the same level at the same time. As we're recording our shows, the fans are getting excited about exactly the things that we're recording rather than us recording, and a year later, you getting the content. It puts us all on the same wavelength, and it engenders this sense of community-building momentum at the right time. All of that is fantastic, and it has made the competition a bit fiercer, but that's good for the industry.

How do you feel when mainstream actors headline animated features like when Chris Pratt stars in Super Mario Bros instead of Charles Martinet, who's voiced the character for all Nintendo games?

Hiring an A-lister does do a service to pension, and it makes people more excited about a TV show. In cases like Mario, it feels like that voice has been set in our childhoods, and it is something we associate so dearly with that character that it seems a bit odd not to use the same voice. If you look at me, I am the voice of Lilith and [Dr. Patricia] Tannis in 'Borderlands,' and they're making a live-action movie currently with Cate Blanchett. Jamie Lee Curtis is playing [one of] my roles. I would not in any way expect to be playing those roles in a movie. There are times when it does work. In that case, I'm just as excited to see that movie as any of the fans [laughs].

One Piece Red: Colleen Clinkenbeard on Luffy, Franchise & Voice Acting
Toei / Funimation

How do you compare working in anime with video games and other work?

It is as much as some people think of dub voice acting in an offhand way, it's such a unique challenge, and the skill set is so specific and difficult to find, but I feel like it should be honored. That's coming from somebody who does it, so maybe I'm a bit biased. It should be honored as more of an artistry, but it is interesting because we are not creating that character. That character is already created and has already been acted by the original actress. In some ways, we're trying to convey that to the audience rather than create something anew.

When you do video game work, you get to create that character with the help of the scriptwriters and the directors. I get to create their speech patterns and decide when they laugh and how big we build this moment. That's not something that exists when you do anime acting, so it's "left-brained acting," is how I describe it. It's like fitting a puzzle together.

Have you ever met any of the Japanese counterparts or talent creative types from One Piece and more of your experience with them?

I haven't met any of the voice actors from One Piece, but I've met several of the behind-the-scenes creators. I've met producers and directors of a couple of different movies, and I've met some Japanese voice actors for other series that I work on, not One Piece quite yet.

How do you see the future of voice acting?

At the moment, it feels like we're on a really good trajectory. I like that to continue. There are little rumblings that could maybe get in the way of that. For instance, some platforms like HBO and others are taking down animated content. I'm hoping that doesn't disturb the industry too much because, at the moment, it feels like we're all so excited about this together. Voice acting and animation, in general, have felt like it's gotten a new lease on life, and they are starting to reach multiple generations rather than be targeted toward the young. We're on a good path, and I hope we continue that way. I hope we don't start seeing AI doing all of our voices.

One Piece Red is currently in theaters.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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