Padmé Amidala (Star Wars: The Clone Wars), Mission Vao (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
Interview: April 2010
How did you start in the (voice) acting business?
I moved to Los Angeles to be an actress, so, I was already here working on camera. I had actually never even heard of voice over when I was referred to a really great Voice agent through someone who thought I had the right stuff for that side of the business. Luckily the agent agreed, signed me, and the rest, as they say….
Your first job for Lucasfilm was the videogame Knights of the Old Republic, for which you voiced Mission Vao. How did you get this job?
Not only was Mission my first voice over job, it was literally my second audition! When my agent, Sandie, called to let me know I had booked the job, she said “you might not want to say it’s your first voice over job”. I did end up telling the director, Darraugh, at the end of the job, because it all went so well. He, Sandie and I had a good laugh. That job gave me some credibility early on, so I feel very fortunate to have been there. I really feel it is my own love and knowledge of the Star Wars universe that helped me to get the job. I love that game, and I still get mail from Mission Vao fans! You are best known as the voice of Padmé for the Clone Wars series. How did you get this part? Lucasfilm knew you, but did you still have to audition?
Actually, Lucasfilm didn’t know me. The thing about Lucas is that the departments are separate. Although they communicate, LucasArts, who does the video games, is a different entity than Lucas Film. I was still fairly new at the time, so my agent had to call the casting person 3 times to convince her to see me. Sandie said “no really, she IS Padmé.” Thankfully, I got the appointment. I didn’t hear anything for a month, but it was still on my mind everyday. Then, one day my agent called and said “What’s up Padmé?” After she convinced me she wasn’t just joking with me, I think I screamed. I was very happy!
Did you study Natalie Portman’s performance in the Prequels a lot to get the voice of Padmé right? Or did you give Padmé your personal touch?
I naturally have a voice similar in tone to Natalie’s, and I certainly have watched her performance from the films many times. I also studied the wealth of data on Padmé and her history at the Star Wars online database, but, after that, Dave is really great about letting me just play Padmé as I see her. Whether you are doing theater, such as a Shakespearean piece or film or television, I believe when you take on a character it’s important to make it your own, and not just try and copy another actor’s performance. I feel honored to be the one bringing Padmé to life in all her new trials and adventures.
What’s it like, working on Clone Wars? How do your days look when you’re working on the series?
If we are recording an all new episode, it takes 4 hours for the initial record. First, Dave talks to the cast about what is going on in the episode and brings to life any history that may be relevant. Then we go through the script, just like an old school radio play. Unless the cast member is out of town, we are all there together in a big room stationed in front of our mics. Usually there is also a camera set up to record our faces for the animators. It is so much fun! Then some days you are just going in to do “pick ups”, adding any finishing touches or changes that have been made to the episode after the animation has been done. In this case, you are often saying your lines “to picture.” You have to time it correctly to fit with the animation. Dave is always there, in the control booth with our awesome engineer, Cameron, and sometimes, Dave will bring a writer or episode director down to Los Angeles with him. I love that, because it’s great to meet the other “teammates”!
How is your relationship with your colleagues like Dave Filoni, Tom Kane and Matt Lanter?
Dave is the coolest director I have ever worked with. He cares about the material and he understands how to communicate with us. He will often send me some of Padmé’s speeches months before we record an episode to ask how I feel about them. He knows I have very clear ideas about who she is. Although I don’t always have the final say, he really listens to my ideas and feelings. It’s pretty awesome. Tom Kane is one of the coolest people in the business. He is so funny and genuine, and wise… the fact that this super tall guy plays this tiny green Jedi seems crazy at first, but the more you get to know Tom, the more you are like, well besides the height thing, he is Yoda! Matt is super fun and talented. I love doing the romantic and the bantering scenes with him. Sometimes I forget we are animated! I have become good friends with James Arnold Taylor and have learned so much from him about how to be a good person and true to yourself in this crazy business. Ironically, I think he and I have really developed a friendship that is very close to Padmé and Obi Wan’s. Dee, Corey and Phil are so talented and funny, I always say working with them is like going to Harvard for Voice Overs. Ian Abercrombie is a true gentleman and is an acting legend to me. Last but not least, Ashley! Ashley, simply put, is THE BEST girl to work with. She is genuinely sweet and supportive. We are really lucky to have gotten such a great group of people together.
What do you expect of Clone Wars: Season 3? The stories in season 2 seem to get more and more ‘mature’. Will season 3 continue this?
Absolutely. Things get darker as the series goes along. I think they kind of have to in order to be true to the overall Star Wars “legend”. Ashley and Dave are taking Ahsoka in a very cool direction as she matures and comes into her own. We know the path Anakin is headed down, and we will start to see that transition. Everyone is affected, not only by the war itself, but also the hidden politics that are below the surface. There will still be the classic Star Wars humor and light hearted fun moments, but the darker more mature tone continues for sure.
I heard you’re a huge Star Wars fan. How and when did your fandom start?
As a kid I grew up loving sci-fi and fantasy, but I was more of reader. As a late teen and young adult, so many of the guys I knew loved Star Wars that it just rubbed off on me! It delivered all the things I love – princesses, scoundrels, space ships, creatures, good versus evil, it has it all! I love all 6 of the live action films, although Empire Strikes Back is my favorite I think, because of Hoth and Dagobah. I am also a fan of the Zahn books, and now I really love getting recommendations from fans on other expanded universe stuff to check out. Since you’re such a fan voicing a major Star Wars character like Padmé must feel like a dream coming true I guess?
I am not trying to be a cornball, when I say it really is an honor. I said prayers and wished on every star in the sky to get this job! And I am grateful to have been chosen.
How ‘far’ do you go or have you gone as a fan? I mean things like a house full of merchandise or sleeping in front of the cinema to see the first screening of Episode I for instance.
I do have quite a bit of merchandise in my office I must say. Dave didn’t believe me at first…then he saw photos! I actually have stuff from many of the jobs I have worked on, posters, artwork and figures. The coolest thing I have though, is a drawing Dave did of me fused with Padmé. I love it. I haven’t slept in lines though, although I really am in awe of the story telling magic that compels so many fans to do so.
Another major character you voiced was Princess Leia for the videogame The Force Unleashed. How strange was that, being the voice of one of the most popular movie characters ever? Since you’re a Star Wars fan maybe you imagined you were Leia when you were a kid?
Forget as a kid, I still imagine I’m Leia! But really, it was fun to play Leia, and just to be a small part of The Force Unleashed. I love Leia’s attitude and we try to bring some of that to Padmé on the Clone Wars, for sure. I hope to play Jaina Solo someday and complete my “trilogy”. I’m thinking Live Action. That way I finally get to wield a lightsaber!
What will the future bring you? Do you have new projects and on what Star Wars projects will you work in the future?
I am having a great time and keeping super busy. But the funny thing about this line of work is all the confidentiality clauses! I keep my website updated and also IMDB is a good way to check out what I am doing…I have Metal Gear coming out soon, and this cool game Resonance of Fate just hit stores. And yes, there is more Star Wars for me!