From Commander Shepard to Cinderella, Jennifer Hale has portrayed a vast number of characters in animation and gaming. Recently, she’s started Skills Hub, a website and coaching programme – read on to find out more about her new venture, successful career and advice for aspiring voice actors…
Skills Hub and Voice Acting with Jennifer Hale: Interview by Courtney Jennings
So, could you tell us a little bit about your Skills Hub platform?
Skills Hub is my brain child. I came up with it because we now audition in a vacuum – this kinda blind void – and I often found myself wishing I had 5 or 10 minutes with someone I trust to help me get through this audition or let me know if I’m on the right track. Even though I’ve been doing it a long time, there’s still moments where I overthink it or I just don’t quite click with it, so that’s where the idea came from. There’s all these great longform classes where you can take a 3 hour class in a night, or a 7 week class, or a 6 month class, or a longer programme, but there wasn’t anything that was like a drive through masterclass. That’s what Skills Hub is.
The surprise of Skills Hub has been that people who just wanna start to learn how to do this are going there. A lot of them. So we’ve got this whole powerful programme now for beginners popping up, and I say programme but what it really is is like the personalised recipe. It’s like you can come in and book 10 minutes with somebody, and you could say “alright, I don’t even know where to start”, and they will give you incredible places to start; little things to work out with each day, and then you come back in when you’re ready and get your next dose of whatever you want to work on. It really has 2 parts: there’s the coaching: the coaching is unbelievable; we’ve got people from triple A projects – voice directors, casting directors, top actors – who are all on here. People from Dreamworks and Disney and Netlfix, Cartoon Network, Lucas Arts, Marvel – incredible people on there, and everyone has access to them.
So that’s the coaching side, and then on the hub side we have a really powerful community set up. We’ve got this killer forum, we’ve got a place where casting people can come in and look for people if they need someone really specific, we track everybody’s skills – so if you’re brand new and you happen to be that unique flavour the casting person’s really needing for their project they can look at your hours you’ve spent training and decide “oh okay, you’ve done a few hours of training and I see who you’ve trained with… Yeah, I’ll read you, I’d love to read you”. Then I’ve also created this incredible library of interviews with our coaches where I get to ask people questions like “alright, what has you listen more than 10 seconds to an actor’s audition?”, “what do you wish actors would stop doing?”, “how did you get where you are?” – that kinda thing.
That’s great! So, how did you originally get into voice acting?
I always joke that I fell into it like a hole in the sidewalk. I went to a fine arts high school, mostly because regular high school didn’t work for me. I was one of those kids – the kid – that everyone made fun of. I just didn’t fit in haha. Mostly my passion was sing and rock clubs, which started when I was like 15, but then I got a job through our guitar player’s mum at a video production studio, which was right next door to an audio studio, and because I was training – and I also had an ear for voices and stuff – I think the first thing they had me come next door and do was a Valley Girl, and I was just blown away that they paid me 30 or 35 dollars to talk. So, I made a demo, I got two of the guys to be my mentors, and I kept remaking my demo. There’s a pretty steep learning curve when you make a demo. For the first few months you find if you look back after about 60 days one will be wincing a lot and going “oh my God, I know so much more now”, that’s why I often advise people: don’t make a demo for your first couple years of study. Make a fake one at home on your iPhone or Garage Band or whatever you’ve got that’s a simple home recording programme, and when you listen to that a couple of months later and you don’t cringe like crazy, okay, then go spend your money on somebody else. Anyway, I made that demo that finally didn’t make me cringe too much, and I went door to door cold-calling ad agencies, ’cause there weren’t any agents in town where I was, and built a business that way. It was mortifying haha but I did it.
Haha, that’s cool though! What would you say a typical day in the life of a voice actor is like?
There are no typical days, that’s the funny thing. I haven’t realised it until lately with Skills Hub, you know, we’re running a business, we’re creating a thing, and with something like that you show up and you do things on a regular schedule. In voice acting you’re a gun for hire, and I could go about my day and get 3 emails saying “we need these auditions right now”, or “they need to pick up this session with you tomorrow”, or “can you do this this afternoon?”, and the scheduling is very up in the air, you have to be very fluid. So, you get up and, for me, I keep my body healthy and strong, walk or work out, and come in here, do any auditions, do any kinda workouts that need to be done whether those are vocal exercises or singing, or whatever gets me in shape. Then I power through auditions, do anything like this that I have, do any sessions that I have, and then go on with my day. And then there’s giant free pockets. Well, not giant, but there’s those free days and you’re like “do I still exist? Does anyone know I’m here?” haha, those happen as well.
Obviously I have to ask: who is your favourite character you’ve ever voiced?
I always joke that this is like asking you who your favourite child is; they’re all unique, they’re all amazing. There are some absolute benchmark roles. I mean, the single most favourite thing of mine though is the sheer diversity of roles that I’ve been able to play. They range from Princess Morbucks, Cinderella, to Commander Shepard, to Rivet in Ratchet & Clank. Like, I get to do everything. And then there’s newer stuff I’ve been doing that I can’t talk about that is just beautiful, it’s very close to the hip, it’s very realistic, it’s really cool and really fun. Quite dark haha, but very fun.
Cool! On that topic, do you take any inspiration from your own life when you go into acting?
Oh yeah, 100%. I mean, that’s what we are, right? We use ourselves. For me, I’ve studied several different “schools” of acting in my lifetime as an actor. My whole life I’ve been doing this. I started in high school where they drilled us on the Stanislavski Method – you know, the breaking it all down and the beats, the whole analysis – and then I really connected to the Meisner approach as well, which is the substitution – putting yourself in – and then I had the chance to study with some incredible teachers who were in the vein of the Royal London School of Acting, and then Elizabeth Gamza, some wonderful people. The greatest teacher that I had, honestly, was my peers, watching these brilliant people, Rob Paulsen, Tom Kenny, Kath Soucie, Tara Strong, everyone I work with is just… genius level stuff, and I just soaked it all up haha. I mean, I could go on and on and on. So, when I approach a role, yeah, I’m using myself and my life and filtering it through all these different ways, you know, people and morsels and tidbits I’ve gathered along the way.
That makes sense, yeah. Would you say there are any types of characters you haven’t played before that you’d love to?
I really haven’t missed any archetypes, that’s one of the brilliant things about this career. I just thought of Black Cat, she covered a few archetypes in one. No, I mean, one of the things I’ve been really blessed to do is break down a lot of barriers. Broken down some gender barriers, some preference barriers, relationship barriers, and that’s been a joy. Now I feel like my mission is opening doors and connecting people. I think that’s where I’m at now. It’s about the joy now; the teams, and the material, and I’ve got a couple things going on where I get to work with friends and that is the best.
Are you currently working on any other projects that you can tell us a little bit about?
I’m working on several projects, and I can’t tell you a thing about any of them! Hahaha! I wish I could! The only thing I can talk about openly is Skills Hub because that’s my baby. I’m working on an incredibly cool animated series for Netflix. I believe Blood of Zeus; we have another season we’re going to go into production on. And another amazing project coming up with friends, we’re in pre-production now on that one. Then I just recorded a super cool game, super fun, but I can’t say what it is. I mean, I have ongoing chapters in things like Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars The Old Republic.
What would you say the highlight of your career so far has been?
There are so many, I mean Mass Effect was huge. It was that community, breaking down those barriers, it was extraordinary, working with that cast, it really was a special unicorn of story, and events, and crew, and everything else. Then I get to be Cinderella, that’s kinda amazing. Then I’m “Stunt Dory”, that’s what I call it; whenever Ellen’s not available I’m Dory, which is super fun. I continue to get cast in animated series and – oh I’ve got a really cool story arc and I can’t say what the show is! It’s a show that I love and watch, it won’t be out for a few months, but it’s gonna be really fun. It’s in a universe that I adore and spent a lot of time in. What else… I have to say, Rivet in Ratchet & Clank was incredibly special. That team, and the character, and Kris Zimmerman Salter directing – she and I have worked together my entire career, she’s one of those directors who formed me into what I am, and to get to do that character with her was just a joyous experience, every single time. Also, Hex Girls, that’s a highlight. Getting to sing and be in a role like that – that’s one of my all time favourites.
Lastly, is there any advice you can give to aspiring voice actors?
Yes! I have loads of that. Honestly? First thing I would say: get your butt over to Skills Hub haha. Go, go, go! There’s tons of material in there, tons of stuff. Also go to a wonderful website called “I Want to be a Voice Actor” – put together by Dee Baker – which is an incredible fountain of information. So, if you wanna be a voice actor, or if you wanna be an actor in general, work out everyday. In voice acting that could be reading out loud, go online and just pull up something, anything that’s non-fiction, and read it out loud into the voice memo thing on your phone or a place you can record, for 1 minute, and then listen to it back. Then, read out loud a piece of fiction for 1 minute, listen to it back. And the way you listen is incredibly important. Listen for what you’re doing right. One of my biggest pieces of advice is get your hands on the head game early one. The way you deal with yourself, the way you talk to yourself, the way you talk to other people, should always be constructive and kind. No excuses, no exceptions. Always. Deal with yourself that way primarily. It’s very important, it’ll make it a lot easier to deal with other people that way. So, there’s that, and get into acting class, get into improv class, and I highly recommend some kind of formal singing training – opera or Broadway – because it helps you build a really powerful machine that won’t break down on you when you really need it.
Have a big life, have a solid circle of friends that will always tell you the truth in a kind and caring way… Have a good time, ’cause any of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow and you wanna know that you had a good time while you were here. Be good to each other. And the last thing I wanna say – which, again, I’m gonna pull this back to Skills Hub because this is what it’s about – is: all boats rise together. That’s what we focus on there. Look around, the people around you, you’re all gonna come up together. Some of you will veer off and do other things, but that’s your community, those are your people. You will often look to people like myself or other people in my industry and go “I wanna work with them” – and you might – but you’re also gonna work a lot more with everybody who’s around you because you guys are the future; you’re all rising together. So, have fun, and make some cool stuff. I look forward to seeing what you guys do!
Skills Hub and Voice Acting with Jennifer Hale: Interview by Courtney Jennings