Yuta Okkotsu vs. Geto Suguru in Jujutsu Kaisen 0.

Kayleigh McKee ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ Interview: ‘I Want Yuta To Be at Sukuna’s Downfall’

Voice actress Kayleigh McKee‘s Yuta Okkotsu has teased a greater prominence for himself in the Jujutsu Kaisen anime, and while he may be McKee’s most significant role at the moment, she’s more than just Yuta alone.

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At Anime Central 2024, she spoke on her personal experience of being a trans performer, her affinity for anime, and what’s next to come in her career.

*This interview contains spoilers for the Jujutsu Kaisen anime and manga.*

“I always knew I wanted to be a part of creating cartoons, video games, and anime. I’ve been [a fan of] them for as long as I can remember. I started playing Pokémon Red when I turned five. I was watching Pokémon and my dad got me into anime as well,” McKee said when looking back on her relationship with entertainment media. Outside of Pokémon being so heavily credited for her initial interest in popular culture, McKee grew up playing her father’s NES, and the two would watch Trigun together.

McKee has been transparent, open, and honest about her experience as a transgender person. As a trans woman, McKee was well aware that she would encounter struggles that were associated with her identity, yet was inspired to become a voice actress by other trans entertainers. “When I fully decided to transition, I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to act or pursue the arts or entertainment media. I went to school for both acting and illustration, so I have skills for both sides. I was worried about using my full range and if people would accept me.” McKee also said that she was anxious that acting would be too dysphoric of an experience for her. When one of her favorite musicians—Laura Jane Grace—came out as transgender, she inspired McKee to commit to acting. “She gave me the courage to pursue what I do today.”

The overlap between the arts and the LGBTQIA+ community is nothing new. Queer and trans individuals have claimed pockets of entertainment as their own, and have become more prominent with sharing their experiences with pop culture. “Being trans in the entertainment industry … there have been times where I feel like I’ve experienced a drawback and people have been weird about it. But, there have been times where people have been very interested in getting representation.”

She felt like the experience of being a trans person in the arts balances itself out: She claims that she’s not at a big disadvantage or advantage in relation to anyone else. McKee also reminds herself that every person has their own challenges and their own little self-proclaimed perks. “For some reason, I wasn’t cast as trans characters very often. I wanted to be! I wanted to play [cisgender] characters, obviously, but it was a part of ‘I don’t sound queer enough’ or something like that.”

McKee believes she was able to immerse herself in the industry at just the right time. She said that she broke into voice acting right when studios were looking to “bring in people like her” after noticing that trans people had been shut out for such a long time. “It wasn’t pity,” McKee said when doubling down on why there was such a surge in casting trans performers, but, “‘Oh, there’s talent here!’”

She elaborated on the importance of trans performers in the arts, and said that there’s been an ongoing recognition of a “specific type of talent” that studios haven’t had prior to casting those who identify as transgender. “Because studios moved past the point that [transgender people] are trans, it unlocked their ability to use trans people for the unique things that they can do.”

McKee knew that Jujutsu Kaisen was the anime that she’d been waiting for her entire life. “I’m a lifelong anime fan and I grew up loving Bleach. I liked heavy, dark movies like Akira. When I watched Jujutsu Kaisen Season 1, I loved the bright moments of it all. When Jujutsu Kaisen had the similar themes of Bleach and that darkness of Akira that Bleach didn’t have, I was immediately drawn in.” McKee said that “everything that [she] loves about anime” can be found in Jujutsu Kaisen.

She expounded on why she thought that Jujutsu Kaisen had become such an intensely beloved title: “You have your Narutos and you have your Bleaches, Jujutsu Kaisen has built-in market that Gege Akutami pointed toward when he wrote the manga. Then he did something interesting: he dug into his work intellectually and emotionally.” She believes it was the emotional hook that played such a significant role in the series’ success, and why Jujutsu Kaisen has amassed such an intensely passionate fanbase.

“I feel responsible for having to get Yuta right,” McKee said when reflecting on her earning the role of Yuta in Jujutsu Kaisen 0, who would then later play a greater role in the anime itself. “A lot of my voice cast members and I read the manga, and we bring in certain lines to make sure that we capture the authenticity of the characters.” She joked that “the fans will kill them” if the anime is not translated directly from the manga itself.

“I also feel like I’m thriving as Yuta. There’s something about knowing how popular a character is that you just put your whole self into a scene,” McKee said. “I feel like this drive to put my all into Yuta, and throw as much acting into him as possible. It’s not like other anime – I feel like there might as well be a camera on me [when I’m recording]. My relationship with Yuta is so developed and personal, I love him.”

When finding Yuta’s voice, McKee needed to adjust to when and where Yuta makes appearances in the anime: “After the movie, I knew that when Yuta came back, he’d be a year older. He’d be more confident, and he would sound different. I spent a while developing that voice by taking what Yuta was in Jujutsu Kaisen 0 and creating this new, grown character. When I recorded [my scenes for Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2], I went ‘oh yeah, I got this. I’m locking this in.’”

McKee feels a personal resonation with Yuta and loses herself in the character. When she’s speaking lines as Yuta, she said, “Kayleigh is gone. I am the body that is giving life to Yuta.” She doesn’t practice method work, nor does she pretend to be Yuta while recording, but fully commits to the world of Jujutsu Kaisen. “I really am feeling those feelings, and I’ve done that my whole life.”

She said she was exceptionally excited to film the last scene of Jujutsu Kaisen Season 2, especially because she knows what to expect once the anime heads into the depths of the next manga arcs. “When recording [my lines for Season 2], we had a stand-in director. He didn’t know about Jujutsu Kaisen, so he was without context. But I came in and knew all the layers of Yuta’s thoughts as he’s saying, ‘I will kill Yuji Itadori myself.’ I know all of his thoughts and his plans, and what’s going through his head.” McKee nodded to the slight anti-authoritarian mindset that Yuta takes on when he knows he’s proven himself as a Jujutsu Sorcerer.

“If I had to pick, the only thing that I want for Yuta, is that he is helping and part of the fight when Sukuna is finally killed. That’s all I want. I want him to be there, and be a part of it.” If she wasn’t to voice Yuta, McKee would cast herself as a character that isn’t in the anime yet. While she can’t outright name-drop character themself, McKee said she’s trying to voice a fan-theoried trans girl that’s in Jujutsu Kaisen. If the role doesn’t manifest, McKee believes she would “kill as Mahito.”

Outside of Jujutsu Kaisen, McKee can be heard as Margarette Macaron in Mashle; she also directs those who want to keep in touch to her YouTube channel, where she’ll be be uploading more voice work in the future.


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Author
Annie Banks
Annie Banks is a professional entertainment journalist from Chicago, Illinois. She holds degrees in journalism and marketing, and has been incredibly fortunate to watch her career path collide with her passions. Throughout her six years of entertainment journalism experience, Annie has fervently written about movies, television shows, anime, manga, K-Pop, comics and video games. To this day, she still proudly retains her title as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved Tomatometer critic.