ComingSoon Senior Editor Spencer Legacy spoke with Pokémon star Sarah Natochenny about playing Ash Ketchum for 16 years and the end of Ash’s journey.
“Join two new characters and three Paldea starter Pokémon as they adventure through the exciting world of Pokémon,” reads the new series’ synopsis. “Plus, commemorate Ash’s journey with a collection of special episodes concluding Pokémon Ultimate Journeys: The Series.”
Spencer Legacy: It’s very rare for someone to voice the same character for 16 years. How has it been getting to really live with the character and see Ash’s growth over time?
Sarah Natochenny: I still can’t believe it’s been this long. It’s been such a great exercise for me as an actor, to grow with a character who never ages and find new aspects to his personality within the confines of the script that’s given me. Through him and the other protagonists I’ve had the opportunity to play, I’ve found in myself the positive, adventurous spirit that I knew had to be in there. So I’m very grateful to Ash and the work I do in general, as it’s been a wonderful conduit for my own self-discovery.
How has Pokémon changed your life?
Pokémon has given me the opportunity to change other peoples lives. It’s an extraordinary gift that comes with a lot of responsibility.
Do you have a particular favorite film or project that you’ve been part of as Ash?
I love the film I Choose You! Secrets of the Jungle was also fantastic. Any time I get to play Ash differently — with an accent, as an evil twin — all those moments are favorites.
How has your performance as Ash changed over 16 years?
I think I naturally got more comfortable with the role over time, but the biggest change happened over the first few seasons. I changed with the character and let the shows creators take my performance where ever they wanted it to go. Actors are always in service of the production, and there was very seldom even a minor disagreement.
What were your thoughts when you learned that Ash’s journey was coming to an end?
Deep down, I saw it coming, but didn’t want to admit it. Friends asked me, “Did you expect this to go on forever?” I just didn’t ever consider it ending. It’s very bittersweet, but it’s a push to get out of this comfort zone and revisit my original passions that have taken a back seat during this journey. As for Ash himself, he’ll live forever in 25 years of shows and movies, and I hope this won’t be the last we see of him on the show.
A few years ago, you voiced Ash in Mewtwo Strikes Back – Evolution, which is a remake of the first Pokémon film. What was it like to do your own interpretation of that original movie?
An absolute honor. I grew up with Pokémon, so I approached that film as a fan first. The performance followed.
Assuming a role after another actress has got to be difficult, especially for a character as major as Ash. What was that experience like?
The stakes were so high. I was 18 when I booked the role and I knew that if I ended up not being right for the role after recording a few episodes, I could still lose the job. When it became clear I was keeping it and the episodes started airing, I felt a great sense of relief.
How did your experience with Pokémon lead to Voices for Fosters?
It was a very sad episode in which a Pokémon dies that inspired me and my director Lisa Ortiz to bring awareness to animal fostering. Our cats had recently passed away and I realized that even as a lifelong cat lover and owner, I didn’t know about fostering. So I got involved in the community, met a ton of rescuers with small charities, and fostered over 100 cats and kittens with my mom. Now I try to help in-person wherever I am and donate to those small charities regularly.
You’ve been a part of many peoples’ childhoods. What would you like to say to these longtime fans now that this chapter of the series is concluding?
Thank you a million times over. Be the very best, like no one ever was, and do it with kindness.