Q: When did you discover you’d once again be lending your voice to the Fallout universe?
Courtenay Taylor: A few weeks into working on the Fallout universe [laughs]. I was super dumb. Actually, this makes me feel better because Brian [T. Delaney, male protagonist voice] was also super dumb about it. Even though we both read our audition copy, we didn’t know. The funny part was that the recording studio we were using had a freaking Fallout banner over the door. It had been there for a couple of years, to be fair, put there during Fallout: New Vegas. But, both of us walked in like, “I have no idea what we’re working on.” Finally, Kal-el [Bogdanove, director] told me what it was. So, the penny dropped. Ignorance is bliss.
Q: What was your brief for Fallout 4? What was it Bethesda was after?
Courtenay Taylor: There wasn’t much of a breakdown. I knew it was a player voice, so I thought it was something strong. I came up with a bunch of ideas about things. I think over the first few sessions I realised that what they really wanted was for the actors to bring a truth to some of the extraordinary circumstances that are in the game, and also the not-extraordinary circumstances. So in the trailer you see the house, the baby… those moments have heart and emotion and soul in them, but also [we had to] carry off the crazier elements.
Wherever that character was in the game, that it would come from a truthful place. I think I had ideas in my head about being a kind of hero, and it really turned into being sort of an everywoman and everyman. The more I understood about the game… knowing that they had tried to match up our voices with different mutations of what the character looked like, and no matter what, it wasn’t jarring. So my super high squeaky voice did not make it into the game [laughs]. But also, my heroic ideas got scrapped.
Q: How did you prepare for such an undertaking?
Courtenay Taylor: I don’t think I really knew it was an undertaking, walking in at the beginning. To my mind, I’ve done a lot of sessions for Elder Scrolls – but a lot of sessions to me is like 15 sessions. Between five and 15 sessions, you’re like, “Yeah, this is good! This is like a good character.” They didn’t share… they said it was going to be a lot of sessions, and I thought it was going to be something like that. They waved around the bible of what we were doing, and I was like, “Oh, this is going to be way more than that.”
And I thought maybe a year or something, but they go, “No, should be around about two years.” There wasn’t really much preparation for me, it was always that idea of it being a long-term thing. It was great, but it was kind of like, in my car, if I’m driving from New York to California, I know it’s like 3000 miles or so, but I can’t see New York from here. It’s very abstract. I just see the road in front of me, and that’s the approach I took with the ‘be here now’ thing.
Q: Were you asked to play Fallout 4’s female sole survivor a certain way, or did you try and keep her line reads neutral? I guess what I’m asking is: how much width were you given to inject personality into her?
Courtenay Taylor: I think they grew the characters with what we brought to it. They were very open to having us infuse our own personality into it. Brian has this hilarious laugh, and he’s this really bubbly effervescent personality, fun sense of humour. He calls himself this: “Just a Philly ham and egg kind of guy.” Which is, I guess, Philly speak for ‘a regular dude’. I have a little more edge to me. So it was kind of hard to imagine, especially once I knew him, that juxtaposition.
The female character would have a little more edge, and the male character would be a little bit more like Brian is in real life. I think the team was open to having us do that, and not being like ‘this is a generic thing’. This is an immersive game, you get to make the choices. The whole point of having a voiced protagonist, you get a more immersive experience. If it was really robotic or flat, I feel it would take you out of the experience and you might as well just go back to the old way of doing it.
Q: What can you tell us about the recording process? Did you work alongside other voice actors? Over what sort of time frame did you lay down the vocal tracks?
Courtenay Taylor: We never worked with anyone – it was just me and our director, Kal-el Bogdanove. We would work four days out of a five day week, about roughly once a month. Brian always had the morning session because he has kids, he gets up bright and early and is super energetic. We tried to flip it a couple times and they were like, “Yeah, we’re not recording you in the mornings at all.” I was walking in like a zombie. Generally, I had the late shift, Brian opened the shop. Kal-el was there all day, bless him. It was nice, because we got like four days of immersion in the material, and then we got to take a break and they would write some more stuff and fine-tune everything.
We didn’t get to work alongside each other – most video games you work by yourself in a booth. Kal-el was fantastic about acting out the dish lines and the different characters that we encounter. It really felt like it never got boring. He had an opinion, he had a lot of information that he gave us. The dev team was very forthcoming with information. It was a very rich world to get to work in, and I never really felt like “oh, I never know what’s going on”, or “oh, this is boring”. It’s the same thing every day. Kal-el brought his A-game every day, and at the end of the process I felt like I got to do this amazing major motion picture.
Q: Do you know how many lines you recorded for Fallout 4?
Courtenay Taylor: I know 13,000 made it into the game. I guess, if you count do-overs and mess-ups, there’s probably five billion. But yeah, 13,000 made it into the game, over two years of recording, with 50 or 60 sessions. It was awesome, I would do it as my day job forever. If they want to do it as a running thing, they just have to call me, because I will come back anytime.
Q: What would you say to convince players to choose a female rather than male survivor?
Courtenay Taylor: Well, I’m not the kind of person that will try to convince you to do anything. I would say play both, because it’s not a character that’s been voiced by a man or a woman, it’s two characters. You can play as the wife or as the husband. I would say do both, in whatever order you want to do it in. I wouldn’t just play male because you’re male, and I wouldn’t just play female because you’re female. For me personally, I want to play what I’m not all the time. It’s so customisable. Use the extra five, six, or 700 hours that you have in life to play it all [laughs].
Q: Video games tend to feature a lot of grunting and screaming. How do you go about making the right noises?
Courtenay Taylor: I managed a boxing gym, and boxed when I was younger. I think that’s actually why I was working in video games to start with, because I already know what it’s like to get punched in the gut or the face. I think my physical background helped a lot.
Q: Does any particular recording session from any time in your career stand out for any reason (good or bad or weird)?
Courtenay Taylor: My last session playing Jack [Mass Effect], I cried. I cried, I loved that character so much. That was a tough one. I think it’s an embarrassment of riches these days, because we get a lot of that cinematic stuff now. There’s a lot of really good, juicy material. I definitely remember Everquest II when they had me play a froglok, and I almost water-boarded myself because in character, the frogloks speak with water in their mouths. I remember the editor being like, “Here’s a bottle of water, and here’s a roll of paper towels – you’re going to need them.” I was like, “Yeah, whatever,” and then like, drowning during the session and being like, “Okay, you were right, I was wrong.” So that’s probably the funniest physical one.
Q: You’ve worked on a number of huge franchises now including Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Destiny. Does the process differ each time?
Courtenay Taylor: Yeah. I think it depends on who is directing and what the material is. Each game is unique and each director is different. We’re lucky in that game companies are hiring. I think the levels are just elevated across the board with directing and acting. It’s like getting to work on a movie most of the time. I mean, sometimes, it’s a little bit like you go in, you bang out a bunch of military barks or some generic lines. But a lot of the time I walk out feeling like I’m doing a TV show or a movie. It’s a really wonderful feeling, I love it.
Q: What qualities make for a good voice actor?
Courtenay Taylor: Imaginary friends. A vivid imagination. A lack of self-consciousness. I pull a lot of faces to make the noises that we have to do. Because we’re not moving or not interacting with other people, you have to not really be shy. If somebody asks you to do zombie voices, you better not freak out that you might drool on the music stand. When they bring a camera in, it does add a different dimension where you’re like, “Aw, man! Now there’s a camera in here and I can’t just, you know, pretend that my jaw fell off!” Or that, you know, that my arm’s just ripped off, without somewhere in the back of my mind being like, “really?” And then you think about it for a second, and you’re like, “whatever”.
It’s way better to make a noise like my jaw just fell off and not be thinking about it. I think that and a good sense of play, real imagination. And imaginary friends, for sure. I say it jokingly, but you do have to imagine. A lot of the time, there is someone giving you the dish lines, but sometimes there’s not. Sometimes you don’t even know what the line is that you’re responding to, so you just kind of have to improv it, make it up quickly, and be able to sell these scenarios. To me it’s about playing a movie in my head all the time.
Q: How do you look after your voice?
Courtenay Taylor: I started taking singing lessons, I’m not a singer. I used something called mate tea, which is like a fizzy, lemony, gingery tea, comes in a little bottle. I gargled with that a lot. We’re supposed to not talk, but I’m kind of a motormouth, so that’s a problem. I’ve actually just recovered from a haemorrhaged vocal chord. I’m not taking care of my voice from working too much and pushing myself in session and outside. Ideally, vocal warmups or cooldowns, and not talking. I’ve got the vocal warmups and cooldowns down, but not talking… not so much.