An interview with actor Ralph Lister who is famous for voicing Walter Dornez in the Hellsing anime and appearing as Emmet Vale in the DC Extended Universe’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016).
Actors who truly immerse themselves in their roles are truly few and far between (take a look at any modern film and most talent are just playing themselves). At San Diego Comic-Con 2017, we met Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) actor Ralph Lister—most famous for being the voice of Walter “Angel of Death” Dornez in the acclaimed Hellsing anime series—who has made it his priority to completely disappear into the story. He does such a good job that it’s difficult to identify him in his various roles.
The Fanboy Review was able to speak to Ralph about his multi-faceted career and upcoming projects. Above all, Ralph gave us his philosophy on the craft of acting and his main responsibility—to push a story forward and make whatever scene he’s in be the most interesting.
The Fanboy Review: You’re quite a multi-talented individual. Tell us about the various media you currently thrive in.
Ralph Lister: So I’ve done quite a fair few things in three fields: live-action on-camera, manga, anime, animation, and audiobooks. I seem to have established some footprint in all three—which is great. I’m not really very famous in any of those three fields—but I’m somewhat famous in all of them. But that doesn’t add up to make me [sinister voice] very famous! [laughs]
TFR: Tell us about Hellsing—your character, Walter “Angel of Death” Dornez, and what it’s about.
RL: Hellsing is the Japanese manga of the same name. It was originally a television series, then it became a DVD called Hellsing Ultimate. It is a much beloved Japanese manga about the Hellsing Organzation, which are vampire hunters—themselves very strange creatures. My character, Walter, is a retired vampire killer and he is … can you believe it … the butler to the Hellsing Organization. He’s their weapons guy and, every now and then, he comes out of retirement and kicks butt in a big way when it’s needed—with the wires that come out of his fingers … don’t you know!?
TFR: So tell us about those “wires.”
RL: Well, essentially, he [excitedly mimes the usage with his hands] uses them like lasers and lops off heads at regular intervals. When Walter uses these “wires,” they’re seen as blue lines coming out of his fingers. But I don’t even need to really explain it, the fans would definitely know that.
Walter also introduces the Harkonnen Cannon—a big-ass machine—to Alucard. The Harkonnen Cannon is a weapon that only a vampire with all his enormous strength can hold, of course.
TFR: Tell us about your other successes outside of Hellsing.
RL: Hellsing is kind of an old-school manga, but I was also in 3×3 Eyes, Amazing Nurse Nanako, and a few other animes when I was active in LA in the 2000s. Then I went over to Michigan for other reasons and ended up in the next big part of my life—which was live-action.
It was initially a Bruce Willis film called Setup (2011) with 50 Cent. Then I was in Oz the Great and Powerful (2013). After that, it was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) where I played Emmet Vale, Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) sidekick. That was, dare I say, my biggest to-date.
However, I’m more proud of some of the independent film work where I’ve had some really interesting characters to play. I recently worked on an independent project called Chasing the Star (2017) with Yancy Butler of Witchblade fame where I played a wicked, slightly screwed up King Herod. I’m really enjoying all the on-camera stuff and building a reputation there.
In the audiobook world, well, 300 audiobooks later I was nominated for three Audies (which are the Oscars for audiobooks)—this year—and won one of those for a multicast short story collection that we did. So, I’m an actual Audie winner now, which, for some, it seems to be quite common. But for me, it was kind of my first time real honor. It was a real thrill!
I’m still doing voice-work and I also did a PSA for the National Park Forest. I’m also going back to Book Five of a fantasy series for a Canadian publishing group. Much is on the horizon … there always is. I can’t see beyond that for two or three months though.
TFR: You’ve already played Hellsing. What type of other pop culture character would you like to play if you were given carte blanche?
RL: It would have to be a villain. It’s much more fun. The Joker has always been kind of appealing. And after the way Heath Ledger took that part to the max, that’s the kind of “out there” villain I’d want to play. I wonder if I should ask my fans who I should play. I would love to play a Bond villain if they ever revisited any of the older stories. I’m not sure about comic book villains. What would you suggest?
TFR: You definitely have the demeanor and look for either the Scarecrow or the Riddler. It seems like you embody that capacity for complexity.
RL: I like that. I really like digging into those types of characters. For those types of roles, I usually look up to actors like Daniel Day-Lewis and Cate Blanchett. I mention those two because they literally disappear and become intrinsically their characters.
I also love to disappear. I like to “go away.” In order to get to that level, you have to really get into the head of your character. I really like to dig in, and that involves trying to find what the director is looking for from that character. But often, the director is relying on the actor to bring that understanding to the craft—the interpretive craft to acting. An actor is nothing more than an “interpretive artist.”
I hope to bring my intelligence to bear in that and always make choices that are more interesting. I’ve worked with many coaches who have taught me so much. Why be boring when you can be absolutely fascinating? Why do less when you can do more? And when I mean “more,” I don’t mean more stuff. I mean it in terms of getting deeper, more sinister, perhaps calmer, or wiser—always have something going on.
I want to be the guy they cut to when someone else is speaking because I’m more interesting to watch when that other guy is talking. I want them to ask, “What’s Ralph doing?,” or, “What’s that character doing?” I don’t like to think a character as being mine. I’m lent a character for the duration of a play or a movie. And that is a real honor that I seek to find. The questions should be: Did you serve that character? Did you serve that project? Did you create an arc? Those are our jobs as actors.
We don’t own any of these characters. But if I’m given that part … hell yeah, I’m going to make it as interesting as I possibly can. For any kind of character work, I’m “Mr. Supporting Man” in that way. I love it!
Ralph Lister is a British-American actor who has had over thirty-five years of experience on-stage and on-camera. Fifteen of those years were spent in main-stage theater in London, Madrid, Hong Kong, and Edinburgh.
Ralph’s major motion picture on-camera credits include the role of Emmet Vale in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), which starred Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill, and was directed by Zack Snyder; Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013) with James Franco, Mila Kunis, Michelle Williams, Zach Braff, and Rachel Weisz, and was directed by Sam Raimi; Setup (2011) with Bruce Willis, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, and Ryan Philippe; Alleged (2010) with Brian Dennehy, Fred Thompson, and Colm Meaney; studio comedy Mr Woodcock (2007) with Seann William Scott, Billy Bob Thornton, and Susan Sarandon; Jewel of the Sahara (2001) with Gerard Butler; and A Lot Like Love (2005) with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet.
On television, he has appeared as a guest star on AMC’s gritty crime drama Low Winter Sun opposite Mark Strong and Lennie James.
Ralph is internationally known as the voice of Walter “Angel of Death” Dornez in the blockbuster anime Hellsing. He has also done voice-work for a variety of films and documentaries: Walt Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean; Revolution Studios’ 13 Going on 30 (2004); as the narrator for the 10-Year Retrospective of The Professional (2005) starring Jean Reno; and for the documentary accompanying the DVD release of March of the Penguins.
Ralph’s talents also span the realm of audiobooks where he has narrated over 300 of them, generating multiple awards and nominations. These include the Audie Awards, the Golden Earphones Awards, the Galaxy Awards, and the Voice Arts Awards, winning the Galaxy Award in 2007, and winning the Golden Earphones Award in 2012, 2015, and 2016. In 2017, he won an Audie Award for his work in The Brink: Stories.
His other awards include the 2010 Grand Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play for Frozen, the 2015 Eclipse Award for Best Actor for the short film The Door (2014), and the 2014 Eclipse Award for Best Actor for the short film Free Pie (2013).
Ralph’s latest work can be seen in Chasing the Star (2017) with Yancy Butler, where he stars as King Herod.