Whether she is acting or writing and/or recording music, Brina Palencia's passion for creative expression is evident in her performances.


The multi-talented entertainer has amassed a following among anime fans for breathing life into complex, fan-favorite roles such as Ciel Phantomhive in “Black Butler,” Tony Tony Chopper in “One Piece,” Shirayuki in “Snow White with the Red Hair” and Touka Kirishima in “Tokyo Ghoul.”


Palencia will be appearing at Tekko at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center April 7-9.


The Swerve Magazine: You have played a number of meaty roles that require a lot from you. What types of roles are you drawn to as a performer?


Brina Palencia: I am mostly drawn to anything that has a lot of emotional layers. I think that Ciel Phantomhive in “Black Butler” is a perfect example of that. He's someone who has endured great loss at a really young age, who is also having to run his family's company, who is also the Queen's Guard Dog who also happened to sell his soul to a demon (laughs), so he's just got a lot going on. Technically on top of that, the English dialect just adds to the complication of that character, which I love. I want a challenge as an actor. I want something that's really going to stretch me.


SM: In addition to Ciel, what are some of the roles that you have found to be the most challenging and rewarding?


BP: Surprisingly, Chopper in “One Piece” is really rewarding. On the surface, he is a silly, cute character, but he goes through some really emotional stuff, especially his origin story. I think “One Piece” does a really good job of it, in general, creating a show that seems very lighthearted on the surface, but once you get into it, it doesn't shy away from death. It kind of grows up with its audience; it starts pretty young and pretty simple, but then it gets more and more complicated and more and more real, as far as the drama of what all of the characters go through.


SM: Speaking of that role, what's it like to play a character for this long, and what looks to be many years to come?


BP: It's really, really cool and an honor, honestly. I went to Japan a few years ago for a motion-capture gig, and it was amazing to see so much Chopper stuff everywhere. That show just does such a good job of always keeping it fresh and new. I think that every character in the show grows and becomes more interesting. It's never gotten boring—you would think it would after years of it. It never gets boring, and also, Chopper keeps getting cuter and cuter.


SM: When you're recording for anime or video games, you are recording solo, but you often know who the other cast members are so that you can anticipate some readings. Who are your favorite people to be cast opposite?


BP: J. Michael Tatum, for sure. I think the reason he and I work so well together is that we have both directed the other. He directed me in “Romeo x Juliet, ” and I directed him in “Black Blood Brothers,” which also was his first leading man role—you're welcome world.


I really like working with Colleen Clinkenbeard and Monica Rial, just because I know them really well in life. I've directed Monica before, so it's easy for me to anticipate where she's going to go. There's a lot of really good ones.


I think Josh Greele and I work really well together. We were paired opposite of each other in “Future Diary” and more recently in “Snow White with the Red Hair.” He's really, really phenomenal, although I have to say he has a tendency to kind of surprise me with his readswhich is a good thing. With “Snow White with the Red Hair,” I recorded after everybody, so I got to hear him a lot, and I was always taken back by his talent and his uniqueness.


SM: You had mentioned directing. What was stepping on the other side of the booth like, and how has that helped you going forward?


BP: I directed when I was very young, and I only did it for a few years, but I know that I am a much better voice actor now than I was before I ever directed. Directing is basically what taught me how to voice act because I had the pleasure of getting to work with people like Monica Rial, Luci Christian, Jason Douglas, everybody that was on “School Rumble.”


It was a humbling experience getting to see as a young voice actor, “Oh that's why you get cast all the time because you're incredible.” And just on a technical level, seeing how quickly they're able to match the mouth movements, and how they're able to cold read and bring depth to the character without even having to know that much information because they are willing to make a choice very quickly.


It was like an acting master class for me. If people do get the opportunity to direct—I know most people are just chomping at the bit just to voice act—but if you ever get the opportunity to direct, it really does show you what is needed and what is expected of you. I would say that for any art form, if you ever get the chance to be on the opposite side of what you're trying to do: if you're an actor, try writing; if you're a writer, try acting, that kind of thing. I think the more parts of the process you know, the more complete of an artist you'll be.


SM: You are also known for your work with music. On the anime side, how did you get involved with rewriting and localizing songs from the soundtracks?


BP: It started with “School Rumble” because it had a few songs that had to be adapted, and I just did it without asking. I guess I did well enough because they were willing to hire me to do more. Before that, I had worked on “Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad” as an actress, and I sang with Mike McFarland, and at the time, Mike McFarland was basically the go-to guy for all of that stuff.


I'm not exactly sure if he heard about my stuff in “School Rumble” or not, but it was after “School Rumble” that he started asking if I wanted to take some of the jobs that were being offered to him to adapt some of the songs. I jumped at the opportunity. Lucky for me, he was always just so busy as a producer and a director, that he didn't have time anymore to do the songs as much, so I just stepped in and filled that gap. That form of directing, I've been doing pretty consistently since then. It's still to this day, one of my favorite things to do in the anime world. I would say almost more so than voice acting.


SM: Wow.


BP: Yeah, I know. I'm currently working on a show that I can't talk about, but it was sort of a reminder of like, “Wow, I think I do like this more than voice acting.” Because with localizing the songs, even if it's a song that I don't like, I still have so much fun doing it because it's like a puzzle figuring out how to make it sound like a real song in English, and then getting to work with the singers, and finding the perfect placement for it, and then helping them do the harmonies. Harmonies in J-Pop are so different than in a Western song because their whole scale system is different, so it's just interesting to see what choices are made both melodically and harmonically. It just makes me really happy, (laughs) and hearing the final mix of it, makes me giddy with joy. Today we finished a song that's pretty huge and epic, and I was just literally giggling like a school girl listening back to it. Whereas with voice acting, if I have a character like Ciel, absolutely I'm all in, but if it's just a silly sort of vapid character, I just don't get excited about it, whereas it could be a silly vapid song, and I will lose my mind at how excited I will be to work on it.


SM: Moving to your own music, what is your writing process like when you are working on your songs?


BP: It's a surprise every time because I feel like my songs sort of come from nowhere. Even when I do my Instagram songs, where I take a one-word suggestion and base a song off of it. The way that I choose the one word is that I'll go through the comments and just look at the words, and if there's a word that hits me emotionally for any reason, then that's my word. I just sort of sit there and think about that word and what it means to me or what it might mean to someone else, and something just comes.


The other day—this actually happens often, where I'll come up with songs in my dreams. Having my phone by my bed is kind of awesome because it has the voice notes in it, so I will wake up from a dream, and I have to immediately record the melody that I hear, or I will forget it very quickly. So there are a lot of times that I'll wake up and just kind of move over and grab my phone—and my husband always wakes up before me, so he'll be like, “Hey babe, good morning,” and I'll like, “Shut up! I have to record this right now!” and he's like, “ooookay.”


Honestly, when I am done writing a song, most of the time I don't feel like I wrote it. I feel like it came from nowhere, and it just came through me; I don't feel like I came up with it.


SM: You've been playing a lot more on-screen roles in recent years. What's it been like adding more of that to your creative pursuits?


BP: It's been really cool. I think as far as acting, my favorite form of acting is on-camera. It's really incredible getting to embody a character, and not just do the voice, but letting every fiber of your being become this character, it's really gratifying. The one thing I will say though that sucks is that you are so much more limited in what you can play. As far as age and look and body type, and everything.


SM: It's tough to pull of a reindeer, yeah.


BP: Exactly. I would never be able to play a shape-shifting reindeer or an alien frog or those kinds of things. Actually, I've had the pleasure of getting to do some motion capture stuff recently, and it kind of marries both the on-screen acting and voice acting in that you're not limited physically to what you could play, but you still get to embody the character and act out the scene, and feel it with your body, what it's like to be this character...without have to worry about, “Oh my god, I need to lose 15 pounds.”