San Diego Comic Con has become so massive that programming has spread to the four hotels surrounding the convention center. I met with voice actress Courtenay Taylor at one of these hotels. Even though it was hard to communicate due to the strain on the wi-fi network from the crowd, she was patient enough to wait for us to find each other. As we settled on the plush seats, the exuberant energetic melody of bag pipes from the Outlander promotional street team came to our ears. This served as an immediate icebreaker as we shared our mutual appreciation for men in kilts. Talking of David Tennant created a solid geeky connection between us. The power of Tennant is truly a marvel in connecting strangers.
If you have played video games, you may have come across Courtenay Taylor’s voice. She was Jack from Mass Effect, Juhani from Knights of the Old Republic, and Ada Wong from Resident Evil 6.
There is more in her future: E3 officially announced that she will be the female protagonist for the upcoming Fallout 4. For all the Browncoats out there, she will also be the female lead in the Firefly Online Game.
Courtenay Taylor’s voice has given depth and dimension to many memorable characters in gaming. It was an honor to sit down and meet the woman behind these roles. What I found was a person full of stories and energy, a person who has been in the industry long enough to appreciate the wonderful shifts that are happening.
Tony Adams: Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. Let’s start off with an easy question. Could you tell us about your favorite roles?
Courtenay Taylor: I like a lot of things that I got to do for different reasons. Obviously Jack from Mass Effect was a highlight. She’s closer to me than I care to admit. She was definitely a lot of fun to play. I am super excited to play a female player for Fallout 4
TA: Yes! Congrats on that! I just heard about it
CT: Thank you! That’s a lot of fun. I have not worked two years on a video game before, so that’s been a whole new experience. There’s a few that’s coming out that I can’t talk about at all but they’re going to be amazing! I wish I could say but keep an ear out this fall. There’s some great projects coming out.
There’s not too many that I have done that I haven’t enjoyed. From learning how to do facecap to accent to playing someone way outside who I am to someone who is falling off a log.
TA: The roles that you have played have been amazing and genuinely interesting. Is there a reason you played these characters or did something call out to you?
CT: That’s what I get cast as. I read a lot on a lot of stuff and clearly those are the ones that land! [laughs]. My voice lends myself to those kind of characters. I’ve played sort of frail, wispy characters. Just not that often.
I am thrilled that there is such a wide variety of female characters. That they are not just like Jack. You’ll see in Fallout 4 that the female character is a strong character but a different kind. Ada Wong, a different kind. They all have particular storylines.
TA: Were you a fan of the different properties before voicing the roles?
CT: There have been a lot of different properties that I have worked on. I didn’t know anything about Mass Effect when I came in. Funny enough, even on camera, the less I know about a project, the more often I seem to book those projects. Maybe we tend to come in with preconceived notions. Whereas as an actress I do better just letting my mind roam. knowing that the director will shape me into whatever fits in that universe.
I definitely circled back to some. Like knowing about Firefly. I definitely have not tried to go back and fit something in. The director’s job is fit me towards that.
TA: Also, congrats about your role in the Firefly online game! I was able to hear a small teaser of your voice. Could you tell us something about your character?
CT: Thank you! It’s a surprise. I err on the side of caution. I want to be really respectful to the game companies. They spend so much time and effort and they want the finished product to be great. So I am very cautious about saying anything. I do appreciate that they are taking their time. Firefly fans are rabid fans.
TA: Yup! How many years and we’re still pretty rabid! [laughs]
CT: That’s a testament to what a great franchise it is. Thirteen years later and people are still excited. So I think people will be excited because the game developers are putting so much love, blood, sweat, and tears into it to make it great.
TA: Were you a Browncoat before doing the game?
CT: I wouldn’t call myself a Browncoat but I did definitely really enjoyed the show. I did rewatch some episodes to prepare. Not too many, because you don’t want to go in there and mimic. As an actor, that’s a danger. I am a mimic, naturally in my every day life. I really did enjoy it.
TA: From what I remember in the show, to represent the union of the Chinese and US superpowers into one, there was Chinese intermingled into the English dialogue. Did you have to learn any Chinese?
CT: I did and it was amaaaaaaazing! [laughs]. I had a lady who helped me, in the booth with me. That was amazing. That was not the first time I’ve done that. I’ve done a couple of lines in Chinese a long time ago. Someone had fed those to me and they were very short phases.
That was not the case here. There are long lines. I walked out like ‘Whoo hoo! I accomplished something today! ‘ The coach did say that I had a very good accent. I feel like my mimicry comes in handy. I just stood her in front of my mic stand and just watched her talk.
TA: I am seriously impressed!
CT: She would say a phrase and I would say “Open your mouth! So I can see what you’re doing!” She would say I can’t open my mouth or else it wouldn’t be Mandarin! [laughs]
TA: Along the same lines, have you had to speak any other language in your roles?
CT:[pause] Gibberish [laughs]I’ve had roles where I threw in some French and Spanish. I took some French in high school so it was not as challenging as Mandarin. Although the Gibberish is pretty tough.
TA: Have there been any words or phrases during your career that you would stumble over?
CT: No. . . but I did spend a lot of time watching German people say squirrel on YouTube a couple of months ago [laughs]
TA: [laughing] For fun or for research?
CT: No it was for a fun! I thought it was interesting that German people have a hard time saying the word squirrel! I fell down the rabbit down hole there.
There are lines during a session that you can’t get and then in the middle of the night you wake up and go ‘Wait! I know the read! ‘ Or you keep stumbling over and you go blagh! Then when you tell someone that you had such a hard time with this line and then you say it perfectly. That’s because you’re not in the booth! Excellent. That’s when I want to call the director and say “I think I got it!” Hours later!
TA: With all of these great characters, have you had any great fan stories?
CT: I definitely have a lot, especially because of Jack. There have been a lot of women who thank me for portraying this character. They share a lot of stories about not being conventional. That gets me choked up. Jack was so refreshingly visually. I think it’s important to portray not just people who don’t physically fall into these narrow parameters of what makes someone attractive but also someone who might be considered difficult. I want to see people in games and on screen that are like me. That are not just well-behaved or well-coiffed. I get a lot of feedback from that from people that are outside the box. Thank you for putting it out there.
I have a woman who came up and thanked me for her nieces and daughters. I was taken back because I didn’t know about that [laughs]. Hopefully it was not for all Jack, elements of Jack.
TA: That’s some pretty awesome geeky parenting right there!
CT: I do get a lot of feedback from playing strong female characters. I do get some fantastic artwork which is amazing. Someone did a T-shirt of me of Jack with the Obama campaign logo with the words Hope on it.
TA: Wow, that is really cool.
CT: Yeah! I love it!
TA: Have you had anyone mimic your voice?
CT: Yes there is woman in England. She wrote some fan fiction stuff for Jack. She did a pretty good job. She sent it to me. I was like, stay over there in England! [laughs]
She’s also a Twitter friend. I feel like I know her but I haven’t met her in person yet. I’m always trying to get her to come to conventions, but we haven’t been able to successfully meet.
TA: Women are having a great influence in the industry. Is there anything you are seeing now, that hasn’t been seen before, that give you the greatest happiness?
CT: I love that so many cross-play stuff. I grew up in San Francisco. I had a guy at Dragon Con who was cosplaying Jack. There was a group of six people dressed in different iterations of Jack which I loved. He was Mass Effect 3 Jack and he was adorable. I really loved the whole idea that you can be whoever you want.
I love how there is more attention being paid to female superheroes. I would love to see some characters that their body dimensions aren’t so out of whack. We’re seeing more of this happening. Although when I was walking through the exhibit hall, I saw some figurines. I was thinking “If this was real life, that girl wouldn’t be able to stand like that!” Women were walking looking at the figurine and going “Ugh! My back!”
TA: Going in reverse for a bit now, how did you get started in voice acting?
CT: I ran a boxing gym when I got out of college.
TA: Whoa, wow!
CT: I taught a lot of classes and my voice would break. I’ve always had a textured voice even as a little kid. My godparents told me I’ve always had this voice. I would kick open the door when I was three and ask “Where’s the toys?” A little blond kid with a big head and a deep voice. That’s Chucky!
TA:[laughing] I didn’t want to mention Chucky but that was my first thought!
CT: I had vocal cord nodes. When I was going to acting school, I was studying American Conservatory theater, I went to apply to a school in New York. I went and did my classical monologue. The casting director said he would never take me with that voice. That my voice would not project in the theater. He mentioned that I obviously have vocal cord nodes. He wouldn’t consider my application unless I got a doctor’s note that I was getting speech therapy.
I went back to one of my teachers and she did voice-overs. She said that I had a cool voice and recommended for me to take voice acting classes. I didn’t know what that was but I went because it sounded cool. I did a class. I went up there and was like, “I get to talk? People do this for a living?”
So it was a perfect storm. I remember talking to a person. I loved reading out loud as a kid. I had a particular voice. I went and did my first audition. The teacher was casting a hospital commercial for one in San Francisco. It was about how great San Francisco is and it’s my hometown! I went and I booked my first audition. I took that as a sign that this is what I am supposed to be doing! I moved down to LA. I worked as a waitress. I slaved, wore white pants at certain restaurants that will remain unnamed.
TA: You were legit!
CT: White jeans! Everyday! [laughs]. It started rolling. I had a Lana Turner moment. I was waitressing in my white jeans and an agent said I had a cool voice. We got to talking and there it went.
TA: How was your first gig? Did it go smoothly or all over the place?
CT: I didn’t do video games for a few years. I started off in commercials. Commercial stuff came pretty quickly, and it’s really fun. The first video game I did, I was so excited and nervous because I had been trying to break into video games. People kept telling me I should do video games, which I wanted but wasn’t booking.
So when I finally got it, I was so excited that I couldn’t find the building [Both us start laughing]. I parked my car and I was so lost! I was walking around hot, sweaty. I was eager, and confused. That one was super fun but I was gross [laughing continues].
I wouldn’t say that was my best session ever. I still work for that director though. I guess I didn’t do that bad! [laughs] She would say that I’ve improved in the past decade
TA: If you had a dream collaboration team, who would you work with?
CT: There are few. Pixar, amazing! I feel lucky that I’ve gotten to work a lot for the big gaming companies. I would obviously love to continue. I would love to work more in animation. I do drop in on non-regular shows on Cartoon Network as Starlet and a few other characters. That has been so much fun. I would definitely love to do more animation. There are some great ones especially on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network.
TA: I can hear you on Archer. . . . . .
CT: I LOVE Archer! So that would be awesome. . . They can take my email. I’ll come running!
TA: For those who want to break into the career, what are top “don’ts” in the career?
CT: That’s a great question. Hmm, don’t focus on characters that already exist. Don’t focus on being a mimic. There are already people who do Goofy, Minnie, and Mickey. They’ve got those down!
Don’t think you can do it without acting chops. Definitely take some acting classes. The people who do the best in the business for the most part have really strong acting backgrounds.
Don’t be late. Which is funny coming from me [laughs]. In seriousness, it does slow production down. So when get those opportunities, treat them with respect.
The universe will hand you things. So much of it is jumping on it like a grenade. Don’t put yourself in a position where you wish you took advantage of that.
TA: What would like people to know most about you?
CT: I’m a really nice person under all the bitchy characters! [laughs]. I have a massive floaty pen collection. I have some from all over world! I have vintage ones, some from the sixties. They are not with glitter! They have some with boats, airplanes.
TA: [laughing] This is awesome!
CT: I am obsessed! I have had a couple of fans that have brought me pens! I have had a guy from Spain who brought me a floaty pen. I was so excited and not sure how he knew. I must have said something in public. He gave me some great ones. So yeah, that’s my weird fun fact.
Thank you once again to CT for taking time out of her hectic SDCC schedule to chat with FangirlNation. Keep an ear out for her voice in the upcoming Firefly Online Game and Fallout 4 game. You can follow her social media at her twitter page at: @courtenaytaylor. You can also check our her website here.
And now for some Firefly