Illustration: Raul Allen

Sweet Talker

Maile Flanagan ’87 is the acclaimed voice actor behind a surprising number of popular animated characters. 

Maybe you’ve never heard of Naruto Uzumaki, one of the most beloved Japanese anime characters of all time, but trust us, your children have. The superpowered ninja is the star of the animated series Naruto, which, decades after its debut, remains one of the most popular shows in the world. The instantly recognizable English-language version of Naruto’s voice is supplied by the Emmy Award–winning voice actor Maile Flanagan (who also sometimes appears onscreen herself, as she does as Tina in the ABC sitcom Not Dead Yet). With the recent news that a live-action Hollywood movie about Naruto is in the works, we asked Flanagan about the many distinctive characters she has voiced in her long career. Here’s a look at how she crafts the unique voices of her animated characters:

Illustration of Naruto Uzumaki

Naruto Uzumaki—Naruto

“He was really little when we started—he was a little kid, so you’ve got to sound like a little kid. But then he became a teenager, so there was an adjustment to pitch him lower. Then there was another time gap, and he’s a grown man, and that was a further pitch down.”

Illustration of Matt Hornsby from Royal Crackers

Matt Hornsby—Royal Crackers

“He’s not an active child, he’s a gamer. He sits down a lot, and takes his time. He’s also in a big household where a lot of people are yelling and screaming. What does that kid sound like? That kid doesn’t really want to be noticed. It’s a slower, quieter demeanor.”

Illustration of Amy from The Loud House

Amy—The Loud House

“I have an old mouth guard from my dentist that doesn’t quite fit anymore. I did one part where I popped it in the top of my mouth and it was terribly uncomfortable, but it worked for the voice.”

Illustration of Pinky Whitehead from Harriet the Spy

Pinky Whitehead—Harriet the Spy

“If you’re lucky enough to get an artist rendering of the character beforehand, it just hits you. It’s like, ‘Oh, I know this guy.’ Sometimes it’ll be like, he’s mumbling and drooling. So you play around with the mumbling and drooling.”

Illustration of Piggley Winks from Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks

Piggley Winks—Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks

“When I did this show, I would listen to Irish music on the way in to get myself in the mood for voicing an Irish character. I would sing along a little bit, and get in the mood of that lilting way of speaking.”

Illustration of Carlotta Lindell from Tiger & Bunny

Carlotta Lindell—Tiger & Bunny

“She’s pretty sarcastic and direct, so I made her more of a wiseacre on everything she said. You just think of people that answer everything fluently, like someone at the DMV. Take a little bit of that and incorporate it.” ◽