Chainsaw Man is a global phenomenon, based on mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto’s shonen manga series of the same name, studio MAPPA has pulled out all the stops. Horror, action, emotional storytelling, and with just the right amount of fanservice, Chainsaw Man is the anime of the season when you look at what we’ve rated the Winter Anime season here. We got the chance to sit down to talk with the man bringing best boi Denji to life in the English dub of the anime, Ryan Colt Levy.
To start, Denjiis a chaos gremlin. He’s erratic, he leads with his desires, and he’s strong, but that isn’t all Denji is as a character. Ryan Colt Levy explained how he captured the multi-faceted Denji vocally, “I think Denji is very thoughtful and very deep. He just doesn’t have the ability to express that in the way that people who are educated do. what I love about him and playing him, from the first episode where you meet him, he is literally scooped out. I mean, multiple organs are gone. He is not one hundred percent in any way, literally missing parts of his body and his soul. Denji is so beaten down. So even though a lot of people have grown to know this character to be very big and brash, that really comes from confidence and experience in seeing the world for the first time. But in those first moments and in his more introspective places I think that he is a lot more to himself and softer. He’s very broken in the beginning. We very intentionally wanted you to go on a journey as you watch him discover himself. And that is something that is very fun to play. Entering the world for the first time is like playing a newborn.”
To put it simply Ryan Colt Levy gets Denji in a compelling way. He understands that there is more to him than just trying to touch a boob and that every desire is a manifestation of something that the character doesn’t understand how to express. To hear Levy explain his connection to Denji and how he sees the raw and loud 16-year-old is refreshing. Perhaps because that’s what attracted to me to the character, or maybe because this deep understanding of Denji shows in every moment of Levy’s voice work.
But it’s not all about the emotional scenes. As Denji, Levy gets the chance to let loose with raw power during scenes too. On action voice work he explained, “It’s so much fun. It’s one of those things where I feel like a kid in a candy store,” Levy continued, “I come from a background in screaming and singing in hardcore bands so I’ve learned how to safely scream. I know my threshold and Mike, who is our voice director, is incredibly protective of me. We try to navigate those scenes intellectually before we do them that way we can only do them once or twice. We discuss it and then just let the gate open.” But all that grit and action also comes with humor, Levy added, “a lot of the time after I do it I just crack up laughing. It’s so much cathartic energy that I don’t even know what to do with it when I’m done. I go through these [action] moments and it’s pure joy.”
As an English dub actor, Ryan Colt Levy explains how to approach a role played by another person in the same medium, “It’s less about trying to sit in the same space that the seiyuu is sitting in, and more about both of us sitting in the same space for Denji. It’s both of us trying to be genuine and true to the character. The moments and the way scenes play out are asking a lot out of us as actors. It’s not us deciding specifically. We are making minute choices as actors, yes, based on what the character is asking of us and it’s more of a thing where I think both of us, it’s an honor to be able to tell a story behind a character that is so special. It’s all about letting Denji be the guide.”
Those minute choices come across in Levy’s stellar performance as Denji. There is a passion for Chainsaw Man, and a passion to be bringing to life everyone’s best boi at a level that reaches through the screen. When I asked about how Levy goes about injecting parts of himself into Denji he responded, “If you took 10 people who know how to cook and gave them the same recipe, it would still taste different. Even though this character is asking so many things from you, you’re always going to get an individual actor’s take on it. As much as we all love Denji for being raw and honest, and this ball of enthusiasm and chaos, his depth of him is so special. His inability to express himself the way he wants to highlights how deep he is as a character and for me, that’s the stuff that I’m so attracted to. I let that guide me. In the big and small moments, it’s all about his desire.”
To close out the interview, Ryan Colt Levy had some advice for aspiring voice actors reading or watching this interview:
“If it’s someone who is sitting at home at their computer watching this and thinks, ‘it would be fun to be an actor and do this,’ and is just terrified or doesn’t know how the first important thing to do is to know that you can. It doesn’t matter what you like, or sound like, there is room and space for you. Your creativity and your heart and your soul and your passions, people want to experience them. First off know that you are allowed to have those wants and desires and we want more of you out here. The next thing is more practical. Find an acting class or teacher. Or get your friends and make some movies.”
A space to be creative, and to center yourself, is the most important, as Levy explains, “Go tell some stories. I mean, you have all of this technology to write a short story, dress up in crazy costumes, shoot a fantasy story, and edit that together. Learn to get comfortable expressing yourself because the thing about acting is that you have to be able to be vulnerable, be emotionally naked, and act different and crazy. You have to do that all the time in different circumstances, and it’s important to be comfortable in your skin. Find a space that can let you be you and be creative, open up, and be confident. Love yourself and know that the journey is long goes like this,” he moves his arm in a wave movement, up and down, “you have good days and bad days and all of that can go to feed you as an actor.”
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.