ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Solo Leveling star Aleks Le and English ADR Director Caitlin Glass about the smash hit anime series. The duo discussed the popularity of the series and their experience with the franchise. New episodes of the dub debut on Crunchyroll every Saturday at 1:00 pm PST.
“Known as the Weakest Hunter of All Mankind, E-rank hunter Jinwoo Sung’s contribution to raids amounts to trying not to get killed,” reads the series’ synopsis. “Unfortunately, between his mother’s hospital bills, his sister’s tuition, and his own lack of job prospects, he has no choice but to continue to put his life on the line.
“So when an opportunity arises for a bigger payout, he takes it…only to come face-to-face with a being whose power outranks anything he’s ever seen! With the party leader missing an arm and the only healer a quivering mess, can Jinwoo somehow find them a way out?”
Spencer Legacy: Did either of you read the source material for Solo Leveling beforehand or was it a whole new experience to work on?
Caitlin Glass: I definitely read it. I am a consumer of Webtoons and I don’t think that anyone can be into Webtoons and not know what Solo Leveling is. [Laughs]. So yes, definitely.
Aleks Le: I will say I have read it, and I knew about it from friends, but experiencing the anime was a whole different story. But yeah, I have read the source material.
Aleks, you’re playing the lead character in one of the breakout anime of the season here. How are you feeling about that now that it’s gotten going?
Aleks Le: It’s very surreal because Caitlin and I have been sitting on this for a very long time. [Laughs]. Even before we started recording for these characters, it’s been a lot of thinking and chatting back and forth about the ideology of this character. To put it all into practice has been such a huge labor of love, and it’s allowed me to showcase a lot of things that I haven’t been able to do before. As a creative, that’s just very fulfilling.
And also, getting to work with Caitlin, Jamal [Roberson], our audio engineer … it’s such a smooth process. For me, it’s been a really, really fun time. It’s great to see that it’s finally out now. To see that fan reaction … you always hope that fans like it, but to see such a strong reaction recently … I was blown away. I was like, “Wow, that’s some high praise.” I’m so, so happy that people care just as much about it as I do and as Caitlin does.
Caitlin, you’re directing such a great cast here with Aleks and people like Justin Briner and Ian Sinclair. What’s it been like working with this cast on this production?
Caitlin Glass: Oh man, it’s been so fun. I knew when going in that I would like to work with someone I hadn’t worked with before, and that’s Aleks. [Laughs]. We’ve been in projects together, but I’ve never directed him before. So he ended up in the lead role and that’s been a wonderful experience. It’s great to bring veteran actors that I’ve worked with a lot along for the ride, like Justin — as you mentioned — and Ian, Christopher Sabat, Dani Chambers, so many wonderful people and many more to come, and, also, to bring people together from different parts of the dubbing community and different parts of the country. There’s been a lot of excitement and hype around this show. I like to be able to make something that we can all feel a part of, because we really are one big family, you know?
Aleks, what aspects of Jinwoo really drew you to the character when you first read Solo Leveling?
Aleks Le: Initially, when I read his story arc before we got really deep within his sacrificial decision, I was unsure of how I felt about him. To me, at the start, he just seemed like your typical timid protagonist who eventually will become strong and powerful through a great sacrifice that he heroically offers himself up to. It’s a cool trope, but it’s something I’ve seen so much that it didn’t really interest me all that much. But that actually didn’t turn out to be the case with Jinwoo. As we can see from Episode 2, there was a more grounded and real side to something as grand as a heroic sacrifice, because we all want to be heroes. We all want to say that we would willingly do the right thing if it meant saving our friends or even strangers.
That’s just human nature. You want to be a good person, you want to be kind. But when we saw him left alone, just by himself, to face off against all those statues, he started to have it sink in that this was it. Was there anything else? There’s no reward for this. What is there about being a hero that drew him to this?
And I think that’s when I realized this guy is like everybody else. He’s a person who wants to live as well. He’s also selfish. He also has all these negative emotions. He’s not just perfect, even if he’s weak. He’s not your typical protagonist. He has feelings of doubt, anger, and even resentment towards those he once called friends, because when it comes down to it, if you are in a crappy situation, you’re going to hate everybody else. [Laughs].
So that’s what I related to the most. I felt that frustration really come through. And it reminded me a lot of my younger years when I was trying to get my foot into the industry and also into being an adult. Nobody was there to help me and I kind of had to guide myself through that. I could sense such a bitterness about how everything felt so unfair. Before you have anything, you have to start somewhere. And sometimes, what gets you on the right path may not necessarily be the right emotion. [Laughs]. But that is part of the growth and development of not only a character, but a human being as well as — I like to believe, at least.
Caitlin, when you first heard Aleks, what was it that sold you on him being the perfect Jinwoo?
Caitlin Glass: His range — I guess vocal range sounds like I’m minimizing it. It isn’t just vocal range, it’s his emotional range and work of his that I’d heard that showed me he was fearless and unafraid to do things, to push his voice as … I don’t want to say as far as it could go, like to the breaking point, because that sounds so negative, right? I would never want an actor to harm themselves, but there can be heard, sometimes in performances, a held nature, you know? They’re not really laying it all out on the table.
I needed to know that I could have someone who would do that because he would be called upon many times to do so. [Laughs]. And I heard that in his work and also heard, as mentioned, the range that would be necessary to portray Jinwoo at all stages of his journey.
Aleks, you mentioned that, near the beginning of the series, your character has a lot of intense scenes and heavy despair in that first outing. How do you get into the headspace to throw out those crazy screams and really guttural moments?
Aleks Le: I used to be a process when I first started getting into what it was to be a performer, because it felt like, back then, I had to refer to a lot of my older memories and reopen my trauma to get in touch with that emotional side. But I feel like, for this project in particular, I didn’t want to necessarily draw from any specific moments in my life. It was more of a … it was more of a feeling that I hadn’t quite fully understood what that means. For me, I just let the animation inspire me and the music inspire me because A-1 Pictures did an incredible job of depicting the scene. When I saw it in action for the first time, I didn’t need to think about what it was like to feel frustrated or to feel like I was betrayed.
Just seeing the scene play out in front of me and how it was animated … I felt frustrated for Jinwoo. I felt angry for him, and the way that he struggled to not even fight, but to breathe and get any air in. It just resonated with me so much that I felt all of it in that moment. That’s how I was able to get myself there into the scene. Shout-out to the incredibly talented performers for the music, for the animators — everything. It was really something to behold, especially as somebody who does this so often, I feel like I’ve seen a lot, but this was like, “Ooh! Ooh!” [Laughs].
Caitlin, Solo Leveling’s been on fire since it dropped. What do you think it is about the series and its themes that has really caught on with people?
Caitlin Glass: I think there’s something that’s familiar about it and the game mechanics and these types of characters. “If you’re a hunter, here’s the type of things that you could do.” So they recognize that and they go, “Okay, I get that.” But the fact that it’s all taking place within a very modern setting as opposed to a bunch of heroes spirited away to a medieval land and some of them have magic, so there’s a little less suspension of disbelief that’s required. I think, because of the modern setting, maybe that’s what it is.
Then, of course, all of the things that Aleks mentioned about the top-notch animation and music, and maybe the fact that we do focus so much on the main character and delve so much into who he is and why he feels the way he does, it allows you, as an audience member, the opportunity to relate to him.
As opposed to maybe determining, “I don’t like that guy,” and then picking someone else in the cast of characters to follow along. Then you only see them every few episodes. I was just thinking while Aleks was answering that it’s rare for me, as a director, to get to spend so much time with a lead character. Sometimes, it is my job to help the actor jump from point A to point B because this episode ended, and then in the next one, it’s a week later and these 12 things have happened, and now it’s like we’re just getting all of it. Every moment just plays out and we flow with him and I think that that helps the audience really connect to the story.
Aleks, as the series goes on, Jinwoo gets more confident and settles into himself. Do you have to consciously remember that and put that into the performances as the episodes go on, or does that feel like a natural transition?
Aleks Le: There’s three-ish stages to him. There’s his timid, weak, and kind of innocent side. There’s his more confident regular. Then there’s one last side that’s darker and more sinister — it has sinister vibes to it. But, for me, once we got into the episode where he glowed up, I was like, “Great, I can talk like myself now!” [Laughs]. For the first couple of episodes, we were very conscious to make his voice match what he looked like, which was this very sweet, small boy. I had to be very aware of whenever I was doing dialogue that had to do with my thoughts, not to get too into my thoughts, because if I started acting too much like myself, then my voice would deepen in the pitch.
But there is a sense of comfort for me when it came to finally getting to be as close as he could be to me, which was like … just a guy who’s like, “Oh, great. I’ve learned all these lessons. I’m confident with my abilities and I’m good to carry on.” But definitely, when we get even further in the story, I do believe that that will be my chance to take some more cues from Taito Ban , the seiyu [Japanese term for voice actor] to see what direction he decides to go with and use it as a springboard for what we decide to do.
Now that people have gotten a taste of the English dub, what’s the fan reaction been like for the two of you?
Caitlin Glass: I don’t know yet! [Laughs.] This is really exciting just to hear from you and know that you’re enjoying it. We’ve been working on it since … gosh, October, I think? In various stages for trailers and previews and stuff like that, and then waiting for it to come out. I hear from people here and there and folks around the office who are watching it, that they’re enjoying it.
It’s going to sound goofy, and I’m not trying to be arrogant, but I knew that it was good. So it wasn’t a question of, “Did we make a good thing?” Like, yes, duh. [Laughs]. How can you not when what you start with is already so fantastic? But, of course, you want the fans to like it too. I’m still waiting to get to go to conventions and experience the fan reaction that way. I’m very excited.
Aleks Le: Yeah. I mean, I knew this was a highly anticipated title, but from the reactions that I’ve seen so far online, I’m actually blown away. Like Caitlin said, not to be arrogant, but when we were working on this, we poured all of ourselves into it. Our dedication and passion. I really feel like it shined through, so I was proud of the work I was doing, but it’s always a matter of, “Do the fans think it’s good?” And so far from what II’ve seen, people have loved it. I was blown away because sometimes I’m like, “I’m really proud of this thing.” And fans are like, “Good job!” That was great.
But to see fans go nuts over it and be like, “This is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” I’m like, “Oh, okay! I’m so happy to hear that!” [Laughs]. So it’s through all of the stress and anxiety … it’s been the one thing that’s kept me going where it’s like, “Oh, well I’m glad people are enjoying it, because now it makes me less nervous and even more excited to take on more of it.”