What do voice actors owe us?

I was reading a thread on Reddit’s /r/masseffect recently. A fan had met Lance Henriksen at a horror con. They waved and said “Admiral Hackett.” Henriksen smiled and came over to shake his hand. As he was leaving, he said “Hackett out.” It made the fan’s day.

That lead to a discussion of how cool the series’ voice actors were in general. One commenter, though, mentioned an exception: Yvonne Strahovski (who plays the game’s resident ice queen, Miranda).

This lady.

Her crime? Not caring about the games.

Now I don’t know if she’s done anything else specific to the fanbase. If she has, it didn’t come up in that thread.*

One poster said their feelings were hurt when “one of the bigger names attached to the game doesn’t know a damn thing about it” and later paraphrased the game’s Okeer, saying “the biggest insult to be suffered is to be ignored.”

When it was said in the game, it was said as a response to an artificially-created plague that was killing his species, meanwhile the poster was using it to complain about how an actress he doesn’t know spends her time.

I can’t help but find this a little ridiculous, but the post made me think.

I titled this article with a question: what do voice actors owe us?

My answer? Nothing.

They owe some people things. They owe their director a good performance. They probably owe their government taxes on the money they make on their performance. They owe their studio time doing the press junkets or interviews they’re probably contractually obligated to do. But they don’t owe us anything.

Why should a voice actor need to like what they’re in? No one expects a contractor to like every house they build. No one expects a programmer to spend their spare time trying out the applications they built. No one expects a chef to spend their rare time off in their own restaurant, but for some reason some people think of it as wrong, or worse, insulting that someone who spent hours working on a game doesn’t want to put more hours listening to themselves say their lines.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great when actors like the franchise and interact with the fan base. The actors who take time and effort to make their fans feel appreciated are doing a cool, kind thing. The same reddit thread had another story about Lance Henriksen recording a custom message in Hackett’s voice on a fan’s answering machine. That’s incredibly sweet. A human being went out of their way to be nice to another human just because they could, not because they were supposed to, and that makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

I have many friends who don’t really care either way about video games. If you handed them Mass Effect, they probably wouldn’t play it. Even if they decided ‘why not’, the’d have to throw down the $300-500 to buy the game and console and gave it a shot. Once they do, they might not know what to do, get frustrated and give up (I’ll admit to doing that the first time I played Mass Effect on a PC that could barely run it) or quit because the game wasn’t their cup of tea. Whatever.

Even though the Mass Effect games are great, there are a million reasons not to care about them. There are even more reasons for an actor to not want to play a game they worked on. For example:

  • I could have put in a better performance there.
  • My voice sounds weird here.
  • It’s weird to hear my voice come out of someone that unlikable.
  • This reminds me of the bad day I was having when I recorded this.
  • I already know what she’s going to say here because I already said it.

Maybe the Redditor would argue that they didn’t expect Strahovski to play the game, just know about it. Maybe spend a few hours poking around the very extensive Mass Effect Wiki. But why?

My weird hobby of reading horror movie summaries aside, not many people like reading dry encyclopedic information about something they have no emotional stake in.

Is it better for an actor to be able to kinda pretend they care about the thing you care about in case you run into them on the street? Are they obligated to do that for every single thing they’re in or just the things you care about?

There is an exception to this rule. The only time a voice actor might owe a fan something is at a con.

When the actor agreed to be there and the fan paid money to get to see them. At that point, they owe them exactly one thing: enough polite attention to smile, shake their hand, say thank you when the fan gushes about how much the series means to them, then to take the picture or sign the autograph or whatever. That’s it. Even when you’ve paid money, they’ve been sitting there, all day, being “on” all the time.

Voice actors are people. With limited time. And their own interests. And that’s 100% okay.

What do you think? Join the conversation in the comments


*Actually, one other possible source of friction between her and the fandom did come up. The other possible explanation given in the thread is that she’d had to deal with the some less socially apt gamers who wanted her to know how attracted they were to her and her character.

This devolved into Redditors arguing whether there was proof that this had occurred/whether proof was necessary to figure out that an attractive woman working in the public eye may have had to deal with harassment. That, however, is unrelated to this article.


2 thoughts on “What do voice actors owe us?

  1. I’ve only come across voice actors at conventions where most of them at least try to show interest in their more famous products. You are right in that they don’t always have to like what they’ve voiced in, though in the case of huge blockbusters (like Mass Effect is), it’d probably cool to have some idea.

    I saw Steve Blum at Anime Central once, and while I still love the man’s voice, it was kind of disheartening to hear him say he doesn’t care about the stuff he voices. He really spoke as if it was only a job. Thankfully his co-panelist was Vic Mignanignanona (I’ll never say or spell his name correctly, lol), who is super into the things he voices and brought more life to the party.

    I think fans are upset when their favorite voice actors don’t care because so many of those fans would love to be a voice in their fandoms. So when someone like Travis Willingham gets excited at seeing himself in Infamous Second Son while he’s playing, in a weird way it feels like he’s worthy of the role because he cares about it.

    It’s not that all VAs have to care about their material, but damn it feels kind of special when they geek out about it as much as the fans do.


  2. I completely agree that it’s super cool when they geek out with us. When I went to a smaller con, J. August Richards (Gunn from Angel) was there. He actually engaged with us and thoughtfully considered who would win in a fight, Gunn or his character from Agents of Shield. Like he stood and thought about it and I loved him for it.

    I think you’re right that if an actor is going to agree to be on a panel, they should either care or at the very least be able to act like they care because they signed on to it. But even then, if they don’t care about the finished project, they can let the fans in on what it’s like to do the job and their experiences on set. That doesn’t require them to care about the series, but it still gives the fans an enjoyable experience. (Also, note to self, don’t go to a Steve Blum panel, I guess).

    I think what I really meant is not that I don’t want voice actors to be into what they make (I really love when they are) or that I don’t care when they go out of their way to take care of fans. Those are the voice actors that are really something special and deserve all the love fans give them.

    I think I was annoyed (and wrote and article) because the redditor was acting like because someone had been in a game he loved (and which admittedly is one of the two most popular things she’s in) that was more important than who she was a person with her own interests and passions.


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