Interview

Justice Rains From Above: An Interview with Overwatch Voice Actress Jen Cohn

“It’s so nice to be here but you’ve got the wrong Jen Cohn”

By Alex Handziuk
Published March 14, 2019
Justice Rains From Above: An Interview with Overwatch Voice Actress Jen Cohn

Jen Cohn has always wanted to be an actress. From her earliest days, she was the kid who would write plays for all her neighbours and perform them in her living room. Now, she has become one of the most celebrated voice actresses in the business, helping bring characters to life from properties including World of Warcraft, Avatar the Last Airbender, Star Wars the Old Republic and of course Overwatch

CGMagazine’s Alex Handziuk had the pleasure of talking to Jen prior to this weekend’s Toronto Comicon, about her experience voicing Pharah in Overwatch, the various wacky acting jobs she’s had, and perhaps most importantly, where she gets her fantastic sense of style from. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Have you ever been to Toronto before?

Jen Cohn: The last time I was in Toronto was so many years ago and I went because I had a kind of boyfriend and he was from Forest Hill and I had to go to an event with him. I remember it was a big deal and I was so excited to go up to Toronto to go see him. This was many, many years ago and I’m so excited that I got an excuse to come back. 

CGMagazine: How was the process of landing the role of Pharah in Overwatch.

Jen Cohn: By the time I auditioned for it, I already had a very healthy voiceover career. I’d been doing video games like Star Wars the Old Republic and animation stuff like Avatar the Last Airbender, along with some commercials. I had also already done some voices for World of Warcraft back in the day for Andrea Toyias, who is the voice director from Blizzard. She sent the audition to my agent for Pharah and all I knew about the character was that she was an aggressive, offence player, who was Middle Eastern. Since it was a first-person shooter I immediately assumed she was a villain. So I sent in this villainous audition and the audition wasn’t for Overwatch it was for something called Prometheus, which was the code name that Blizzard used while the game was in development.  

And the way it works in voiceover is you have auditions all day, so you do things and you send it out and you promptly forget about it. So I promptly forgot about it and six months later, my agents called me and said that I booked a character named Pharah for a game called Overwatch and I have a session on my birthday. But I told my agent that I didn’t audition for Overwatch and that they made a mistake, that there must be another Jen Cohn who booked this. My agent was insistent and I didn’t think it was for me but I showed up at the session anyway. Once I was there I was talking to Michael Chu, Jeff Kaplan and Andrea Toyias and I said, “look, guys, it’s so nice to be here but you’ve got the wrong Jen Cohn,  I never auditioned for this role.” And then they played the villain Pharah audition that I sent in and I said, “oh wow that is me!” They said that they loved my audition but that Pharah wasn’t a villain. Instead, they told me to think of her as being the Captain America of the game and that was very exciting for me. So that was the day that we first started finding the voice. 

Justice Reigns From Above: An Interview with Overwatch Voice Actress Jen Cohn
Image Courtesy of Blizzard Press.

CGMagazine: What was your first paid role as an actor?

Jen Cohn: I had two that happened around the same time when I was in college. My parents didn’t let me be one of those kids who went out and auditioned for commercials and stuff. They thought it would be too weird for me to do that and they thought that child actors start with a disadvantage. They just didn’t want to do that. But when I was in college, I got cast in a film, and I still can’t believe it happened and that they paid me for it. It was all in Spanish and I don’t speak any Spanish but I have an excellent Spanish accent. And the film was a health and safety one and I had to speak in Spanish and pretend that I was Spanish for it. The fact that they cast me in it means they must have been desperate and that the people who were auditioning for them must have been really terrible. For them to get this non-Spanish speaking girl to sound like she spoke Spanish was definitely pretty crazy.

And then I did a murder mystery dinner theatre as my college job. I was getting paid to do murder mystery dinner theatre and that was great, I loved that job. Then my first voiceover gig was a voiceover on the radio for a Boston based bank. The way that that opportunity came up was that somebody stopped me during one of the murder mystery dinner theatre shows and said that I had a great voice. 

CGMagazine: How does your experience as a voice actor in Overwatch compare to other games and projects that you’ve done?

Jen Cohn: I have never done a game where everybody in the cast befriends each other. We’re like the cast of a play or a movie because we all get to all go on location with each other for a while. But we’re like a play that is long running because we keep on seeing each other at things. We all really became friends and we all go out together for dinner, and we all go do things together when we’re in each other’s cities. I mean, it’s really, very special and so unlike any other voice project that I’ve done. On top of that I’ve never experienced the idea of getting a voice acting gig where we got so strongly identified with our heroes, I mean, that’s just magical. All of these fans actually see us as our heroes. It’s really an exciting, and overwhelming honour. 

Justice Reigns From Above: An Interview with Pharah Voice Actress Jen Cohn 1
From left to right: Lucie Pohl (Mercy), Carolina Ravassa (Sombra), Anjali Bhimani (Symmetra), and Jen Cohn (Pharah). Image Courtesy of Jen Cohn.

CGMagazine: How important do you think that Overwatch is in terms of representation?

Jen Cohn: To me, I think it’s one of the most important facets of it. The fact that we all can be heroes, the fact that that the world needs heroes, and that anyone can be one, regardless of gender or race or age or size or anything. It’s really, really exciting to have so much representation and so many people be able to personally associate with this game. It’s been thrilling. 

CGMagazine: Who are your style icons?

Jen Cohn: My style icons are Frank N. Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show, with some Bowie in there, some Gene Simmons and Kiss as well. Plus, Hollywood super-agent Lew Wasserman, my aunt Nan who is the most rock and roll, badass person. That’s a very good percentage of my style icon soup and I’m very admiring of Lisa Eisner who is another global fashion person who is really eccentric and awesome.

Check out the full interview in an upcoming issue of CGMagazine!

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