Interviews

Talking action, acting, and awareness with Erika Ishii

We stole 20 minutes with busy bee Erika Ishii to talk about their upcoming and newly released roles, action-packed plans for the future, and present passions in all things.

Best known as either the iconic voice of Apex Legend’s beloved lesbian Valkyrie, or for currently playing in Dimension 20’s The Seven, Erika Ishii has hardly stopped in recent years. From table-top shows to animation and video-game voice acting, Ishii’s endeavours are as diverse as they come. And with characters like Deathloop’s Dr Wenjie Evans, their roles are getting even more interesting as time rolls by.

In a world that’s ever changing thanks to more LGBTQ+ representations in games, or the impacts of COVID, nobody has been left untouched. Ishii gave us some insight into their own experiences, showing that even actors feel the ups and downs that come with those changes.

We got a glimpse into their aspirations for acting, and what they’d like to start focusing on in future, revealing some exciting plans for fans.

illustration of Dr Wenjie Evans of Deathloop
Image: Deathloop / Bethesda

HAPPY: Deathloop’s just recently released and you played Dr Wenjie Evans, one of its antagonists. What was it like playing a villain instead of a hero?

ISHII: It’s my dream to play big villains. Whenever anyone asks me what my ideal roles are; big, colourful, queer-coded villains. That’s what I want. Also, Deathloop was so fascinating because – spoiler alert – there’s multiple Wenjies.

I had to record against myself, so we’d do a pass of me saying the lines of Wenjie number one and then they’d play it back for me and I’d hear myself and respond to it as Wenjie number two. Which was a fascinating process because they all sound the same, but they have different attitudes. Love being a villain. Would do it again, anytime.

HAPPY: Going off of that, you’ve said before that you love Valkyrie from Apex Legends, how does Wenjie hold up against her?

ISHII: You know it’s so funny. All of my roles  are so different. There’s something so different about all of the characters and I’ve been very fortunate in that regard. That I haven’t gotten too typecast. Wenjie is so cold and calculating. There’s this one part where she has to talk about sex and she’s very disgusted by it and on the other hand, there’s Valk being this sort of, promiscuous fly-boy who’s real fast and loose.

I really, honestly think about Valk everyday. It truly changed my life. Out of all my characters she might be the closest to me as a person, so that’s why it’s extra fun to get to stretch yourself for a character that’s very different from you.

HAPPY: You’re something of a triple threat. You can play music, you can act, you’ve dipped your toes into plenty of artistic areas, so do you find them overlapping at all?

ISHII: I think all of them are a method of me chasing flow. When I am completely lost in something I love doing, whether that’s a scene that’s very compelling, or in the middle of fire spinning, or doing aerial, I get to disappear from the world. Just live in that moment. I’m very ADHD, just constantly living in the moments before or after, but when I get to pursue artistic endeavours, whether it’s personal, public, for money, or for fun, I get to just disappear into that enjoyment.

HAPPY: You’ve also showed off some action-packed stunt skills with that Kate choreographer recently. Are you looking to dive deeper into the world of film, or get into more action stuff?

ISHII: Absolutely! When I was younger I did a lot of on-camera acting and voiceover was something I really sought out later. It was something I really wanted and I took a break from on-camera for a while. But I’m definitely edging back into that world because it’s still quite different from the hosting and Dungeons & Dragons I do.

I actually booked something for TV recently and that’s not gonna be out for quite some time but yeah, I’m very fortunate to have a team that is getting me auditions for things. I do definitely want to dive into that. It’s like that feeling that I discussed when I talked about all artistic and creative endeavours. It feels right in my body, it’s what I just love, time just disappears and I can just focus on that. Definitely want to edge back into on-camera.

HAPPY: Sounds like it’ll be plenty of fun and hopefully, you’ll get to play a villain there too.

ISHII: Gosh, the roles that I started auditioning for on-camera changed drastically once I got the undercut. It really was a gateway. Suddenly it was less about the quirky best friend and more about very tough, queer or non-binary roles. Then I decided to lean further into it with the eyebrow. It’s so good to just do a thing that feels right and I’m very, very privileged in that regard. I feel the most me that I ever have.

HAPPY: You’ve promoted a song recently that you did with Juniper Vale. Does that mean music is an area you’re growing an interest in too?

ISHII: I do violin for fun, you know. I was a fan of them and I invited them onto my show, with Taliesin Jaffe on Geek and Sundry. I thought they were just being polite, they said “oh you’ve been working on this violin part to this one song we do, why don’t you join us for it?” It just went very well and we ended up becoming good friends. They walked down the aisle to the song Can You Feel My Love, so it was a very special song.

When they decided to do an acoustic cover of it, they invited me to do it. The line between creator and community is so wiggly these days, for better or for worse, but in my case it was for better! It was really, really cool to get to be part of that.

HAPPY: Are you going to do anything more music related in future, or are you just focused on acting for now?

ISHII: Music is sort of the fun thing that I do when I’m feeling my feelings. There is another piece that I have coming out sometime soon with another friend, I think she wants to keep it under wraps for now, but there will be something else.

HAPPY: You’ve been incredibly busy, so what are some of the things that inspire your acting choices or the roles you pick?

ISHII: It’s funny because as an actor, especially when you’re starting out, you play roles that you’re not as connected with, or material that you don’t know as well. Then as you progress, sometimes you’re fortunate and you get to pick and choose. I’m not quite at the point where I can pick and choose my roles as an actor yet. I am just so fortunate to get some incredible roles, especially in things that I was a fan of before I was in them, both in video games and animation.

The place that I do have control is in tabletop. That’s the actual playing space that I get to create the characters that I really want to see in the world and so many of those are informed by my friends and collaborators. I love to see what they’re playing in a campaign and I’ll pick something that I think would have an interesting relationship with that character. I’m inspired a lot by music – whenever I get into a band, it can inspire an idea for a character. As for picking roles, right now, I’m just happy for everything that comes my way.

HAPPY: Is there anything that we haven’t touched on already that you’re particular passionate about in your acting, music, or tabletops?

ISHII: One thing that I really hope to do with all of my endeavours, this might be a little vain to say, but I really do hope to leave the world better than I found it. Whether that’s through helping others see themselves in the way that I wanted to see myself growing up, or infusing all of my tabletop characters with a very anti-capitalist bent. Or using the platform I’ve been very fortunate to have, to support the causes that I care very deeply about.

I have to thank everybody that has been a part of my online or real world community for supporting that. For being incredibly charitable and also leading by example. There is a lot to care about and art is always political. I just hope to always be learning and promoting important causes in a very deliberate way.

HAPPY: On the note of COVID, it hasn’t seemed to slow you down at all, but has it still impacted you behind the scenes?

ISHII: Yes, absolutely. Last year was so difficult for everyone and I was fortunate to continue working, but I was very alone and that’s difficult for everybody. Because we’re not meant to live like this. Therapy, meds, and just really deliberate seeking out of socially distanced friendships, or checking in with friends regularly; all these things where we have to concentrate and make a very, very conscious decision to take care of our mental health.

I am so happy to see that so many friends and people have made that conscious effort and been able to get through, not to make light of the really awful things that are happening now. All the people around me and my industry are very COVID conscious and consider the safety of everyone around them. I think we just all have to take things a day at a time and take care of our mental health. The idea of empathy and caring for others on whatever scale you can, is really important during all of this.

HAPPY: As much as it’s isolated a lot of us, it’s brought us all closer together in other ways too.

ISHII: I think that’s very true. Looking at the silver lining, before lockdown happened, I was constantly putting things and people off until later. I always felt that there was time and opportunity, now I will take any opportunity that I can. Cause I know that it might not always be there. A very dark, but silver lining, I suppose.

HAPPY: I’ve just got one more question: what new adventures are next for you or what’s coming up that we can look forward to?

ISHII: Halo’s going to be exciting, that’s out soon enough. Can’t believe that it’s almost time. I have some more surprises on the tabletop front coming in the next couple of months. Hard to say, I’ve had to start a spreadsheet of ‘cannot talk about’ or ‘this releases on this date’. That’s probably all that I can talk really about that’s not under NDA. But yeah, just a lot. There’s still The Seven on Dimension 20 and LA By Night on the World of Darkness Twitch Channel though.

 

Check Erika Ishii out on Twitter and Instagram, or see them in voice-acting action in Halo Infinite’s upcoming release on November 15th.

Otherwise, Dimension 20 releases a new episode of The Seven every Thursday at 9am AEST, or LA By Night is streamed via Twitch on the World of Darkness channel every Saturday at 2pm AEST.