On the Watch with Cissy Jones

With the release of Firewatch today, we got the chance to speak with the gal on the other end of Henry’s walkie-talkie, Delilah, played by Cissy Jones. She’s an extremely talented voice actor who’s been carving out a name for herself within video games. You might recognize her as Katjaa, from the Walking Dead.

CGM: What’s your favourite role?

Cissy Jones: Well Delilah, from Firewatch. It’s just been so much fun to be able to play the same character for about two years. It was really nice to able to come back to her and to know the banter and the fun and the jokes even the mystery and the suspense and all that stuff. To know how it’s going to flow.

CGM: Delilah, she’s on the other end of Henry’s walkie-talkie right?

CJ: Yeah, she’s Henry’s supervisor and pretty much his only contact throughout the game via walkie-talkie.

firewatch insert 1CGM: What were the challenges for recording Firewatch?

CJ: There really weren’t many challenges. Sean Vanaman, who wrote the game, really wanted it to flow as a natural conversation as much as possible. So he had Rich Summer, who plays Henry, and I, record from our home studios at the same time and we conference called in and got to record together. Which is so rare in video games. So when it sounds like we’re having conversations and playing off one another, we actually were. It was really nice.

CGM: It’s a shame that’s a rarity then.

CJ: I know, usually you record by yourself, four hours at a time and they record somebody else four hours at a time then they mash it together at the end and hope that it sounds conversational. Sometimes it hits the mark and sometimes it really misses. So it was nice to know that we didn’t take that gamble on Firewatch, Sean was really smart about that.

CGM: How long are your typical recordings? Firewatch ran for 2 years, but they’re not typically that long right?

CJ: Normally, for a big title, unless you’re the lead character, it’s one session, four hours, one and done. That’s what it was for me with Halo 5, I think I did two sessions for Fallout 4, Life Is Strange was a little different cause it was episodic. I would go in every couple of months or so for a couple of four-hour sessions.

It runs the gamut, it just kind of depends on if it’s episodic, if you are a main character or just background chatter, how character driven the story is. Something I did for a game that’s not yet out, so I can’t say the name of it, but I’m a playable character and it’s just a bunch of growling and grunting and screaming. Even though you can play as my character, it was one four-hour session.

firewatch insert 2CGM: I’ve watched a bunch of promotional footage and it’s just the most natural conversation I’ve heard from a game.

CJ: Thank you, I appreciate that, I know Sean will appreciate that. It was a real big point he wanted to make sure it sounded as natural as possible.

CGM: So, when you worked on Firewatch you only had to play one character, but when you were in the Walking Dead you had to voice several. How do you approach multiple characters and making sure you sound different enough from each one?

CJ: It’s always a concern; you want to make sure your characters different enough so that no one goes, “Wait a second, that’s Katjaa with a southern accent!”

For me, it’s all about character development, making sure you know which character is who, where they come from, what their dreams are, what their fears are and things like that. So when I see the character comes up in session I can just kind of flip back into their shoes, if that makes sense.

Like, Katjaa is a very different character than Joleen and knowing what motivates each one of them really defines the character more than the voice, I think.

firewatch insert 3CGM: Now with a game like Firewatch and the Walking Dead, do dialogue choices affect how you record?

CJ: Yeah, absolutely. In the Walking Dead, for example, there are several different ways we can respond to a character which in turn will have, whatever character I’m playing, respond differently to him. If he’s kind, I might have a kind response, if he’s a jerk, then I might be a little more on edge.

It’s the same with Delilah in Firewatch. Henry can choose to be really chummy with her and she’ll open up to him and you get to know more about her. Or he can be stoic, standoffish and kind of a jerk and so she can be stoic, standoffish and kind of a jerk to him. So it’s all dependent on character choice which I think is so much fun.

CGM: Do you prefer doing the mocap acting or do you prefer just being in your booth?

CJ: I love the comfort of my booth and I’m kind of a goof ball, so sometimes I do stupid things while I’m recording a character and I love being able to do that for me and not necessarily to have a director go, “That was stupid, what were you thinking?”

I really love the comfort of my booth. Mocap is so much fun and is such a different beast and somebody like Andy Serkis, who does it so effortlessly, is really impressive and hopefully someday I’ll be there, but for now I love being in a booth.

firewatch insert 4CGM: Is it surreal at all to hear yourself as you watch them?

CJ: It is a little bit. The first time I saw myself, er, heard myself in a game, it was really, really weird. Now it’s kind of fun to be able to watch it and see how it has come together as a complete piece. Cause I’ll do a recording session and sometimes we record 15 different scenes and I’ll never know how it’s going to come together, so to actually see it how they put it in this video game movie, if you will, it’s really kind of cool.

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Sometimes it takes me out of the experience but I’m getting to the point now where I can see it and appreciate it for what it is instead of being like, “Oh my god that’s me!”

CGM: So what’s your dream role? Even if someone’s playing it right now.

CJ: It doesn’t get much better than Delilah. It really doesn’t and I’m not just saying that because this is a Firewatch interview. You know, Sean approached me three years ago and said, “I’m writing a video game with a female protagonist, are you in?” And I said, “Hell yes.” He didn’t even know what it was going to be, it wasn’t Firewatch at that point, it was just, I want a female lead, you’re it, are you in? So in a lot of ways he wrote the role with me in mind. It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s been so much fun and to have it be this ongoing experience, you know we recorded for two years and to get to work with Rich Sommer, who’s just a tremendous actor and to see the anticipation for it as it’s leading up to release day, it feels like I’m walking through a dream right now, it’s really cool.

CGM: So what did you bring to Delilah? I know Sean wrote her with you in mind, but was there anything you brought to her?

CJ: Yeah, I’m a dork, I’m a total dork and I think Sean was able to capitalize on my dorkiness and write her to be just a goof ball. I like to have fun, I like to laugh with my friends and kick back with a glass of scotch and I think I brought that to her and him knowing me, at least he said as much it made it a little easier to write her knowing that it would be my voice that would be coming out of the walkie-talkie.

firewatch insert 5CGM: Do we ever get to see Delilah?

CJ: No, well…. No. But I think that’s part of the genius of it. I think so often when you’re introduced to a character, how they look immediately defines how you feel about them. I love that with Delilah, you don’t get that snap judgment, you have to decide honestly as playing Henry, how you want your relationship with her to be, how do you want it to unfold? Do you just want it to be a supervisor/employee relationship? Do you want a friend out of her or are you looking for maybe more? I think not getting to see her gives you so much more choice.

CGM: Were you given a concept art to work off of or was this all just Cissy?

CJ: They sent me Olly Moss’ paintings and they said, “this is the game” and I was like, “yup, got it.” But in terms of character art for Delilah, no. They sent me a drawing of a tower in the trees and wilderness and that was kind of all I needed.

I grew up in Idaho where that kind of forestry and imagery was my backyard, before I moved to Los Angeles. So it was easy for me to find that groundedness in her.

CGM: So what was it like getting into voice acting in the first place?

CJ: I always like to say I felt like Ed Norton in the beginning of Fight Club before I found voice over work. I had a nine to five… er, nine to nine in Silicon Valley and I was just working myself to the bone and every time my alarm clock went off it was that kind of, noooo!

I was getting ready for work one morning and I heard Nancy Cartwright, who’s the voice of Bart Simpson, talking about voiceover and how much fun it was and the Bay Area, where I lived at the time. Saying that, you guys are so lucky because it has some of the best schools in the country here and I got on the phone that day and started taking classes and really learning acting. I met a ton of people, talking to agents and talking to directors and other talents and a really phenomenal group of people who supported me and bolstered me up and helped me find the confidence to really make the jump.

I got an agent in Los Angeles and my husband and I said screw it, let’s move. So we moved from the Bay down to LA and it has been the best career decision of my life, it’s been so much fun.

firewatch insert 6CGM: Now I’ve noticed on your IMDB that you’ve had some television appearances, what are some of the differences for you when you go in to act in front of a camera instead of in a booth?

CJ: Well, those roles are actually voiceover. Even though they are television shows, it was just a VO line. I think for Good Luck Charlie I was a telephone operator and there’s a documentary out called Winter on Fire and I’m a narrator. It’s more a talking to time, recording to time, making sure that whatever I say fits in the allotted seconds that I have, but it’s still fun. It’s really cool to see my name pop up in the credits on TV, can’t complain about that.

CGM: Was there anything else you’d like to add?

CJ: I’m really so excited for this game to come out and if your readers play it and want to shout out to me on Twitter I’m @CissySpeaks and I’d love to hear what people think. I’m so excited for people to get there hands on this game and I’d really truly love to hear what people think.

Be sure to check out Firewatch, it’s out on PC, Mac, Linux and PS4 today and be sure to tell Cissy what you think!