VAM 037 | How to Play Heroes in Voice Acting

VAM 037 | How to Play Heroes in Voice Acting

Welcome to episode 37 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:

In the last episode, I shared some helpful tips on playing villains in voice acting. I outlined 3 misconceptions about villains and then gave 3 guidelines for how to play them effectively. For this episode, I thought I would use the same format to show how to approach playing heroes in voice acting.

I’ve played a number of heroes in animation and video games, including the noble and sincere Superman in the Justice League: Heroes video game, the cocky and self-assured Iron Man in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 and even the brooding and distant Red Arrow in the animated series, Young Justice. So what does it take to play heroes well? Let’s find out!

There are 3 common misconceptions about Heroes:

  • Misconception #1: One must adopt a heroic sounding voice in order to play a hero.
  • Misconception #2: Heroes are boring to play from an acting perspective because they lack sub-text or a complicated psychology.
  • Misconception #3: Heroes are so idealistic that they are hard to relate to emotionally. Also known as the Goody Two-Shoes syndrome.
I disprove these and instead give you 3 tools for creating believable heroes:
  • Technique #1: Determine what kind of hero you are playing.
  • Technique #2: Give yourself permission to be emotionally vulnerable.
  • Technique #3: A character becomes a hero if they truly believe in and aspire to their own highest ideals.

I go into great detail on each of these topics. I hope you enjoy the second half of the hero/villain equation!

Thanks for listening!

Download Voice Acting Mastery Episode #37 Here (MP3)


37 Responses to “VAM 037 | How to Play Heroes in Voice Acting”

  1. Tori says:

    Thanks for the podcast on playing heroes! Not only did I learn more about underneath a hero’s actions, but it was interesting to think about what makes a character flawed and amazing! Nice of you to mention your portrayals of Superman, Iron Man, and Red Arrow-my brother and I have played/watched them, and I think those heroes are the highlights of your career!

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed my performances and the podcast episode!

      • Tori says:

        Oh yeah, I gotta ask…how did you get involved with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and decided to analyze it, because I’ve never seen an episode, but everyone I know who’s seen it says it’s more of a ‘chick series.’

        • Crispin Freeman says:

          I don’t understand what you mean.

          I’m not “involved” with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I never worked on the show. However, I do enjoy the show and I find it useful as an example when talking about storytelling, mythology and vampires. I find the 2nd and 3rd seasons of the show to be particularly well-written and engaging.

          I take some umbrage at you calling it a “chick series”. That seems rather sexist and demeaning. I would ask you to refrain from posting sexist comments on my blog. I find Buffy to be a very emotionally honest series that appeals to anyone who is interested in sophisticated interpersonal relationships and the mythology of vampires. I’m a big fan of a lot of Joss Whedon’s writing including the Sci-Fi series Firefly.

          • Joseph says:

            Well put Crispin Freeman. i watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and actually found your analogy to the show quite helpful. By using Buffy as a subject it helped me understand what you were trying to say. That being that a character will act differently by the way greatness is given to them. Some are born great others have greatness thrust upon them. In Buffys case greatness is thrust upon her which sometimes causes her to be reluctant to be the hero she was chosen to be. I would also like to thank you for the time and effort you out into the podcast in order to better future actors lives and experience.
            PS: I agree with you that the third and second season are marvelously written.

          • Crispin Freeman says:

            You’re very welcome. I’m glad you found the Buffy example helpful. Thanks for listening.

  2. Caitlin says:

    Very enlightning podcast, this and your last podcast actually show similarites in villains and heroes. Both have their own ideology to make what they are doing right in their mind. In the end it all comes to the actor portraying that idea correctly.
    When I was listening to this all I could think of was Ichigo from Bleach, Naruto, and Natsu from Fairy Tail because they all protect their friends no matter what and that is what keeps them going forward.
    I notice that when I watch either an episode of Bleach or Naruto that I don’t really see any new voice actors in the character voices. They are all reoccuring people. It seems like the same groups of people are hired for many roles, so do you know why there aren’t many new actors getting parts? I especially noticed this in Young Justice since you played three people or so and there were times when you were talking to yourself.
    Anyway,looking forward to your next podcast and topic!

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      I’m glad you were able to apply the ideas from the podcast to shows you are familiar with. I’m always hoping my listeners will be able to do that.

      As far as using the same actors for multiple parts in an animated series, there are couple of reasons for that.
      1. Budget. It’s cheaper to have one actor play multiple parts than to hire 3 actors.
      2. Skill. Being able to voice act on a professional level is difficult. It’s safer to hire actors you know can deliver than to hire people whose skill level may not be up to par.
      3. Story. I play 3 different characters in Young Justice because they are all genetically related. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers here, but all my characters have been involved in different cloning and other genetic tinkering. Therefore, their vocal quality will necessarily be close to each other. I was actually directed to not change my voice substantially from character to character.

      Hope that helps explain things.

      • Caitlin says:

        Yes, thanks so much for the explanations!
        When you lay it out like that it makes more sense. It does however, make it a little harder for new talent to get in but I suppose that can’t be helped all the time. That’s what this podcast is for after all, to help get started.
        And it’s cool that you get to play all those people in Young Justice. I’ve loved Red Arrow/Roy since the beginning because you portray him so well.
        Anyway, thanks again! (Sometimes I have no idea how you have the time for all of this, but as one of your listeners I’m grateful!)

        • Crispin Freeman says:

          Sometimes I’m not sure how I have time, but somehow things get accomplished! I’m glad I gave you some insight. That’s why it’s called “breaking in” to the business.

  3. Kalyn McCabe says:

    Very nice podcast.

    Protecting one’s family and friends is a very noble act, but it does get stale after a while. I was watching Yu-Gi-Oh the abridged “bonds beyond time” movie done by littlekuriboh, Yusei says “We have to protect the world from Paradox for our friends!” or something to that effect several times throughout the movie.

    I was turned off to the motivation and wanted another reason. Sure, protecting friends is great and all, but what else?

    Heroes also have a dark side to themselves, too. They move as silently and efficiently as villains when achieving their goals. They just move in a more public, visceral way to us, as the audience, which is why they have a show about them. You want to watch this person purely because you want to see that dark side. You want to see flaws in their character. Even Superman is human in some aspect.

    Same goes with villains. They are dark to begin with. You want to see the light within them.

    Taking Loki from The Avengers, he was raised in Asgard until he found out he was a Icegiant. Then he started having an identity crisis. Thor’s family already considered him their son/brother, but he was too enraged at them for withholding the truth that he turned to what he is naturally: the god of trickery and mischief.

    You sympathize with him because he already had light. But he refused to accept it because what he has known for so long has been false, he breaks free from his cage in search of what he is exactly (albeit putting human lives in danger), and Thor has to wrangle him back into his cage.

    And Thor still calls him his brother. Loki was finding his true identity, but his identity was already chosen for him.

    Sorry. xD Long explanation for a short topic, but you get the gist.

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      It is fine if you find a certain heroic motivation overused. Every culture has a different set of priorities in deciding what a hero should fight for. In anime, it is often protecting loved ones. For whatever reason, that is very important culturally to the Japanese. In America, it’s personal liberty and freedom even if a societies rules or structure must be sacrificed in order to maintain that individual liberty. Other cultures don’t always understand why we’re so adamant about that.

      I don’t find myself watching heroes to find their dark side or to discover their “flaw”. When I watch a hero I’m looking for how they find a solution to their problem, not waiting for them to reveal some sort of “dark side”. I love the Doctor from Doctor Who. I’m not aware of him having any “dark side” or suffering from any kind of “flaw”. He gets angry and can even get vengeful at times, but he doesn’t have a “dark side” per se, at least not the way I’m defining “dark side”.

      I think the problem is that having a “dark side” or a “light side” comes from a notion of cosmic duality where morality is binary: good and evil. I don’t subscribe to that paradigm so I don’t find a binary moral system terribly relevant. I’m much more concerned with the personal desires of the hero and what tactics they may or may not use to accomplish their goals.

      And as far as a “flaw” is concerned, I think that also assumes a notion of “perfection” that I find tends to exist most often in a cosmic duality paradigm. I’m not aware of anything or anyone that is morally perfect. As Shakespeare once said, “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

      I sympathize with Loki because he feels wronged, not because he was once “light” and is now “dark”. I know how it feels to be wronged, to be lied to and to not be able to live up to social or parental expectations. Because I’ve felt that myself, I can feel sympathy for Loki. However, my sympathy gets stretched to the breaking point if he consistently chooses to solve his problems in an unproductive or hurtful way.

      But if the “light”/”dark” paradigm works for you, that’s fine. It has a long and rich history in the Abrahamic traditions of storytelling.

  4. Meg says:

    This is a great episode, Crispin 🙂 I understand what of kind of heroes are they just like you us an example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Superman. I have a curious thought about ‘Gundam Wing’ and ‘Durarara!’- However, Gundam Wing is more of a philosophy because I understand how most of the 5 piolts had deep wound after they lost their entire family from the war. But Quatre, on the other hand, really don’t want to get his friends and commrades hurt-he’s Pacifist-just like Simon from ‘Durarara!’
    About Shizuo Heiwajima, I notice that he wasn’t born to be hero-he really wants to have a peacful life and really don’t want his brother and friends(Tom and Celty)to get hurt as well. I know that Izaya is more of a villian of the entire town because he loves to playing games to make alot people miserable. I hope it makes sense- Thank you for your time and have lovely day 🙂

  5. James 'StarRunner' Rolls says:

    I had a hard time with hero characters at first when I first started voice acting as an amateur. I was really self conscious about my body as I had lost a lot of weight after being in the hospital. Thankfully my life was spared, but I didn’t think my 95lbs body could make a convincing hero voice (I’m six feet tall by the way). The hero I was to play was a strong, toned, broadsword swinging adventurer. I would pitch shift my voice, put on the dramatic ‘heroic’ voice, and try to sound much bigger than I really was. I quickly learned the error of my ways.

    I actually still play the same character after six or seven years now. Things got much better for me when I got comfortable with myself and concentrated more on his emotions and personality (thank goodness I figured it out really quickly). I actually use close to my natural voice! Now people can’t imagine anyone else doing the role! People think I’m the perfect fit for the role and I didn’t have to have the big buff body to do it!

    Oh, and I’m much healthier now, almost back to an ideal weight. 😉

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      It’s wonderful to hear that you were able to become more comfortable with who you are so you can focus more on playing pretend as the character and not posturing with your voice to demonstrate the character. Sounds like you learned an important acting lesson.

      I’m also glad to hear that you’ve overcome your health challenges. Congratulations!

      • James 'StarRunner' Rolls says:

        Thanks Crispin! I sure have learned quite a bit with my experiences (sadly by trial and error many times). I believe stage acting helped quite a bit, but voice acting is quite a different beast. There were several other things I learned when making the switch. It’s no wonder why there’s coaches that specialize in voice acting.

        I never had the opportunity to have a coach, but I’m seriously considering one before I try to break away from amateur gigs and try for professional roles. Unfortunately, I have to wait on that until my financial situation isn’t as dire.

        I’ve still been window shopping around for coaches and so far I think Deb Munro (who has already given me a few pointers and lives nearby) and yourself would make ideal coaches for me.

        • Crispin Freeman says:

          It is true that stage acting and voice acting pose different challenges. I certainly had to develop different skills to translate my theatrical acting skills to voice acting.

          I’m honored that you think I would make an ideal coach for you. I look forward to working with you in class in the future.

  6. Angelican Marcos says:

    Hello Mr. Freeman this was very nice podcast similar to but opposite to the villain podcast. Actually don’t some of the heroes express feelings almost similar to the villain. I mean not all the hero characters feel happy, energenic, and optimistic all the time. Right? 🙂

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Heroes and villains can express very similar feelings, it’s just that they chose to express those feelings using different methods and they act on those feelings using different tactics. Heroes are not always happy and optimistic, nor are villains.

      • Angelican Marcos says:

        I usually see those certain feelings in some of the heroes and villians sometimes in animes I’m sure you know which ones I’m refering to. But thank you for answering my question and another thing I realize that you voice acted Itachi and he’s older than Sasuke. But in reality Yuri who voice acted Sasuke is 1 year older than you which is ironic correct? I think…

        • Crispin Freeman says:

          It is true. Yuri is a year older than me. He is a tenor and I am a baritone. That’s why I tend to play his older brother when voice acting.

          • Angelican Marcos says:

            I knew you were going to say that i just forgot the word tenor. I knew you were a legit baritone I just forgot tenor. It has been a long for me to remember tenor last time I was in music class in middle school in North Carolina. Now I’m a high school student who’s surviving reality which I don’t have any electives whatsoever. It sucks but I’m learning to keep my grades up so wish me pick. “Break a leg” that’s what they always say for good luck… Right?

          • Crispin Freeman says:

            I didn’t say you forgot anything, I was just clarifying the differences between mine and Yuri’s voices.

          • Angelican Marcos says:

            I’m sorry is just that you reminded me of the word tenor that’s all. Because I knew you were a baritone I just couldn’t remember tenor. I was going to put those two words on the second comment. But it just sliped out of my mind and you didn’t made me forget I just remembered a word from when it was my second middle school days in NC. Just be grateful that you reminded me of something from my childhood… at least… 🙂

  7. Pat says:

    I think it’s interesting to apply these lessons to Shinji from Evangelion. In the first episode there is nothing he wants more than to not get in the Eva; he has seen the angel’s destructiveness with his very own eyes, but that isn’t enough to motivate him until he sees the broken Rei. His motivations then are much more selfish than are typical of a hero: rather than the fate of the world, he chooses to fight for the sake of someone important to him. He then continues his role to seek approval from his father.

    We continue to see him placing the immediate fate of his friends above the rest of the world: he becomes consistently paralysed with fear in angel fights, but he aggressively attacks the base and defies his father’s orders after his Eva destroys the possessed one with his friend inside it.

    I suppose Evangelion’s a bit of an obvious example when it comes to this sort of thing, though.

  8. Khadar Jama says:

    ‘Some are born great, some achieve greatness and others have greatness thrust upon them’ – Twelth Night, Malvolio.
    It so happens that I’m currently studing Twelth Night in my Literature class.
    Honestly I think you’re modified version of that line makes perfect sense when connecting it to the idea of heroism. Many have probably had the same misconceptions you’ve pointed out and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought the same. The tips you gave for combating those misconceptions are really useful for both this episode and the last.

    Thanks for another great episode, I’ve really enjoyed the hero/villian series and I must also thank you for your brilliant performance as Jeremiah Gutwald in Code Geass. I honestly had no idea you played him until I rewatched the series three times (the acting was just so damn unbelievably good!)
    I look forward to the next episode ^_^

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Thanks so much! I’m glad I was able to give you some insight into heroes and villains. And thank you for your kind words about my performance as Jeremiah. It can be very fun to play such a broad character as him.

  9. Eric Rivera says:

    I just came back from my Directing I class and I need some advice.

    I was cast in an in-class scene of Biloxi Blues, cast as a minor character, then again as a major character. Then I was cast in a scene of the Odd Couple, but for some reason, the director decided to change all the characters to small children which I thought was stupid. I didn’t let the director know that, I just played my part. My question is, how should I handle decisions I don’t agree with?

    Also, watching and acting in these minor Directing projects, I couldn’t help but keep thinking that I was one of the better actors. Sometimes even the best actor in the class. I don’t want to walk around thinking I’m hot stuff when I’m not. So, how do I handle this without being a jerk to myself or anyone else?

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      It is a difficult challenge to portray a character in a scene when you disagree with a director’s point of view on the scene. Ideally you could discuss your difference of opinion with the director in a calm and rational manner. You could say, “I see what you’re driving at, but what if the character’s motivation was this instead? What do you think?” Then possibly you and director could come to some sort of consensus on the scene based on both of your input.

      Sometimes, however, that’s not possible. Sometimes the director has what I like to call “ideas” and just wants to see his concept played out and is not open to negotiation. In those cases, you can still do your best to be believable in the scene. If they ask you to play one of the Odd Couple as a small child, you can still ask yourself what is your motivation and how would you accomplish it with the tactics of a small child rather than the tactics of an elderly man. I think the director sees a lot of parallels between childish people of extremely young and extremely old ages. He’s probably playing with that idea to see what new and interesting resonances he can wring out of the scene. Just do your best to be believable and you may discover new emotional resonances you can use yourself when you go back to playing the elderly version of the Odd Couple.

      If you think you’re one of the better actors in the class, do your best to elevate your scene partners. Nothing makes you look more professional, accomplished and talented than raising the artistic quality of a scene for everyone. Just as Magic Johnson when he used to play for the Lakers. He helped everyone on the team play better.

      Hope that helps.

      • Eric Rivera says:

        Turns out, my Directing professor assumed the same thing you did. He thought that she (the director at the time) wanted to show the parallels between the really young and old. However, it really was just an “idea.” She thought it would be cute. Eh.

        Thank you so much for your advice. I feel a lot better.

  10. Pat says:

    I have a question about how recording out-takes which have nothing to do with the lines as written fit into this idea of everyone’s time being very valuable and there being a job that has to be done, etc.

    Do people just get sort of mentally exhausted after a while and need to say silly things to stay loose?

    • James 'StarRunner' Rolls says:

      I’ll let Crispin answer this too. But from what I’ve seen, it really depends on the person. Take Rob Paulson for example. He’s always cracking jokes in the booth. It’s just who he is. Occasionally the director will tell him it’s time to work again. Usually not long after, he’ll crack another joke. What else can you expect from the person who does Yakko, Pinky, and countless other wacky characters?

      Sometimes outtakes are simply bloopers. Sometimes when someone knows they’ve messed up, they’ll embellish it a bit more and play off it.

      Other outtakes like in Pixar seem to be more scripted.

      People are all different. Sometimes directors are cool with actors joking around (to a point). Depending on the show, some of the bloopers/ad-lib/jokes make it in the finished product or occasionally in a blooper reel.

    • Crispin Freeman says:

      Everyone’s time in the booth is very valuable, but as James said, when you’re working on a cartoony show with actors that have a lot of comedic energy, it’s gonna spill out all over the place. Directors will humor that kind of energy to a point, because as you so astutely observed, cracking jokes like that is a way to stay loose in the booth.

      I know for myself, I only start cracking jokes or laying down outtakes when I feel like the recording session is going well and we’re ahead of schedule. If we’re having a harder time getting the performances we need for the show and/or we’re running behind schedule, I get very serious and don’t do any outtakes. My focus is always about creating a great show. Hopefully that explains things a little better.

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