Voice actor and gamer Laura Bailey talks with Maximus Groves about role playing and improv, voice acting for animation and video games, and her experiences as Fiona in Tales from the Borderlands and Spartan Vale in Halo 5: Guardians. You can see more from Laura in the role playing game web series Critical Role and TitansGrave.
Voice actress Laura Bailey was the most-cast woman in video games in 2014, with more than 30 projects in her credits, and she is taking 2015 by storm. An avid gamer herself, Laura was noticed by the geek culture YouTube channel, Geek and Sundry, and cast in two of their biggest online role-playing game (RPG) series. Geek and Sundry has integrated Laura not only in their online content but also as a panelist at conventions, including San Diego Comic-Con alongside co-founder Felicia Day and content creator, and geek culture icon, Wil Wheaton.
As a player of Dungeons & Dragons Laura was the perfect fit to join Geek & Sundry in their series “Table Top.” She taped one episode and shortly after was personally chosen by Wil Wheaton for his new original RPG series “Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana.” The 10 episode series launched on June 9, with Wil leading four celebrity role players each week through the adventure. Each episode receives more than 200,000 views with a loyal international fan following. Laura is also involved in Geek and Sundry’s Thursday night live stream show “Critical Role” which has a Live viewership of 8,000-10,000, plus a sizable audience that watches once the episodes are posted online. “Critical Role” is a different challenge for Laura as the voice actors stay in character throughout the entire live show, in front of the camera, to bring the series to life.
Best known for her work in fan-favorite video games like World of Warcraft (Jaina Proudmoore), Street Fighter (Chun Li), and Final Fantasy XIII & XIII-2 (Serah) Laura continues to be cast in leading roles, performing both voice and motion capture, in some of the biggest video games released each year. Additionally, you can see her as ‘Dagna’ and ‘Bianca’ in Bioware’s Dragonage Inquisition, ‘The Boss’ in Volition’s Saints Row the Third and Saints Row IV, and ‘Fetch’ in Sony’s Infamous Second Son and Infamous First Light, to name a few.
The versatility and range of Laura’s voice acting skills led her to be cast in the world of superheroes in animated television and film including ‘Black Widow’ on Marvel’s “Avengers Assemble”, ‘Cheetah’ in BATMAN UNLIMITED: ANIMAL INSTINCTS (which released the first of 3 films in May 2015), and ‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Wonder Woman’ in LEGO BATMAN: THE MOVIE – DC SUPER HEROES UNITE.[1:15] MG: I have a group myself, but that one is weird because everyone in it is a heavy metal musician… that one has a weird aggressive twist to the plot lines. [1:45] MG: It’s so rough trying to make a place in media and then falling behind on all the amazing cool shit out there. [2:15] LB: Let’s be honest, (voice acting) can be hard but it still is a freaking blast to do, even when it’s difficult.
MG: So you’re having a giant play time and reaping the rewards?
LB: I’m pretty much behaving like a giant 5 year old and for some reason people let me keep doing it
MG: Lots of my friends do that but it causes lots of self destruction and little vortexes of despair they get into… It’s finding that perfect application of 5 year old spirit that can really make a job. [3:45] LB: While I was in school, I was doing a play, and one of the guys in the play with me was doing voices for Dragonball Z, so he asked if I would come and audition. [4:08] LB: It wasn’t until I came out to California, 8 years ago, that I realized what I wanted to do was solely voice acting. [4:45] LB: Voice acting feels very happy to me. I was getting-I don’t want to say down on myself-but it was a struggle to do on camera work because you’re constantly judging yourself in a way that you don’t when you’re in front of a mic. [5:10] LB: You can’t look the way you want to because you need to be marketable, so it can be a grind. I mean love it, don’t get me wrong, that’s the shitty part, I love acting on camera still, and getting to play dress up and becoming fully another character, that’s a wonderful thing. [5:30] LB: In voice acting you can be anything, you don’t get pigeonholed into what you look like. [6:10] MG: So many American shows, it seems like they’re finding the weirdest person they can find, putting them in a room, and building a plot around whatever they did.
LB: It’s actually very true. One of my very good friends, Sam Riegel on Critical Role with me, is a huge director… when auditioning he was like “Just so you know, be really weird. Don’t sound polished… If the read seems odd to you probably go with that one.” [6:55] LB: That’s the direction that a lot of animation is going, they’ll get a lot of people that were stand up comedians or something that don’t have the vocal training that a lot of people that are working on video games do, and it’s wonderful to listen to but it definitely makes us all have to retrain ourselves to be what they’re looking for right now. [7:15] MG: Stand up is so weird, because it feels like you’re highly rewarded for doubling-down on personality dysfunction.
LB: Yes, it’s actually kind of amazing how many people came from that into voice acting, I don’t know why that translates so well… I think universally all actors are kind of jacked up in the head, so it makes sense we’d all find our way into this together.
MG: So that the people who can really apply that in the right way can turn that into the career of being a five year old.
MG: DA-DaDAAAA! [8:15] LB: I was a huge fan of video games growing up, my dad was a computer engineer and started us down that path early on. I had every game system growing up that I could get my hands on. [9:15] MG: I always feel like anime has this oneupmanship about how much they can unravel reality.
LB: And so many end in this ethereal, existential way… I always wonder about that, I’ve worked on a few shows and thought, really? that’s how you ended that? [9:45] MG: You never do know how good a show’s going to be right?
LB: Never! [10:14] LB: With Tales from the Borderlands, we didn’t realize it was going to be so good…. It seemed like Telltale didn’t realize at the time how good it was going to be. [10:47] MG: I remember playing the first episode, and it seemed like the most charming thing I’d experienced in gaming. [11:00] MG: Especially the subjective storytelling, where he gives his personal take of this amazing thing that happened and then watching from another pair of eyes.
LB: And it’s like, “That is not at all how it happened. Bro brobro bro brobrobro.” [11:44] MG: Is it more exciting to see such a huge commitment to storytelling over action?
LB: As an actor, it’s so much fun to do the narrative that I think I’m a little biased.
MG: Did you grow up playing quake and you’re like “we need more shit to blow up” or something?
LB: I know, right! I go in and record something like Street Fighter and I’ll have one session for four hours and it’s all done… I still love those characters, but it’s harder to become attached to them than someone like Fiona because I have watched that entire arc that she’s been through and experienced it. [13:25] MG: I think Telltale is doing an amazing job with everything they’ve done.
LB: They really are, I’ve been so impressed, and so amazed at how open they are to our performances and letting the scenes grow organically as we’re recording them, it’s a really interesting process. [13:50] LB: It’s rare that you get to have a lot of input in a video game, just because so much else is going on other than just the dialog. we are coming in often times as the final touch to be added to the painting, so nothing can really be changed with the dialog because it will screw up the other elements. But with Telltale they often record some and then work on the level and record some more, so it grows back and forth between the two processes. [15:07] MG: Putting back the soul into the machine, in our new media where robots have taken over every part…
LB: Well that’s coming soon
MG: Where you’ll get iconic faces and superimpose them on everyone else s bodies?
LB: Soon I’m just going to record a voice-bank of noises so they can just create my performance in a game and they don’t even need me in the session.
MG: It’s going to be a little tough to programmatically add teenage angst to a recording of normal vocabulary.
LB: This is true, it will have to be a very large voice bank. [17:45] LB: I played RPGs in video games but I never played them on table top. Then it wasn’t until 3 years ago that Liam O’Brien asked, he didn’t even ask me, that jerk, he asked my husband to play a one-off game of Dungeons and Dragons with Matt Mercer at the helm for his and Sam Riegel’s podcast. And Travis agreed to it and I heard about it and was like “WHAT?! I’m the one who likes this kind of stuff! You like football! How are YOU invited!” So we all got together and played a one-off game and it was so much fun that I am so bummed I didn’t find it earlier in life. [18:48] LB: Luckily Matt Mercer is such an improv heavy DM, his mind, I don’t even understand how it works as fast as it does ’cause he can just fly with anything we throw out. [20:05] LB: Normally I go for the sneaky, stealthy, hide-in-shadows, attack from behind kind of people… my first inclination is to go for the mage because I like to stand at a distance and do a lot of damage. I was playing Skyrim as a mage and restarted as a ranged, rogue-y character with a little bit of magic, and I preferred that so much more… It made sense that that’s what I went with when we started our d&d game. Originally I wanted to be a rogue but Liam took that, so I said screw it I’ll be a ranger.
MG: That almost reminds me of Rothfuss’ magic in Kingkiller Chronicles.
LB: YES! [21:50] LB: Those books are so good!
MG: Yea, they really are, though I thought it was wildly convenient that he goes instantaneously from really awkward, non-suave dork character…
LB: Instantaneously to the most charming guy…
MG: Precisely, he’s lured into the fairy kingdom and tricks her into letting him go after he becomes this sex god in the process.
LB: In Kvothe’s defense, I felt like he was pretty damned charming at the University. [22:50] MG: I did see that Rothfuss had a tweet recently with 10 different pronunciations of Kvothe with #nowiamjustfuckingwithyou. [23:05] MG: And now he’s doing 10 other projects instead of book three?
LB: I know he’s working on it, I did talk to him at Comic-Con… I do know that he is committed to it.
MG: I trust that he is, I’m just being one of those unruly fans who can only demand more, have no sense of humanity…
LB: Hell, I’ve been that way with George RR Martin for 12 years.
LB: Wow, your game man, your game. [30:35] MG: How big is the spectatorship for role playing?
LB: It’s crazy, we did not expect anybody would want to watch, and it keeps growing every week. [32:30] LB: It’s actually an amazing chat room, an amazing group of people who watch the show, they call themselves the Critters. They are the nicest fans I think I’ve ever come across. So many of them have started playing D&D because of the show. [33:00] MG: I remember the first time playing (D&D), it was almost like this thing covering a portion of my brain that has been ignored forever, and pulling the dust off as you find this old treasure from your family’s past, and you’re like whoa.
LB: I remember how to do this, it’s all the stuff you did as a child, that you didn’t have any filter for, you just went and played pretend, and all of a sudden it makes sense again, and it’s so freeing, and it’s so happy.
MG: And the more you do to take barriers out of the way of that connection, suddenly your entire life is improved everywhere.
LB: Yes! [33:38] LB: It’s funny, so many people around me have that same mindset now, and want to become involved in it. Every once in a while I’ll run into a voice actor and they’ll be like “Really? Dungeons and Dragons? Isn’t that a little lame?” Oh, brother you have no idea!
MG: You don’t understand! If you’re not playing D&D you’re not keeping up with the craft, bro!
LB: Exactly! All the cool kids pee their pants!
MG: Haha! Exactly. That was so funny I forgot what my next question was. [34:30] MG: Have you seen the music video for Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf?
LB: Yes, yes I have.
MG: Well, someone wrote a campaign for Rob Cantor’s narration of being chased by Shia LaBeouf.
LB: No way.
MG: And your skills are jujitsu, and if you don’t do an awareness check you get caught in a bear trap. However, you can find a brown paper bag in which to capture Shia LaBeouf.
LB: I feel like that needs to be printed out and framed. [35:13] MG: Some people like to connect fictional worlds into one universe of weirdness. Shia LaBeouf is doing that for reality.
LB: Right? Just Do It!
MG: I can’t tell you how many friends I’ve shown that to as actual life advice.
LB: He’s next level. [37:05] MG: That would be funny, an adventure through Freudian psychological barriers in your own mind, and when you find your inner child you actually get the Zelda chest opening sound.
LB: Somebody needs to make that game!
MG: And it could be a conflict of Freudian and Jungian structures maybe.
LB: Yea, like an indie platformer.
MG: Totally. See this is what I do, I invite working professionals in creative fields to come by and say “Hey are my ideas any good?” That’s every episode.
LB: That’s a great…um…That’s a good, what is the word I’m looking for.
MG: Coping mechanism?
LB: Yes, let’s go with that. [40:15] LB: I’ve been doing (motion capture) for 4 or 5 years now, and it’s amazing to see how much the technology has grown. It’s constantly evolving. [40:40] LB: Mocap is this weird mix between movies, stage, and voice over… I was just helping out in casting this project, and a lot of people, maybe they moved well, but their voice wasn’t right for the project. [43:25] LB: It’s my face in Halo, they did the whole scan in thing, which is really neat, but sometimes it looks just like me and sometimes it doesn’t because they can change features… Now I know what I look like in pink hair, and I am DOWN for it! [44:30] LB: That’s always one of the things that I spend so much time in in games, creating the look of my character.
MG: Yea, the paper doll screen. [44:40] MG: Just a warning, the next 20 seconds (44:48-45:08) contain a very small spoiler for the very start of Metal Gear Solid V. You have been warned. [45:08] MG: My friend said he put 60 hours into Metal Gear Solid V and is only 30% of the way through. And if I was 13 I would admire that, now it’s like, listen, I can commit at most 10 to a new project, but holy shit!
LB: See, I love long games. Dragon Age, Skyrim, anything that takes far too long. When it ends I’m so disappointed. [46:33] MG: I let a few take over, and those few weeks of life are miserable trying to keep everything together while the entire night is spent on the game, but as soon as that’s done, that relapse is over, now we’re back into normal life.
LB: Back into adulting.
MG: That was definitely Mass Effect 3 for me, I don’t think I slept at all that week.
LB: I know, you go back into that college mindset where you think can stay up until 3am and still go into work at 6. [47:28] MG: Is it hard talking to fans sometimes?
LB: Well, the only time I feel that it’s hard is if it’s something they’re super super invested in that I don’t have as much knowledge about that they do. [48:22] LB: For the most part I’m just happy that people are enjoying what I do and that I get to do what I do, I think it’s a pretty wonderful thing. [54:33] MG: Do you ever play online with others?
LB: I do, I play Elder Scrolls Online, but I don’t ever tell anybody who I am.
MG: Are there games where you run into your own voice?
MG: Is that weird?
LB: Yes. [54:53] LB: It’s weird but I’ve also learned to separate myself from it so it doesn’t get so jarring anymore.
MG: Do other players pick up on it?
LB: No, because the headsets change your voice just enough. A lot of times when I’m playing, people think I sound like a little boy. [55:28] LB: People just assume if you’re online you’re not a 35 year old chick, you’d automatically go with a 10 year old boy.
MG: On the internet, nobody knows you’re a cat.
LB: Haha, meow.
MG: You’re never weird on the internet.
LB: Ah! Thanks Felicia! [55:58] MG: Alright Laura, we’ve had enough Return of the King goodbyes I guess.
LB: Alright, haha, what a perfect reference.
MG: Like I said, it’s been awesome, until next time Laura.
LB: It’s been so much fun, thank you so much. Bye!
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