Toon Zone Interviews Voice Actor Hynden Walch: Alien Girls and Killer Clowns
It was a very pleasant discovery to find that voice actor Hynden Walch is as delightfully energetic, outgoing, and endearing as many of the charcters she provides voices for. She may be best known as Starfire on Teen Titans, but in her 10 years in the voice acting business, she has provided voices for projects as diverse as MGM’s direct-to-video movie The Secret of NIMH 2, Nickelodeon’s ChalkZone, Warner Brothers’ The Batman and Batman Gotham Knight, and the anime projects Lucky Star, Gurren Lagann, and IGPX.
Walch was in New York City leading her “Animation in the City” seminar on the craft and business of voice acting. We were able to sit in for part of the seminar, and sit down with her for a quick chat after the seminar was finished.
TOON ZONE NEWS: You started your schooling at the North Carolina School of the Arts, is that right?
HYNDEN WALCH: Yeah, that’s right! I went to high school there for music. For singing.
TZN: So it wasn’t for acting?
WALCH: No, at the time they didn’t have an acting program for high school, and I just really needed to get out of where I was living. It was great. And I’ve always been a singer, so it was great training, a great school. Go NCSA! (laughs)
TZN: You’ve also got a degree from UCLA for American Literature, I think…
WALCH: Yeah, that’s right, I just went back much later, and I went for fun.
TZN: So this was already after you started acting?
WALCH: I just graduated 2 years ago. So I just went for fun, to do something different, focus on something different. Use a different part of my brain.
TZN: What kind of training have you had as an actress, then?
WALCH: I do by doing. I hear so many actors go, “Oh, yes, it’s so important to take classes.” I don’t think so. I feel like if you want to bone up on your skills, go do a play. The audience will tell you what’s going on, better than somebody else who might have maybe an agenda of their own (laughs). I went to the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music for about 10 minutes when I was 18, and that was because my parents really, really, really, really, really, Really, really, REALLY, REALLY wanted me to go to college (laughs). NCSA is a professional school in just every sense of the word. There, you’re assessed on your ability, not on your age, so you can go right into college music classes as a sophomore in high school, and it’s just fine. But going to Cincinnati was a different thing. It was different people, it was very different teachers. It was funny though: when I told my parents I was leaving, they said they were surprised that I had hung around that long.
TZN: So how did you get into voice acting?
WALCH: I had always wanted to do it. I was in Chicago, where there’s a lot of commercials, but there’s no animation. Finally, when I moved to L.A., I asked my agents if they knew any voice-over agents, and they said, “Oh, yes, we do!” So I went in and read some copy for them and they said, “Great!” So then — I said this to the class earlier — I had to audition for four years. Going in for four years and getting absolutely nothing, to the point where you feel like your voice is going into a black hole. It’s a very exclusive group in voice acting.
I finally got a break, and I got a chance. I did the MGM movies which was what started my voice acting career. I did the leads in The Secret of NIMH 2 and Tom Sawyer, and then I played Penny on a show called ChalkZone on Nickelodeon, which started very early on and then went into hibernation and then came back.
TZN: And then it was Starfire in Teen Titans?
WALCH: Well, then it’s Stanley on Disney, and then Teen Titans. They were all going on at the same time. And then it kind of kept going from there.
TZN: How were you cast for Starfire?
WALCH: Just auditioning. Same as everybody else. I got really lucky in that I knew Andrea Romano. I had done a guest role for her on Static Shock, and she said she would be looking for stuff for me at that point. And then Teen Titans came up, and it was love! (laughs)
TZN: Were you familiar with the character from the comics at all?
WALCH: No, not at all.
TZN: Did you get familiar afterwards?
WALCH: Yup. I did my research. But, of course, Starfire animated is very different from the one in the comic book (laughs).
TZN: Yeah, a little bit less va-va-voom in the animated series.
WALCH: Oh, my yes.
TZN: Where did you get the Starfire character from? What were you inspired by?
WALCH: (Click to listen to Walch’s response) Where it came from really for me was the fact that she could fly. That I knew she could fly…something just clicked in my head about air. So that’s where all the gasping came from. That wasn’t really in the script originally, but I heard from the network, “They love the way you gasp.” (laughs) And so it was all (as Starfire) “*GASP*!!! Robin?” You know, and so everything with Starfire is air air air. Breathing and air and everything is AIR, and TOTAL connection with your heart. The emotions are just on her breath, and that was…Oh, that sounds so hokey and actor-y, but that’s where it came from, really (laughs). It was just, you know, breathe, and lots of breath and lots of heart. Oh, and the fact that she was a genius. She’s just from out of town. (laughs). Fish out of water, but an absolute genius. She’s just not familiar with the culture.
TZN: Do you have a favorite episode or a favorite performance on the show?
WALCH: I really liked episode 2, “Sisters,” because I was Blackfire, too. The whole recording session was me talking to myself, which was fun. Blackfire is me at age 14. Just a very, very bad kid. (laughs) And so it was really fun to contrast that, and I’m sure my face was going from sweet Starfire to bad Blackfire. Just back and forth. It was really schizophrenic and really fun.
TZN: From the outside looking in, it seems like one of the harder things to do as Starfire were the times where she has to be really funny without being aware that she’s being funny. Is that something that you felt doing the character?
WALCH: Did I shoot for comic timing?
WALCH: No. That was the key to the comic timing — just play it absolutely straight, like I didn’t get the joke.
TZN: And just let the writing do the work for you.
WALCH: Exactly. Just be absolutely earnest about it.
TZN: Do you have any great stories about events in the booth? I know Andrea Romano likes recording ensemble, so you were always with the other Titans voice actors.
WALCH: We were all always together, and I call it the studio of love because of that show. We all just LOVED each other: the producers, the crew, the cast. Everybody was just nuts about each other and had so much fun. Andrea told me once that she likes to cast in the same way that she would like to invite really great people to a fabulous dinner party, so she chooses personalities that she knows will get along. That absolutely happened on the show, to the extent that we’re almost scared that it will NEVER happen to us again (laughs). It was SO much love in that room all the time, and I think you can tell from watching the show.
Oh, and can I say for the record that Andrea Romano is the best voice director in the world, and I adore her. I just wanted to say that.
TZN: I think a lot of our readers would agree.
WALCH: Everyone would agree. They’d be crazy not to.
TZN: Did you ever stumble over the crazy alien things that they had you say?
WALCH: Oh, Tamaranian? David Slack, the writer, said he’d got to the point of writing so much Tamaranian that he could conjugate the verbs. But no, actually, it was all so clearly written that we all just got used to it, and so it was fun.
TZN: You were also Harley Quinn in The Batman. Did you have to audition for that role?
WALCH: (Click to listen to Walch’s response) Oh, yes. Everybody has to audition. Well, almost everyone. There was sort of a story about that, but I don’t think I can tell you. But know that the first time I ever saw Harley Quinn on Batman the Animated Series, played by the amazing Arleen Sorkin, I was just like, “*gasp*! I wish I could play that role! That’s like the BEST part EVER!!! I wish I could play her some day.” And then when it happened, it was just so cool. I was so grateful.
TZN: Paul Dini actually created the character with Arleen Sorkin in mind.
TZN: How do you take a character like that and try to make it your own?
WALCH: Well, I didn’t try to make it my own. I tried to make it Harley, and that was the best thing I could do. I mean, I can’t speak to everyone on The Batman, but I know that we were all really just trying to tune in to the iconic characters we were playing. Because when you’re a voice actor, it’s not about you, it’s about the character. If there’s a history of that character, you want to be as true to that as you possibly can be without voice matching. Just keep the spirit alive and have it come out in your own voice. I know that’s what I did.
TZN: So what kind of difference were you aiming for in The Batman vs. Arleen Sorkin in Batman the Animated Series?
WALCH: A difference? Hmmmm…I’m not as well versed in Batman the Animated Series as I might be. What happened for the audition was that I got Arleen Sorkin’s influences from the original. I was like, “Go watch Born Yesterday,” go get the gun moll kind of thing. It probably would have thrown me and intimidated me if I had gotten out Batman the Animated Series and watched that a million times before my audition, so it was just going back to the source of it. But I just love her. (laughs) Harley is just so cool.
TZN: You just also started getting more roles in anime voice acting, like you’re the female lead in Gurren Lagann now. Do you find it’s very different doing the roles in anime voice acting than it is in regular voice acting?
WALCH: Well, they’re very different things. I just told the class that the main difference is that anime is harder. It’s much, much harder to do, but anime is what’s being made right now, whereas they’re making much less cartoons right now.
TZN: Would you say that moving into anime is just a necessity to keep doing the work, then?
WALCH: Um, it’s the wanting to do…you know, make pretty voices to pretty pictures? (laughs) Which is a really fun way to work, or spend the afternoon, so yeah, as long as it’s fun, then I’ll keep doing anime. It is hard, though. It is very hard.
TZN: You don’t have as much freedom with the performance as you would. You have to match the lip flaps and all that.
WALCH: Yes, and it’s piecemeal. And you never get to act with anybody and you never get to do a whole scene. It’s just chop-chop-chop-chop-chop. And unless you ask specially, you don’t get to read the script before you record it.
TZN: How do you adjust as an actress to that?
WALCH: Well, I ask for the script, number one (laughs), which may be greeted as a very odd request, but that way I know what character I’m playing and what’s going on in the story, which I’d think would be an essential part of doing it. And then, you just roll with it.
TZN: What did you mean that you have to do the work piecemeal?
WALCH: If you have a paragraph in anime, I would be doing it one sentence at a time, which gets a little tricky. And it’s honestly taking a big risk to do anime as an original actor, because if it comes back sounding like ass (laughs), then that’s not good, and you’re really at the mercy of your voice director to hope that these pieces that you’ve done actually sound like a cohesive paragraph or a cohesive scene when you’re done. Because you’re doing them again and again and again and again, right in a row. Even as small as a sound, you can do three takes of one syllable. It’s like, “Why am I doing this? What’s the context? (laughs) What’s going on?” “We don’t have time. Next.” It’s really crazy. I mean, I think anime is beautiful. I went to visit Studio IG in Tokyo, when I was working on IGPX for them, and it was just so cool to see the artists at work and just to see how amazing the stuff was that they were creating. I think it’s gorgeous.
TZN: What do you do when you can’t find the character?
WALCH: Hmmm…a regular character, or an incidental character?
TZN: A regular character.
WALCH: Well, you had to have found it before you got there, or you wouldn’t have gotten the job, so that makes life a lot easier. And if you can’t find it when you’re auditioning for it, then you don’t get the job. But there’s absolutely no right and wrong with this. I was telling the class that creators, producers, writers, executives, casting directors…they all have different ideas about what these characters sound like, and none of them agree. None of us agree on anything. And so, basically, I told them (Click listen to Walch’s response) the only guaranteed way to get a job, to get cast, is to read the producers’ unconscious minds, and then give them exactly what it is that they think they want on a level that they can’t access consciously. So…(laughs), it’s really hard (laughs). And a lot of times, when you go in to audition, your part will change. Actors go around thinking, “Oh, I really must have done a bad job, I thought I was great, why didn’t I get this show?” It’s because, well, you’re 37-year old woman, and they just changed the role to a 65-year old man, or they just killed the project. So it wasn’t the actor…the show’s gone. And we never really get to hear about that on the acting side of things, so we just blame ourselves (laughs). It’s sad, but true.
TZN: In the class, you mentioned your own projects. I don’t know how much you can talk about them right now…
WALCH: Oh, almost nothing. Pretty much almost nothing. Don’t TELL anyone. (laughs)
TZN: Well, we can say that you’re working on SOMETHING.
WALCH: Yes, I am now in the ideas man business. (Laughs)
TZN: I guess it means you’re moving over to the other side of the booth, though.
WALCH: No such thing. You can do everything all at once. You really can. If you’re doing an animated show, it’s like two hours of your time a week, so there is plenty of time to be doing other things. You can always have your hands on.
TZN: Do you think that there’s been anything that you’ve picked up from doing the recording that you’re saying, “OK, make sure to do this, or NOT to do that?”
WALCH: Absolutely. I come at it completely from an audio/voice actor standpoint, which is something that’s really unusual when it comes to show creators and writers. I’m not sure I can even say this, but we did casting on a show I developed way before we were supposed to, just because I was saying, “We need to get these voices in here, just so we know who we’re talking about.” I know how that works on a show, where the voices become US, and who we are as people. If you remember the pilot of Titans, which I think was not shown first, but shown third or something, it was like, “Well, we THINK this is how these guys are going to be…”, but then when they had us in the room for the first time and saw who we were, that’s what led the direction a lot of where we went and who we were. Who Starfire became was really a lot based on me. If someone else had played her, she would have been a different character in the end.
TZN: Can you talk about anything else you’re working on? What’s coming up next for Hynden Walch?
WALCH: What’s next? I like this anime show that I do called Lucky Star. I think it’s hilarious (laughs). I think it should be on ABC. And, also, I’m doing more ideas business stuff that I can’t say anything about yet. Soon! I’ll call you back (laughs)!
Toon Zone News would like to thank Hynden Walch for taking the time to talk with us, especially right after wrapping up her two-day seminar, as well as Suzannah Frisbie of Marla Kirban Voice-Over for making this interview possible and David Lyerly from Marla Kirban for letting us sit in on Walch’s class and sparing the extra Harley Quinn picture for an autograph.