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New Rugrats Character, Kimi, Voiced By 22-Year-Old Blind Actress
Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article is re-printed from the Associated Press, Jan. 26, 2002. Photo: Rugrats.com
BENICIA, Calif. - Kimi, the cowboy-booted, adventurous new toddler in the Rugrats neighbourhood, owes her warm and giggling voice to a 22-year-old actress who reads her weekly scripts in Braille.
Dionne Quan, who beat out 147 other actors for the part, was born with hypoplasia - leaving her with underdeveloped optic nerves. That didn't bother the show's producers one bit. The only modification Rugrats producers made was to adjust the microphone to avoid capturing the soft sound of her index finger as it runs over her script.
"I love this media because it's very free - there is no agism, no racism, no sexism, only your voice," said Charlie Adler, Rugrats' voice director.
The challenge for actors who tried out for Kimi was to create a unique voice and character, and yet fit in with a show that had already been on the air for years, said casting director Barbara Wright.
"The women that create the Rugrats have wonderful characters that come from an innocent place, and Dionne likewise had the ability to perform from the same kind of innocent place," Wright said.
Quan, a small woman with shoulder-length dark hair, seemed passionate as she described her voice techniques during an interview in her parents' San Francisco Bay area home, where she still lives.
"You can mix and match them with accents and do all sort of strange things," she explained, gesturing as she slid from munchkins to villains to superheroes.
Kimi's voice "just sort of came out," she said.
"Originally I made her more sweet; she is still sweet but also has more of an edge to her. She is a little bit of a tomboy," she said.
The Kimi character was introduced in the movie Rugrats in Paris and now is a regular in the Emmy-winning animated TV show, which premiered 10 years ago.
"She is fearless and she is very confident, and because of that she can get into a lot of problems," said Quan, who's planning to move to Los Angeles, where the show is taped. "I think it's so much fun to play her because she is so unlike me."
Rugrats is based on the childish mischief of seven toddlers, all voiced by adult women. It was created by Arlene Klasky, Gabor Csupo and Paul Germain. Whenever adults are around, the Rugrats act like real babies, but when they're alone, they talk to each other in their own rather elevated vocabulary.
Quan began acting at 14 and has taped commercials, CD-ROM games and animated series. She loves the freedom of being just another voice on an audiotape. Casting directors often have no clue about her disability. (Only 650 of the more than 100,000 Screen Actors Guild members are disabled.)
It was a different story when she tried musical theatre. "A lot of people were worried about me walking around the stage, which was really no problem once I learned my way around."
Community theatre also was frustrating. She found herself "either playing somebody blind, somebody Asian or somebody blind and Asian," she remembers, laughing.
Her script usually arrives the day before her weekly trip to Los Angeles. She types it into Braille as her mother Lori reads it out loud, then memorizes it on her trip south.
"When I was just learning voiceover, learning to read Braille really quickly and really smoothly was a challenge," said Quan, "Unlike print, with Braille you have to read a letter at a time I guess with print you can see the whole word but I have to read as fast as you guys."