Standing in front of a giant Mass Effect 3 graphic at the BioWare booth at PAX Prime, Jennifer Hale seems out of place. In a sea of mostly young male gamers with eyes glazed over from either standing in line or staring at screens most of the weekend, Hale looks bright eyed and exudes excitement at being surrounded by, in her own words, “my people”.
We got the opportunity to interview Hale on the busy show floor and were instantly put at ease by her open enthusiasm for the event. At her own suggestion, we huddled into a quieter corner of the convention center to talk about her inspiration for playing FemShep and being an A-List celebrity in the gaming world.
Where do you draw inspiration from when voice acting?
The character description as a start, then there’s storyline and the director, producer and writers will tell me about where I fit in it and what this moment in the storyline is. That’s where I get my specifics for the moment and I’ll plug them with “Okay, what’s the noise level”, “What just happened”, “Where are we going”, “Who are we talking to”, “Were are they from”, “What’s my relationship with them”.
For someone like Commander Shepard, have you drawn inspiration from pre-existing characters in sci-fi?
I draw inspiration from people and things that have happened to me and inevitably that informs what’s on the page. My primary inspiration is what’s on that page, what that writer intended, and of course it’s informed by things I’m inspired by. Right now I’m diggin’ on BBC America’s Battlestar Galactica reruns. It’s the most genius series ever. I love that show, it’s very inspiring.
According to your recent New Yorker write-up, we know you’re not a gamer and only briefly played Mass Effect. Were you excited to reprise your role as Commander Shepard?
Absolutely excited. Even though I’m not a gamer I’m invested in these stories at least as much as you guys are who are avid gamers because I help create it. I’m super invested in it. My job is to live as that person as vitally and as honestly as I can so you as a gamer can have a really great experience. I was thrilled when Shepard came back.
Hale is also the voice of Star Wars: The Old Republic's Jedi Satele Shan
What about roles in voice acting gets you excited? Do you have a preference for playing certain types of female characters?
A lot of what I get excited about is the production team. Who’s my director, who’s my writer, who are my producers, is there new technology involved, are we breaking through some new ground, is the character as a character breaking new ground? FemShep has turned out to be breaking new ground which is awesome. I love the leadership thing, I love setting an example that way. But, not to sound self important at all.
I also love outrageous characters, things like Powerpuff Girls. Some of the characters I got to play in that were psycho and over the top. And my fellow cast too, working on Wolverine and the X-Men shows has been incredible.
Have you ever met your male Commander Shepard counterpart, Mark Meer?
I have not! We quite recently just connected via telephone. We had a business question to answer for each other and it was great. It was great to talk to him, such a nice guy.
So there’s never been any interaction about his thoughts on Shepard vs. yours?
Nope, not yet! Bring it!
Another recent role for Hale was Bulletstorm's Trishka Novak
Looking at your IMDB list you’ve done a ton of work. Have you gotten recognized by voice? Maybe at a drive-through? Telemarketers?
People don’t realize they’re recognizing my voice. What they do say to me is, “You look familiar!” Their brain automatically translates that they think they know me but they must assume they’ve seen me before rather than heard me because it’s not in our paradigm to say, “I’ve heard you before!”
So, PAX! Have you been here before?
Never. First time.
What do you think of it?
How do you feel about being surrounded by people who will recognize you by your voice?
Nervous? (laughs) No, I’m basically sort of a shy person. It’s incredible because I’m looking around and seeing a few games I’ve worked on and it’s great to see the end users, if you will? Not to use a cold label, but just to see the human beings who enjoy the work.
The official FemShep for Mass Effect 3
And this might be one of the few places where you may be recognized as like an “A-List” celebrity...
(laughs) Holy crap! An A-List celebrity?! Shut up!
Well, in this world, if you think about it, with videogames because you’ve voiced so many... you’ve voiced Samus, you’ve voiced Shepard...
(laughs) From Samus to Shepard, yeah...
And not to say you’re not an A-List celebrity in your own right, just to put it in generic Hollywood terms...
No, no, it’s actually neat to be somewhere where my work is valued. That’s an awesome feeling. I kind of feel like, “Oh yeah, we’re all in the same boat.” These are my people. We are each other’s crew. We all hang together.
Has there ever been a moment where, on any project, you’ve been given a line or something to say you don’t agree with?
I have a couple of characters that I do that are very iconic, and I won’t name them, but I will absolutely speak up if there’s something that’s been written ‘cause quite often with those characters they get worked on by third parties outside writing for them for a toy or something and I’ll say, “You know, this is not an approach this character would take. She would say it this way.”
The stuff for Shepherd I don’t touch, especially with BioWare. The way the system works you don’t mess with the words, you say them exactly as written. Some games, some jobs, some animated series there’s some room to ad-lib and it’s fantastic when that happens. It’s great to take the blinders off and go, “Woo! Let’s play!”
What’s your favorite thing about Shepard?
Ha! That’s she’s a leader, she kicks ass and she can do it just as good as the boys.
Anything you don’t like about her?
Nope! Love her.
A huge thanks to Jennifer Hale for her time and we’re looking forward to starting up Mass Effect 3 with the powerful voice of FemShep to help us save the world when the game is released next year. Until then, the commander left us with an important message from the Citadel: