We often get so caught up in the visual wonder of anime that we forget there are flesh and blood actors behind the colorful characters. And, more often that we would think, there are famous actors in anime. While we quickly recognize our favorite Hollywood stars when they appear in live action on the silver screen, catching them when they are only voicing a role is a little trickier.
Some voices are so easily recognizable that you likely picked up on them. There’s no mistaking the deep baritone of Michael Keaton, for example, in the titular role of Studio Ghibli’s Porko Rosso. But, often as not, the identity of the actors involved in animes isn’t so apparent.
The result is that many of your favorite stars from Tinseltown have appeared in anime movies and series, and you never knew it. So, here are some of the best anime dubs from A-list actors staring in anime.
Want to watch them in action? Check out our list of Studio Ghibli movies ranked for more on some of the films mentioned below…
1. Anna Paquin
It may surprise you to know that True Blood star and X-Men veteran actor Anna Paquin also stars in anime. Long before she met a vampire named Bill, and with only one X-Men film under her belt, Paquin starred as Sheeta in the English dub of Studio Ghibli’s debut movie, Castle in the Sky. A year later she joined the cast of Steamboy as James Ray Steam.
2. Christian Bale
Another famous actor in anime, and more specifically the Ghibli-verse, Christian Bale delivered a standout performance as Howl in the English dub of Howl’s Moving Castle. One of the strongest Ghibli movies, Bale’s performance is a huge part of what made the film such a success in English-speaking countries. He lent Howl a roguish, playful, slightly sexy charm that makes Sophie’s infatuation with him completely relatable.
3. Patrick Stewart
Star Trek god and X-Men legend Patrick Stewart may have walked the boards of many a stage but he’s also voiced some memorable anime characters. Joining his X-Men co-star Anna Paquin as part of the English cast of Steamboy, Stewart also voiced Lord Yupa in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This is hardly surprising given how melodic the actor’s voice is – if you didn’t catch his ‘sonnet a day’ series during lockdown, you missed a treat!
4. Tom Holland
Before he donned his Spidey suit and joined the Avengers, Tom Holland had starred in several different productions, but the very first may surprise you. His debut acting credit was the lead role in a film – pretty impressive, right? Well, sort of. Holland played the lead role of Sho (or Shawn as he’s called in the US adaptation) in The Secret World Of Arrietty. Despite voicing the male lead for the film, Holland’s performance went uncredited – hard to believe now!
5. Samuel L. Jackson
Hollywood legend Samuel L. Jackson is a huge anime fan, so much so that he co-produced the anime series Afro Samurai, and personally lent his voice to not one but two characters on the show: titular street-fighter Afro and Ninja-Ninja.
6. Mark Hamill
Star Wars legend Mark Hamill joined the English cast of numerous anime films, as well as voicing characters in various animated Marvel and DC animated outings. Most notable are his roles in two Studio Ghibli movies, first as Muska in the second English version of Castle in the Sky, and later as the Mayor of Pejite in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Other highlights of his voice-over career include the Captain of the Guard in Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists, the nefarious wolf Niju in Balto II: Wolf Quest, and Judah in Joseph: King of Dreams.
7. Kirsten Dunst
Another Studio Ghibli alumni, Kirsten Dunst lent her voice to Kiki’s Delivery Service as part of the English cast. Dunst was no stranger to playing complex young characters following her stint as Claudia in Interview With A Vampire. She played the lead role of the titular Kiki, a young witch embarking on a quest to discover the form her magical powers will take.
8. Leonard Nimoy
We return to the Star Trek universe and another acting god who frequently starred in anime, Leonard Nimoy. While most famous for his role as Spock in the original Trek series and films, Nimoy also starred as Sekhuru in Zambezia, Galvatron in The Transformers: The Movie, Bakara in Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists, and King Kashekim Nedakh in Atlantis: The Lost Empire.
9. Tim Curry
Familiar zany roles, Tim Curry starred in the likes of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Worst Witch. But perhaps his oddest role came as part of the English cast in the US dubbed version of The Cat Returns. A Studio Ghibli classic, Curry played the Cat King, a fat, entitled, blinged-up tyrant who spends the entire film referring to Haru, the young female lead, as ‘babe’.
10. Timothy Dalton
The name’s Sparrowhawk, just Sparrowhawk. Bond legend Timothy Dalton starred in the English dub of Tales From Earthsea as the Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque mentor to Prince Arren. Dalton’s character lends some much-needed gravitas to the film, which would otherwise be a rather lackluster effort for a fantasy ‘epic’.
11. Kiefer Sutherland
You may associate 24 star Kiefer Sutherland with high-octane action, and you’d be right. Almost a decade after filming Lost Boys, Sutherland took up the role of Ross in Armitage III. This Cyberpunk retelling of Pinocchio lent a sci-fantasy setting to a familiar tale. The rest of the English cast for the film included Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Berkley of The First Wives Club and Show Girls fame.
12. Bryan Cranston
Speaking of Bryan Cranston, he’s well earned his own place on this list. Perhaps best known as Walter White on Breaking Bad, Bran Cranston has been a household name since the days of Malcolm In The Middle yet he was already a veteran actor with years of experience. Interestingly, one of his first projects was working as the English dub actor on 1980’s anime movie, Galaxy Express 999: Can You Love Like A Mother.
Over the years, Cranston has gone on to lend his voice to several other anime characters, including Eddie, on Armitage III: Poly-Matrix, Fei Long on Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie, and Matti Tohn on Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. He also voiced Isamu Alva Dyson In Macross Plus.
13. Dakota Fanning
Currently voicing a character in gen:Lock! Dakota Fanning is no stranger to the world of anime. Playing Miranda Worth in the American science fiction series, her character is an expert mech pilot, as well as the love interest of Chase.
Set in a dystopian future in which Earth has banded together in The Polity, an international coalition, the main characters fight against The Union, an invading autocratic force. The gen: Lock! technology allows pilots like Miranda to have their consciousness uploaded into Holons, gigantic suits of mecha armour.
Fanning previously played a prominent role in the Studio Ghibli film My Neighbour Totoro. Yes, she’s another Ghibli alumni. Dakota voiced the character of Satsuki Kusakabe in the English dub, while her younger sister, Elle, voiced Mei, Satsuki’s younger sister. It was all very meta.
Celebrity voices are often like unexpected Easter Eggs hidden within anime. A careful listen to any of your favorite films will reveal surprise treats from the streets of La La Land.
Looking for more instances of anime colliding with the real world? Check out our deep dive into how one classic anime-inspired Stranger Things.