My Hero Academia’s Zeno Robinson Discusses Making Hawks ‘Cool’

As Season 5 of My Hero Academia rolls on, fan-favorite character, Hawks, has had a significant amount of time in the spotlight. One of the most popular heroes among the fandom, as well as within the series itself, Hawks' persona is unique in that he's famous for being the coolest hero around. MHA's dub voice actor for Hawks, Zeno Robinson, lends a sense of authenticity to the Pro Hero and every other character he brings to life.

Ahead of his appearance at Virtual Crunchyroll Expo 2021, Robinson sat down for a brief Q&A with CBR to talk about some of his most popular roles. Discussing some of his characters and providing insight into his approach to dubbing anime, it's clear that voice acting is more than just his day job. Zeno's dedication and passion for his craft are undeniable, and it comes through in each of his performances.


CBR: In My Hero Academia, your character, Hawks, is intended to be the “cool” hero, so to speak. What is your approach to bringing his persona to life in a way that doesn’t sound like Hawks is trying to be cool?

Zeno Robinson: That's the hard part! How do I be cool while not trying to be cool? I did research on Donald Glover’s performance on his take on Lando Calrissian because Lando is really cool and Donald was wondering how to go about it. He was like, just be cool about it, don't think about it too much. I think that's like the key -- people who are cool don't think about it, you know, they're just cool. It was like, finding a particular cadence that Hawks has that places him in the 'cool' area. The best thing I try to do is actually not trying to be cool and just try to see the world from Hawks’ perspective.

How has your approach to voicing Hawks changed as his character continues to be more fully explored in Season 5 of My Hero Academia?

It’s definitely changed! Reading the manga, you get some backstory -- and I won’t spoil anything for anyone -- but as you learn more about his position among the heroes and heroes association, we start to learn that this coolness comes from somewhere. My approach at first was just 'be cool, he's a cool guy.' Then it started to become well where's this coming from? What does him being cool in this moment mean? Does it mean he's just being cool or is he putting on a mask, is he putting on a façade? So, as his arc gets more fleshed out it starts to define why he acts the way he does, and where the 'coolness' kind of comes from. He's still cool, but some things he does actually come from somewhere.

What effect does the performance of your character’s Japanese voice actor have on your own performance?

It gives me the tone of the scene and moment. I try to interpret that and make it my own. It influences me 100-percent because there is a team somewhere with the source material that has decided this is what it has to sound like so I definitely tried to stay true to what the original intention is. If I have to deviate I want to justify it in either the text or the scene or my understanding of the character.

What are the pros and cons of a one-episode guest spot on Fire Force as Ogun Montgomery vs. a recurring role with a more prominent character like Garfiel from Re: Zero or Hawks?

I would say the cons for a one to a five-episode role is that you don't get to really explore the character as much as you'd like. Sometimes you'll get to play a character, who seems cool -- like my first character in My Hero, Sakaki from Shie Hassaikai, he had this really interesting Quirk, but we only saw him for an episode. Like man, I would like to know where he came from or how this came about.

Garfiel from Re:Zero

One of the pros is that you get to just have fun and let loose and do your own thing, but at the same time, you don't really get to, like, see where this character came from or explore this character's different emotions. For Garfiel, a big pro for him being recurring is that he had this very, very developed character arc that I got to explore on every emotional level through the story. That's a big pro for voicing characters who appear in multiple episodes. For me personally, that's like my biggest thing -- like, I really wish I could have explored this or that.

Having voiced characters in several popular franchises, what’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had with a fan?

I had a very, very special moment with a fan at DreamCon, which is a convention I just had last weekend. He was another young talented Black man who wanted to get into voice acting. That's always very special to me because hearing other young Black aspiring actors tell me that they are inspired by me, or they want to get into voice acting because they see me reinforces this idea that there are not enough Black people in anime or in voiceover. My counter to that was maybe because they don't see enough of themselves reflected on screen and maybe it’s just not something that they know they can do, or that they think is possible.

So this young man and I had several conversations over the weekend about voice acting, about my personal journey and about what he wants to do. He was like, 'I really, really, really want to get into voice acting and I can't stop thinking about it.' I think that's the key thing -- he really loves it. I gave him a couple of websites that he could visit and he was overcome with emotion and he was like, 'can I give you a hug?' and I was like, 'yeah man, of course you can.' It was just so special that I could help someone out in that way and inspire someone, but also provide and give back a way to make his journey a little easier.

I was shocked! Like wow, out of all the people he could have chosen to be inspired by he picked me. It’s because we look alike and it means something. That means something to every person of color who sees themselves in a medium that they love and they think, 'Oh well, maybe I can do that,' you know? I needed that growing up, I needed that in Phil LaMarr in Static Shock. It's just a blessing and it's very humbling to be that for somebody else if they consider me that. But, yeah, it was a very special moment and we hugged for a very long time. I was like, I’ll see you in the booth, bro.

Season 5 of My Hero Academia is currently underway, with new simulcast episodes available every Saturday through Crunchyroll and Funimation.

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