Photo by: Leslie Alejandro
Lets get something straight, acting is much more than just standing in front of a camera and saying a few lines. In a very huge way, it’s about using your voice to breathe life into a character for viewers to connect with. Nobody knows this more than actress/voice-over star, Courtenay Taylor. Here the woman with the golden voice shares her journey and offers some great advice for aspiring actors.
What made me want to become an actor?
We did a lot of Saturday Night Live skits in my house as shows for my parents. I loved Saturday Night Live from a young age. My older sister was taking acting classes and I wanted to take classes too, but we had that sisterly thing where both of us couldn’t do it, and she claimed it first. So, needless to say she did a lot of plays in high school, while I listened to a lot of music. I really got into seeing live music when I was in high school, and I was big fan of punk rock, metal, classic rock, and a variety of other (genres) of music.
I did, go on to take a Shakespearean Lit class, and I did some behind the scenes work like stagecraft and makeup. Back then, I did my makeup really heavy like Siouxsie from ‘Siouxsie and the Banshees,’ and the drama professor in my high school stopped me in the hall one day and said, “I want the prostitutes in our production of Three Penny Opera to have make up like yours. Can you do that for other people?” Of course, I told him I could.
It wasn’t until I got to college that I took acting class in earnest. I thought it was going to be an easy way to get (course) credits. My teacher was pretty hardcore so, I was a bit surprised! Usually, when people tell me that I can’t do something, that’s when I get really interested in doing it. (laughs)
Your career endeavors date back to the mid-90s, when did you actually consider voiceover acting as a real career path?
I was an extra in a couple movies back in the mid-nineties. It was fun to be around the production, although I don’t know if that’s a “career endeavor”. (laughs) But, I started pursuing voice over (acting) in earnest around 1998, and then video games came around 2002. I knew that it was a job for some people, but I didn’t know how to make it my career so, I was cautious. I didn’t quit waiting tables until I had been working in voice over for probably six years. Partly because, I had too many friends who had booked one car commercial and quit their bartending job, and then went freaking broke. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t one of those people who came crawling back to the bar, hat in hand, asking for my job back. So I was very cautious.
Why didn’t you do what most actors do and pursue a theatrical acting career?
When I came to LA, I knew wanted to be an actor and I was open to all the different work that actors can do. I knew it was important to diversify so that I was always working on something. So I did plays and a few on-camera commercials but I truly loved voice over acting most right out of the gate, and so probably no coincidence that was the thing that came to fruition first for me. I’ve done some TV and feature films too along the way…Really, I just want to act. So whatever comes down the pipe is cool with me. But VO is what I’m married to — I can’t imagine my life without it! Of course, having a full life means doing other stuff, too. I’m really passionate about philanthropic work, so I try and pursue other things outside of work or in concert with work that give back to others.
You’ve done voice work for a laundry list of top videogame franchises like World of War Craft, Resident Evil, Star Wars, Mass Effect, and Lord of the Rings. On November 10th, your voice will be heard as the female protagonist in the newest chapter of Bethesda Games’ highly anticipated RPG franchise, “Fallout 4”. How did that opportunity come about?
I auditioned for Fallout 4 for the player voice and I think I auditioned for a couple NPC roles too. The player sides looked cool and intense and like a great motion picture. I just did my best — then I got called back and made some adjustments, and a couple weeks later I got the call from my agent! Bethesda could probably answer in a much juicier fashion, because I don’t really know what the process was from the other side of it. I do know they read hundreds of folks and one of the criteria was that the voice work coming out of many different faces, but I don’t know much else.
You don’t only do video game voiceovers; you’ve also been on 42 episodes of the Emmy Winning cartoon series, the “Regular Show” on Cartoon Network. How did that opportunity come to you?
Most of my jobs I’ve auditioned for — same for Regular Show. I had worked with the director Kris Zimmerman previously. She had actually given me my first video game job in Star Trek: Starfleet Command 3. I auditioned for what I thought was two small roles; it was a cashier and a girl named Starla. I thought, Oh, Starla is a bigger role, so I’ll make her voice a little more pleasant and I’ll make the cashier a little more “charactery.” I did those and they hired me and said, “We actually want you to do Starla’s voice as the one that you did for the cashier.” When I saw what Muscle Man looked like and what he sounded like, it made a lot more sense that they would want a crazier sound to match Sam Marin’s amazing, crazy acting as Muscle Man. Then I came back in to do Trash and Scabatha, the English girls who drive around in the flying car, in a later episode called “Cruisin’”. Then Starla started to come back and I got the role of Audrey and a bunch of other small roles on the show. I’ve had so much fun working with them. I love going in and having them throw crazy stuff at me — that’s kind of the nature of Regular Show. I never know exactly what I’m going to be doing until I get the script and it’s awesome.
For the person who wants to get into voice acting, where they should start?
People think voice acting is about “just talking” or doing a good version of an animated voice that’s out there already, and it’s really not. Voice acting just like on-camera acting — the who, what, where, when and why needs to be clear. You’re breaking down that scene if the material is available to you and making it all up if it isn’t. So take classes! Oftentimes, we don’t know what we’re going to be doing when we go into the booth, so improv comes in handy. I think it helps keep you fearless if you aren’t naturally that way. It keeps you on your toes when you’re getting thrown curve balls so you’re not shutting down, you’re rising to the challenge. For me, personally working in video games, physical training has been very helpful. My dance and kickboxing background has been a great asset as far as staying comfortable standing for four hours, all the way through making realistic sounding pain, grunts and dying noises. You have to keep your instrument in top shape, so when you’re screaming in these video games, your voice isn’t blowing out, so voice and speech training really helps. I don’t know many actors who just wandered into this without any training. Whatever it is that you do that gives you the opportunity to play is important. If that means watching TV and talking back to it, reading out loud, writing in your journal and making up scripts, putting your own content out there, anything that keeps your imagination and sense of humor full is going to be extremely helpful for voice acting, because really there’s a great sense of humor in so much that we do. In short: Work hard, play hard and treat this like the career and art that it is.
Awesome advice, Courtenay! Thanks for sharing your journey. How do we connect via social media?
Thanks so much for chatting today, you can find me on Twitter at @CourtenayTaylor, as well as on Facebook, and on Instagram at @CourtenayTaylorLA.