Eli Harris is no stranger to voice acting. The voice of many games and TV Series, he brings a level of professionalism and impact to all his roles. An avid gamer and lover of nerdy things, Harris has an energy for the craft that few people manage to bring, especially after accumulating 59 acting credits to his name.
With SuperFuse from Raw Fury hitting in 2023, and Starship Troopers: Terran Command now available on Steam with his character of Commander Hawthorne as a major role in the experience, we wanted to reach out to Harris to talk about voice acting and his career. In an honest and candid interview, he delved into many aspects of his career and what path led him to this point, along with what he hopes to see in the future. With roles in games like Star Wars: The Order, Pitch Black: A Dusklight Story and the upcoming Solomon’s Demons, his is a career well worth following.
CGMagazine: To start things off, what got you involved with the Starship Troopers game, and what about the project made you want to be a part of it?
Eli Harris: Well for one, Starship Troopers is a cult classic, so to be a part of that. I’m a fan of Michael Ironside, he was in Top Gun, but he’s also the voice of Sam Fisher in Splinter Cell, and he was part of the Starship Trooper movie. When I was approached about the project, I said “yo, this is super freaking dope, they actually want me to be the lead. I’m definitely on board with this.” The guy that cast me for this, had heard some of the projects that I was in and was interested in casting me for this. I didn’t even have to audition for it.
CGMagazine: You have an extensive voice acting career, what made you want to get into voice acting? Are you achieving the goals you set out to do with your career?
Eli Harris: I started off initially with on-screen acting; my parents got me involved in theatre when I was six years old. I have ADHD, so they were trying to find ways to help level and ‘balance me out’. They got me involved in martial arts and acting. I started off doing theatre, but I didn’t do it throughout my school years, as I got more involved with sports. After I got out of high school, I got into the military. I did the regular nine to five and stuff, but I still felt a calling to the arts.
There’d be many times I’d watch a show or film or whatever, and say to myself, “That should be me.” The voice acting part of it is something that I’ve always been interested in, because I’m a very animated person. I’d always run around doing different voices and imitating people. Me being such a huge gamer, I’ve always wanted to be involved in that aspect, gaming and animation, of course, because I’m a huge anime nerd as well.
So it just wasn’t something that I thought I could do professionally because there’s not a lot known about the voice acting side of the business. Outside of what you may see on commercials or hear about James Earl Jones, Keith David, Phil LaMarr, and people like that. But it doesn’t seem like something that’s attainable. So it wasn’t until three years ago, I’ve only been in voice acting for three years. I’ve heard a lot about my voice throughout the years. But it takes more than just having a great voice to do voice acting: it’s training, and discipline. There’s a lot to learn with this.
After my on-screen acting dried up, I wasn’t booking as many TV shows or films. I said, “I wonder if I can try my hand at voice acting?” Because this was something that I wanted to do, I just didn’t know how to do it. There were a lot of people that I did film and television with that did voice over, and I had no idea that they were as successful in it. So I talked to some people that I knew that were doing voice acting and said “yo, how’d you get into this stuff that I’ve wanted to do?” So truth be told, I do a ton of commercials, I do a lot of promos, I got into video games and animation and those are, ironically, the two most difficult to get into when you’re doing voice acting.
When I got my first demo produced, I wanted to get an animation demo, a video game demo, they said “no, get your commercial demo done first because that’s what you’re going to get the most work in.” I said “okay, but I want to do video games and animation.” “You can book video game animation off commercial demos,” So what I did first, was my commercial. Then shortly after that, I worked on my other demos, that’s really how I got into voice acting. There was a stretch when I wasn’t booking anything that I did feel low. Like I said, I have ADHD and there are things that help equalize me, that help me get that energy out and balance me, and being able to perform on camera is one of those things.
I get often asked, what do I like most between the two? The answer is: I like them both the same, but differently, because voice acting takes me to a whole other level. My wife is the one who helped get me to where I’m at in VO because I almost gave up. One particular Christmas I wanted a Nintendo Switch, she did some research, and for Christmas, I got a new laptop, all new equipment, a microphone, everything. I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed because I wanted my Switch. My wife looked at me, and she said, “with the money you’re going to make from voice-overs, you could buy 100 Switches.” From the moment that she said that, I really got on my grind and put in work.
CGMagazine: You’ve an extensive list of TV, video games, and animation. Are there some that stand out as something that you hold as your top work?
Eli Harris: Film-wise, I’d have to say The Nanny Diaries. My role wasn’t the biggest in there, but the fact that I got to play Alicia Keys’ boyfriend Lewis in that movie is bar none, my greatest. The audition for that was different from any audition I’ve ever done. It was a meet and greet with her. I remember my agent had called me that one Friday afternoon and said “we’ve an audition for you on Sunday.” which is very rare, you never get auditions on the weekend.
So I’d be at the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where Scarlett Johansson was filming the scene. I got to meet her as well. Oh man, Scarlett Johansson is so sweet, she’s a really nice personality. She said “this is a different audition, this will be based on how Alicia feels about you.” So it’s about six or seven of us, some ‘model-type’ guys, you know, they’re tall, strapping, and I’m probably the only everyday guy that’s there. But apparently, the chemistry was there for her because I got a call that night from my agent, “You’ve been cast.”
Video game-wise, out of all the games I’ve worked on, I’d have to say SuperFuse is probably my favourite, with Starship Troopers being a very close second. The reason being is that when Stitch Heads came to me about the project, the very first thing they said to me is “We want to make sure that the character is represented properly because he’s African American, we’re not, so take a look at the script. If there’s anything that needs to be changed, let us know. If there’s anything that you feel that should be done differently, we’ll allow you to have some creative input.” That never happens for us, never happens for anybody, so for them to give me that type of flexibility with the character, it’s a lot more personal.
I’ve had fun with every game that I’ve done. I mean, shit, I’m on Skyrim, you know what I mean? Then of course Starship Troopers is a very close second just because it’s such a recognizable franchise. Not only that, this game features two minority people of colour that are the leads, which is myself and a talented voice actress, Amy Selma, who’s a Latina voice actress. I think that was a very close second for me.
Animation-wise, there’s an independent project I’m working on right now called Broken Beat, and I think that one is probably my favourite to date as far as animation. There are a couple others that I’m working on that I can’t announce, but you’re definitely going to be hearing about them because they’re based on children’s books and some other things; new animations that are coming out. But I don’t have to say that because I’ve always wanted to be in an anime. I haven’t announced this yet, but I’ll share it with you. My nine-year-old son does voice acting as well. He had to audition because I was in this project, he didn’t get it because of that. He got cast as the younger version of my son in the anime for flashbacks.
CGMagazine: That’s really cool! Just jumping back to Starship Troopers, what were the VO sessions like for that game? Did you go to the studio or do it at home? How’d that all work?
Eli Harris: I did everything right here in my studio, which is why when I said earlier, there’s a lot to voice acting. This is part of it, investing in studio quality equipment. I’m running the Sennheiser MKH-416 right here, and then a Neumann TLM 103. All these are studio mics. So I did everything from here. The sessions, at times, were gruelling. We’re talking three-hour sessions at a time for this game; that’s a lot when you’re yelling or barking commands. So yeah, they were very long sessions, but they were enjoyable. I had a great director, and the team that I dealt with was top-notch, so it was a fun experience.
CGMagazine: You mentioned you love anime and video games. Are there any properties that you want to work on? Or any dream projects for you that you still haven’t had a chance to be in?
Eli Harris: Yes, I want to work on a Splinter Cell franchise. I’ve been wanting to work on Splinter Cell since day one. Diablo is what got me into ARPGs, I freaking love Diablo. I’d love to voice for Diablo. There are so many games that I like, Splinter Cell, Diablo, Overwatch– Now the interesting thing about Overwatch is I actually did the VO for the pitch for the project. So it’s really interesting when you see the concept of some of these games, they all go through pitching. They have to go through a pitch to get the approval for funding for stuff like this. I’d love to do World of Warcraft as well.
CGMagazine: Anything else you want to wrap up with, projects you want to pitch that people should look out for?
Eli Harris: Oh gosh, there’s a game that’s coming out in the arcade, Dave and Busters, that I want to say, and I can’t. But I can say this, Jitsu Squad, which came out recently, I voiced Jazz Amun in that, and from my understanding, I was told that that’ll be in the arcades at some point near the end of the year, if I’m not mistaken. So that’s one to look out for, and it’s also going to be on consoles. Outside of that, there are some things I’m doing for Disney right now that I just can’t say anything about.
CGMagazine: Thank you so much for your time.
Eli Harris: Thank you, Brendan, I appreciate you.