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The voice behind Pokémon's Ash Ketchum was only 18 when she landed the job: 'My goal was never to be a famous actor'

Sarah Natochenny has voiced Pokémon protagonist Ash Ketchum since 2006, when she was just 18 years old.
Sarah Natochenny

For many actors, landing a career-defining role is the culmination of years of hard work and grinding. For others, it's a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Sarah Natochenny was cast as the voice of Pokémon's Ash Ketchum in 2006 as an 18 year old, just a year after graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City.

It's a part that has spanned more than 750 episodes of the popular anime as well as 20 Pokémon movies.

Even after 17 years working on Pokémon, Natochenny calls the fact that she got the lead role in one of the biggest and most recognizable entertainment franchises in the world nothing short of "a miracle."

Though she always wanted to be an actor — she did scene study, theater and learned on-camera acting as a teenager — voiceover was never part of the plan. Her career aspirations were always modest.

My goal was never to be a famous actor. I wanted to be one of these character actors whose name you don't know but you see in everything.
Sarah Natochenny
Voice of Pokémon's Ash Ketchum

"My goal was never to be a famous actor," she tells CNBC Make It. "I wanted to be just a working class actor and support myself and always be working. I wanted to be one of these character actors whose name you don't know but you see in everything." 

Despite her having zero voice acting experience — save for one job narrating a video about medical equipment — Natochenny's agent got her an audition for Pokémon, which was in the midst of hiring a new cast for its upcoming ninth season.

Ash and Pikachu in 4Kids Entertainment's animated adventure 'Pokemon3'
Warner Bros. Pictures

The 18-year-old Natochenny was asked to match the voice performance of Veronica Taylor, who had voiced Ash for the first eight seasons of the show.

"I just got really lucky that I have this voice," Natochenny says. "It could have been so many other actors. I was a kid. I didn't know anybody in the voice acting world." 

"Voiceover was never something I'd studied," she adds. "They literally taught me how to dub at the audition."

Natochenny said she was "shocked" that she got the part, having grown up during the heyday of the show's popularity in the late '90s and early 2000's. Taking over the role was "incredibly overwhelming and scary" for her, and she felt pressure to perform.

"I was just like 'you need to do an amazing job. You have huge shoes to fill,'" she says.

As the years went on and she settled into the role and made it her own, Natochenny's thoughts shifted from "I've gotta keep this job" to "oh my goodness, I have a job for life."

Now 35, Natochenny is preparing for her time playing Ash to come to an end as the series moves on from its longtime protagonist. She recently moved from New York to Los Angeles and is pursuing more on-camera work in addition to her thriving career as a voice actor.

And though voice acting was never a part of the plan, Natochenny says her teenage self would have been happy to know how long Ash Ketchum would be a part of her life.

"I would have been so thrilled by that," she says. "Because that would mean that I achieved my goal of having a steady acting job through my whole life."

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