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Kelly Hu of TMNT: She Loves Playing Tough Chicks

Family GeekMom Travel TV and Movies
Kelly Hu  Image: Nickelodeon
Kelly Hu Image: Nickelodeon

By now I’m sure you all realize I’m a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. So, when Nickelodeon offered me the chance to interview another one of the actors involved, I jumped at the chance. Last week, I spoke with Kelly Hu, the voice of Karai, the newest character being brought in for season 2. Kelly has quite the geek cred with appearances on Arrow, Young Justice, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 and X-Men 2 under her belt.

GeekMom: Thanks for talking with me today. I’m a huge Turtles fan and an X-Men fan so it’s really cool to get to talk to someone who has experience with both.
Kelly Hu: Yea, am I the only one? I guess I am the only one that’s crossed over into both.

GM: My first question is, were you a fan of the Turtles before accepting the role?
I remember seeing it a bit while I was younger growing up, but I can’t say I was a huge fan per se. I think I might have been a little too old for it. When did it come out exactly? What year?

GM: I was born in 1985, so I remember it in the 90’s, but the first animated series came out in 1987.
I was a teenager in the 80’s. I do remember seeing it around a lot and I did a movie with Ernie Rays Jr. shortly after that called Surf Ninjas.

GM: OH I saw that one. I remember my brothers and I got into martial arts after seeing Surf Ninjas and the Turtles as kids.
OH that’s so funny. It’s a cute little film for what it is and I got to go to Thailand to shoot it which was awesome.

GM: How did make the leap from on-camera acting to voice acting for the animated series, the video games and all of that?
It just kind of fell into my lap. The first job I did was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 (Visas Marr) and it was really fun. I loved it. It came easy to me. I’ve been told that I have a very distinct voice so I think that helps as well. I’ve always had a pretty strong voice because I would get in trouble all the time as a kid.

Being Asian where you’re supposed to be more quiet and softer and I was always getting reprimanded for laughing to loud or speaking to loudly. Just not being feminine at all and I’ve turned all of that into a career.

GM: What is it about Karai that draws you to her? Is there anything about you that you identify with her?
She’s a tough little girl, which I love. I love playing tough chicks. That’s pretty much all I do really. She does have a conscious and I think she struggles with that a bit. She has an attraction to Leonardo in this and it makes it fun that she isn’t just a bad girl, which is like a lot of characters I do.

Lady Deathstrike (X2), was sort of that way, really just on the dark side because she was under that drug. On Arrow I play China White who is also just really a definite bad girl. What I like about Karai is that she wrestles with both.

GM: Do you physically act out any of your lines while recording them or are you pretty laid back?
My skills with the martial arts have definitely helped me in this. I’m very physical because my character is very physical. I do a lot of punches, so I have to make a lot of punching noises so I can’t be sitting in a chair when I’m working, that just doesn’t work for me. I love to be able to huff and puff and throw my arms about and kick. I actually kick when it calls for the kicking sound.

GM: That’s one thing about when I’m watching animated shows, is I wonder how they look in the booth while making all these crazy sounds and what they must be doing to each other to get the sounds. I’ve heard Mikey [Michelangelo] is a very physical actor and that he’s hilarious to watch.
KH: Yea, OMG he is hilarious. I guess he has a lot of fight scenes too. I know he stands up too and that’s probably why because he’s so physical. I feel like, because my character does all of this martial arts and stuff like this that I tend to connect with her better when I stand up.

GM: Before going into the studio, do you do anything to prepare your voice or to step into the role?
I usually just do voice exercises. I’m also taking singing classes as well, not that I ever plan to sing in public in my entire life. I actually have a phobia of singing, so I decided to take some singing lessons to help me get away from the phobia. The phobia is so bad that whenever I would have to sing in front of people in my acting class, I would just start sobbing and crying because it’s so uncomfortable, which probably makes everyone in the audience even more uncomfortable.

Karai  Image courtesy of NickelodeonGM: In regards to Karai, I heard that she has “never met a weapon she didn’t like”, do you have any weapons training and do you have a weapon you enjoy training with?
I do have weapons training and in fact they are all in my umbrella skin next to my front door. I have always loved the sword. That’s always been my favorite, specifically the Japanese sword, because it’s a beautiful extension of your arm. It’s sort of graceful and the Japanese sword is very round, so a lot of the movements are rounder and more graceful.

I’ve used the bow, but I haven’t had great experience with it after I broke my nose with one. I was playing around with one in the Dojo and twirling it around like you would a baton and I guess that’s not how you use a bow and I slipped and fell on my nose and broke it.

GM: Ouch!

KH: Yea, that wasn’t a great experience. Not my favorite weapon. I also have some Chinese weapons, but I like the Japanese sword the best.

GM: So, obviously, your martial arts skills are coming in handy with voicing in the Turtles, do they come in handy with any of the other voice acting roles that you’ve done?
KH: I do a lot of action type stuff. I also voice Cheshire on Young Justice and there was a lot of fighting there as well. I do a lot of video games and stuff that required a lot of fighting and I think if you never really done martial arts it’s hard to have a convincing sound when you get hit and striking and stuff. I think you tend to sound like a little girl doing kia (key-ya) and stuff. Knowing what it’s like to get hit and throw a punch and do kias in karate class really helps me sound more genuine and like I can really fight.

GM: How would you compare this role to some of the other roles you’ve done like on Arrow and X-Men?
When you do voice over it’s such a fun job to be able to do. First of all, you can do it in your pajamas and you don’t have to get dressed up for it. When you only have to focus on one thing and the tone of your voice, it’s a whole other kind of acting. Often times when you are on camera you have to worry about hitting the right mark and about carrying the right line or being in the light or your hair is in your face and you have so many other things to distract you.

When you get to do voice over, it’s really just the voice and you can do it with your eyes closed and really get into it. It’s a while different experience and sort of freeing in a way.

GM: Is there anything you find more challenging about voice acting and not being on the screen?
You know what, for me the biggest challenge in this show especially because we do a lot of group stuff, is not laughing while other people are recording. Sometimes these guys are so funny and sometimes I feel like I’m going to explode in there. It’s almost a sin that we get paid for having so much fun.

GM: Have you ever gotten attached to a character you’ve portrayed?
You know, I really enjoyed filming Scorpion King. It was such a fun role to be able to play and to get to dress up in those costumes and riding all those different animals and of course kissing The Rock, that wasn’t do bad. That was one of the most fun characters that I got to do and Lady Deathstrike too even though I didn’t get to talk much in that one.

GM: Yea, I read you only got one line the movie and I thought that really stunk.
I only had one line. That poses a whole other challenge when your character doesn’t get to speak because you have to sort of portray this character with your body. Everything is physical, so it’s in the way you stand and in the way you hold yourself, walk, react or don’t react and it presents a whole different challenge.

GM: I also heard that you do a lot of charity work. Is there one in particular that you work a lot with or one that you would like to give a shout out too?
I do an annual poker tournament for an organization called best buddies which helps people with mental disabilities. This last poker tournament we had it on the showroom of the Harley Davidson in Delray. So we had poker next to all these Harley Davidsons and it was a good fit and we had a lot of fun.

Then also, with my dog Mushu sitting on my lap right now, we are about to celebrate her 10 year anniversary that she came on. I rescued her from an organization called Much Love, who I still work with when I can to foster when I’m in town. I’ve fostered a few dogs already and so far I haven’t been a foster failure. I’ve been able to let go of the dogs and let them get adopted and it’s such a great organization and I can’t encourage people enough to rescue.

GM: Did you name your dog Mushu after Mulan or is that just a coincidence?
It was actually a coincidence believe it or not. I named her Mushu after Mushu Pork. I was originally going to name her Dim Sum. She looked like a boy and I though Dim Sum sounded a little masculine and everyone already thinks she’s a boy anyway. Mushu sounded more feminine and it wasn’t until after I had her for months and months when I went back to Hawaii and I told my little niece about my new dog and she was like “You mean, Mushu like the dragon in Mulan?” and I was like “What?”, so it was purely a coincidence.

GM: I had a feeling it was going to either be “Yes, I loved that character” or “No, I had no idea who that was until after I named my dog.” When I heard that you foster dogs I was curious as to how that works out when you are on set. I had this image of you showing up to film with a caravan of dogs.
Yea, that’s not a good thing because fostering takes a lot of effort and a lot of time. Essentially what you’re doing when you are fostering is training a dog for someone else, and it’s so satisfying when your foster finally finds a forever home and is adopted. I wish I could see pictures of how they are doing now.

GM: Does Mushu have any brothers and sisters?
Nope, right now it’s just the Mush. She travels with me a lot and she travels all the time with me. She’s a great set dog because she’s very quiet. It’s hard to travel with dogs so, at the moment, or until I settle down, which I’m not sure when that will ever be. For a long time, I thought I would foster and find another dog for Mushu to play with and someone and find that perfect match for her and someone pointed out to me that how do I know she wants another dog around? Maybe she wants all the attention to herself.

GM: Wait! So you get to take her on set with you?
Yea. I travel with her on the airplanes and she’s small enough that I can put her under the seat in front of me. She’s so quite that people won’t even know she’s there. Every once in a while she comes on set with me.

GM: I know you are from the Hawaiian Islands and one of my friends would like to know if you have one that you prefer out of all of them.
KH: I grew up mostly on O’ahu and I spent most of my childhood there, but I spent a couple of years growing up on Maui and I have to say I love Maui. It’s a good balance I think between the landscape and the beauty of the island, but there is enough there so that you don’t get bored. Sometimes I think that O’ahu is a little bit crazy with the traffic and the city life and stuff like that, so Maui is my favorite.

Right now, I’m actually working with the governor and trying to help with the tourism for Hawaii. I’m a former Ms. Hawaii and I still remain very connected to the islands and I have a list of recommendations that I’m always giving people on things to do and good places to eat. I’m always looking for tourism for Hawaii.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Kelly Hu for taking the timeout to speak with me. It was awesome!

You can catch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Friday nights at 7pm. on Nickelodeon.

Looking for more Turtles action? Check out my interview with the voice of Master Splinter, Mr. Hoon Lee, here on GeekMom.

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