VAM 036 | How to Play Villains in Voice Acting

VAM 036 | How to Play Villains in Voice Acting

Welcome to episode 36 of the Voice Acting Mastery podcast with yours truly, Crispin Freeman!

As always, you can listen to the podcast using the player above, or download the mp3 using the link at the bottom of this blog post. The podcast is also available via the iTunes Store online. Just follow this link to view the podcast in iTunes:

This episode of Voice Acting Mastery just happens to fall on Halloween, 2012. So in honor of my favorite holiday, I thought I’d take the opportunity to share my thoughts on how to play villains in voice acting effectively. The villain is one of the most popular types of characters that beginning voice actors tend to want to play, and I often get asked how best to portray larger than life villainous characters or psychotic out of control antagonists.

I’ve played a number of villains, such as the dark and powerful Duskmon in Digimon, the impetuous and unstable Electro in the Spectacular Spider-Man, the brooding and methodical Itachi in Naruto, and the maniacal and demonic Alucard in Hellsing. While these villains are definitely fun to play, they can also be challenging, because it takes a certain understanding of their mindset in order to portray them with depth and believability and to avoid sounding flat and one-sided in your performance.

There are 3 common misconceptions about Villains:

  • Misconception #1: You need to have a deep or powerful voice in order to play a villain.
  • Misconception #2: Villains are easier to play because they’re so melodramatic.
  • Misconception #3: Villains do what they do because they’re just evil for evil’s sake.
I disprove these and instead give you 3 tools for creating believable villains:
  • Technique #1: Understand the villain’s wound.
  • Technique #2: Empathize with the villain, don’t judge them.
  • Technique #3: Less is always more when portraying truly diabolical villains.

I go into great detail on each of these topics. I hope you enjoy my special Halloween treat, an exploration of the psychology of the villain!

Thanks for listening!

Download Voice Acting Mastery Episode #36 Here (MP3)


37 Responses to “VAM 036 | How to Play Villains in Voice Acting”

  1. Pat says:

    Oh man, I haven’t even played this yet and I know it’s going to be great! Excellent choice of topic!

  2. Pat says:

    Are you familiar with Charlie Adler’s work as Cobra Commander? In contrast with the screechy, whiny 80’s version, his performance in more recent incarnations of G.I. Joe have him sounding almost as if he’s trying to suppress his rage and failing, making him very scary indeed. Here’s a video of his monologues if anyone is interested.

  3. Meg says:

    Happy Halloween, Crispin- amazing episode you made 🙂 I agree of everything you said about playing villains and learn to know about psychology and play pretend. When I mention about that actress who played Maleficent, the witch from Sleeping Beauty and the wicked Stepmother from Cinerella during behind the scenes, the producers and director loved her role because of her personality. It’s quite interesting.
    If you have time, I have a curious question- have you ever seen 70s film based on Stephen King called ‘Carrie’ with Sissy Spacek? A mean girl and main antagonist, Chris Hargenson (played by Nancy Allen) who loved to make Carrie miserable because of Carrie’s lifestyle, including her crazy mother. I remember what you said how the villian is makeing revenge- Chris is upset because she got banned of the prom from detention that the coach made and blamed Carrie of everything that she didn’t make it for the prom queen. So now, she set up a nasty prank on Carrie to make a ‘fake’ prom queen and made Carrie uses her power a total disater.
    I hope it make sense- Thank you so much for the amazing topic and have a wonderful Halloween 🙂 <3

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Glad you enjoy the podcast!

      While I am familiar with the movie Carrie, I have not actually seen it myself. It sounds like you found a lot of parallels between my discussion of villains and Carrie’s motivations as a character. Very cool.

  4. Justin says:

    Crispin, something I’ve always wondered about portraying a villain. With characters such as Itachi who aren’t themselves a bad person by any means but rather forced into an action by another, do those types of characters performance differ at all from someone who is inherently evil? Do you have to approach them differently at all?

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      What’s the third misconception about villains that I put in the podcast? Villains are not evil just for evil’s sake.

      If you re-listen to the podcast, you’ll hear me say that an actor needs to use the same acting techniques to play villains (like Itachi) that they use to play any character. Itachi has a wound that motivates his actions, Alucard has a wound that motivates his, etc.

  5. Caitlin says:

    I love how the topic of villains falls on Halloween! The concepts and examples you gave really helps when it comes to understanding not just villains but any character.
    So I have a question about VizMedia. There is more than one building in California so I was wondering if for different anime, if you are going in to voice a character is it always at the same Viz or do different VizMedia’s do certain anime? I hope I worded that right so you can answer.
    Also I was wondering what you knew about Itachi to play him so flawlessly in the beginning and his last fight with Sasuke before he died? 🙂
    And Happy Halloween!!

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Glad you enjoyed the podcast!

      Re: VizMedia. I do not record at VizMedia’s offices. Their offices are not recording studios. For any VizMedia show I record at a recording studio that VizMedia hires, whether that’s Studiopolis, Bang Zoom, or another studio.

      I’m glad you liked my performance as Itachi. I feel like I understand Itachi’s motivations on a pretty deep level and I have experience portraying that type of character. I think that’s why the director cast me in that role, she thought it would fit me well.

      Happy Halloween to you as well!

      • Caitlin says:

        Okay, thanks for clearing the whole VizMedia thing up for me. I was a little confused there. That makes more sense too!

        The director picked well then because your voice is perfect for Itachi. The director always knows best ^-^

        Looking forward to the next podcast as well. In the meantime I have been testing my voice limits and it’s interesting when I found a voice that I didn’t even know I could do!

        Thanks! Halloween is one my favorite holidays!

  6. Kalyn McCabe says:

    Ahh, psychology… I love the subject so.

    I haven’t had the delight in playing a villain so far, but it is a enticing journey to walk through a villain’s life and find the negative affects in certain situations.

    A seemingly ordinary situation had a profound effect on them. Seems contrary to human nature to choose to be sad instead of happy. But what’s a story without a good villain?

    Happy Halloween, Mr. Freeman!

    Much love,
    ~ Kalyn

    • Pat says:

      I think that’s what makes villains so compelling: they don’t choose to be sad. They are sad. In this way they are the personification of our natures turned against us!

  7. Pat says:

    I think the discussion about one’s relationship with a character and how we may not always agree with them is perhaps even more relevant to non-villainous roles, because at least as a villainous character you have some assurance that what you’re portraying isn’t right. But a protagonist character doing something that makes you uncomfortable? That’s where the actor’s role in a larger story becomes interesting.

    For instance, I’ve seen a bit of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya: Despite being protagonists, I find Haruhi and Kyon to be some of the creepiest characters I’ve seen in recent memory, and I certainly wouldn’t feel immediately comfortable portraying either of them.

  8. Angelican Marcos says:

    Happy Halloween Mr. Freeman I have heard the podcast and I was concerned about the psychologic bond between the voice actors/actresses and the antagonistic characters. As they’re getting into character by analyzing and visualizing them through their actions and personality. I always wonder is it really that healthy to let out such feelings like anger, fustration, fear, and insanity sometimes when voice acting these villainous characters? 🙁

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      That is why I call acting “playing pretend”. In order to play pretend deeply enough for people to pay you to do it, you need to identify with a villain on a very deep level. That identification is temporary, however. You play pretend as that character when you are asked to and then you stop playing pretend as that character when your work is over. The ability to go in and out of character quickly and easily is the mark of an accomplished actor. Someone who goes into character and cannot drop it is not an actor, they are someone with a psychological problem who most likely needs therapy. It can be very healthy to let out feelings such as anger, frustration, fear and insanity when playing a character. I find it very cathartic when playing Shizuo and his titanic rage in the anime show Durarara. I come out of the booth feeling very relaxed. However, I don’t feel the need to be that angry in my personal life and it would be very destructive to the people around me in any case. That’s one of the perks of acting, playing out emotional situations without any real world consequences.

      • Angelican Marcos says:

        Hmmm… makes sense and of course nobody can be that tense forever or an eternity. I now understand once I’m playing a villainous i have to observe the character through his/her personality mostly and look deep down what that character has been feeling. Probably something corrupt in his/her childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Actually this would be great for me by voice acting a villainous and you’re right about how it is so tempting. But as for me I can’t get into the bad influence because that would be awful if I started to act like the villain myself. It’s also a little funny that you said that they’re secretly feeble and scared which is true especially the term “bully” in schools who verbally and physically abuse other kids because in reality they’ve been verbally and physically abuse when they were regular school kids. I kind of find it a bit rude being verbally and physically abuse everyday. But like I said it is a fun subject to talk about in podcast I thank you. P.S. i think Shizuo Heiwajima is goodie goodie not a goodie badie, or a badie badie in Durarara! Just guessing 🙂

  9. Terance says:

    Another great episode Crispin.

  10. Andrea says:

    Another great podcast, Crispin. I am a huge fan of your work and I love the advice you give to those who wish to be voice actors. I’ll be looking forward to the next episode.

  11. Terance says:

    I have a question about your role as the villain, Albedo, in the Xenosaga series. What was your experience like voicing that character? I imagine understanding his pain was the key in making your performance as believable as possible (which you did excellently by the way).

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      My experience playing Albedo was a lot like voice acting: I did my best to understand where the villain was coming from, played pretend as fully as I could and constantly checked in with the director to make sure my performance sounded believable and appropriate for the scene. What was surprising to me was after I played the character, I got a lot of fan reaction and attention. Albedo was one of my first big video game characters and I was blown away by the response I got. I was not expecting a video game character to elicit so much fan response.

  12. Martin Giroux says:

    Very nice topic, specially since I tend to get villain roles because of the way I sound! But I have a… technical question for you if I may. I have this line that I have to say very calmly then burst into a scream to then go back to mumbles… it goes something like this:

    “You dare threaten my allies, IN MY DOMAIN… you must have a death wish!”

    I find it very hard to get a nice volume so I can hear the whispers clearly and the scream without peeking. Should I record the line in 2 shots or move back for the scream?

    Thanks for your time and keep’em comming! ^^

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Glad you liked the episode.

      If what you are saying is that your levels are peaking and so the audio is clipping or distorting when you are recording, the only solution is to turn down your input levels or gain so that you do not distort while recording. Traditionally, an audio engineer “rides” the levels or adjusts them while an actor is performing so that quiet sections are recorded with more gain and louder performances are recorded with less gain to create a more even volume level. You will just have to do this after the fact if there is no one to ride your levels while you are performing.

  13. Natasha says:

    Hi Crispin,

    First, thanks for a great show – your podcasts make the drive home from from work infinitely more interesting. (Professional development while driving! Huzzah!)

    Second, I was wondering if you had any tips on how to maintain a character’s voice when yelling, or moving into an exaggerated emotional state? I find I can hold a character voice (ie. something that sounds different to my regular voice) at a normal conversational volume, but if I try shouting (especially out of anger) or moving into any other intense emotion, I slip out of the character voice, and sound like, well, myself. I know part of this is lack of experience, but I’m wondering if it could be a sign that my voice just isn’t ready/suited to what I’m trying to play? Or, could it be because I’m not ‘feeling’ the character enough ie. do I need to spend more time developing the character? Is it just a case of practice makes perfect?

    If I haven’t confused the heck out of you, any suggestions or thoughts you could offer would be greatly appreciated.


    • Crispin Freeman says:

      So glad my podcasts help enliven your commute!

      The most difficult situation to maintain a character’s voice is when you’re yelling because that is when your voice is under the most stress. Under stress, it’s best to use as open and natural vocal production as you can, but that means that your voice will sound closer to your natural sound and may stray away from your character voice. There is no “easy” fix for this except to practice the character voice until you have internalized it to the point where it feels as natural as your normal speaking voice.

      One technique you can try is singing as your character. Singing also requires vocal coordination and strength, but is rarely as stressful as yelling. If you can sing like your character, and really sing something big and loud, then chances are you are much closer to internalizing the character voice to the point that you can yell as the character without hurting yourself.

      Hope that helps.

      • Natasha says:

        Hi Crispin,

        That helps tremendously, thank you! I didn’t think to try singing in a character voice. (Singing is usually the last thing on my list to practice, even though I see it as one of my weaker points and so it should be er, higher up the list.)

        Thanks again for the info, I appreciate it immensely!

  14. James 'StarRunner' Rolls says:

    Hey there Crispin! I’m a new listener and I went through all the episodes in about a week and intend on relistening. I’m astounded with how much information you put in the podcast! I had downloaded a good handful of others, but yours has been the most helpful!

    I’ve been voice acting as a hobby for about six years now. I’ve had a lot of help from Deb Munro and also from James Alburger’s, “The Art of Voiceacting”. The more I learn, the more I realize there is yet to learn.

    I wish I could comment on all your episodes, but I should just stick to this one for now and on future episodes.

    I am so glad you put up the misconceptions that people think of with villains. I make it a point to make my villains believable. One such villain I played had a higher pitch than my natural voice (and I don’t have a deep voice to begin with)! But WOW, I scared myself when I played it back (in a good way)! When I make villains, I give them a purpose. One villain I made used to be a paladin, but in order to protect his nation, he had to make an unwilling pact with demons. Bit by bit, he rationalized his decisions until his view of what was good was skewed. In his mind, he’s still protecting what he holds dear, but his methods have become corrupted.

    I really love your work! I had no idea you did so many of my favourite voices! I hope you continue the podcast. I find it very informative! Until next time! Later!

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      I’m so glad you’ve found my podcast helpful! I strive to share good information with my students and listeners.

      Thanks again.

  15. Sean says:

    Excellent podcast as always, Crispin! I recently discovered your podcast, and have been feverishly trying to catch up all week! Only 30 episodes to go! It’s very interesting: until you pointed it out, i had always considered Alucard the “hero” of hellsing. But now i find that even though he may be the protagonist, he is very much the villain. Thank you again for your insights; your expert analyses of character archetypes are my favorite part of the podcast!

    Warmest regards,


  16. Andrew Jackson Brown says:

    In my experience with analyzing stories in different genres, I believe I have found the most common villain archetypes

    There’s the tragic past type, either something bad happened to them, causing them to take their pain out on the world, or seek revenge, and everyone else is a means to an end

    The spurned ego type, they simply can’t stand being second best to the protagonist, and it makes beating them the only important thing

    The “Make things better” type, their actions stem from either protect their people (families, race, etc) at any means, or doing whatever it takes to reach a better world (their perfect world) for everyone

    The psychotic types, usually a chemical imbalance in their head tells them what they do is completely normal, and no one else sees it, or for characters like the Joker, they just want chaos, and their is no reasoning, or talking them down

    There are certainly more yes, but these were the most common I found.

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