Bosses, Rogues and Badasses: Chatting with Voice Actress Laura Bailey

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If you’ve devoted any of your time to watching animated shows or playing videogames in the past decade, there’s a good chance you’ve heard Laura Bailey’s voice. Probably many, many times, actually. With a rapsheet that boasts everything from Dragon Ball Z to Bioshock Infinite and Persona 4, Bailey is one of the most prolific voice actors working today. We recently talked with the puckish rogue about her voice acting experiences and her new role in Tales from the Borderlands.

Paste: You started out working in animation. What was that like?

Laura Bailey: Well, the first thing I ever did was Dragonball Z, which was dubbing because it was anime. I like to call anime the bootcamp of animation because they just run you through the gauntlet immediately. Dragonball Z was crazy because there was so much fighting in the show and we would do like eight hour sessions of that show which was completely crazy now when I think about it because most of the time it’s two to four hour sessions—especially if the session is vocally stressful. But yeah, we would just record and record and record for hours without realizing it was damaging our throats. I actually lost my voice in the callback for Kid Trunks because it was such a rough voice.

Paste: What’s the difference between doing voice acting for animation and voice acting for games?

LB: I feel like the biggest difference is just the nature of the way videogames are evolving. I feel like videogames are becoming very cinematic and performances can be a lot more stressful in general. For animation it’s a group recording: you go in every week or every two weeks with the same group of people. And with videogames a lot of the time you’re recording by yourself; there can be months in between a session, or a lot of the time now we’re shooting on a mo-cap stage—we’re filming it kind of like a movie. And then we’ll go in after we film and do all the in-game dialogue.

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Paste: You’ve been doing this for quite a while. What are some of your favorite roles?

LB: Well I’m a huge fan of videogames in general. I have said for years that one of my goals was to get cast in a Final Fantasy game and I ended up getting cast as Serah in Final Fantasy XIII which was a dream come true for me. I had my whole room decorated in Star Wars growing up so I freaked out when I got to play a Jedi, Kira Carsen in Star Wars: The Old Republic. Black Widow was this year, honor to be cast as her. Tough call, tough call.

Paste: A lot of people know you as the voice of The Boss in Saints Row III and IV, which seems like it was probably a lot of fun to record.

LB: It was so much fun to record that. Steve Jaros (the writer of both games) always wrote our dialogue depending on who was being the boss at the time so every boss has a different personality even though they’re essentially the same character. One of the things I always say in a booth—I don’t know why it’s my go-to cussword—is “fuck me running” if I would like screw up a line, and Steve thought that was hilarious so he put that in as one of my Boss’ cusses that she would say. And we’d always joke about Mimosa Friday and then he actually put that in the game with characters talking about Mimosa Friday.

Paste: Let’s talk about Tales from the Borderlands. What’s it like working with Telltale?

LB: Telltale is awesome to work for. They’re one of the nicest videogame companies I think I’ve ever come across. What I love about them is once you’ve started working with them…they have a community of actors that they pull from for projects, so you become part of the family almost. And Tales from the Borderlands is awesome because it’s the first time I’ve played a character in any of their franchises, which is so different: to have the character be defined well enough regardless of the player’s choice. Universally they’re gonna understand who the character is, but to be malleable enough depending on whatever choice they make that it’s still impacting on who that character is becoming…it can be a pretty crazy process. The scripts are insane and jumping from conversation to conversation so you’re really reliant on the director, usually Nick Herman who’s so on top of things [mimicking Herman]: “Okay, so this is what just happened. Jump up in your script and look at the last line there.” It’s crazy.

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Paste: You play Fiona who’s sort of a rogue-ish character. What attracted you to the role?

LB: She’s just such a strong female character, which is always such a blast to get to play someone who’s so well rounded. When I was cast as her she was a lot more goofy, she was more of a zany character as opposed to Rhys being the zany character. Originally Troy Baker wasn’t cast as Rhys. He came in probably after I had recorded a few times as Fiona and then they ended up casting Troy, and he’s so hilarious and spontaneous and an amazing actor that Rhys transformed once he started playing that character. And really to balance that out Fiona had to become much more grounded so now she’s the more grounded of the two characters and he’s the goofy one. It’s such a funny difference.

Paste: So it’s almost like the two characters switched personalities during development then?

LB: Kind of! I think that he was always comedic a lot of the time but the first few sessions I had with Fiona she’d go a little bit crazier every once in a while, more than she’s been doing because it doesn’t really fit her as much now. She has to be the strong one, which I love about her: she has to create this presence of strength even if she doesn’t feel it in herself because other people are relying on her strength.

Paste: What was it like working with Patrick Warburton?

LB: [Laughs] It was amazing. I actually have never recorded in the booth with him. I just passed him if he had a session after me. Something you run into a lot in videogames is that you don’t get to record with other people very often, especially with Telltale because the conversations branch so much that it doesn’t make sense to record with other people necessarily, but he’s so funny in that game and he’s such a nice person.

Paste: What’s the most challenging role you’ve had?

LB: I would say Fetch from Infamous: First Light just because of all of the tragedy she goes throughout both the game and her backstory. It was really difficult to film that and record it. Vocally, it’s Kid Trunks or even Omochao in the Sonic games. Both of those are incredibly painful [laughs] but they’re so much fun that they make up for it.

Paste: Any projects coming up that you can talk about that you’re excited for?

LB: I am incredibly excited for Halo 5:Guardians coming out in October. I play Spartan Vale. When I realized I got to play a Spartan in that I got incredibly excited. We filmed for about a year on the mo-cap and then we had a lot of recording sessions after that. Very cool. She’s a different sort of Spartan, she has a lot of cool insights for some of the levels if you play with her.

Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.

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