What does it take to reinvent the casting of a show that’s been on for more seasons than most people could count? Just ask Christine Terry and Jackie Sollitto. They took over casting “American Dad!” and “Family Guy” and wanted to keep things fresh on both long-running Fox animated shows, especially as “Family Guy” was undergoing a transition while re-casting the character of Cleveland. A little unique in the animated world, the duo didn’t come from a long line of voice projects, but they have worked in both animation and the live-action world. They shared with Backstage what they do to find new talent and get that new talent into legacy shows, and offered some advice for aspiring voice actors.
How does it feel to enter into a show that’s been around for so long?
Christine Terry: It’s been really cool to work alongside these folks with different ideas. It’s a really exciting evolution of longstanding shows. They have been so smart in terms of business and story progression. “Family Guy” has a certain formula, they have a lot of those cutaways. Whereas “American Dad!” is episodic. The writers that they’ve hired, they’ve taken such good care. They’re so creative. They’re hilarious. And the majority of them come from a sketch and improv background. It helps us in casting too because they help with ideas. Both shows are fun. “Family Guy,” especially these last few seasons they have said, “Let’s get this new person on the show. We trust you guys.” And it’s been so much fun, which is really validating, but also exciting to be able to expose them to different ideas and different voices, just different people. They’ve been so cool about telling us to try things.
What is your casting process for these two shows?
Jackie Sollitto: “American Dad!” and “Family Guy” can have upwards of 40 characters. It’s all those cutaways, they’re really quick. We’re so fortunate on that show to have people like Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Seth MacFarlane, Mike Henry, they can do 1,000 voices already. A lot of times, those really small roles will be filled by them, and it’s larger characters, anyone who has an actual full line or two lines, and lately, they’ve been giving us big characters. Then we can pull in actors. The two of us are obsessed with improv and comedy specials and pre COVID-19 going to theater, TikTok, Twitch.
CT: The way that our producers work on the shows is they would prefer that we come with lists. We have casting meetings. Unless it’s for kids or something extremely specific, like a language or sound, we don’t really audition. We really do miss the audition process and working with actors. But it’s also fine, because the guys trust us. Our “American Dad!” casting meetings are much longer because it’s episodic so those characters are meatier. Sometimes there’s a big mega episode, and it gives us opportunities to go to a different type of performer. Sometimes we will ask for auditions from people just to hear if their talent translates, then we have them in our pocket. So we can bring them and say, “You don’t know them, but we do.” They don’t know everybody, which is why we’re here.
How do you know someone can “hold their own” opposite such seasoned voice actors?
JS: “Family Guy” is so dynamic. You could get swallowed whole by Seth MacFarlane, his voice is so rich, his tone, just everything about him when he comes on, you could really fade away if you’re an actor, and you don’t have that training and the control of your voice and everything. We’ve been lucky that we can literally record somebody anywhere in the world. It makes it really exciting because we’ve recorded people in London, Canada, Australia, Thailand, it’s opened up some really exciting things.
“Sometimes we will ask for auditions from people just to hear if their talent translates, then we have them in our pocket. So we can bring them and say, “You don’t know them, but we do.” They don’t know everybody, which is why we’re here. ”
How do you know someone’s live action skills will translate to voiceover?
JS: What we’ve noticed and what I think we’ve gotten our producers to notice as well, is we have had the most success with actors who have a theater background, who are fully trained, who have improv talent. It’s people who are used to projecting their voices, people who have vocal training, singers. In live-action TV, you come with this bag of tricks and you’re acting opposite someone. In voiceover, you are isolated in that booth, just you and a microphone and some people behind some glass. You can’t rely on a physical cue.
CT: You don’t have the luxury of utilizing your physicality for VO performance. Because of that, we found that lots of people who are extremely successful live-action actors either just can’t manage it or didn’t really realize or understand what needs to happen.
JS: The energy is important. It’s been really fascinating, especially for me coming from The CW where a lot of it is about a physical presence. Now, we’ll close our eyes when we listen and if I can hear if someone is making themselves sound like they’re 70 when it’s a 20-year-old. People can relay that somehow vocally instead of hair and makeup and wardrobe and physicality. It’s a lot of internal focus. A lot of our series regulars do live action as well, and we’ve asked, “How do you find that differs?” They just say, “It’s really thinking less about your body and more just about your voice and air and strength and projecting that with energy.” I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of being in VO versus live action because not only does it open it up to literally any performer, it has exposed us to so many folks with extraordinary talent.
What advice do you have for people who want to get into voiceover?
CT: It is an internal tool. If you were a professional football player or soccer player or you’re on scholarship to go to school for sports or anything, you have to practice to make that muscle stronger. You would gain every bit of knowledge so you could be an attorney or doctor. If you want to be a voice actor, you’ve got to do the same. You have to be willing to educate yourself in every way.
What is unique for you about casting these shows?
CT: I think one of the best things about working on these shows is that they are so beloved. That there are so many people who are such huge fans of the shows. We’ve been able to attract such an amazing array of talented performers to the shows. When we talk about the casting list, and we bring ideas to our creatives, we kind of shoot for the moon because you never know who’s going to be a secret fan.
JS: Because the shows have also been on so long, it gives us the opportunity to bring up new people and new talent. That is unique to these shows that sometimes they’ll be willing to take a risk on something that maybe a younger show wouldn’t want to risk because they’re trying to establish themselves. The industry is interesting right now. It’s been cool to be able to push forward in the way that we can with what we do. There are a lot of changes happening in VO in general, but VO has always been pretty flexible—the person doesn’t have to look like the character looks in order to voice it.
Where do you look for talent outside of agent submissions?
JS: COVID-19 has made it a little harder, but then it’s also made us go down these super deep wells. When you watch YouTube, it’ll show you ones on the side, so we’re going through all of these and then we watch “Drag Race” and watch all these different shows to open us up. We get exposed to other animation so we’re covering all our bases, new movies, new shows.
CT: TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, stand up shows, improv shows. Because we live in L.A., we’re so lucky to be exposed to so much that we definitely try to take advantage of that. We’ll go to student showcases. We try not to limit ourselves because even if we’re going to something that’s live action, it doesn’t mean that it can’t translate. We want as much exposure as we can get.
JS: We have the benefit of relying solely on performance versus having to see you or how you look. There are so many ways we can actually get your audition; we often will just pull clips from the internet to play for our creatives to show what they sound like. When voiceover performers have some sort of demo reel on YouTube or on their website, it is so helpful because if I can just Google the person’s name, VO demo, and it pulls up a video of just your face. We never really have a need for anyone to come to our offices or anything.
“You might think they’re not paying attention, they are paying attention, they will remember you. You might not be right for this one thing, but now they’ve watched you. You have to be ready every single time. ”
What makes someone memorable in an audition?
CT: One of the main tips we always give actors is you need to come every single time prepared no matter what, whether you really care about this job or not. Every audition is an opportunity. You do your best in that room. And whether you are right for this role or not, has nothing to do with you more like 80% of the time.
JS: You might think they’re not paying attention, they are paying attention, they will remember you. You might not be right for this one thing, but now they’ve watched you. You have to be ready every single time.
CT: Each show has their own flavor. The biggest thing we find is that whether or not the tone fits something, just have a tone to your voice. It could be a tinny tone, it could be a really deep timbre, but have something that resonates. I also find that pacing really affects the way that I respond, especially to comedy. Pacing, tone, and tempo can even really affect it. What I’ve noticed is that some of the stuff that we go, “Oh, that’s good”, is when somebody can just kind of roll with a weird energy. If you’re like, This isn’t hitting, I’m going to switch gears. One of the things that we find a lot with performers doing the VO work is that the writers might get inspired in the room while you’re recording. They might throw something at you, so the ability to do improv has been very helpful for a lot of the people. I think when we’re watching or observing, that confidence in your own tool and your own ability always comes through in a performance. Having a solid tone and having some kind of a pace for some reason translates into preparedness, professionalism, clarity. It’s very interesting in terms of vocal work versus live action presence. You can say, “I love the way they look, what a bright energy they have physically on stage.” But because that doesn’t always translate into VO, that’s where we have been observing and finding how it translates to the voice work. You prepare so you can throw it all away.
How have auditions changed for you during the pandemic?
CT: Slowly auditions have become actors by themselves at home, no one’s telling them, “Can we do that one more time and run this through?” You are becoming your own director of the scene and taking your best shot at whatever you think this person has put on the page, and hoping it hits. A lot of times, we’ll watch it and be like, I wish they did this another way. And they didn’t, because it says, Do one take and are you going to get lucky and do that one take? With voice acting, it’s a little bit easier because we can say, “Do three takes.” Because they can go read it, do your homework, look at it, figure it out, do it the way you really think it should be done. Now, a little bit faster and a little bit louder, or whatever, and then go one way that’s totally crazy. You’re like, This doesn’t make sense, but I’m going to do it anyway because you never know.
JS: I don’t think people expect auditions as much in VO than they do in live action because what we basically explain to agents is it’s almost like a cold read. You don’t have to worry about having it exact yet. Come prepared with something, but let’s try it like this. Have that flexibility. The people who are more successful are those folks who have that background who are able to come in analyze that they do their thing, but then you tell them on the spot, “Can we do it like 20 different ways?” And they’re like, Alright, sweet and it’s usually fun. It’s usually not a burden. Usually people are excited. You don’t have to worry about angles or having your hair right.
Check out Backstage’s voiceover audition listings!