01 FebRaphael Sbarge: Jennifer Hale Q&A Part 2
Raphael Sbarge (Kaidan Alenko, Mass Effect) continues his discussion with Jennifer Hale (Commander Shepard, Mass Effect). Topics include her start in voice work, and how she approaches her characters. Second in a multi-part series; check out Part 1 if you missed it!
Raphael: So I’m sure everybody wants to know, I mean people who haven’t necessarily gone and researched you, but how did you find your way, as an actress, to doing games? Was that something that you were aiming toward?
Jennifer: You know, I came out here like all the rest of us, you know, pursuing the on-camera stuff. And it was going fine, but then I went, ‘You know what? I need to actually make a full living at this — and right away.’ And I’d done a bunch of voiceover back East, before I moved here, and so I …
Raphael: Was that in New York, or was that …?
Jennifer: No, actually it was in Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia.
Jennifer: Yeah. And I went in and made a tape, and got you know, SBV, my agents now – your agents … our agents – took me on, and within a month I booked my first cartoon series. Which was just crazy to me, ’cause I never even really watched cartoons as a kid. And then I had another one, and another one, and another one, and that ball just started rolling really fast.
And out of that first cartoon series, several years later came my first videogame, which belonged to that series, which was Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? And then more and more games came along, and I don’t know. The art form just suited me. It was intense, you know. It was high drama, it was battles and butt-kicking, adventure and action, which I love.
Raphael: That’s great.
Jennifer: My hobbies are like, rock climbing and riding horses and you know, being outside and going and traveling and doing stuff, so, yeah. Yeah.
Raphael: Wow. That makes you think of personal ads, of what people like.
Jennifer: Oh, right, isn’t that funny?
Raphael: Rock climbing … long walks on the beach…
Jennifer: “Enjoys saving the universe, rock climbing, riding horses, quiet nights at home.”
Raphael: Right. “Kicking Geth butt.” Right, yeah.
Jennifer: That’s right. “Shooting multiple legions of bad guys at once.”
Raphael: Yeah. And then, do you still sort of foray into – do you have time – to foray into essentially doing on-camera stuff as well?
Jennifer: I do, actually. Actually, I’m just starting to get back there now. Last several years, all I’ve done basically has just been, like, projects for friends – small little independent stuff here and there, because it’s all I’ve had time for. But I’ve kind of had a jones … to get out there again lately. And so I started doing that – I actually just worked on The Office last week. Ironically, it ended up being a voiceover, which is hilarious. But the beauty of that is, I auditioned for one thing, and then they gave me another on set, and I ended up doing both of the parts for them. Because it was voiceover – I could. And I’ve got, you know, I’m going in to read for something today. It’s fun. It’s really fun to get back into. I did a great reading of a screenplay last week. And, yeah.
Raphael: That’s really neat. So it’s sort of … the voice acting has sort of given you a base, and now you can keep just sort of exploring sort of everywhere else, I guess?
Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. Just getting out and having a good time. Yeah.
Raphael: That’s really cool. When you get — I mean, this is more, sort of process-oriented, and I guess I’m just sort of interested in this because I think about this as well, I mean everyone has their own way in, but: When you get a character, say, you get a call and, “Hey, can you lay this down for us? Wanna hear what you sound like.” And you get, essentially, the specs, that is kind of the outline of the character, and you read it, and then you look at maybe, sometimes they have a drawing, sometimes they don’t. How do you find your way in? What’s your way into finding the voice for that character?
Jennifer: You know, it’s all in the script. It’s all in the script. I’ll read; I’ll see how that person makes their way in the world. How they get what they want; what they’re not willing to do, what they are willing to do, what their boundaries are. How they present themselves. You know, it’s really just all in the script; I … you know and … let me think about this for a sec. Like, I don’t go in voice first. I look at the description. I will look at the description, just to see, because somewhere in that description, is someone’s dream of what that person would end up sounding like.
And quite often, there’s a reference there, and out of that reference, I sort of go, “OK. That’s the archetype they’re thinking of.” You know, it’s the action hero, it’s the doctor, it’s the scientist behind – the mind that solves all the problems, you know. Or it’s the person who’s constantly screwing up, you know. What is the archetype? And then, what’s the universal humanity inside that soul? Inside that person? Also, what are their restrictions? What are they not allow… how are they not allowed to sound? Like, there’s certain, I don’t know, we all had parents who were like, “Don’t do this, and don’t do that, and don’t sound like this, and don’t sound like that.” Well, what were theirs, you know? And what matters to them? And how hard are they willing to fight to get it, and when they do fight, what does that look like? For some people, fighting means crying: “I want that” – that’s how they fight for what they want.
Jennifer: But for some people, fighting means, “Just shoot it,” you know? I mean, I just did a game called Bulletstorm last year, that uses some of the craziest language that has ever come out of my mouth, because that’s how she was written. She gets what she wants by saying whatever the hell comes into her mind, and just barreling her way through stuff, you know. Shepard is, on the other hand, is more strategic, more … thinks about things. Like, for Shepard, one of the great structures that helped me define her was her military background. That’s a very specific, rigid, extremely defined boundary around a person. There’s things you do and don’t do. You do not get emotional, if you come from that background. That is not how you get what you want, you know?
Jennifer: Just sort of things like that. And then, it’s just a lot of instinct. It’s just a lot of instinct, because a lot of what we do is cold reading, I mean, you know? We don’t get to see these scripts ahead of time. You know, we have to walk in, and boom, it’s there, and you just jump in and follow your instincts and go. I ask a lot of questions, too.
Raphael: Of the writers, or the director who is there?
Jennifer: Whoever’s on the phone. Like, if I go to do something, the more obvious example is, you know, you get hit. Oh, Ok. Where? In the head? Sounds very different from the stomach, sounds very different from the arm or in the shoulder. And then, is it an electric bolt, jolt, is it a bullet, is it a blade of some kind, or an arrow? You know, what is it? Is it a machine that hits me, is it, like a Reaper throwing a mechanical arm at me? You know, what’s the visual thing, so I can best match that. And how far am I from my teammates I’m calling to for help? It’s all those specifics – I ask a million questions when I’m in there.
Raphael: God, that’s great. They must love you for that, because obviously, then you just provide that sort of higher level of specificity for what they’re drawing.
Jennifer: Yeah, well, otherwise, I mean people hear these sounds a million times in the game, and otherwise it just all sounds the same. And I can’t imagine how tedious that must be, you know? So I try to get as specific as I can, yeah.