Chainsaw Man Voice Actors Ryan Colt Levy And Reagan Murdock On Expectations And Relationships [Exclusive Interview]

"Chainsaw Man" is well on its way to becoming one of the most popular series in the Fall 2022 anime season. Studio MAPPA (the studio behind "Attack on Titan" and "Jujutsu Kaisen") has crafted a gory and violent Shonen anime. Part horror and part comedy, "Chainsaw Man" remains wholly unique in the anime landscape. A big part of what makes the series so special is its main character, Denji. A devil hunter who was given the powers of the Chainsaw Devil, Denji can sprout chainsaws from his arms and face (painfully animated to perfection by MAPPA) whenever necessary. Just as critical as the kinetic animation is the voice talent that brings the cast of "Chainsaw Man" to life.

Ryan Colt Levy, who voices Denji in the English dub of "Chainsaw Man," is just as exuberant and passionate as the character he plays. Reagan Murdock is as calm and collected as Aki, Denji's partner in "Chainsaw Man," which Murdock brings to life with his vocal performance. I had the opportunity to speak with both actors about "Chainsaw Man," the series influences on the manga and their characters, and their beautiful working relationship with each other.

'It was that uniqueness that drew me to it.'

(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Were both of you familiar with the manga before joining the project? And if not, what about the story of "Chainsaw Man" attracted you to this adaptation?

Levy: Never heard of it. No, I'm kidding. I was a massive, massive fan. I actually have it all right back here. [gestures to room] I read it before the adaptation was announced and was dreaming of the day that I could, theoretically, almost possibly, audition for Denji. And when that day came, I couldn't believe it was real, and I still am pinching myself that I'm getting to do my dream role. So I continue to be a huge fan through part two and all of its madness. I love this.

Murdock: I knew pretty much nothing about the series going into the auditions. I knew that it was popular, and I knew it was very crazy and unique. And it was that uniqueness that drew me to it. Because [when] we sometimes audition for stuff, especially in anime, a lot of it is similar to what we've seen before. And sometimes that's great, but sometimes it's refreshing to approach something that is really unlike anything we've ever seen, and we can approach it uniquely. And it's always nice as an actor to have something that really stimulates you.

The antithesis of the Shonen

"Chainsaw Man" feels like the antithesis of the usual Shonen anime. That leads me to my next question for Ryan. Denji's motivations are the opposite of other Shonen protagonists' goals. What about Denji and his motives do you find most interesting?

Levy: That he's just so pure. And I know that's a funny word to use, but he is. I think he's so genuine and open and raw and honest and relatable, not because of the specificities of his goals but because of his awareness of how special anything that he can enjoy in life is and how valuable the most insignificantly seeming things are to some people and how special this life that we get to have on the day to day. We truly live like royalty in ways that we don't realize if we just can open our eyes a little bit more. So his view of seeing the world with truer eyes is really special.

Reagan, how did you approach your straight-man dynamic with Ryan [Denji] and Sarah [Power]? Aki always feels like the serious, cold, and calculated type. 

Murdock: He is a guy who puts a lot of stock into this idea of himself as being in control, somebody who has his life figured out, who is not going to allow his emotions to dictate what he does. Because he suffered so much when he was so young, and he doesn't want to really, in a lot of ways, he doesn't want to feel anything anymore. But the thing is that those emotions just keep exploding out of him in so many different ways, in his physical altercations with Denji and his shouting at Denji and Power. And it's just the wonderful way that they really force those emotions out of him. And he has to confront the fact that he's an imperfect person who feels things. And the way that he learns to embrace that over time, I think, is a really wonderful thing.

'A relentless kind of insanity'

Ryan, given that "Chainsaw Man" started as a manga, a lot of the action is expressed through the incredible and dynamic art of Tatsuki Fujimoto. But for an anime, it's different for the animation team and you as a voice actor. So how did you decide on the visceral, almost animalistic voice you do for the character's fight scenes as Chainsaw Man? 

Levy: It came down to the emotional motivation of realizing that it's about the feral kind of unbroken, unchained. It's a relentless kind of insanity that needed to get let out. And there is a cinematic language that the manga has because Fujimoto's incredibly cinematic in how he draws. But the adaptation is really toned in a way that it feels like you're watching a movie that is so beautiful. And there is something that needs to be ferocious. I think it needs to be scary and unhinged and a little, as they say [in the anime], you have to have a screw loose. And it's like I want people to, to some degree, walk away from these episodes being like, "Is he okay?"

Reagan, your character, Aki, has been known to make many contracts with devils at this point. Which one would you want to make a contract with? Which one would you be most scared of making a contract with?

Murdock: Despite having to give up a little body part or something, being able to summon a giant fox head to take care of my problems for me would be so nice.

Levy: Literal dog ate my homework.

Murdock: Dog ate my homework. "I'm sorry I didn't get that audition in on time. The Fox ate the booth." But the one I would be the most scared to. Well, I can't talk about them just yet, but of the ones we've seen, I'd probably be scared most of the zombie devil. Because that's just...

That's pretty terrifying.

Levy: Yeah, that's no Halloween Horror Nights.

Feeling a 'tremendous responsibility'

Ryan, did you feel any pressure about taking on the portrayal of the lead character of manga, whose popularity grew so fast in such a short amount of time?

Levy: I felt a tremendous responsibility to give as much as possible to this role and this boy [Denji], not even for other people, but for how much I genuinely love this character in this story and want to do him justice ... and [for] hopefully, everyone watching it, especially people who are taking it in for the first time because there are so many ways that now they can go and read it if they want. They can watch it in a lot of different formats. 

And if they're going to experience this for the first time through our take on it, I want it to be special, and I want it to be deep. I want them to connect and hopefully understand all of the stuff that we're talking about and the emotional layers that we're trying to share with them. Because these characters are amazing. This story is so unique, and I don't want anyone to walk away disappointed. I know that we can't make everyone happy, but I know that I'm doing everything I can to make it the best I possibly can.

Reagan, how did you approach the nuance of Aki? He feels like a very layered and complicated character who shields himself from others but has a vulnerability and world-weariness. 

Murdock: I wanted him to sound tired most of the time because people who try to control everything that they say and do, it's exhausting. So I wanted him to just reflect that in the way he speaks. He just is so tired of the fronts that he has to put up. He's tired of the people who constantly challenge that. And one of the things he's going to need to do as a person is learn to let go of that and give himself up to how life can be. And that's one of the most refreshing things that you can do as a person.

An amazing cast that reflects their characters

How did you develop your relationship as performers, given that the characters you play, Denji and Aki, are sold to us as a duo that couldn't be more different than each other? 

Levy: Well, what's nice, I wouldn't say to either extreme, but both of us are a little kind of like our characters, to some degree. I'm a little more punk rock, and Reagan's a little more classical. And when we first met, we had worked together before briefly on another project. So we've been able to have a dynamic of play already. And I already knew that I loved him as an actor, but I didn't get to know him as a person until recently. And we had a crash course of finally getting to hang out at Comic-Con, which was such a special weekend.

Reagan and I became instant brothers. He's so refined, wonderful, charming, intelligent, and sweet, and I can be a bull in a china shop. So it was just playing true to our dynamic with each other and knowing that we had each other's backs, even if we weren't in the same room. I always know that he's looking out for me, and I know that he knows the other end.

Murdock: It's similar to our characters. I admire how open you [speaking to Levy] are and what a loving, caring person you are, and your heart shines through in absolutely everything you say and do. You're just a wonderful human being. And the casting was spot on for everybody. [Director] Mike [McFarland] just put together this amazing cast of people who all reflect their characters in many ways. But in many ways, you get to see so much more about these people when you really get to know them. So I'm incredibly blessed to be part of this cast, and I am thankful every day that I get to interact with you as people as well.

Denji and Aki's favorite movies

As a whole, movie references and movies are not abundant in just "Chainsaw Man" but in all of Fujimoto's work up to this point. So, what do you think your character's favorite movies are?

Levy: Oh. Gosh. Denji would probably have a wide palette. We have that conversation to some degree later [in the anime], but I could see him enjoying, oddly enjoying, some obscure high art thing and not understanding why. And also loving total action popcorn, like "Rambo." Just like, the '80s, like dopey '80s movies and stuff. And a good comedy. I think he wants to laugh.

What do you think Aki's favorite movie is, Reagan?

Murdock: He's probably a big Akira Kurosawa fan.

Whoa. That's very suitable.

Levy: Totally. It's so spot on.

Murdock: He probably loves all the samurai movies, especially with Toshiro Mifune. And maybe he likes westerns too. He loves the idea of the "Lone Ranger." So weary of the world. The vengeance guy.

Do you have any message for fans who are anime-only watchers, not readers of the manga, that you want to give them to expect for the rest of the season?

Levy: I want them to expect the unexpected, to be prepared for this thing to hit them in every way emotionally that they wouldn't see coming. And the best thing they can do is just hang on for the ride. If they're enjoying it so far, they'll love where it goes.

Murdock: All that, and be prepared for a few gut punches. And keep the tissues handy.

Levy: They've already got a few nut kicks.