June 21, 2018 Interview – Julie Nathanson
When you are chasing your dreams around a battle arena, life does not always have a bucket-load of free time to spare, but, my friends, that means that life is good! For Voice Actress Julie Nathanson, life is a daily adventure, full of colorful animation, biker cannibals, Powerpuff Girls, and action-packed travels around the galaxy. You might know her as the “Silver Banshee” in WC/DC’s animated film Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, or “Jess Black” in Ubisoft’s Action-Adventure first-person shooter game, Far Cry 5. Or, from her myriad of other eclectic roles, including “Chocolina” in Final Fantasy 13-2 and Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns; “Samantha Maxis” in Call of Duty: Black Ops; “Lampita Pasionado” in Psychonauts; “Ro” on The Zeta Project; “Robin” on the original Powerpuff Girls; or any number of a zillion other roles.
An avowed music-lover who has harmony running through her blood, Nathanson has spent much of her career in voiceover for television and video games, but will soon release her first single as a vocalist. A superbly busy, spirited, and self-proclaimed “sparkly” character, Nathanson recently took a moment to sit down to discuss all things voiceover – including YouTubeRed’s upcoming Dallas and Robo – along with video games, her passion for music, and her upcoming first single.
CrypticRock.com – Initially, what inspired you to pursue a career in entertainment?
Julie Nathanson – (Laughs) I don’t know. Oxygen, maybe? I fell in love with entertainment early. We did a play at school when I was in first grade and when another kid didn’t show up for his scene, I just put on his costume and stepped into his role. Evidently, I had been so excited about the performance that I memorized everyone’s lines in addition to my own. From then on, I acted in camp/school/community theater, attended performance classes, studied voice, watched stand-up comedy, and loved to connect through humor. I also started writing early, as well, and won the Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ Festival in high school. My father loved Grand Opera, and my mother still plays a mean blues harmonica in bands; music and performance were part of the fabric of my childhood.
CrypticRock.com – So, you were born into entertainment. Which makes sense that you would go on to study at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music and then the New England Conservatory of Music. Was music your initial dream and, if so, ultimately, what brought you to a career in voice acting?
Julie Nathanson – My training was classical from the beginning; I was part of a light opera company one summer during college. I’m a firm believer that we are all many things, and I’m a multi-tasker. So, I’ve always had multiple dreams. In entertainment, this meant acting, singing, and writing. Voiceover was a joyful consequence of an insult. I made the (fortunate) mistake of checking to see what fans thought of my performance on a soap opera, and someone had commented, “She’s real pretty and all, but I have to turn off the volume on my TV, because it’s like Alvin and the Chipmunks have invaded my living room.” After I got over the initial mortification, I called my commercial agency – CESD, where I’m still represented today – and asked if I could meet with the voiceover department. If I sounded like a cartoon voice, shouldn’t I be voicing cartoons? I booked my first audition – a major promo campaign – and fell in love with voiceover. Dropped on-camera shortly thereafter (when I was staffed as a writer on an NBC series), and never looked back.
CrypticRock.com – That is truly the perfect example of turning lemons into lemonade, as they say! Now, voiceover is a facet of acting that not many people grasp quite as well as your standard on-screen acting gigs. What are some differences between being an on-screen actress and a behind-the-scenes voice that drew you toward this avenue of acting?
Julie Nathanson – There are obvious, concrete differences. Voice actors work in a dark little padded room instead of on a set-decorated stage, voice-acting requires making reading sound natural and spontaneous, whereas on-camera work mandates memorization. But to me, one of the major distinctions has to do with imagination. Alone in a recording booth, the voice actor must imagine everything around her; the other performers, setting, action, etc.
Additionally, as an on-camera actor, I was always limited by my physicality and perceptions of what I could do based on appearance. No one would look at me and think, “Oh, we definitely need Julie Nathanson to be our giant land-and-sea manatee-type creature with a beluga face and flippers.” But Guild Wars 2 heard my voice and cast me as a quaggan. Similarly, I don’t think anyone would see me as the on-camera version of Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay‘s “Silver Banshee,” but you can see her in my voice. Voiceover allows me to portray an incredibly wide-range of characters, which, to me, stretches the boundaries of play.
CrypticRock.com – That is all very true. So, to ask a somewhat dumb question, is it harder to portray a character utilizing only your voice, or does this perceived ‘limitation’ actually allow you more freedom?
Julie Nathanson – Voiceover offers so much more freedom. Imagine what it’s like to be an actor and know that however you read the line, whatever you infuse into the character, it will be animated according to that performance. To me, it’s ultimate performance freedom and collaboration with artists, writers, programmers, and producers who make it all work.
CrypticRock.com – That’s wonderful and clearly the allure of voiceover for those that love the craft. Speaking of which, you have a truly extensive resume of work – both voiceover and on-screen performances – but if we rewind all the way back to your earliest beginnings, you worked on Beverly Hills, 90210. What was it like to work on such an iconic TV series?
Julie Nathanson – It was ridiculous. One minute I was watching the show as a fan, and the next minute I was a recurring member of the cast. Everyone was incredibly kind to me, and I remember acknowledging that the entire experience was an outrageously lucky one. If you think I was too cool to invite all of my friends over to watch my first episode, you are sorely mistaken!
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Viewing parties are a must, for sure! To fast-forward to the present day, as you mentioned earlier, you are currently working on the animated Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay, where you voice both the “Silver Banshee” and “Jewelee.” Are you able to bring a portion of your own personality to these characters and, again, Suicide Squad is an iconic franchise. What is it like to bring a part of that story to life?
Julie Nathanson – Well, I’m a pretty light and sparkly person by nature, and both of these characters are pretty ruthless. That said, it’s always fun to play in the dark. Silver Banshee is a shadowy, dry, aggressive woman of few words (unlike me), with the power of a sonic death scream. That said, her power is in her voice. So, I’m going to say that’s our major similarity. I probably infused a bit more of my personality into Jewelee, who has more playfulness and energy. Being a part of the Suicide Squad world was exciting and an honor. I’ve been doing voiceover work for a very long time, and I shrieked when I booked this gig.
CrypticRock.com – It’s an amazing gig and they are very lucky to have you. Now, you have also recently worked on the video game Far Cry 5, where you voice “Jess Black.” As someone with a myriad of experience doing voices for video games, is there a huge difference between voicing television and games?
Julie Nathanson – In TV, we are usually given scripts ahead of time, know the real name of the project (video games often use code names), and more often work alongside other actors in the studio. Video game work is most often nonlinear; our lines and scenes are not presented in order, and sometimes the context is not on the page. Often, a recording script looks like a list of our character’s lines. We rely on a voice director to guide us, give context, and offer a sense of the beginning, middle, and end of a story. Much of game-work requires a comfort with cold-reading, that is, we have never seen the script before we walk into the recording studio. All of that being said, Far Cry 5 was different. I was given Jess Black’s backstory and script ahead of time, as well as extra preparation for her specific accent. All of this helped me ground Jess in her reality and allow her traumatic history and painful present to inform her inner life, as well as her dry, snarky wit.
CrypticRock.com – That’s very interesting to learn, as most of us don’t know anything about how video game scripting and voiceover actually operates. For laughs, are you a gamer in your own spare-time?
Julie Nathanson – Wait, what? How do you spell “spare time?”
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Exactly! Also in that non-existent spare-time, have you been able to attend any of the varying Cons and, just for fun, who are more rabid: TV fans or video game fans?
Julie Nathanson – I do attend Cons, and I love meeting the fans who love what we do. I’ll go with “passionate” over “rabid.” I can’t wait to see the Jess Black cosplayers at my next convention appearance!
CrypticRock.com – Passionate is a much better worded assessment, thank you. So, up next, fans can hear you in the animated Adventure/Comedy Dallas and Robo on YouTube Red, where you perform alongside the likes of John Cena and Kat Dennings. What should fans expect from the series?
Julie Nathanson – Dallas and Robo is basically a 1970s trucker movie in space with dive bars, biker cannibals, and truck stops. It’s hilarious, and everything you already love about ShadowMachine (Bojack Horseman), with plenty of dark comedy and irreverence. Jane Lynch is in the cast, too, and she’s amazing!
CrypticRock.com – Oh yes, Jane Lynch is a truly talented woman! So, that is all very exciting and we look forward to seeing the series. To step away from voiceover talk for a moment, we are told that you love singing and songwriting in your free time. Who are some of your musical influences, and what are some of your favorite genres?
Julie Nathanson – Since I grew up listening to Grand Opera and Blues, my musical taste is pretty eclectic. Left to my own devices, I listen to a lot of female singer-songwriters and Indie Pop. It’s funny, I’m struggling to name influences, and I just figured out why. As a voice actor, I am inspired by the versatility of my peers, by the acting as much as the voice itself, and it’s the heart of a performance that moves me. So, I can tell you that I’ve been listening to a lot of Billie Eilish, Lorde, K.Flay, and Joe Purdy lately. That might just be my mood and what I’m feeling these days.
CrypticRock.com – That is truly eclectic, though. To add to that diverse roster, you recently recorded a cover of Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up,” which you will be releasing very soon. Where and when can fans catch a listen, and what inspired you to select this particular song to cover?
Julie Nathanson – “Wise Up” has stayed with me since I first heard it in the movie Magnolia (1999). That song hit my heart, and the film deeply affected me. I actually watched it twice in a row in the theater. To me, the original song offers perspective, empathy, and wisdom to someone struggling with addiction. In my cover version, I wanted to shift the point-of-view to introspection. A look in the mirror, and a nod to the powerfully complex relationships and thoughts and feelings to which we can also become addicted, and the intersection of giving up and acceptance. I’ll be releasing the song in the next couple of weeks, and fans can connect with me via Twitter and Instagram, as well as my website for announcements.
CrypticRock.com – Fans very much look forward to that! Should we expect more musical offerings from Julie Nathanson in the future?
Julie Nathanson – I have an original, a lullaby, actually, that I’ll be releasing later this year. Then, we’ll see.
CrypticRock.com – That’s great! Can we assume that it would be your ultimate goal to combine your love of music with your voiceover work, and one day perform in a project like Disney’s Frozen where you can mix both of your talents into one on-screen performance?
Julie Nathanson – Oh, hell yes. Sign me up!
CrypticRock.com – (Laughs) Hopefully, that will be the next dream you achieve this year! Last question. CrypticRock.com covers music as well as films, particularly Horror and Science Fiction. Are you a fan of either of these genres and, if so, do you have any favorite Horror and/or Sci-Fi films?
Julie Nathanson – I really love Sci-Fi films that focus on the way we conceptualize reality and memory. Bring me all of your Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Matrix (1999) any day of the week!
For more on Julie Nathanson: Twitter
Feature photo credits: Jason Willheim