Welcome to our series — How did you get that job? — where we run interviews with interesting people about their work and how they came to be doing it.
If you’ve played a video game in the last few years, you’ve probably heard Laura Bailey’s voice. After getting her start on Dragon Ball Z, she has since become one of the most prolific and established voice actors around. She’s worked on games like Persona 4, Skyrim, and World of Warcraft, and played characters in a huge range of anime, including shows like Bleach and Naruto. In 2014 alone she worked on more than 30 projects. This week you can hear her latest role, as Spartan Olympia Vale in Halo 5: Guardians; not only is she the character’s voice, but her body as well, through motion and facial capture.
Andrew Webster: How did you first get started in voice acting?
Laura Bailey: I started right out of high school. I was doing some theater, and one of the actors who was in the show with me was working on Dragon Ball Z, and asked if I would come in and audition. So I did, and ended up getting the part of Kid Trunks, in addition to a few smaller roles. And it all just kept going from there. I did my first video game about a year after I got cast in Dragon Ball Z, which was BloodRayne, and I did a lot of on-camera work for the first few years that I was voice acting. It wasn’t until I moved out to California that I really solely focused on voice acting and expanded in that world, because there is so much out here as far as that is concerned. There’s just a ton of cartoons being made, and a ton of video games being made, so you can work exclusively in voice acting and still have a substantial career.
Was voice acting something you even considered when you first thought about getting into acting?
"It felt like a dorm."
At the time I didn’t even know that it was a thing. I had always done crazy voices growing up, but when I wanted to be an actor all I knew that meant was film and TV and theater. So when I first got introduced to voice acting, it was like, "What is this crazy world and how am I actually doing this?" Now I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s just such a cool industry to be a part of.
How has the industry changed since you first started? Have things gotten more professional as the industry has grown?
Well, when I first started I was in college, and [anime production company] Funimation was in its early days. It felt like a dorm when I was recording. I would show up in my pajamas and run around the halls and goof off almost as much as I recorded. Now, it’s very much a professional setting. It’s just my growth and the growth of the industry. So much of what I do now is games, and even in the past 10 years watching the evolution of this industry has been insane. It’s all moving toward motion capture, we’re filming a lot of what we’re doing as well as recording. A lot of the games I’m working on are focusing more on big story arcs and well-established, well-rounded characters, which wasn’t necessarily something that people were concerned about 10 years ago. But now gaming has become so huge that people are really starting to see it and want to experience it as a different form of entertainment. So they want those elements.
Is working on something interactive like a game different from a more straightforward show or movie?
It is, because depending on the game, you get to portray different aspects of a character based on player choices. The interesting thing about portraying a character in a video game often times is that you have to have an established idea of who this character is, but it has to be malleable, it has to be movable enough that when the player is making those choices, they still feel natural coming from out of that character that you’ve created. There’s definitely more room to grow in a video game, whereas in a cartoon or a show, you have your story arc, and this is where they’re going.
How do you manage so many roles? What’s the hardest part of doing all of these different characters?
It’s hard to constantly be trying to come up with something that you haven’t done before, but also not shying away from aspects of a character if it is something that you’ve done in the past. Some of the challenging stuff would be doing character voices that are more difficult, more stressful. Sometimes I’ll audition with a voice and go "Oh man, I hope I don’t get that audition." And sometimes it happens that I do get cast for four hours of recording in this voice that’s really painful. Thankfully, where I am now I’ve had more training and more experience with maintaining a voice for a longer amount of time, but back when I started I lost my voice just in the call backs, because it was so stressful.
Fetch in Infamous: First Light
One of the interesting things about voice acting is that, even once you’re well established, you still do smaller roles in addition to the bigger ones. Do you enjoy being able to do both?
I do. A lot of times in the smaller roles is where you can maybe play a bit more, and they’ll ask you to do voices that you haven’t done before. It’s fun, and you get to be in the room with a lot of other crazy personalities. I think everybody is just happy to be involved and to be working.
Is the community a small one? It seems that a lot of voice actors are friends.
It is a pretty small community of people. It’s crazy how many people are friends. I was just working on a game and my director was talking to someone in the booth, and all he had to say was "So you’re playing off of Laura in this" and she was like "Oh, okay I get it." We know based on being friends with somebody that, this is how they’re going to interpret this character. It’s so informative just knowing who the actor who plays it is because we all know each other so well.
Now that you’re well established, do you find yourself constantly auditioning for new roles, or do people approach you?
It’s a mix. I still audition like crazy, and I still don’t get cast like crazy. But there’s a ton of projects that come through that will contact me specifically, saying that they had me in mind for a character and would love to have me in to see what I do with it. And that’s really, really amazing. Every time it happens I’m blown away because for so long, what we do as actors is just audition professionally, that’s all we do, and we get so used to rejection that when you’re at a point where you can actually choose what you want to do, it’s really amazing.
"I still audition like crazy, and I still don’t get cast like crazy."
Does that make it difficult when you’re competing for jobs with your friends?
One of the best things about this industry is that it is still very friendly. Back when I was doing more film work, it was so competitive. You’d go in the audition room and none of the women spoke to each other, and everybody was eyeing each other across the room like "How dare you audition for this role." In this world, I’ll be auditioning for something and I’ll see a character description, and I’ll be like "I know that this isn’t right for me, but do you know who would knock this out of the park? Tara Platt. I bet she would sound amazing in this role." And I’ll text her.
Sometimes you’ll get an audition, and it’ll say a Jennifer Hale type of voice. And I’ve had friends email and say "I just got an audition that says a Laura Bailey type, did you audition for this and turn it down?" So that’s always a fun thing to see.
Have you ever auditioned for a role that was looking for a Laura Bailey type?
I have and a couple times I haven’t gotten it. For the most part, yeah if it says my name on there then usually my agent can call and be like "So did you actually want to see Laura?" But I’ve auditioned for things that asked for my voice and then I didn’t book the role, which is really funny.
What’s the experience like working on something as big as Halo 5? How does it compare to your roles on smaller games or shows?
The main difference is just the amount of people involved, and the amount of specifics that go into it. With Halo 5, we worked on this game for the last two years now, so it’s just been so specific, like "This is the scene we need, and it has to sound like this." There’s just a lot of people that know what their job is in that company, and want it presented in the right way because, with something like Halo that’s been around for 15 years, there’s a lot of lore and there’s a lot of world that’s already been established. The biggest challenge is making sure that it’s all in keeping with that, and that you’re staying true to what’s already established. With something smaller, we’re creating it on the fly in a world that hasn’t had that, so there’s a bit more freedom.
Chun-Li in Street Fighter IV
How does doing motion capture change how you approach a role?
You definitely become the character more, because you are creating all of the physicality as well as the vocal nuances. Any little physical tick that they have, or their walk, you’re establishing that. So you become a bit more attached to the character because of that. And with something like Halo, where Spartan Vale is actually my face, it feels even more personal because it’s basically me out there doing a full performance.
Do you have a favorite type of role, or a favorite specific character that you’ve portrayed?
My favorite type of role is the anti-hero, the type of character who is good in spite of themselves. Something like Fiona in Tales from the Borderlands is really fun to play, because she comes from this criminal, scoundrel background, but through the arc of the story you really get to see there’s so much more to her and there’s a lot more heart to the character than what you would actually expect. I like those well-rounded roles.
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