Putting A Name To The Voice: An Interview With Laura Bailey

As the world of videogames grows ever larger and technology continues to foster the growth of the animation industry, the demand for talented voice actors is higher than ever. CGM recently had a chance to chat with one of the more prolific VAs in the gaming world, Laura Bailey. From Streetfighter’s Chun-Li and Borderlands’ Fiona, to the upcoming Spartan, Olympia Vale, Bailey is a ubiquitous element in nerd media these days. CGM sat down with her to talk about her roles in gaming and animation, why she chose voice acting, and her upcoming projects.

Comics & Gaming Magazine: I hate to start the interview with such a generic question, but why voice acting?

Laura Bailey: When I wanted to be a television and film actor, it was only because that’s what I had been exposed to the most; that’s what I thought acting was. It wasn’t until I started voice acting that I realized just how massive this industry is and how much opportunity there is within it. It’s nice to get to play any part that you can imagine, with on camera stuff you’re stuck being what you look like. With voice acting, I can play parts I’d never dream of being able to do on screen.

Olympia-Vale-Baily
Olympia Vale - Voiced By: Laura Bailey

CGM: What’s an average workday like for you?

LB: I usually have a couple sessions a day, with most sessions running from 9-1 and then 2-6. It’s one studio in the morning and another in the evening. If we’re shooting mocap stuff, that starts much earlier, as I have to get my makeup done—and by that, I mean all the little markers put on your face, and then you film for the whole day in a fabulous spandex outfit. There’s something wonderful about creating a character from the ground up, and so many games that are now doing mocap are opening the doors early on in the project. When I worked on Infamous: Second Son for Sucker Punch, they were great in terms of availability early on. They brought us up to Seattle to talk to them and talk about what the characters were going to be and how they were going to evolve, and they really helped us form who they would be. When you film mocap, you can create those mannerisms; it becomes a full embodiment of a character as opposed to just doing the voice.

CGM: How much input do you have when it comes to creating a character? Are you constrained a lot by the studios or are you free to improvise?

LB: It depends on the project; a lot of studios are really open and they’ll say right from the get go, “What do you see this character as, what do you want to do with it?” But there’s other ones that tell you “this is what the character is and this is what we want them to sound like,” and that’s fine too.

Bianca Davri - Dragon Age™: Inquisition
Bianca Davri - Dragon Age™: Inquisition

CGM: So a game like Dragon Age compared to Halo, for instance…

LB: Actually, both of those were pretty set with what they wanted. The only reason DA doesn’t improvise is because so much of those conversations are dependent on certain words within the sentence. If you change the dialogue at all, it can affect the entire conversation, which would be way too complicated. So it’s best to just stick to the lines in those kinds of games. With Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands, we do get to play with the words a lot more, but they have a different process at Telltale that’s a lot looser than the other studios I’ve worked for. They’re really open to changing things on-the-fly because they know they’re going to get the other actors in pretty soon.

CGM: Are you usually by yourself, or do you often get to record as a group with the other VAs?

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LB: With animation, you’re usually in a room with the other people. With Avenger’s Assemble, we record as a group every other week. It’s playtime when you get to record with a bunch of other people because VAs as a whole are goofy as hell. Everybody’s got a hundred voices in their head talking all the time and so if everyone is in a booth together it’s just mayhem, which is wonderful. The gaming process is usually different, just me in a booth by myself. I do feel it’s changing a bit though. Within the last couple of years, I’ve seen a lot more videogames bringing in actors as a group, because even for something simple like a phone conversation, it plays better if you have that natural banter. It’s always going to sound more natural if you’re making eye contact with the person you’re talking to.

Fiona - Tales from the Borderlands
Fiona - Tales from the Borderlands

CGM: Last year there was quite a bit of discussion surrounding female representation in videogames. Is this a big factor in the roles you choose? Is it on your mind?

LB: It’s always on my mind, but I feel like it’s changing. I really feel like more of the roles I’m seeing come down the pipe are grounded, well thought out, and three-dimensional characters. It’s becoming more and more normal just to see people, whether male or female, and that’s a beautiful thing.

CGM: You’ve recently started doing a live action Dungeons & Dragons playthrough called Critical Role and it looks like a blast. Is it difficult to maintain that character for three or four hours at a time while on camera?

LB: What’s great about that group is that it’s totally acceptable if you laugh about it. So it never feels difficult or not fun. Before the stream, Liam Obrien asked a group of us if we would get together and play just one game of D&D, and we all had so much fun we just kept playing. We’d get together once every couple months and just play all day, like 8-12 hour games. Then we got the call from Geek and Sundry who asked if we’d like to bring the show to their Twitch stream. We were really cautious about it; we didn’t know if it would change the feel of the game. Matt, our DM, said at the beginning that if it feels different or it’s not fun anymore I don’t want to do it. What’s amazing is how it really doesn’t feel any different than it did when we were at the house, there just happen to be cameras watching. And the community is just amazing; I’ve never felt so welcomed into a group of people before, I’m so glad people are responding well to it.

Serah Farron - Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII
Serah Farron - Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII

CGM: Let’s talk about Olympia Vale. You’re voicing a character in Halo 5, one of the biggest franchises in gaming history and a game that millions of people will be playing on day one. Is that intimidating?

LB: Oh, it’s incredibly intimidating. The minute I realized that I was going to be a Spartan, I geeked out so hard. I went up to Seattle and they actually sat me down for a few hours and scanned in my face, and while it’s a bit altered, it’s still basically my face on Spartan Vale which is so, so crazy.

CGM: You’ll actually be able to get an action figure of yourself as a Spartan.

LB: It’s the coolest thing ever; my entire house will be filled with them! I’m incredibly excited about it. Although, any time you’re coming in on a franchise that well established, it’s intimidating. Even auditioning for Chun-Li on Street Fighter I was really nervous; it’s been around forever!

CGM: It was lovely talking to you Laura and we wish you the best of luck.

LB: Awesome! Thank you so much. Bye!