Jujutsu Kaisen: Interview with voiceover star Adam McArthur

From Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil, to Krampus and now new anime sensation Jujutsu Kaisen, Adam McArthur has lent his voice to many genre classics…

Adam McArthur Jujutsu Kaisen

Based on the popular Japanese manga series with the same name, Jujutsu Kaisen follows Yuji Itadori, a first-year at Sugisawa Municipal High School #3 and an anomaly that was able to survive the deadly poison from the King of Curses, Ryomen Sukuna. Itadori’s existence is so rare that there’s been no equal in a thousand years. He accepts this as his fate and now uses his Curse to stop wrongful deaths…

Playing Yuji Itadori in the English dub of Jujutsu Kaisen, Adam McArthur is no stranger to voicing popular characters, playing Marco Diaz in Disney’s Star vs. the Forces of Evil as well as various guest appearances (Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ollie & Scoops), being the voice of Disney XD and appearing in numerous video games (Far Cry 5, Final Fantasy XV: Comrades).

We speak to McArthur about taking on anime and being part of the Disney family…

How did you first become part of Jujutsu Kaisen?

Anime is actually an interesting little niche in the voiceover industry and I had been talking to one of my agents for quite some time about wanting to do more work in that area specifically, mostly because I’m a fan of some of the more popular shows so I wanted to have a shot at it.

So we talked about it for a bit and an audition came across the table and I auditioned just like any other audition. A couple of weeks later I got the call that I booked the role of Yuji Itadori Jujutsu Kaisen! You just cross your fingers and hope that you get a call like the one that I got for this project.

How was the series first described to you?

I knew that it was an anime. I actually hadn’t heard of the manga, which is the comic book version of the show, although it’s very popular in Japan.

I hadn’t seen [the show]. I had heard of it, but I hadn’t seen it yet. One of my good friends loves anime, so I reached out to her and asked a couple of questions about it. The subbed version of the show was actually already out, so I went and read some of the manga and watched some of the subbed episodes to learn more about it before I submitted my audition just to get a feeling for the tone. 

A lot of times in auditions they really don’t give you much information. A title character description. That’s pretty much it. Sometimes you don’t even know what the character looks like, so thankfully for anime specifically, a lot of times when they’re recording it here, it’s already out in Japan, so it’s easy to get some information about it!

Is it easier or harder voicing an already established character?

It’s definitely more difficult because you want to balance honouring what the person who originated the character is doing, but at the same time, it’s in a different language. So what it comes down to is you really want to make sure you’re capturing the character.

Ultimately, however, anime is very polarised in terms of fanbase and what they prefer. Whether it’s dub or sub, it’s like the tale as old as time between which is better!

What I’ve learned is you’ll never please everybody, which is okay. Some people love the dub. Some people love the sub. Whatever you like is totally fine. People are allowed to enjoy whatever they enjoy.

I had to get over that initial pressure to please everyone or make sure I’m doing a good job. I just honour the character, honour the acting and make sure that I’m really living in those moments in the scenes and focus on that instead.

How would you describe your character Yuji Itadori in Jujutsu Kaisen?

Ultimately, Yuji is a good boy. He’s got a good heart. The thing I love about anime is what the character wants is so specific, it literally drives them through the entire series. A lot of times each character can be boiled down to one sentence. 

In the first episode of [Jujutsu Kaisen], Yuji’s grandpa passes away [that’s not really a spoiler, it sets the show in motion] and he tells him: “Help people. Always help people, always be kind, surround yourself with people. Don’t be like me. Don’t be alone.”

So this idea just carries him through and ultimately, Yuji just wants to take care of his friends. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen to them. He wants them to be okay, so he’s such a good, good character.

He’s selfless. He puts other people first and I really like that about him. He’s a good boy. That’s how I would describe him!

Jujutsu Kaisen
McArthur plays Yuji in Jujutsu Kaisen who just wants to take care of his friends…

As you’ve just mentioned, Yuji’s story in Jujutsu Kaisen begins very tragically. How do you prepare for emotionally-charged scenes?

There’s probably a technical term for this, but I don’t know what it is. I’ve picked it up in the hundreds of acting classes that I’ve taken at this point. I really like lead-in lines. For example, if there’s a moment that has to be a certain tone, I kind of talk myself into that. If the line is something like a thought filter where he’s thinking ‘I have to step up here’ I might say something like: “This is all up to me. I have to step up here.”

So I talk myself into it. It’s really helpful, especially in dubbing because a lot of times, context is given right then and there. So it just helps me get into that. So yeah, lead-in lines we’ll call them. I don’t know the technical term!

The show also has plenty of comedy, how do you find those comedic elements?

I love comedy. I love the comedic elements, especially for a show like Jujutsu Kaisen where there’s a lot of serious stuff. High stakes stuff happens in the show, so when you can break that with moments of levity, and your characters can have a funny moment, I think it’s a lot of fun. I think it makes it land really well too.

Anime has its own genre-specific style of comedy in that it’s almost non-sequitur or it’s a little out of tone. If it was a Western animation, you would be like ‘what? That doesn’t feel like it belongs’ but because it’s such a thing in anime, it’s a lot of fun. I have to bring my acting gymnastics to the booth every time we’re recording!

What is the process of voicing an anime?

For anime specifically, most of the time it’s already animated when it comes over here to the US for dubbing. So we’re in the booth for recording to picture, matching lip flaps. Basically meaning, I’m watching my character’s mouth move on screen and whatever the lines are, I have to make sure I’m saying them fast enough. If the writer didn’t get the flapping right, the director makes tweaks to the lines, so we’re kind of adjusting and moving things around on the fly just to make it all work.

Then of course, because of Covid, I haven’t met my cast members in person. They’re all amazing. Actually, a couple of them I had met previously – Kaiji Tang, who plays Satoru, and Robbie Daymond who plays Megumi [Fushiguro], I’ve met both of them, but Anne Yatco, Ray Chase… pretty much everyone else I have not met yet. 

It’ll be interesting to see what happens. Most anime you record on your own anyway, but usually, you meet someone in the lobby of the studio passing by and stuff like that!

How did you first get into voiceover acting?

I’ve wanted to be an actor ever since I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are wanting to act. When I was 16 my parents got me a gift certificate for my birthday for an acting school in San Francisco called ‘kids on camera’ and I went there, took some classes. One of the teachers had an audition come across their desk for a bunch of Macy’s radio commercials. They needed a young male teen voice and so I ended up booking this job, which turned into like 30 radio commercials for Macy’s over the course of two years. It helped me save enough money for a voiceover reel and some more classes. So I just kept using that money for training and tools. I grew up in northern California, that’s where I started, and then I moved to LA in 2003 and I’ve been pursuing it and working in the industry pretty much since then!

Which is funny because now I’m 38 years old and I’m pretty much using my normal speaking voice in Jujutsu Kaisen and I’ve seen posts like ‘Wow, I thought Yuji was 15, he sounds 13’ and I’m like ‘Oh that’s great I sound 13 years old when I talk’, but you know, I guess that that will provide an illustrious long career!

You’ve been a voiceover actor over many different mediums – animated series, live-action films, channel announcements, videogames – what’s it like working over such different platforms?

There are lots of differences… tonally things are very different. Anime again is its own specific genre. Western animation – I was on the show on Disney Channel called Star vs the Forces Of Evil for a few seasons. That show is tonally very different to what I’m doing now. 

Then you have all the random niches of voiceover which are really fun. So you have voice matching – a job that I have done in the past was I got cast as the voice match for Justin Timberlake for a movie that he had done. They were going to put the movie on TV and they had to change all the bad words to other things that can be shown on TV. So we all have watched these movies and they say some ridiculous things in place of these curse words. It’s hilarious and the process is equally as hilarious. It’s just funny, some of those words that they replace things with. There’s a group of people in a room and they’re like: ‘Well, we can’t say shoot every time. What else can we say?” And it’s like ‘er… sheesh?’.

Another job that I do regularly is I’m actually the promo voice for Disney XD – one of Disney’s channels. So they want ‘older brother promo voice’ so that’s like ‘coming up next on Disney XD’ and if I took that voice into animation it would just sound really cheesy. So yeah for the different facets of the industry there’s definitely different tones.

McArthur also played in Marco Diaz in Disney’s Star vs the Forces Of Evil which is a very different show to Jujutsu Kaisen

What’s it like being part of the Disney family?

I love working for Disney. My experiences with them have been fantastic. It leans a lot into who I am, I would say – I am pretty family-friendly. I’ve always really loved kids. I’ve worked with kids for a really long time, so I always try and keep that stuff in mind in my personal life, in my social media channels and things like that. Stuff like that makes it easy. 

I’ve been very grateful to find success where I have. I’ve always looked up to Disney. Of course, I grew up on the movies, classic animations and it just made sense. It’s been nothing but fun and a good time.

What are the different skills you have to employ for on-screen acting and voiceover acting?

Fundamentally it all comes down to good acting. There are a lot of similarities. It’s no different from an on-camera actor who is on a 30-minute multi-cam sitcom versus a one-hour procedural drama – you’re both acting. But the technique that you’re going to use for both of those is slightly different.

I’m a very physical voice actor. I really like to move around in the booth but I can’t move around completely freely. I have to keep an eye on how close I am to the microphone and make sure that I’m not brushing up against myself and making other noises in the microphone. Things like that. So it’s similar, but just technically there are some things that help your audio sound better in the end.

What have you got coming up next?

Thankfully during Covid, voiceover has kind of thrived [so] I have been able to work on quite a few things. The problem with voiceover is that stuff takes so long so if I’m working on it now it usually means that I can’t talk about it for at least a year or so, unfortunately!

But there is some more good stuff coming. I’m very excited about some of the things. I just got word on a really fun big project that’s coming up. I can’t tell you what it is, but I will Tweet about it or post it on my Instagram as soon as I am able to. I’ll make sure that I let everybody know. So if anyone wants to follow me, you can follow me @NinjaMac on all my socials!

New episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen are out every Friday on Crunchyroll and HBO Max. This interview was first published in SciFiNow+ subscribe here to get content like this before anyone else PLUS receive 20% off with our unique code: SCIFINOW20!