Voice actor Steve Blum is no stranger to the business. An auditory icon in anime and gaming communities everywhere, he’s used his talents to breathe life into characters for over 30 years.
In 1999, he boarded the spaceship Absolution as the voice of T.O.M., the host of Adult Swim’s anime programming block, Toonami; the block ran until September of 2008. In April of 2012, as part of an April Fools’ joke, Adult Swim revived Toonami for one night. Following the prank, they offered fans something more. “Want it back?” they teased. “Let us know.” The fans responded. By May 26, Toonami was back on air.
We talked with the voice of T.O.M. himself on life in the business and how it feels to return to the Absolution.
Paste: When Toonami originally went off air back in 2008, what were your thoughts? How did it feel to say goodbye?
Steve Blum: I had very little prior notice that it was shutting down, maybe a week or two. I think we could all feel the end coming, but at least I chose denial. I remember the last recording well. It physically hurt to say those words. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried in the studio. What happened a few months later was worse. I was a guest at an anime convention. Some of the fans literally cried in front of me. These sweet kids in elaborate cosplay costumes, literally mourning the death of their childhood—and all I could do was stand there in disbelief and empathy. Having recorded all those years in a padded room, over the phone, I never realized how many people Toonami touched until it was all over. I can’t tell you how many thousands of people have told me that I “raised” them. Those feelings of overwhelming responsibility and sadness and joy all at once were something I never expected from being the voice of an animated robot. It was, and still is, truly humbling.
Paste: When you returned to do voice acting for the April Fool’s re-airing of Toonami, did you know its real return was a possibility? How did it feel to slip back into the role of T.O.M., even for that short amount of time?
Blum: I had always believed it was a possibility. Elaborate Toonami tribute fansites were set up shortly after we shut down, were maintained all those years with amazing content—and drew continual heavy traffic. Every convention I attended [worldwide] drew enormous numbers of fans who were dedicated to keeping the spirit of Toonami alive. When I got the call to do the April Fool’s gig, I was ecstatic. I found out at that time that the plan was to bring it back in some capacity, but knew that funding was going to be extremely limited. I was dedicated to doing everything in my power to make April Fools great for the fans whether we could pull off a full comeback or not. Boarding the Absolution again was like coming home.
Paste: How did you originally land the role as Toonami’s host? Did you have any idea it would gain such a fan following back then?
Blum: Man, it was so long ago! Memory is not one of my super powers, so please forgive accuracy issues. As I recall, it started with a conversation with Sean Akins and Jason DeMarco—the creators of the block. I believe they were in town for Anime Expo? They tracked me down and told me they loved Cowboy Bebop and asked if I’d be interested in this show they were doing. I hadn’t watched Toonami at that point, but working in the anime community, I’d certainly heard the buzz they had created. I think we had a beer together, maybe I read some stuff for them, and they hired me. It was one of the few gigs I’ve ever landed where I didn’t go through the normal audition process. I was shocked that these crazy young geniuses wanted me to join them in the next phase of their incredible vision. Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and I certainly had no idea it would become such an iconic generational landmark.
Paste: You sort of acted as a public face, if not voice, for Toonami’s return. Why?
Blum: Anime has been good to me. I made and continue to make very little money at it, but the undying, feverish loyalty of the fans of the genre has been such a life-changing influence for me, that I wanted to do everything I possibly could to help give something back to them. Anime has sent me all over the world, introducing me to people who have touched my life in indescribably profound ways. Toonami was a tremendous vehicle, delivering the art of Japanese animation to a massive audience that may have otherwise never experienced it. I feel an immense debt of gratitude to everyone involved with the show and to every fan who supported it.
Paste: So what’s your favorite show in the current lineup?
Blum: I’m of course a huge fan of Bebop—still holds up really well after all these years, but the sheer madness and twisted flavor of Deadman Wonderland quickly caught my attention. I don’t have time to watch a lot of TV, but I did tune in enough so far to know that there are a couple of great ones in there already. I haven’t been able to catch FMA Brotherhood yet, and have only seen a little of Casshern Sins, so my opinion is not very qualified yet.
Paste: You’ve been a voice actor for over 30 years—you’ve landed so many great roles across a number of platforms, and your voice has come to define certain characters and shows. What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned along the way, and what’s been the most difficult to get through?
Blum: I suppose the biggest thing I learned is that I’m in it for the right reasons. I love my job as much now as when I first began. I still feel fully invested in every audition, every job—large or small, every appearance, every meeting with every fan. I still get excited to be in a room with people I’ve known for years, watching the alchemy of personalities and incredible talent, create something out of nothing.
I’d say there are three things I still find difficult. No. 1, commuting. Getting from job to job, audition to audition, I often spend three to four hours of my day fighting my way through traffic and looking for parking. It sucks. I haven’t been able to find an adequate Zen headspace to consistently manage the mania that causes. No. 2, the suffering of friends who are struggling. This is a brutal, cyclical business. We all go through lean times. It’s very hard for me to see my colleagues when they’re in that space. No. 3, during my lean periods, I still struggle to be grateful for and productive with the down time. I worry about paying the bills, and the insecure actor in me has to fight off self-worth demons whose voices are often much louder than mine.
Paste: Are there any other characters you’ve voiced over the years that you’d love to return to, given the chance?
Blum: Sure. Spike from Cowboy Bebop. Another example of a character I didn’t fully appreciate until the series was over. Benchmark character for my whole career. Jamie, from Megas XLR. I loved that show and Jamie was so completely, unabashedly obnoxious, he fulfilled the inner asshat I was always too caring to unleash in the real world. The Green Goblin (Spectacular Spiderman). One of my favorite villains of all time, and a super fun incarnation of him. And of course, Wolverine. I still thankfully get to play him from time to time, but Wolverine and the X-Men was just getting its legs when we lost our funding and the show was canceled. Broke a lot of hearts, starting with everyone who worked on it. Any of my characters on Ben 10, And Vincent Valentine (Final Fantasy VII)—amazing, complex character who was never fully flushed out.
Paste: So what’s next for you? What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Steve Blum: Many. Most I’m not allowed to talk about yet. Currently, it’s Avatar: The Legend of Korra (Amon), Transformers: Prime (Starscream), Transformers: Rescue Bots (Heatwave), some crazy characters on The Regular Show, a cool French animated film called A Cat in Paris (Nico), and a huge pile of games, shows, movies and other stuff—most of which include a contract ending my life and that of anyone I prematurely reveal details to.
I have a website—steveblumvoices.com that has more info, links to my IMDb page and other resources. I’m also on Facebook and Twitter, so feel free to stop by and say hello.
Thanks for inviting me to this refreshing adult swim! Bang.