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[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for Seis Manos.]
We here on the Saturday Mourning Cartoons team are getting in on the Saturday-morning fun that the Powerhouse Animation cast and crew is having with Seis Manos. Their weekend watch-parties go behind the scenes of the epic, action-packed, original animated Netflix series from Viz Media — one of the best of 2019 — to offer up trivia, bonus content, and all sorts of insider info from the actors, animators, and creative talent that brought the Mexicanime to life. (Be sure to check out my interview with the creative team here.) One of the major players in the Seis Manos story is Vic Chao, who brings a remarkable performance, balanced between gentleness and strength, to the character and mentor figure Chiu.
We had a chance to chat with Vic Chao ahead of this today’s new watch party, which was pretty well-timed considering today’s pair of episodes are rather important to Chiu’s mythology. Chao spoke at length about his experiences on Seis Manos, including his audition for Castlevania that ultimately led to the role of Chiu. Additionally, Chao shared his reaction to his character’s fate and confirmed that you might just hear his voice coming out of more than one character’s mouth. And speaking of other characters, we touched briefly on Chaos’s role as Tseng in the new Final Fantasy VII Remake and his super-secret role on an upcoming Ben 10 storyline.
Of course, we also spared some time to talk about life in the age of the ongoing pandemic, at which point Chao encouraged our listeners to donate to your local or national food banks and diaper banks, if you are able to do so. Find out more info at the links, and read on to listen along with Chao!
Hey You! Are you looking for something to do on the weekends? Then come join us for our Seis Manos Watch Party! Every Saturday we'll be watching two episodes, starting at 12:00 PM CT. Tweet along with us, the cast, and the crew using #SeisManos and become our new best friends. pic.twitter.com/dJlxnomHNg
— Powerhouse Animation (@powerhouseanim) May 11, 2020
Here’s something I’ve been asking a lot of folks lately, and it never really seems to get less strange as I say it, but how are you holding up during this pandemic?
Vic Chao: Thanks for asking, we’re doing as well as we possibly can. It’s most tough on my kid, because of course kids aren’t meant to be cooped up indoors, and we’re doing everything we can for him. But honestly, it’s like we have food, shelter, diapers formula, so honestly, what can we complain about? The thing that tears me to pieces, is knowing that there are people out there who love their children as much as I do, but they don’t have the support, the resources, the means to take care of them, and that hurts me. And so, if I do get a platform, I will just encourage people, if you can afford it, please donate to food banks, diaper banks, whatever you can help with. Because it’s a rough time for everybody, but it’s really rough for people who simply just don’t have the financial means, to be able to take care of themselves and their family.
Absolutely. And I’m glad you called that out, because more often than not, we get focused on the business of things or how this affects industry, or production. I think it’s also important to remember the human cost that’s out there, too, with the ones that don’t really make the headlines all that much. So thank you for mentioning that.
Vic Chao: Exactly, I mean, that’s the thing was, I caught myself thinking, “If I only had a backyard, if I had a backyard, this would be so much different. I could totally manage this, my kids would be so much better off.” Then that’s when the thought occurred to me, “That’s what some people are saying about food, and that’s what people are saying about shelter, and diapers, and rents, and formula and stuff like that.” So, yes, exactly. I was for a while focusing on what I didn’t have, and then I realized, I have all that I need, and there are plenty of people who do not have what they need.
Exactly. And it’s difficult too, because I mean, as individuals, there’s only so much you can do, to make these vast changes, or help out untold numbers of people. But the silver lining of that, is with social media, with projects like the many that you involved in, you have an interesting avenue to be able to connect with people, and a lot of times provide them an escape from the day-to-day crushing realities that a lot of us are facing. Have you seen a lot of opportunities with that, in your work?
Vic Chao: Yes. Exactly. When I am being interviewed, I do my best to always mention, “Hey, there’s people who are really struggling out there and if you can afford it, please donate to the diaper banks, and the food banks.” That’s the main thing I’ve been trying to get across, with pretty much every podcast interview that I’ve been asked to come up on.
Shifting a little bit towards the more industry side, the production side, I’ve talked to some other professionals in the animation industry, and while a lot of live-action productions are obviously on hold, paused temporarily, or for the foreseeable future, a lot of folks are saying they’re seeing an uptick in animation production, and a lot more opportunities. So, have you seen a big change in voice-acting opportunities over the last couple of month?
Vic Chao: I would say that, the number of voiceover auditions that I’ve had, have definitely increased and as such, I’ve definitely had to make changes with the way that I work. Previously I basically just operated on a good enough audition’s standpoint. So basically, I had a nice USB microphone in my laptop, in my closet, and that was good enough. But now I’ve actually been recording production from my home now, and so I’ve got to step up my game. So I bumped everything up now, I bumped up microphone, got a pre-amp, got Source-Connect. I don’t even think I knew what Pro Tools, Source-Connect or pre-amps were, a few months ago, and all of a sudden I’m totally educated in those things.
I got a sound booth, and that was a very good sound booth, and I really like it, but I looked at it a little bit more closely and I said, “No, I need something that’s going to rival production and be close to a professional studio in my home.” So next week, I’m getting the Fort Knox, of sound booth. So we’re talking double walls, the premium isolation package and everything like that. And so, hopefully that will replicate the quality, or come close to replicating the quality of a professional studio.
Your career goes back quite a ways now, with movie and TV, live-action and voice recording as well. Do you have a preference, or are you just kind of role by role basis, on how you decide?
Vic Chao: The simple answer is, I love to work. And there are things that I love about all the different elements, whether it’s voiceover, whether it’s live-action, whether it’s a play, there’s different things that I treasure about all those different kinds of acting media. I would say, if I could choose a favorite, it would be voiceover. There’s something wonderful about being able to focus on your words, without having to worry about nearly as many distractions, hitting your mark, exactly, working that’s needed, making sure that you banana out, when you enter the scene and stuff like that. And so, I do love the intimacy of working with just a few people, in that recording settings. And it’s wonderful getting to do as many takes as you want. I just say, “I didn’t quite get that, let me get another try.” Without feeling like you’ve annoyed 40 people in the crew in cast, who are happy to do another take.
Yeah, without everybody having to reset the entire physical production. Yeah, exactly.
Vic Chao: Exactly. Yeah, the last thing you want to do is, be the screw-up at the very end of a long tracking shot.
Speaking of auditions though, in one of your recent tweet-alongs with the Saturday watch-parties, which I’ll talk about more in a second, I saw that you mentioned your role in Seis Manos actually came about from an audition in Castlevania, is that correct?
Vic Chao: Yes, exactly. It was an audition that I looked at it, and I said, “I don’t think I’m right for this.” And it was a fantastic role, I believe it was Taka in Castlevania, except for Taka is 20 years old. And there’s one thing, that my voice is not really naturally suited to, is a 20 year old. So I thought, “Well, maybe I can talk really high and bring it up to a higher level,” and stuff. And I just said, “I’m just going to be myself on this one, because if they want a 20-year-old voice, they can get a 20-year-old for this. So I’m just going to take my natural voice, and we’ll go from there. And if they like it, they like it. And if they don’t, I can live with that.”
So I did my natural voice, but of course, with the best acting that I can possibly do with it, and the amazing casting director, Meredith Layne, she heard it and correctly surmised that my voice is not right for a 20-year-old, but she then reached out and said, “Hey, I’d like Vic to audition for Seis Manos, and the rest is very wonderful Seis Manos history.
I think that’s a great lesson out there, too, for aspiring actors, be they on stage, on screen or voice acting, that a “no” for a particular role does not necessarily mean “no”, for everything else, for the rest of your life.
Vic Chao: Exactly, yes. Absolutely.
You make connections and you get those opportunities by walking through the door.
So what was your thought process then, when you heard about Chiu for Seis Manos? And walk me through how you first learned about the role and then what led you to saying, “Yeah. I’d love to get involved.”
Vic Chao: Well, so then Meredith forwarded on to my wonderful agents, Vox Voiceover Agency, and I read the specs on it and I was just like, “Oh yeah, this is something that I can get into. This is something I totally get into.” Of course, I had to audition for it, but this was one where I felt comfortable and I felt I could use the full range of my voice, whether I’m speaking regularly, or going a little bit more gravelly and stuff. And I remember the sides were just really interesting, with a supernatural element, there was a more standard set of sides, that dealt with Chiu, imparting his a martial arts lessons, but there was also a set of sides dealing with Chiu speaking in kind of another realm. And instructing Silencio about that. And I was just like, “What kind of wacky project is this?” So, I was, I was really enthusiastic about that, and then, yeah, once I heard that I got the role, I was just so pumped and I was freaking out. And it’s been a wonderful ride, and I’m really enjoying it.
So, in preparation for playing the part of Chiu, or any role really that you take on, do you pull a lot from your life experiences, where applicable? What is your process for getting into a into a role?
Vic Chao: The short summary is, I take all the life experiences that I can, that are relevant, and I apply them. And I play a fun mental game, where I bring in people from my real life experiences, and my real life experiences, into what I do. When it comes time to actually performing, then I just let it go, then it’s all just from there, it’s all just letting it go naturally. But the preparation is very much experience-based and if I don’t have the exact experience, then I take it from my imagination. Now, in the case of Chiu, I was fortunate enough to have a martial arts instructor who was a huge influence on me, because I grew up really small, really skinny, really bullied, for quite a bit of my life, and in fact, he was Latino as well.
His name is Carlos Garcia, and he was my martial arts instructor and mentor, and he was a tough guy. And so, I was able to pull elements of him into my preparation work as Chiu, and there’s something very satisfying about being able to pay tribute to him. And also, the fact that I get to go full circle, where I was a young Chinese kid, being mentored by a Latino martial arts instructor, and then decades later, I get to be a Chinese martial arts instructor, mentoring three Latino kids. So, that was nice to be able to pay tribute to Carlos, In fact, actually, it made me say, “Where did Carlos go?” And I searched and searched and I finally reconnected with him, and he was flattered that I got to pay tribute to him with Seis Manos.
That’s really cool. And it adds to this kind of interesting mythology about the making of this show itself. I had a chance to talk to the creative team behind the scenes earlier today, and they talked about so many of these synchronicities or synergies, between what they were doing and what was happening in the real world, and everything along the way, to making Seis Manos a reality. And that story is kind of another interesting one, that adds another interesting wrinkle, to how this whole plot kind of played out.
Seis Manos is interesting for a number of reasons, it also walks this line between paying homage to things of the past, like blaxploitation films, kung fu, martial arts movies, with sometimes notoriously bad English dubbing, all kinds of things. But were you at all nervous about stepping into a role of a Chinese martial arts master, that could have come of across as a stereotype, if the writing wasn’t quite what it was in the show?
Vic Chao: I’m definitely wary of that when I am offered a role and if it’s something that I feel is a negative stereotype, I won’t do it. But in the case of Seis Manos, I was reading it, and it was clear that this was not your ordinary martial arts instructor, and this is not your ordinary martial arts animated series. Seis Manos is clearly different, it definitely is a concern, but with the writing of Seis Manos, once I started reading the scripts and everything, and really getting to dig into it, any fears that I had, or concerns were immediately put to rest.
Yeah. And in our conversations earlier, we talked how it wasn’t about an approach of just like checking boxes, like, “Yep. Diversity check, we’re good there.” It was about shaping the story around the characters that made the most sense for those roles. So can you comment on how your particular character fits into the overall story? And if you had any thoughts on, maybe some of the other characters or actors you played opposite?
Vic Chao: Sure. Actually, in fact, just talking about how Seis Manos shakes some of the standard tropes, and turns them on their heads. Trying not to… Trying pick my words carefully, but in Episode 1, the introduction of Domingo, I thought that I knew what was going to happen. So I just remember, “Okay. So he’s going to be the annoying rugrat, he wants to join the club, they’re going to be like, ‘No, leave us alone,’ but he’s going to keep on persisting and pestering, and pestering, and then at one point, the Seis Manos, they’re all going to be trapped in this tiny little room, and then there’s only one person who can squeeze through the sewer pipes, to get into that room, to rescue them. And that’s going to be Domingo.” And I was like, “Okay, I get it. It’s a trope, but I like it … but that doesn’t happen. So reading that made me just say, “Oh yeah, this is definitely a different project.”
Yeah. It definitely lets you know, right off the bat, in Episode 1, what the themes are, what the maturity level is and the fact that it’s going to be something you were not expecting, pretty much every turn. Yeah.
Vic Chao: Exactly.
So what was that like, being able to play people of color within that cast?
Vic Chao: It’s fantastic. As you know, I’ve been an actor for very a long time, more than two decades. And I can remember showing up on set, and being the only person in the cast of color. And it’s fine, I was honored and happy to be there, but it makes you… The phrase Token Minority, comes into your mind, when you see that. And so the thing, is when you see Seis Manos, you see a whole world of Latinx characters, you realize, “Oh, this is the exact wonderful counterpart to token minority. This is true representation here, because when you have only one person of color, that person just has to be the Asian character, or the Latin character, or the Black character. But with Seis Manos, you have a rich world of Latinx characters. So then each one can be their own character: one can be petulant, one can be spicy, one can be a good-natured drunk, they can all be themselves. And instead of being one color, you just get a rich tapestry of characters, and it’s wonderful this way.
Speaking of the show, and your role as well, did you happen to voice any other roles in the series, beyond scratch dialog?
Vic Chao: Yes. As a matter of fact, I have. And in fact I had people mention to me, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I was upset at what happened to your character early on.” And I was like, “Stick around, there’s more. And trust me, you haven’t heard the last of me.” So, I get to voice a significant element going forward. So yes, Chiu has a brother, he has a brother named Lo, and Lo, he’s like him in some respects and is very, very different in other respects. And again, it’s wonderful because it’s Seis Manos here, so things are not always as they appear. Lo’s first introduction changes significantly as the storyline develops, and so, what a wonderful opportunity for me to get to use all elements of my voice, the full range of my voice. Whether I’m speaking in a friendly sort of way, or in a much more menacing sort of way, because Lo was incredibly fun to do, and I just love how the storyline progresses with Lo, taking up the torch, taking up Chiu’s torch.
When Lo first appeared the first time that I was watching it, I noticed that there was not a mention of who voiced Lo, and I was like, “You know what? I would be really cool, if that was still Vic.” But I couldn’t find information on that anywhere. So I’m glad you confirmed my suspicions all these months later.
Vic Chao: Oh, yes. No, voicing Lo, it’s kind of Chiu’s voice, but then I just add an element of an edge, and a little bit more of a strength and almost a harshness to it. So, it’s fun trying to balance Chiu and Lo together.
I definitely know what my reaction was, first of all, losing Chiu, and only seeing him in the flashbacks, and then at the introduction of Lo, and how the events transpired there. But what was your reaction when you got the audition? You got the role, you came in, and then you read that Chiu is not around very long, so what was your reaction to how that played out?
Vic Chao: I was told how many episodes I was going to do, but I remember in the audition, there were sides for Chiu and Lo, so I knew that I would be voicing both characters. But I didn’t realize Chiu’s fate, and I definitely didn’t see the turn that Lo was going to take. So, it was very interesting just reading things, and I just remembered going back and rereading passages of the Seis Manos script without stopping, and just thinking, “Wait, did that really happen? Okay. Yeah, that really did happen, it really was like that.”
Pulling back a little bit to a bit higher level, but I love the fact that Powerhouse, the crew there, and also the cast members including yourself, have been putting on these watch-parties on Saturday mornings, bringing back the classic Saturday morning cartoons, that are… even our podcast is named after. What’s your experience been like, being able to be part of those things and interacting directly with the fans?
Vic Chao: First of all, the watch-parties have been so much fun. Watching it with a fresh set of eyes, has been a blast. And just seeing all this stuff that I’ve been watching, so intently… When it first came out, stuff like that has reawakened all these wonderful memories, of the process of recording this, as well as all our memories from Comic-Con, being together and meeting all the rest of the cast, and the crew and the staff. And engaging with the fans, has been the best, and it has become very, very clear to me, if it wasn’t already, which honestly was already very clear to me, but the most enthusiastic fans, are Angélica Vale’s fans. They freaking love her.
When we’re in San Diego and we’re walking along the street in San Diego, her fans were running up to her and just crying, they would cry because they were so excited to meet her. Just their sincerity and their enthusiasm for her, comes through when you’re walking down the street in Comic-Con, and it comes through in their tweets, they just love her. And honestly, it’s so well-deserved, because she is just so much fun to be around with, she’s just so enthusiastic and so sincere, and just a wonderful person. So I can definitely understand why her fans love her so much.
Well, and I also love, too, that Seis Manos is a show that allows fans like that to see themselves represented on screen, in some way. We could talk of people of color, we could talk about different backgrounds, we could talk about just kung fu enthusiasts, or practitioners of martial arts. There’s even characters who… We have a mute character, who’s a main player, we have another disabled character, who’s a main supporting player in this, too. There’s so many people who are on screen that you never get to see in normal mainstream stuff, so it’s really cool that you guys are able to connect with your fans on that level too.
Vic Chao: Absolutely. I mean, again, that is true representation and I’m so proud of Seis Manos for it’s true representation.
How has your experience been watching the rest of Seis Manos play out? Because obviously when you’re in the booth, you have your sides, and you’re focused on your character’s arc, and part to play. But are you also a fan, too, of just how the story plays out?
Vic Chao: Oh, absolutely. I’m a huge fan of the way the whole thing plays out. And it’s humbling because it’s like, I do my part and I work very hard at it, and I hope that I do a good job it. But then just to see glimpses of everything that goes on behind the scenes, glimpses of these storyboards, glimpses of these sketches, glimpses of Carl Thiel conducting an entire orchestra, to put the score together and the music together, it’s humbling to see what your small part is, and how it fits in with this enormous team of people, all doing the incredible talented work to put together an amazing whole.
And what’s interesting, I think about pretty much everything that you just said, is we get to see Chiu’s character, who I would actually love to just study under, and have as a mentor, even just like a life coach. But we also get to see the other character that you play as well, on the other side of that coin. Both of them feel like we’re just getting started with some of this mythology.
In speaking with the creative team, I know that they’ve scripted out a second season, they have some of Season 3 laid out because of early negotiations with Netflix. Have you seen any material beyond what is currently available from the first season?
Vic Chao: I can speak freely, because I have not seen the material. I’ve heard little snippets that have been mentioned to me off-hand, but I’ve not seen any material. But boy, would I love to see the material.
What would you hope to see one of your characters accomplish, or get to see more of? What did Season 1 raise questions about your characters that you would love to see some conclusions to in future seasons?
Vic Chao: The way the final episode ends, you can see that Lo has plans, and I want to know more about his plans. You can see that he has a team, but he’s gathered a team behind him and there’s more there in store for Lo. I feel like, and I would love for Lo to get to do his Lo thing, with even more power and more reach, and more help. So I would love to see that, and I would love also just to continue to hear more backstory, there already is some very satisfying backstory about Chiu and Lo, throughout the season, but I love backstory, I love getting glimpses of what make the character what they are. So I would love to continue to hear more backstory about them, as well Seis Manos of course.
Oh, of course. Would you say you gravitate more towards characters on the heroic side, or the villainous side? Which one of those are more fun to play for you?
Vic Chao: Here’s the thing, I love playing a tough guy. Sorry, I’ve got a baby napping in the other room, so I can’t go into the whole screaming mode, but here’s the thing, I love playing tough guys because they make me feel like the bad-ass, that I am not in real life. So that’s the thing, is because I tend to be more of a nice guy, I think I enjoy playing bad guys and tough guys, because that’s just a different world from my real life. And of course, part of the joy of acting is playing make-believe.
Now I’m going to take that comment and I’m going to pivot away from Seis Manos for just a second, because you also recently voiced Tseng in the awesome and epic Final Fantasy VII Remake. Can you talk about coming to that character? Were you familiar with the original? What was it like, for you to get to a voice that character?
Vic Chao: Oh my gosh, I was so excited. The funny thing is that, I didn’t know the project that I was on, until I walked into the recording session. And because of course I was under NDA, it only had a code name, and so I was happy of course, to be working on it, but I didn’t know what it was. And then I walk in and they said, “Okay, so this is Final Fantasy.” And I’m sure my jaw just dropped. I was like, “Wow.” So, that kind of blew my mind. And of course, the hardest part about being on an NDA, is just not telling anybody of what you are working on.
Vic Chao: But yes, with Tseng, what really interesting was, as we’re going through it, I was having difficulty grasping the character, because I couldn’t figure out, “Is he a good guy?” In which case, I’ll try to make him make his voice very gentle and stuff, or is he a bad guy, in which case I’m trying to make them harsher and stronger, and meaner, and stuff. And then, it’s just occurs to me, I said, “Wait second, is Tseng a bad guy, or is he a good guy, or is he ambiguous?” And they’re like, “He’s ambiguous.” I’m like, “Okay, all right.” And so suddenly, that all made so much sense to me, because yes, it’s like all of us, we have a good side, a sentimental loving side and we’ve got, maybe, a more callous side, more practical side, that’s capable of doing things. And so I love how fully fleshed Tseng was, because of that ambiguity. And once I realized that, the key phrase for me was, “Ambiguous”, then that helped me a lot, with voicing his character.
Well, I’m hoping that we get to see more of that character, more of you in that franchise. Most people, myself included, don’t really know what the plans are for the rollout for that. But did you voice any other characters for that project, or were you on board for any other parts to play?
Vic Chao: I’ll simply just say that, I have not heard anything beyond what I have done.
That’s fair enough. So you’re in the same boat as the rest of us as we wait to hear more. What’s interesting is, it’s funny we’re both waiting on more Final Fantasy and we’re also waiting on more Seis Manos. So thankfully, you guys are continuing these watch-parties on Saturdays.
As I wrap up here with you today, what else are you currently working on that you can talk about and would like to share with your fans out there?
Vic Chao: Of course. And it’s so funny, because I’m sure you’re constantly just used to hearing, “Oh, I’m working on this cool project, but I can’t tell you about.” Et cetera, et cetera, right?
Yeah. But it’s always good to be able to revisit those and be like, “Oh, that’s what you were talking about?”
Vic Chao: Exactly. What I can say is that, I’m playing a fantastically fun role, on an upcoming episode of Ben 10, cCartoon Network’s show. And in fact actually, I was directed by Collette Sunderman, who directed me for some of the Tseng scenes, in Final Fantasy. So it’s been fun working with her on both Final Fantasy VII Remake, as well as Ben 10, but this role is really cool and I’m super excited about that. I don’t know when it’s coming up, but I’ll be trumpeting once that role comes out
And we will be happy to help you do that.
Vic Chao: Oh, thank you.
We’ve talked about direction a little bit, so my last question for you today is, have you given any consideration to being on the other side of the glass? Is that something that you’d be interested in, in helping other actors find their voice and shepherd them through a project?
Vic Chao: I would love to, I think that would be an absolute blast. I’m sure there’s so much that I don’t know about it, but that’s okay, because you got to start somewhere. Right? And it’s funny because, I actually remember when Rob Paulsen directed me on Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the way he described it, he just said, “Oh yeah,” and he started directing because they just said, “Hey, do you want to direct this episode?” And then he was like, “Sure.” So, at least that was my impression, they simply just offered it to him and boy, is he a great voice director. So yes, I would love to direct, if I get the opportunity, but of course I am mighty happy being a voice actor, there’s great joy in that, too.
Fantastic. Well, I want to say thanks again so much for your time today, for sharing a little bit of insight into the projects that you’re currently working on as we sit and wait and hope for more to come, but thank you again. All the best to you and yours, and keep us posted.
Vic Chao: Thank you so much, Dave. Yeah, I really appreciate it.