In Conversation with Vanessa Marshall
By Daniel Fine
Vanessa Marshall is an extremely talented voice actor whose work has been featured in many different cartoons and video games. She currently voices Gamora on the Disney XD series ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, but she is most famous for portraying Hera Syndulla in the beloved series ‘Star Wars Rebels’, which concluded in March.
Being a pretty big fan of Rebels myself, I was excited to hear that Marshall would be attending MCM Manchester Comic Con – her first convention appearance in the UK. So I was very disappointed when a mix-up caused her press conference to get cancelled and so, on the advice of the MCM staff, I decided to approach her directly at her signing station, to ask for an interview there. She was incredibly friendly and genuine – as well as extremely knowledgeable about Rebels – and allowed me to sit next to her at my own quasi-signing station, (where I hopefully awaited some confused Con-goers asking me who I was) before chatting about all things Rebels, Rogue One and voice acting.
Coaching for Geeks: First off, where do you see Hera at the end of Star Wars Rebels, obviously the finale showed that she is involved in the Battle of Endor, but what about after that?
Vanessa Marshall: I have no idea! Yeah, I don’t know and I’m really hoping that Dave Filoni will flesh out that answer for us. I haven’t heard that he won’t do that, so I remain hopeful.
Do you think we could see her again somewhere?
Possibly! It is possible, since she’s alive and she will never stop fighting for the cause, so I would hope so. It may come out in a book or a comic book or maybe in live action… anything’s possible. I really have no idea, and I’m very content with what’ve done so far. If that’s all there is then I’m OK with that, but if they were to give us more story I would be thrilled. I’m curious! I want to know how she raises her son, and I want to find Ezra and I’d love to see how they manage that.
Do you have any idea in your head of what happens?
I’m a blank slate. I literally have no idea. And even if I did, every time I come up with a theory, the story is always so much better than anything I could ever conceive that my mind is blown. So I’ve just stopped trying. [Laughs]
Is there an example of that from the show?
Well, I didn’t know who my father was for the longest time and I had a theory that it was Orn Free Taa. And that I didn’t like him and I rebelled against him and that was my backstory.
Which one’s Orn Free Taa?
He’s the big, blue gentleman. I think he was actually voiced by Phil LaMarr in the Clone Wars, and I believe he was in episodes 1, 2 and 3, early on. Anyway, he’s a senator and he was sort of, not exactly like Trump, but I think he may have been of that ilk.
Oh yeah, yeah [Nervous laughter as I pretend to remember that character]
And then no one could prepare me for Cham Syndulla being my Dad. That was the coolest moment learning that! It’s like transcendent what Lucasfilm does, I love it!
So you mentioned live action movies. Obviously Hera was mentioned in Rogue One and we got a glimpse of Ghost, were you told that was going to happen?
Not at all, no! Well first of all, I receive a load of auditions via email from my voiceover agent and she said ‘they need you to record this audition, there’s an air force pilot who says “I see you Gold Leader”’. And I’m thinking Gold leader sounds mildly like it might occur in a Star Wars scenario, but whatever, it was among many auditions that I’d done that day. They sent me a sound file of a woman who was an actual air force pilot and she talked kinda down in here [voice much deeper] she was a little more masculine, nothing like Hera basically. So they said we want you to do the line in that fashion, so I did and I sent it off and I didn’t really think anything of it. And then my agent phoned me back and said ‘oh guess what, that pilot is in Rogue One so you’re now in Rogue One’ and I absolutely freaked out.
And then as I was walking into the premiere, David Collins, who says the line calling Hera into the war room, he said ‘Oh, I page your character just listen for it’. I didn’t believe him. I thought he was just being silly, and lo and behold, all of a sudden, there it is and I thought ‘Oh my gosh! I owe him an apology’. [Laughs] So afterwards I thanked him for the shout out, and yeah that was a great fan moment.
So that was in the cinema?
Yeah, so I realised that live. That was an in the moment experience. That was crazy.
Now I wanted to ask a couple questions about voice acting. So you voice Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy. When you’re playing a character that’s pre-existent, that’s been depicted before, do you take anything from previous performances or just do your own thing?
I kinda do my own thing. Each character’s backstory is quite different, so I think that the voice that would, sort of, embody their life history would automatically be different. Sometimes I pull from different experiences in my life, people I know that remind me of the characters, and that helps to make it a more specific choice.
But I play Hera and then I got another green woman in the galaxy who’s fighting crime and I suddenly thought… [Laughs] I was aware that I needed to really make those voices quite different, and so I grounded Gamora’s voice in a much richer area. I always felt like Hera leads with her heart, and Gamora is more of a warrior who’s sort of based in her lower chakra and she’s a little more rooted and a little more combative.
One last question. I remember coming here about eight years ago, and there weren’t many voice actors here and then today it’s like…
Yeah! So why do you think that’s happened?
Well, I think the video game industry has really taken off, as you can see by the long video game lines here. People don’t know that I’ve done a bunch of video games, Metal Gear Solid, I’ve been in every Mass Effect game. I’ve done all kinds of games but I’m mostly known for Star Wars so they tend to come to my line for Hera and then realise ‘oh she did game characters too.’
But I think it’s the World Wide Web, it unites us in a way that people who live in Los Angeles or New York or lord knows where. It means that we’re all able to play online together, and that’s a beautiful thing and that allows for us to travel and meet our friends and family and fans, so I think that technology becoming more universal has really afforded us this gift. I think that’s probably what it’s got to do with, I’m not exactly sure, but I’m just grateful it’s happened. I’m so happy to be here!
Do you think that now is the best time to be a voice actor?
It’s an exciting time for sure because technology is allowing us to create all these different MoCap games, and there’s virtual reality things going on. There’s a lot more opportunity, so it is a very exciting time. I would say to anyone who’s pursuing a career in voiceover, just take tonnes of classes and never quit and just be an eternal student. I still take classes and having that open heart and that spirit just is really lovely, and helps make the process the point as opposed to the results, and that’s a better way to live.
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