The Voice Actor’s Life: An Interview with Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller is an American voice actress who studied theater at the University of Maryland. She also did improv at Upright Citizens Brigade and Monkey Butler, and is a company member of Theater of N.O.T.E. in Hollywood.Miller’s resume extends into video games, anime, audio books, and traditional stage acting. She is most known for her roles of Sully in Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kate Bishop in Marvel Heroes, and Sailor Jupiter in Sailor Moon Crystal. You can find Miller at this weekend’s Wasabi Con signing autographs, and doing a Q&A.

Hello Ms Miller, thank you for speaking with me today. 

I’m good how are you?

Can’t complain, thank you for asking. You’re coming to Florida for Wasabi Con correct? 

Yes, flying in on Friday, just for the weekend.

Are you excited?

Yeah, well especially because it’s the convention my booking agent runs and he’s super cool and super funny. I’ve never been to this particular con so I think it’ll be fun.

So you majored in theater at the University of Maryland, and have starred in a few plays such as The Bluest Eye, and Alakazam, how did you go from theater to voice acting?

As a kid I was always interested in cartoons. I knew even at a young age people did those voices. So I would be watching a show and I’d be like “wait a second Dexter sounds just like Chuckie from Rugrats,” and then I’d check the credits. So I made that connection really young. I was always aware it was a job but I didn’t know specifically I wanted to do voice over until college.

In theater classes you have acting classes, moving classes, voice classing, and in my voice classes I was realizing I had a very good control over my instrument. I would like to make new characters just with my voice. So Tony Oliver, he’s awesome; he’s a voice actor, he’s a producer, and he teaches these voice over workshops called “Adventures in Voice Acting” and he teaches them all around the country. So he brought his class to Maryland while I want in college and it was like a one day, intensive, and I loved it.

Tony pulled me aside after class and said, “You have a future in this business,” and I was like, “What, shut up.” He brought the class back introduced the intimidate level, so I did that one, and again he was like, ‘get in touch with me when you get to L.A. I think you’d be really good at this.’ Originally I wanted to do theater, I was a theater major. But doing those classes was really fun, and most of that work was done in L.A. so after I graduated I drove across the country to L.A. Where I knew one person, vaguely, crashed on her couch, and just started pursuing voice acting.

It took a while, but eventually I got an internship Viacom because I wanted them to get to know me like, “Hey I’ll get  your coffee but I want to do this.”

Oh! I forgot something, I also flew out to Anime Expo to do Anime Idol in college. And they gave me an open audition so while I was doing all my grunt work as an intern there were times where they were like, “Hey we have this part that we need someone to audition for it will you audition for it?” So as a wee little intern I was getting cool experiences. From there I started booking stuff, mainly background voices, but slowly but surely I kinda proved myself. And getting bigger auditions.

It took a while. That’s the short version. [laughs]

On your Youtube channel you’ve spoken about the ins and outs of voice acting, for aspiring voice actors, what should they prepare themselves for when attempting to break into the business?

You need to be able to act because somebody is gonna throw something at you in the booth and if you can’t act you’re gonna be screwed. They might be like, “Hmm we’ve decided that this character is no longer British they’re Swahili can you do that?” and you have to be like, “Yup I can totally do that!”

You need to be patient. It takes time, you’re building relationships in the industry, you’re building up your brand it’s going to take time. Any small business, like Olive Garden, didn’t become Olive Garden in a month.

It takes time, you have to put a lot of money in before you see a return. Like a demo reel, which is like crucial for a voice actor. It’s an example of your best voices, like a trailer for your talent. But that can cost a thousand to two thousand dollars just to make that. Then there’s classes, and those are hundreds of dollars. So it’s like your putting money into your business and  you’re not gonna see a return for a while. It might be a couple years before you start to see money back as a voice actor. So just be super patient because a lot of people give up before they succeed and then they’ll never know.

The other thing is, make friends. Voice acting is not like other acting it’s very isolating, because you’re not usually working with the other actors. You’re in a booth by yourself, they just have your lines on the screen so a lot of time you don’t even know what the other characters are saying. The director will give you a summary but you’re basically just imagining that other people are there.

So on TV you’re on a set with all your other actors and you have that camaraderie and you have that downtime to build friendships. You kinda have to go out of your way to make friends, and they to be friends in the voice over field they can just be friends in the other hobbies you have. So find social circles because you’re gonna be very, very lonely if you just try to find friends through work.

And when you record auditions I record them in my closet; like my agent will email them to me and a lot of times you don’t even go into the office. You just record it on your own and you email it back. So even your auditions you’re not interacting with people.

Would you say that networking, is also a pretty important aspect if you’re going to be a voice actor? 

I would say networking is important but I think a lot of people do it wrong. I think a lot of people don’t approach networking the right way. Because usually people are pretty sensitive and can kinda see through somebody. If you’re coming at me and you’re like, “Hey lets be friends!” and I can tell it’s more of a, ‘hey what can you do for me?’ kinda relationship, then it kinda turns people off. I think a lot people approach networking as like, “Hey you can get me work,” and it’s like, errr calm down.

That again, goes back to the patience thing. Being able to do the slow play; like “Hi I’m Amanda, I’m a voice actor,” but playing it cool for a while. Actually getting to know them as a person, maybe being their friends, but if you don’t feel that vibe then back off.

I get that sometimes where people will like, “I’m a voice actor, can you forward my stuff to your agent?” and I’m like, A: I don’t know you, I have no idea if you’re good, and B: like I’ve got friends that I can’t even get in with my agency. You’re not gonna be on that priority list because I don’t know you. And it’s putting my neck on the line.

People are actually pretty relived when they meet a genuine person, especially in L.A. where people are so desperate for work.

So don’t come off like you’re using people, be genuine, be honest, and be sincere. And that’s a better way to build a relationship.

Yeah and don’t feel entitled to anything or expect anything from anyone. It’s kinda like the whole, friend-zoning thing. The whole reason that’s kinda annoying is that it’s like, you’re expecting. Like a guy is like, “oh she friend-zoned me,” and they’re upset because they felt entitled to her being romantically interested in him and when she wasn’t he got all butthurt. It’s kinda like that, where, don’t go into something an expectation that this person owes you anything. Then yuo won’t be disappointed and you’ll have a genuine relationship with them as a person.

Would you say there’s any stereotypes – good or bad – about voice acting in particular?

I think one of the stereotypes that makes me laugh is that we make tons of money. Because some people do, like the voice of Siri I’m sure if making bank. Or the voice of these commercial campaigns, like John Corbert who I think is doing the Olive Garden commercials. So they’re making tons of money because when it’s a union gig you get residuals everytime the commercial airs.

For the most part, like for video games, there’s no residuals. So you get paid like your flat session fee. If the game goes on to make billions of dollars you don’t see another penny. So people are like, “Oh this person was in Mass Effect,” like yeah but they made probably like 800 dollars. Which sounds great but it’s not gonna pay your rent forever. It’s a one time thing.

So people who do video games and all that aren’t gonna be super rich. Probably middle class, if that. A lot of other voice actors I know still have other jobs that they hold. So it’s just funny because there’s some people who get annoyed with voice actors so they’re like, “Oh well stop whining about this and that and that, you make millions of dollars,” and it’s like that’s amusing. If I made millions of dollars I’d have a house and wouldn’t need a roommate.

I’ve heard this stereotype from other voice actors as well. There’s this belief that voice actors make all this money, but that’s simply not true. 

Yeah cause it’s like, yes it is nice to go in to do a video game to do four hours of work and paid 800 dollars, that’s awesome! But that’s under the assumption that you work everyday all day which is not true. There’s not enough work to go around. So you might only work once a month, on a video game. So for the rest of the month you’re scrambling to find other work. You’re freelance, it’s like if you were to go to work each day, and be fired at the end of the day. So everyday it like trying to find a new job.

Once people are established, there are some voice actors I know who are very lucky, who work everyday. So they’re the ones that make a little bit more, but it took them like ten years to get there. So the average voice actor is not booking projects all the time.

I think last year I only had like four or five video games all year. So when people are like, “Oh you made 800 dollars,” it’s like yeah but spread that out over the course of a year it’s not a lot. So you suppliant it with radio work or audio books or trying to get into animation which is impossible.

Whats some of differences between audio books, video games, animation as far as voice acting goes? Are there any differences? Or do they operate differently each one?

There’s definitely differences but it also depends on what market it’s for. For example there’s some animation that’s actually very adult so they want very naturalistic voices. Like if you’re auditioning for Legend of Korra they actually want more naturalistic reads. So it’s very similar to a video game, they don’t want the whole, I’m a cartoon! But then there’s Nick Jr which is gonna be a little more broad because it’s aimed at kids who aren’t going to want the dramatic performances.

Video games tend to be more cinematic, they’re going to be closer to screen acting where everything is a little more subtle and a little more down to earth. But again it depends on the video game.

Animation can vary. A lot of the time it is more heightened because it’s aimed at children, but not necessarily it just depends on the show. There’s anime which is a little bit easier to get into, then there’s animation – the original western stuff – which they animated over here. That’s much more competitive. Anime varies on the type of anime, because there’s really silly anime, and then there’s really gritty, broody kinda dark anime. So the performance can vary there, but I feel like anime tends to be a little more heightened than other things. Just because there’s the style; there’s certain sounds, there’s certain things you don’t have in Western animation. Animeisms.

Commercials, it depends on who you’re marketing to but those are gonna be more conversational than animation. But then radio is gonna be very different from TV voice over spots. So if you’re every watching a Pampers commercial on TV and then you hear one on the radio the one on the radio is gonna be a little bit bigger, it’s gonna have a little more personality. Because you’re trying to sell a product over the air with no visuals, so it’s gonna be a little more interesting.

Audio books, they’re fun but I think they’re the hardest because it’s such a long form. You’re not just narrating one character you’re doing all of them. And you’re doing the narration which also has to have some attitude to it.

I imagine doing an audio book is similar to doing a play, but all by yourself. 

Yeah it really is. And the worst part is when you’re doing a series of books and you find out in the second book that one of the characters has an accent. You’re suppose to read the books before you do it but sometimes if it’s a series the second book’s not out yet. So you’re like, wait this main character has a Scottish accent? I didn’t do him that way in the first book! So stuff like that, but that’s not really in your control. So that’s usually why I message the author and I’m like, “Hey are there any accents you want me to do for these characters. Let me know now, or I’m just gonna do my own.

It sounds like voice acting has a wider range than a lot of people might realize. Hearing from others there’s the belief that voice acting is strictly animation, videos or anime, but it’s actually a lot wider. 

Yeah, like most voice actors are gonna make their income off of commercials. That’s not the fun stuff; like everyone wants to the fun stuff which is video games, animation, and all that. But that’s a very small portion of the work. So you have to do what you have to do in order to do what you wanna do. The have to is usually the commercials. Because again, with commercials they pay the residuals, for radio it might be like two cents, but for TV it’s pretty nice.

I think that’s the problem we get with fans at conventions who are like, “I wanna get into voice acting for anime!” and it’s like, you’re not gonna be able to make a living if you’re just gonna do anime.

Cause anime pays the least out of any of the voice over mediums and there’s not as much work as you would think. Very rarely can I pay my rent off of anime. It’s usually the other stuff that’s associated with it, like doing conventions.

So like with Sailor Moon we don’t go in that often, you can do a couple episodes in a two-hour session. So I just went in yesterday, but I hadn’t gone in for like a month. So it’s not as much [money] as people would think.

So I think when people specialize and they say, “I just wanna do video games,” or “I just wanna do anime,” they’re really limiting themselves. And they need to realize that they’re gonna have to do another job to support them while they’re pursuing that stuff. You’re not gonna make enough if you’re just doing that. If you’re open to doing any kind of voice over you’re gonna have a much better chance of success. Because you’re refining your skills and doing work, even if it’s not exactly the medium you want.

And if you pay attention to the voice actors in other shows, you’ll see that there’s a little community of each. So it’s like animation is so hard to get into because there’s a couple people who do it and then the producers keep hiring those same people. There’s very hiastate to bring in an unknown factor. So when people are like, “Oh there’s so much animation work,” it’s like yeah but the same couple people keep getting it. So you might look at it like, “There’s so much work!” but there’s not as many opportunities to get into it.

That’s where being patient comes in. 

Yeah, being patient and I think I may have not said it earlier when I was talking about networking. But networking the reason it’s important is that if you’re an unknown quantity to these people, they’re gonna want somebody to vouch for you. That they know. So basically like, if a voice actor, or a casting director, or somebody who works on one of these projects knows you and knows your work and likes you and they’re like, “this person does good work.” Then they can go to their employer and be like, “Hey this person’s really good you should take a look at their demo.” That’s when networking can come into play because it really does give you a leg up over all the other people trying to get in who don’t have an in.

That’s another reason why you wanna make sure you’re really good friends before you ask anything of them. Also make sure you’re good enough. Because it’ll tarnish the person doing the referring because it’s their neck on the line. If you’re not good and you disappoint them than that looks bad on the person who referred you. So make sure you are top-notch and you do not embarrass them because it’s their reputation on the line.

One of your most well-known roles by fans is has been your work on Fire Emblem as Sully and Cherche, along with an array of other “spunky” themed characters, do you seek out those types or roles, or have they just fallen into your lap?  

They usually kinda fall into your lap, or basically you might get auditions for a lot of characters but they’ll tend to be of a certain types. So obviously sometimes I book different types of characters but if you’re really good at a certain type of thing you’re gonna start to corner the market on that. There’s a couple people in my circle of voice actors where we all do tomboy voices really well. There’s some girls who are really good at sounding like children or some people who are really good at sounding like, ya know, sexy chesty vixens. There’s different archetypes, so you’re gonna naturally be better at certain ones than other.

You’re gonna half range and it’s good to be able to do all of them, but you’re not gonna be the best at all of them. There’s some people who just naturally sound like it than you. So I don’t play little girls as much because my voice doesn’t necessarily lend itself to it. So when I do a little girl voice it’s not gonna sound as good as when Casandra Morris does it, Christine Marie Cabanos does it. Their voices just naturally sound like little girls.

So yeah I don’t necessarily seek it out but it’s usually when I get auditions it’s like, “Oh yeah this is me,” and the other ones I’ll do, but I know I’m not gonna get those. Sometimes when they know you, when casting directors work with you a bunch of times, they’ll start to know you and your work without even auditioning you. So sometimes I’ve gotten parts where I didn’t even audition where they cast me. So that’s nice when you can build up that relationship to the point where they know you and they’re like, “Oh yeah, tomboy, lets call Amanda in.”

Is there anything in particular that appeals to you about those characters? 

Yeah because I feel like as a kid I was always a tomboy and I still kinda am. I guess it wasn’t as cool as a kid; it’s cool when I’m doing video games and get to be characters who get to be the heroines. They’re not the butt of jokes. They’re these women with complicity and agency, and power, and they are respected. That’s always cool.

Like Sully from Fire Emblem, like nobody messes with her. I really like the strong, smart women, and I know that that’s implying that women who are frail aren’t smart and that’s not true. It’s just that for me I don’t resonate with like, the more demure characters. That’s a very popular trope in anime. And that drives me crazy!

You’ve recently been cast as fan-favorite Makoto Kino aka Sailor Jupiter in VIZ’s upcoming re-dub and release of Sailor Moon Crystal, what was it like, learning you had gotten such an iconic role in an anime that has meant a lot to fans worldwide? 

It was insane cause I was like, holy crap. I didn’t think I was gonna get it. At the time I had done some anime but I wasn’t a leading kinda girl. Usually I’m like a supporting – a very small supporting character. Or an ensemble character where I’ll play Little Old Lady B and I’ll also play this little boy; very small supporting characters but never in the main cast. So with Sailor Moon I was like, oh my gosh this is so amazing but I’m not hang my hopes on it. There’s a lot of voice actresses out here who have the lead all the time and they’re probably gonna get it, like I’m not lead girl material.

So I auditioned and then I sent it in and I didn’t hear anything for a couple months. So I went okay I didn’t get it, and then I even heard from friends that they didn’t find the people they were looking for so they had another round of auditions. So I was like, okay well then I definitely didn’t get it. But I didn’t realize they were talking about certain characters. I had heard they had callbacks, and I didn’t get invited to callbacks so I’m like, well then that means I definitely I didn’t get it. But apparently mine was one of the auditions they were like, nope we know we want her, just off the audition. Which was awesome! Cause that was one that I recorded in my closet.

So it was like two months later that I finally got an email saying, like, “Hey if there was going to be some sort of announcement at Anime Expo this year, would you be available?” It was really cryptic [laughs] I’m like, yes? And then like two weeks after that they were like, “Congratulations you’re in Sailor Moon! You need to be available for Anime Expo,” because that’s when they were going to announce the cast. And then they didn’t tell me who I was for like another month or so and I was freaking out. Because who am I? Like great I’m in the who but who am I? Am I like Luna? Cause I auditioned for all the girls, Queen Beryl and Luna. So that’s why I was like, obviously I want to be Sailor Jupiter but, the odds of getting in the show let alone being my favorite character I’m not gonna ask that much.

So that’s why I was like, well maybe I’m like Naru. Especially because we were suppose to start recording in like April or something – this was like two years ago – and it was like May and I hadn’t heard anything. So I’m like, oh gosh they probably recast me I haven’t heard anything. I’ve been fired. So eventually I was like, hey do you need me? And they were like, oh yeah you’re character Sailor Jupiter doesn’t come in for another twenty-five episodes. And I like lost it. Like oh my god! It was exactly what I wanted.

I didn’t actually get to recording until September it takes a long time to record twenty five episodes.

Final question, what type of experience are you hoping to have attending Wasabi Con?

I’m not sure, I’ve been to Jacksonville, I’ve never been to this con, and I’ve never been to a convention on Halloween weekend. I feel like it’ll be, well I don’t know maybe it’ll be boring because at conventions always in cosplay. So it’s not gonna be as, oh everyone’s in costume, cause everyone’s always in costume. But I have a feeling people are gonna amp it up because it’s Halloween weekend. So I’m excited to see the creative Halloween cosplay and the activities that Tom has planned. Cause, I mean, Tom Croom is super cool and I’m curious to see how he runs a convention.

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