People | 20 QUESTIONS

Donna Burke: 'Being a late bloomer is way better than peaking and burning out early in life'

Staff Writer

Name: Donna Burke
Age: 50
Nationality: Australian
Occupation: Singer, voice actor, Tokyo Comedy store improvisor, business owner
Likes: Cats
Dislikes: People who don’t like cats


1. What first brought you to Japan? The chance to be a full-time singer and actor.

2. What’s keeping you here? I love Tokyo, the energy, people and the mountains nearby where I go to relax and recharge in our cabin in Minakami. There is no snow in Perth, Western Australia, and now I love skiing.

3. Who in Japan do you most admire? I admire parents who work, cook meals, clean up, plant gardens and care for pets without complaining or falling asleep at work. They are legends and superheroes who inspire me when I think I work too hard. I just think how exhausted I’d be if I was a parent. All you tired parents out there: you’re an inspiration!

5. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Ōhayō gozaimasu (good morning). I feel like a real J-hipster when I arrive at a studio saying ōhayō! It signifies that (a) I’m in the music biz, baby, and (b) you know that I know I’m in the music biz!

6. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? Sing the Australian national anthem in front of 50,000 people — always an immense thrill.

7. How do you typically celebrate the holiday season? A big party in Tokyo at my home with turkey and roast spuds — 40 people including some family from Australia (with three brothers and three sisters and 13 nieces and nephews there is a waiting list at Christmas) followed by two weeks at the cabin, skiing. Bliss!

8. What is your favorite memory of the holiday season? Being allowed to drink a fizzy drink as a child, ice-cream cake, going for a swim in the pool after roast chicken, paper party hats and pretending to be grateful for my few presents — namely, an ABBA shirt three years after they were hip.

9. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? Can you use a half-British and half-American accent, please? I just used a posh Australian accent channeling Nicole (Kidman), Cate (Blanchett) and co.

10. If you could sing a duet with anyone from history, who would it be? Celine Dion. She is a dag like me. She looks totally comfortable on stage so she wouldn’t make me nervous and she seems generous and fun so she wouldn’t be too deferential or hog the limelight. She’d be perfect! It’d be fun! Hey, Celine! Let’s your people talk to my people!

11. What song best describes your work ethic? “Happy” (by Pharrell Williams). I’m blessed to be doing what I love, getting paid to sing and use my voice. It beats being a checkout chick, a waitress, a bank teller (all my previous gigs!) and I am grateful every day for my work.

12. What is your favorite song to belt out at karaoke? “Freedom” by George Michael. It’s catchy, friends can harmonize along with it … and … OK, I admit it — it’s six minutes long!

13. In your experience as a voice actor, what is the most difficult word to pronounce clearly? “Iron” when I’m using an American accent. My co-workers at NHK would give you a longer list, as they regularly hear me butcher Chinese names live on NHK news (7 and 9 subchannels).

14. Which character would you have loved to have provided the voice for in a film or TV series? I’m expecting to be asked to be in a movie connected to a game in the future — kind of like how Kiefer Sutherland has crossed over from movies to games. I’m expecting that to happen to me.

15. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? Take it to a refrigerated warehouse.

16. Name three uses of a stapler without staples. An earring, weapon, fly swat.

17. What do you think about while standing on the train? I should’ve driven my car. Why oh WHY does he not see his trousers are too short? … Wow, someone is reading an actual book! Is that person a man or a woman? Where AM I? Oh, it’s two more stops — I wish I’d driven dammit.

18. Tell us a quick joke. Why do elephants have big ears? Noddy wouldn’t pay the ransom.

19. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? The tiger. Tigers seem to have more to prove so they would put more skin into it.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Read lots of biographies and autobiographies. Don’t visit fortune tellers; write your own fortune. Look after your teeth — they can’t grow back. Early success is overrated — being a late bloomer is way better than peaking and burning out early in life.