Most Hollywood actors know that as hard as it is to “break into” the acting world, it is 10x harder to “break into” the voice over world. The world of voice over contains a small amount of extremely talented people who have decades of experience. So being able to become someone who is auditioning alongside them is very hard- to say the least. In addition, due to the demand in voice over work and the select few that are on the top of everyones short list most voice over actors make their living and acting career in a sound booth- transitioning out of the on-camera world completely. Recently, I was lucky enough to get a chance to nab some of extremely successful voice over actress Peta Johnson’s time and pick her brain about her career.
I started doing voiceover when I was 19. I started by doing local radio commercials in my home town in Australia.
Was it something that happened during your acting training, for a specific role, or always something you wanted to do?
Voiceover was something I fell into by accident. I had studied acting in LA when I was 18, then on my return to Australia, became a casting assistant. After 6 months, I ended up running the casting agency and got a call one day from the local radio station who were desperately looking for a replacement voice actress for a commercial as their regular girl was sick. I asked them, “What type of voice are you looking for?” and they said, “YOUR voice!”. The rest, as they say, is history.
After that first role, what was your training to be a voice over actress?
I’ve trained extensively as an actress in both Australia and Los Angeles but I’ve actually never taken a ‘voice over’ class. I’ve always been really good at accents. I would mimic accents and characters that I heard on television growing up. It always just came naturally to me and as I worked more, I kept adding more accents and characters to my repertoire.
Some say the voice over world of acting is harder to break into then regular acting. Do you agree? Was it hard for you?
The voiceover world is a very niche part of the entertainment industry. I came into the world of VO before it started its move to the internet. I think that being at the forefront of that transition gave me an advantage to establish many of my long term clients and maintain my presence in the industry. Also, coming to the US as an Aussie at the same time allowed me to tap into other areas of voiceover (animation), and ultimately be represented by the top agents in Hollywood. That said, although it may be harder to ‘break into’ the VO world these days, you have the wonderful advantage of doing it yourself . If you have a computer, a microphone and an editing program, you’re halfway there! But, you have back it up with talent, and that means more than just a great voice.
How do you keep your skills sharp?
I’m fortunate enough to work every day in the voiceover world. I have my own home studio and edit my own work so whether it’s a job or an audition, I’m always working on my craft. I also audition daily at my agents offices and get to work with some of the industries best booth directors who are always challenging me and pushing me out of my comfort zone to do something different or new.
Describe a typical day as a voice over actor on “set”?
Every job is different, but a typical voiceover job for me is usually pretty relaxed. More often than not, you don’t get the script beforehand so being ‘vocally’ warmed up is imperative because you just never know how vocally stressful the session may be. Once you’re booked for a job, the client assumes you’re a pro so you simply review the script and BAM, you’re in the booth! The audio engineer will check your levels (audio volume), maybe they’ll adjust the microphone and then it’s show time. I’ll usually give them a read though of the script to make sure that I’m interpreting their copy (script) the way they want. Then, I’ll give them as many takes as they request and I’m done. It’s usually pretty seamless, however, there are always some ‘fussy’ clients who like you to read the script several different ways until they hear what they like. Either way, it’s always fun and challenging.
What is your favorite part about voice over acting?
My favorite part about voiceover acting is the people I get to work with and the scripts I get to read. It’s such a collaborative industry, from the agents to the writers to the VO to the engineers to the directors to the producers. And, let’s face it, I get paid to ‘play’ and make ‘silly voices’ all day!
Are there any roles you haven’t played that you want to?
I love hearing the work of other voiceover actresses, so there will always be roles that I hear that I wish I could do. But, I also know that my voice is unique and that I’ll book roles that others’ wish they had booked.
What is next for Peta?
Apart from being a voiceover actress, I am also an on-camera actress, a writer and a producer. I have just finished writing the treatment for a feature film saga with my producing partner in Australia and we are about to pitch the project to ‘Screen Australia’ to secure development funding. And of course, staying true to my roots, I recorded an ‘audio trailer’ for the pitch.
An Australian native, Actress and Voice Actress Peta Johnson resides in Los Angeles. With over 20 years experience, Peta has been represented by the largest Hollywood agents but most recently relocated to AVO Talent. Some of her credits include the Emmy Award winning animated series “Animalia” in which she voiced more than 6 characters, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” by Gametap, the lead character role of “Purna” in the 1st & 2nd installments of the hugely successful video game “Dead Island” & “Dead Island: Riptide”, the “Bond Girl” Voice on the National Networks Encore & Starz and the MMOG gameplay “Star Wars: The Old Republic – Knights of the Fallen Empire”. Peta was most recently cast as the voice of the ‘Queen of the World’ – “Cadsuane” in “The Wheel of Time” video game series.
“If you always do what interests you, at least one person is pleased.” Katharine Hepburn
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(photos of Peta Johnson and courtesy of Peta Johnson)