Search form

And I Get Paid!?!: The Life of a Voice Actor

March 1998,In the last few years, animation and voice-over have become a source of great interest to folks, but for quite some time it was a niche...

© Kath Soucie

I am delightedto have the opportunity to brag about what a great job I have. I absolutely love this part of the entertainment industry and, quite frankly, I'm feeling terribly clever for having stumbled across it in the first place. In the last few years, animation and voice-over have become a source of great interest to folks, but for quite some time it was a niche that was enjoyed and appreciated mostly by children. As the field has become more and more sophisticated and `toons are more artfully executed, the entire subject has become far more mainstream.

It's a commonly held notion that there is only a small group of actors who do the great majority of voice-over work and I would like to say that, for the most part, it is true. I have spent the last 12 years of my life voice-over-wise in the company of pretty much the same band of thieves. I am very sincere when I say that they are among the most creative, interesting and hilariously wild artists around. We all agree that we have the absolute best job on Earth. Basically, you get to do all the stuff you got in trouble for in school ... and they pay you buckets of dough to do it. It's perfect!

In terms of the work itself, the variety is infinite. No two days are evenremotely alike. If you are a fan of predictability, trust me, this is not the field for you. The structure of your week will change continuously, sometimes hourly, as your busy and frazzled agent tries to fit as much as possible into your schedule. You need to have a cell phone, pager, voice mail - every possible form of communication available - because that leisurely two-job day that you were mildly looking forward to last night can become a seven-job, three-audition crunch within hours.

In addition to animation, there is an entirely different part to the business centered around advertising. This can include radio and television commercials, promos and narration. Most of us do a little of all these things and it can make for a very interesting mix in our day. In deciding how to go about giving you an idea of how a week really plays out for me, I felt it would be good to find one with the most variety and exciting projects. I settled on the last week of March, 1997.

Getting Started: Monday

This week is of a particular interest because we began work on Rugrats, The Movie. It's been seven years since my first audition for the Rugrats which turned out to be one of those shows which took a while to become really popular. We've done tons of episodes through the years and being apart of this show is a privilege. It's full of all the exact elements...vision, imagination, clarity and sharpness of observation, tenderness and just the right amount of silliness.

The movie script is fine with a lot of fun scenes and plenty of opportunities to ad lib and let loose. And, yes, we are given the opportunity to add our own spin on things, contribute a few lines and alter a "bit" that doesn't seem quite authentic or true to character. This show has always been a completely collaborative effort, with almost zero ego on all fronts, and with the true intention to create something unique and pure.

The session goes well. All my faves are there: Christine Cavanaugh as Chuckie, E.G. Dailey as the heroic Tommy and Cheryl Chase as Angelica. I'm Phil, Lil & Betty. There is definitely a different feel in the booth. This is a feature after all, not just a lowly series. There's a different energy, higher stakes and better snacks! We're scheduled from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and we make good progress for our first session.

Rugrats is recorded in Hollywood which is about 20 minutes away from my next session at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons in North Hollywood. We will be recording two episodes of Dexter's Laboratory in which I play Dexter's mother and his computer, as well as, from time to time, several incidentals. Christine Cavanaugh also plays Dexter, so between Rugrats and Dexter we will pretty much be spending the entire day together. As I mentioned earlier it is not uncommon to see the same actors several times a day both on the job and at auditions. We've been working on Dexter for many months now, usually completing one or two episodes a week. It's interesting for me to do several shows a day. The style of every director is completely unique and it's a real challenge to understand and fulfill each approach as closely as possible. We finish up with Dexter around 5:45 p.m. which will end my Monday work day. I live about an hour outside of town on the Pacific Ocean which adds a considerable amount of time onto my day driving-wise but the peace and beauty to be found there is well worth the drive. Books on tape are my constant companion while in the car!

Kath Soucie plays the voices of Cadpig and Rolly on Disney's 101 Dalmatians: The Series, which airs in U.S. syndication and on ABC Saturday mornings. © Disney.

What A Long (Tues) Day!

Tuesday begins at 8 a.m. with more Rugrats. We work our way through most of the script, plus there are a few changes and pickup lines from yesterday's session. A pickup line is when a line from a previous session has to be re-recorded due either to technical imperfections or re-writing. It's all the same crew again and everything goes smoothly. The people at Paramount have sent us gift baskets to commemorate the official start of the film.

After my morning session I do a quick run up the street to a recording studio called Waves where I do a fast couple of radio spots for Ziploc. I auditioned for these at my agent's office just the week before. I got to do the whole spot as Martha Stewart which was a blast. She has very precise mannerisms which makes her great fun to imitate. Of course, it can only be a spoof as opposed to dead-on mimicking...no law suits here!

Next is another cartoon: Disney's Hercules. This show has been recorded by a celebrity cast in all the lead roles. James Woods, Jennifer Aniston, Tate Donovan and tons of others. I'm there to play a pair of slave girls and a poodle. Hmmm...sometimes the college education seems such a waste, know what I mean? They record everyone separately on this show because of hugely divergent schedules and I arrive just as French Stewart is finishing his spot. This guy is amazing to watch. His ad libs are hilarious and he just utterly and absolutely becomes his character. He's very uninhibited and very imaginative.

My session is brief, brief, brief. A couple of "Yes, your Highness"'s and a bark or two and I'm out of there. This session is being recorded at Screen Music in North Hollywood which is one of my favorite places on Earth, which is a good thing since I sometimes spend part of every single day there. As it turns out, my next session is also at Screen Music and also for Disney. It also contains barking! It's 101 Dalmatians, the series, where I play Rolly, Cadpig and Anita. We end up recording well over a hundred episodes of this show throughout the year, often up to four episodes a week. Also, once the episodes come back from overseas where they are animated, we have dozens and dozens of sessions of looping to perfect the dialogue for broadcast. Often the animators will create "lip flaps" where there is no actual dialogue taking place or a line will be garbled or unclear sound-wise and need to be re-recorded for clarity. Sometimes a scene just isn't funny in it's finished form, so the writers will come up with a (hopefully) more clever series of lines. In these sessions we watch the scene on a television and drop the new line in over the old line. This kind of session is very challenging as you are trying to feel the scene properly but in a specific time frame. Also the new lines can be very tricky to fit into the established lip flaps (movements).

101 is wrapped by 6 p.m. and my day is once again done; except, of course, for the two scripts I find waiting on my doorstep when I arrive home. Often the scripts for the next day's work don't get delivered until the night before which means "homework" awaits. There is also a tape that has been delivered with a rough track of a song that needs to be learned for tomorrow's session. Television Plus Some: Wednesday The next morning is yet another Rugrats session but this one is scheduled for all day, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We complete the last scenes, do pickups and, in the afternoon, record songs. From this point on, all ensuing work on the movie will be only the occasional pickup session. My next session is back at Screen Music in North Hollywood. It's Casper for Universal Cartoons. I play the part of Kat, Casper's young human friend. We do two episodes where Ginny McSwain directs. Ginny is a legend in the animation world. We all adore her. She is hugely bright, utterly irreverent, fast, precise and direct. To be bossed around by her is a joy. We complete the two Casper episodes and then I have one more thing to do before the day is done: drive to the voice casters and audition for an Airtouch Cellular advertisement. This appointment is in Burbank and I have to get there by 6:15 p.m. With a lot of careening around and breaking of laws, I just make it. (I do end up booking this...several radio spots and a television spot which record the following week.)

Kat, Casper's young human friend in Universal'sseries,Casper , is voiced by Kath Soucie.© MCA TV International.

One Busy Day: Thursday

Thursday starts with a 9 a.m. session at Screen Music. This time it is Invasion America. Steven Spielberg and Harvey Bennett are executive producing the show and it is a vastly interesting project. The vision of the show is an utterly real, very prime-time feeling science-fiction adventure. It is also a very celebrity-heavy show. We all work together at the same time which makes for some great scene work. Leonard Nimoy, Kristy McNichols, Robert Urich, the amazing Edward Albert...all great actors. My parts on this show are wonderful and offer me great opportunities to play around. The scenes are taut and highly emotional. We all have a good time hamming it up while at the same time reining it in. My day is very tightly booked today so while my contract would normally have me staying the entire four hours, my agent has arranged to have me released early so that I can get everything in. My next stop is in Burbank at Horta Sound for an episode of Hey Arnold in which I play Helga's mother, Miriam, and Harold's mother, Marilyn. This show makes me about as happy as I can get. I can't possibly describe to you how wonderful this set is; it is the most creative atmosphere of which I have ever been a part. The scripts are beyond compare. The talent is really original with the children's parts being played by child actors, who are refreshing and great. Furthermore, everyone on the production team is a pal. They pickup my lines separately so I can make my 1:30 session in West Hollywood.

The next session is an odd one. It's at a new studio that I've never been to before that is clearly set up to record music. The engineer seems to have been hired for only the day. This is a pilot for a new series which is funded by a Japanese gentleman who doesn't speak English and the session is run by folks who have no previous experience in animation. Chaos would about sum it up. I play all of the female parts and a couple of other voices as well. Five roles in all made it a lucrative session if not a, shall we say, easily experienced one. Somehow I got through it. I survived it and the subsequent ten sessions over the ensuing weeks, even though the `chaos factor' never really lifted. After this session is over, I have one more to do, so it is back to Screen Music for more 101 Dalmatians. This runs from 4 to 6 p.m. and then it's in the car and home. Commercials Abound: Friday The last day of the week was more of a commercial day than the previous ones. The day starts a little later than usual -- 10 a.m. I am not an early riser by nature and any extra time to be had sleeping in the morning is hugely appreciated. My first call of the day is a quick stop to record a television spot for Mattel's Rapunzel Barbie. Apparently, Barbie now has really, really, really, long hair that she can just pull right out of her head so old Ken can climb up it and rescue her. Not to mention a castle with a turret and a cool medieval dress and shoes - that girl has everything! And I get to tell the world about it on national television. I couldn't be more proud...

Next is a radio spot at Bell Sound for Eckerd Drugs. Phil Proctor and I have been doing a campaign for Eckerd for about a year or so. We play your typical Mad About You bantering couple whose conversation seems to center around what great stuff they're going to buy at Eckerd that week and how much they're going to save doing it. Phil and I thoroughly enjoy ourselves with a lot of improvisational work which we love. Phil also plays my husband Howard on Rugrats; yet another instance of how actors' days can often intersect. When this session wraps, I drive to Margarita Mix and do a series of commercials for Greyhound. This is a national campaign that is a new account for me. I very much enjoy working with these people. They are a different breed from most other people in their part of the industry. They are very earnest and meticulous and every possible interpretation is tried on each spot. There are some instances where this approach can be tedious and mind-numbing but with this particular group, there is such a very good feeling about the project that it proves to be inspiring and a challenge.

The final session of the week is another Disney cartoon, Recess, directed by Paul Germain. Paul was one of the original creators of Rugrats and directed all of the early episodes so we are old friends and partners in crime. This show is another that employs children playing children and the writing is superb as well. I am guessing on this show and I'm playing a sort of "dooms-day" little boy whose job is to warn all the other little kids on the playground about how awful it's all going to be. He has just seen his big brother kissing a girl for the first time and is appalled at the heinousness of the sight. He warns all of the boys that this is a terrible event that awaits them in their future. There's no escaping it. Then he describes the kiss in graphic detail, giving all the little boys terrible nightmares and hives. Paul and I have a great time with this and I get to play the thing to the hilt. We wrap at 5:30. So, that's about the size of my week, guys. When I was a little girl, I only knew that I wanted to do something absolutely unique, be around fascinating and dashing people all day long, and never be bored. Mission accomplished. Kath Soucie is a Los Angeles-based voice actor. Her animation credits include voice work on Disney's Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Jungle Cubs, Quack Pack, Gargoyles, Pepper Ann and Recess; Nickelodeon's Rugrats and Hey Arnold; DreamWorks' Invasion America and Toonsylvania; Universal's Casper, Earthworm Jim and Savage Dragon; Hanna-Barbera's Dexter's Laboratory; HBO's Spawn; Warner Bros.' Space Jam, and LucasArts games Full Throttle, Outlaws and Mortimer.

Tags 
randomness