Jennifer Hale has been a part of some of video gaming's biggest franchises. She voice Samus Aran in Metroid Prime, Bastila Shan in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Naomi Hunter in the Metal Gear Solid series. The latest series that she's played an important role in is Mass Effect. Her voice is that of the female Commander Shepard. However, with her playing the female version of Commander Shephard, her voice will not be heard by a majority of players since it's more common to select the male Commander Shepard. Here is an excerpt of the interview I had with Jennifer Hale.
O.G.: How did you get started in voice acting?
Jennifer: Oh man, it's just a bunch of coincidences, really lucky ones. I went to a fine arts high school in Alabama, Alabama School of fine arts, so I knew how to act and talk. And I got a job at a video studio thanks to a couple of friends of mine as a production assistant right next door to an audio studio. They needed someone to come over who could act, understood a microphone, and do just a couple little quick things. I went in there, did it and loved it, so I bugged the guys Greg and Courtney there and made them teach me everything they could. They did and I turned it into something there. From Birmingham, I went to Atlanta to do stuff and then I came out to LA.
O.G.: I noticed that you do quite a bit of animation along with video game roles, what do you prefer out of the two?
Jennifer: There are things about each that I really like. Something about the video game roles that I've played, your basic kickass, heroines or really fun villains that I've played in animation, but something about games that has a sophistication to it that I really enjoy. Although I am able to find that in my animation projects as well. I guess my roundabout, wandering answer is that I can't pick, I love them both. I love in animation that we tend to record in a group more. I do love the incredible depth in the worlds that you get in games, not that you don't get that animation, the world is kind of its own character in a game. They're both really different, and they're both trending differently too. I'm noticing a really cool shift in games that has been so much fun which is the ability to play it more real. It seems to be more and more authenticate each year which is my favorite, I love that acting style the best. I think that goes hand in hand with the development of the visuals, and it allows us to sit back more and let the material carry it.
O.G.: Now Mass Effect 2 is only a few days away, how does it feel to come from one big series in Metal Gear Solid to being the lead role of another major series? It's funny that you play the lead character of the series, but most players will pick the guy and not go with the female.
Jennifer: I know it's so funny. I mean Bioware is such a phenomenal company. My god I love working with them, they do such incredible projects. That's one thing that I've been putting out there to everybody, if you feel so motivated, drop Bioware an email and say "Hey, push Commander Shepard as a woman a little more. " Cause they do tend to push the male voice actor, nothing against Mark Meer he's great, but you know, give me some airtime. It's been an incredible game to work on and an incredible series to be a part of. I hope for more, I have no idea what's coming and what's not coming, I can just say it's a phenomenal experience. The producers there are unbelievable. I can't believe the sheer volume of what they do, and to do it as incredibly well as they do it is so mind blowing.
O.G.:How did that work with two main characters with identical lines? Did they direct you two the same way? Did you do some sort of collaboration?
Jennifer: That right there, the consistency, is a credit to the producers and the directors. They coordinated everything because Mark's in Canada and I'm in LA. So the producers and directors really stated on top of what each department was going. Sometimes we'd hear reference of each other and sometimes we wouldn’t. And please let's not forget the writers, the script is written so specifically and so clearly that the acting takes care of itself. You just step and be that person you see on that page and it's going to be consistent. There are subtle differences between Mark and me in just who we are and how we interpret things, and that's the fun in playing a male or female Shepherd. That and I hear that a lot of male players play a female Shepherd just like having boobs.
O.G.: Well that's just the way it is. If we're going to play a game for 30 hours, some people insist on seeing boobs for those 30 hours.
Jennifer: (laughing) I guess so. It's always an option people.
O.G.: This time around did they try anything different with you two or did they keep it the same as they did in Mass Effect 1?
Jennifer: No they kept it the same. They gave us a little more autonomy to let us put our stamp on it which was awesome. The flow is just there in ME2. The story is so solid and so cool. I really feel that we hit even more of our stride in ME2. We have a phenomenal supporting cast with Claudia Black(Chloe from Uncharted 2), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galacitca), Carrie Anne Moss (Matrix Trilogy), Martin Sheen (West Wing, Apocalypse Now), Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica), and others people in our supporting cast as well as a bunch of our originals returning which is just so great.
O.G.: How was your experience overall regarding the storyline? Did you like where they took it?
Jennifer: I love where they took the storyline this time around, and I'm not going to tell you a single word of it or I'll have to kill you. (laughing) Cause the story's not out yet. Yeah it's really fun, it has more of a Wild West thing going on. And Carrie Anne Moss' character is just a trip in this thing. Yeah I love what they did with the story this time and that's all I'm going to tell you.
O.G.: Let's jump from one major game series to one of the biggest, Metal Gear Solid. When you were first doing it, did you think it was going to be as big as it is?
Jennifer: No earthly idea. I was just happy to be working and I enjoyed the director (Kris Zimmerman). She's just a phenomenal direction and one of my favorite people. Dave (David Hayter) who plays Solid Snake, he and I have been friends since we worked on Spiderman back in 1995. We realized that the other day, we were like "Oh my god, it's been that long? That's crazy." We were just having a good time. 'Lo and behold, it just kept on going, but it's not surprise. Again, there's a company and a producer, creator, writer that's making a phenomenal game. When it works, it's not surprise why because it's good.
O.G.: I noticed that there's another big series that you're working on. Looks like your working on Star Wars The Old Republic.
Jennifer: Yes I am. That's all I can say about that. We're literally in the middle of recording and if I tell you anymore, I have to disappear from the planet. Doing Bastila in Knight of the Old Republic was a blast. The fact that she had a good side and a bad side was a ton of fun.
O.G.: With you playing Bastila in KOTOR, did they really like how you played her and brought you back for another role or is there something else to it?
Jennifer: I think the great thing about Lucasarts is that the story is always primary. The story, the bible of characters and the setup. They won't bring anything back for sentimental reasons they'll bring it back because it's right for the story. I can't say what's coming back and what's not. I can say that there are elements that will make you say "Ah cool, I remember that element" and others that will make you say "Wow, what's that?"
O.G.: The last thing I wanted to touch on is that apparently, you don't play games at all?
Jennifer: (laughs) I'm horrible at games. I absolutely suck at them. When I have free time, I want to go jump on my horse or go rock climbing or go to some crazy part of the planet I haven’t seen yet. I can't stand the thought that I'm missing something going on in the world. I don't sit still long enough. But I absolutely love doing the game which kind of fits with that. When I'm doing it, I'm living it and I'm being it.
You can listen to the full interview below on the latest Original Gamer podcast.
Or download it here.
For more information on Jennifer Hale, you can visit her website JenniferHale.com and her info at IMDB.