Interview: Jennifer Hale Talks About Voicing FemShep In Mass Effect 3

Even if you don’t already know the name, there’s a good chance that you know the voice. Jennifer Hale is no n00b to the video games industry. You can hear her voicing characters from Bastila Shan in Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic to Dr. Naomi Hunter in Metal Gear Solid. Hale has also lent her voice to television in The Powerpuff Girls, Totally Spies and Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Jennifer took a few moments out of her hectic schedule to speak to Complex about her latest work in the wildly successful Mass Effect 3 as the voice of FemShep.

Tell us little about yourself and your history of voice acting.

That’s a big question! (laughs) I’ve been doing it for about 20 years and I love it. I’ve done hundreds of cartoons and series of all different genres. I’ve done everything from wacky stuff to serious superhero roles. I do on-camera acting as well.

Were you interested in providing a voice for FemShep or did BioWare come to you?

They had an audition as they do for most projects and I was lucky enough to be chosen.

A lot of us know you from voicing Bastila Shan from Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic as well. How different was that for you than FemShep?

Completely different. Different character, different universe. The Star Wars universe is really unto itself as is the whole Mass Effect universe. That’s really one of the things I love about video games. It’s a whole new world every time you start.

Are you a gamer yourself?

No, I’m not very good at it. I’m also quite busy, so I don’t have much free time. When I do, I love to get outside and rock climb, jump on a horse or travel somewhere. That gives me the life experience to do what I do, which is the acting.

When voicing FemShep, did you have much room to ad lib or did you stick strictly to a script?

In the Mass Effect universe, there is zero ad libbing. Not even a rest, pause, or an “um”. There’s no contraction where there isn’t one. You have to be true to every single letter or it creates a bug in the system. That’s the way that they put games together. Otherwise, it’ll get kicked right back to be redone.

No input whatsoever?

You get a script and you don’t get it until you get there [the studio] because of confidentiality issues. If you’re lucky, you can see your lines and the other people’s so you can read what happens in between and get some context. There’s the director as well who I believe has one of the most underrated parts of the process. They’re critical for giving you context and making it all sound right and come together.

Writing is also key. It’s gotta be well-written. You’ve got to want to relate to it, get involved in that universe and spend time there. Everything has to move you on a human level and it takes a lot of skill to write that way.

Which FemShep were you rooting for when fans were asked to vote for their favorite?

I was hoping for the one with blue eyes and brown hair but was quite happy with the one they chose. I think she’s awesome.

You’ve done so many voices, which role has been your favorite, thus far in gaming?

I know it might sound silly, but I have a special place for all of them. FemShep, I have to say, has been one of my all-time favorite experiences. The fact that we busted through and got her on the box. Also because she’s a leading woman and I respect leaders. It doesn’t matter if she’s male or female, she gets stuff done to save the universe. The cast was great, the writing was great and it was also fun.

Do you prefer to play stronger female characters or wacky characters?

I like them both for different reasons. I like the wacky ones because you rarely get to get out of your own serious character. With the strong ones, it’s great to lead. You get to set the tone and call people into battle and make it happen.

Do you see yourself as sort of a role model for female gamers or female voice actors who might want to step into voice acting or work in the game industry?

I don’t think that’s for me to say but thank you. It’s fun to be on the first wave and to see the genre really coming into its own. That’s awesome. And if I can do it well in a way that maybe inspires other people to take it to the next level, then that’s fantastic.

What would you say is your least favorite or most difficult voice acting job?
The hardest I’ve done is when I did spots for Gateway computers. They have stores all over the country so I had a list of a couple hundred or so–all the different pronunciations. You had to say it the same way every time like it’s the first time somebody called. If I had to pick something, I’d pick that for sure.

You said you don’t really play games but have you actually played any of the Mass Effect games? Are you going to play Mass Effect 3?

I have! I did an interview with Tom Bissell for the New Yorker last year and as part of the interview, he made me play through about an hour of Mass Effect 2. It was very interesting to do but drove me a little crazy, because I just wanted to go back and re-do a bunch of stuff. I was like “well now that I know that, I wanna do this line again!” I can be a little bit of a perfectionist about that stuff.

Since it’s possible to be in a relationship with many of the characters. Which one would you choose?

I don’t know, maybe Garrus or Thane.

If you hadn’t ended up voicing FemShep, which character would you have liked to voice?

I never thought of that. Hmm, I’d say Miranda.

Would you have preferred they motion captured you for the role as well?

Oh, yeah. I’d prefer to do mo-cap for anything because I like to bring the whole character to life, not just the voice. Yvonne is fantastic and if you forced me to pick someone, that’s who I’d pick.

What do you have coming up in the future?

There’s some stuff that I can’t talk about for confidentiality reasons but I can mention Diablo III which is coming out. I’m working on a few episodes of a show called Shaolin Chronicles. It’s sort of a reboot of Shaolin Showdown. I’m also doing more Totally Spies episodes. I’ve got The Avengers and The Green Lantern cartoon series and an episode of The Office — just a small funny little phone call into the office. Then there’s an independent film in the works. That’s about it.

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