Monkeys Fighting Robots

Voice acting is at the heart of animated films and video games, and Mela Lee’s talented voice brings life to some beloved virtual characters. From the anime, Saint Tail or Vampire Knight to video games like Fire Emblem and even BIGGER projects coming in 2018, Mela’s voice is known throughout the pop culture world.

In our interview with Mela, we spent a lot of time talking about a lot of things. In Part One, it’s all about the road from theatre to Wall Street to global pop culture superstar and it all includes a little bit of magic.

“I did acting when I was younger, mostly singing.”

The road to voice acting started at an early age where Mela showed an inclination for the arts “I did acting when I was younger, mostly singing. I had a degree in theatre from Pepperdine in Directing.”

However, life is an interesting path for each of us, and it leads Mela towards exciting new opportunities that most of her fans might not know about “Took a few years off from going to law school to do disaster relief and community outreach. Then I got a job as an analyst for a Wall Street mortgage firm.”

External forces beyond our control affect us every day. In 2008, the financial crash changed Wall Street and altered Mela’s course. “Growing up people said I had a nice voice and suggested I do voice over. And I thought ‘that sounds amazing but how do you do that?’”

“I did Saint Tail in 2001, and a couple of anime here
and there for Eric over at Bang Zoom.”

Making matters a little more complicated was Lee’s family “Coming from a family of scientists, lawyers, and doctors, nobody watches cartoons or anime or were into graphic novels. I used to like them. I would sort of sneak them. It was sort of as impossible to be a voice artist as it was to be an astronaut; astronaut seemed more possible to my family. Or to me.”

“I did Saint Tail in 2001, and a couple of anime here and there for Eric over at Bang Zoom. I was doing it as a hobby that I was so excited about. I got to do work in a new series called Fate/stay night. But I was working full-time as a bank analyst. I would take time off to record. And I remember thinking in 2007 or 2008 ’Well, I should probably go back to law school. I’m not going to be a voice actress. I can’t make a living like that. That’s not a real thing.”

“‘Ugh, we don’t do dubbing’”

The toll of the financial crash made life interesting for Mela. “When the crash happened, I worked for Valet of the Dolls. I worked for a catering company. It was great money. But now and then I would book a dubbing job for a lot more money.”

According to Mela, some of her acting friends scoffed at the idea “‘Ugh, we don’t do dubbing’” However, Mela saw it completely different “Are you kidding? It beats being a maid to the stars. They feed you. It was exciting.”

For Mela, like many Americans, the struggle was all too real “I had 50,000 dollars in student loans I had to pay off. I had to just hustle. I had three or four jobs.”

“I was just kind of struggling to
make ends meet and figure stuff out.”

The shift to full-time voice acting was gradual. But then “Someone recommended me for what’s called ADR or voice replacement. So I’d do that for children and teenagers. Also, sometimes for shows like CSI: New York or The Good Wife, I would specialize in replacing medical, legal, or any kind of scientific terminology. The nerd in me said ‘Oh, this is amazing!’ and it pays really well.”

The entertainment industry is a complicated realm “I didn’t realize we got residuals. I didn’t know what those were. So, come 2009 or 2010, I’m doing a few shows, I get cast in Vampire Knight, and I’m starting to get royalties.”

However, at the time, Mela was living in a one-room house behind someone’s house “I was just kind of struggling to make ends meet and figure stuff out. Before I really knew it, I started making a living. But I was focusing so much on paying off my loans that I didn’t really notice.”

“I knew [San Diego] Comic-Con was a comic book convention,
so I thought it would be really cool.”

In 2010, Comic-Con changed Lee’s perspective entirely “I knew Comic-Con was a comic book convention, so I thought it would be really cool. I’d never been. When I got to Comic-Con, there was Yuki Cross on all these banners. A friend of mine, Walter [Emanuel Jones], the early 90s black Power Ranger, said ‘You didn’t tell me you were in Vampire Knight!’”

“Why would I?” Mela responded. “I was still like; this is anime, it’s just a small corner of the pop culture universe.”

“I thought, ‘wait, what’s happening?’”

Mela didn’t understand the true scope of Vampire Knight’s reach until Walter said “‘Turn around.’” Mela listened to her friend and “There was this huge line waiting for autographs that was going out the door.”

Nerves kicked in a bit in that moment “I started shaking. I thought, ‘wait, what’s happening?’ I was happy, and I was enjoying doing this thing, but it wasn’t a real thing. You know? Pretty soon I would go to law school or something.”

“Now I’m flying all over the world in a year as Yuki Cross.”

The reality of Vampire Knight and Mela’s popularity continued to make itself known. “I got home after Comic-Con, and I had emails from New Zealand and Australia asking if I’d like to go to conventions there.” Mela was stunned. “The emails said ‘we’ll fly you out and pay for expenses’ and all I thought was ‘that’s a thing?’”

Laughing, Mela says “I was a girl coming from eating Ramen noodles in a small apartment. Now I’m flying all over the world in a year as Yuki Cross.”

Speaking with Mela, it’s easy to get a sense of her positive soul. Taking nothing about her life for granted, Mela says “The world just comes up with magic sometimes.”

More to come with Mela Lee!

Our conversation with the voice actor was epic, like a Michael Bay movie of phone interviews. Keep a Monkeys Fighting Robots tab open on your browser and an eye out for Part Two of our interview. 

Are you a fan of Mela Lee? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.