Voice actor Cissy Jones was working in Silicon Valley when she first started taking voiceover classes. Two years later, she had an agent and decided to quit her corporate job to make a living doing voiceover. On just her second audition she booked her first gig: the role of Katjaa for Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead.” Since then, she’s won a BAFTA for her role as Delilah in “Firewatch,” and voiced numerous other characters in video games like “Half-Life: Alyx,” “Fallout 4,” and “Life is Strange,” as well as on animated series like “The Owl House.”
Jones spoke with Backstage about what makes video games stand out from other VO work, what actors need to know about auditioning, and her advice for those who want to enter the industry.
What is it like bringing a video game character to life?
It’s so fun. One of the things I love most about my job is that every single day is different than the last. I’ve gotten to be a middle-aged Belgium veterinarian or a crazy woman with a crossbow in the woods or someone like Delilah [in “Firewatch”] or Fury from “Darksiders III.” The ability to bring a character to life based on what I’m able to do with my voice and not what I look like is the most freeing thing about voiceover. I love it.
How does work in video games differ from other forms of voiceover you’ve done?
Video games currently have more of a grounded feel to them. Developers are more and more going for more of a realistic approach. There’s very little wacky or “we’re going to burst into song!” Animation has become a bit more grounded, but games and interactives try typically more for a realistic approach even in an unrealistic environment. Even if you’re in “The Last of Us” and you’re running from zombies, it’s still a realistic portrayal of the human experience whereas animation is a little less so.
What is the audition process like?
We get blasted a series of sides from our agents and we typically have to sign NDAs. We throw spaghetti against the wall and hope something sticks! It can be really hard to let go of that and not constantly think, Did I book that, did I book that, did I book that? Because you don’t know until you know. You either get the callback or you hear it released in the wild somewhere, and you’re like, “Oh, I guess I didn’t get that one.” I’ve learned that my superpower is forgetting auditions. I’ve gone to sessions before and they’re like, “We love what you did in the audition” and I’m like, “That’s great, do you have it?” It’s all numbers.
Do you have any tips for someone walking into their first video game audition?
Memorize your lines, but also be willing and open to change because they’ll rewrite lines on the fly and you’ll have to figure out how to incorporate the new lines with the ones you’ve already memorized. That’s true of any session, you always have to be flexible. The most important thing about it is acting. I can’t tell you how many people I get coming up to me saying, “People always thought I had a great voice and that I should do voiceover” and I’m like, “That’s great but can you act?” They’ll say it’s just talking. Well, it’s not. It’s saying it believably and interestingly, which takes a lot more than just talking.
How has voiceover for games changed over the years and how have those changes impacted your performances?
The push to go evermore real and grounded has been palpable. I’m also starting to see a lot more performance capture and motion capture auditions and things like that with the proliferation of AR, VR, and also just more narrative in games. People don’t want the uncanny valley. Also, I would say just the different types of characters I’ve seen over the last five years. You’re starting to see a lot more representation. For example, there are a lot more people of color, a lot more people of different sexual orientations, and transgender characters. And they’re trying to cast appropriately which is incredible.
That’s one of the things I love so much about the gaming world: Not only is that an option now but games have become easier to make on a small scale. I did a game two years ago where it was just one guy in the company and he made this beautiful little walkthrough game. That’s it. So people now have the ability to make a game with the characters that they want to make if they can figure out how to use Unity or whatever. So different stories are being told.
I think also there’s been a shift in the last 15 years that games don’t always have to be shooters. There’s more of, like, interactive movies and interactive storytelling, which has such a broad appeal. When I first told my parents I’m doing games, they were like, “Oh the guns and the shoot ’em up?” That’s what we grew up with, that’s what it was. But [I can say now] it’s basically a six-hour conversation. I remember when “The Walking Dead” came out and a lot of people were really up in arms that “that’s not a game, that’s an interactive story.” OK, and? Why are you angry about it? The change has been cool to watch.
What advice would give aspiring video game voice actors?
Act, act, act. Take improv. Take local community theater classes. Learn who the coaches are. If you get to a point where you’re actually ready to start spending serious money on coaching, it’s not cheap and it’s not overnight. Everybody thinks you just need a big break but it doesn’t work like that. Find out who the coaches are. Most of them do Skype sessions. Get a home studio and start recording—not even with a studio, but there’s a microphone that’s about two inches tall, a Shure MV88, that plugs directly into your iPad. That’s what I use.
Start recording yourself and listen to what it sounds like when you’re just talking. Start listening to the sound of your voice. It sounds crazy, but it’s really hard to start hearing your own voice and getting comfortable with it. There are so many different ways to get involved. It’s really accessible if people are willing to put in the work, money, and time.
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