Voice artist often have a unique job to do, to be the voice of a character, person or object and subsequently, bringing them to life. We don’t notice them often, the voice behind commercials, TV characters, games and animated movies or even eBook tutorial videos. They are hidden and sometimes you wonder who is behind the voice.
I was about to meet one of them, in a bicycle-themed café called the Bay 10 Espresso located in a secret alleyway in Milsons Point. The voice actor was Colin Cassidy, an award-winning voice-over artist in Sydney. I arrived a few minutes early and got ready for the interview but Colin had already arrived. He was tall, dressed casually but looked relaxed and ready for an interview. We greeted each other, made some small talk, ordered two coffees and I even got to be entertained by Colin’s spot on impressions as well as his humorous jokes in the process.
I could listen to his impressions all day, but I couldn’t waste too much time, so I got straight into asking about his journey being the voice actor he is today. “Actually, voice acting was something I never thought I would do,” he replied with a smile. Colin originally never thought of being a voice actor, in fact, he was far from it. He studied economics in university but by the time he got to his second year he found that it wasn’t enjoyable for him. “At the same time I was on a spiritual journey and I was trying to find the meaning of life,” Colin explained, followed by a spot-on impression of a spiritual guide saying the ‘meaning of life’. It was after he became a waiter at a cocktail bar, where he met returning missionaries from Papa New Guinea that inspired him to go into voice acting. They hit it off quickly and one of these new-found Christian friends told Colin he had quite an ‘extroverted personality’, and that he should get into radio. That marked the beginning for Colin as he plunged into the world of voiceovers.
“Don’t try and be the best, just be the best you can be”
Getting started as a volunteer at a community radio station in Coffs Harbour, he then ventured into provincial radio as a drive-time announcer and copywriter with Triple Zed and 2LM in the Northern Rivers. Later, Colin would become a Creative Writer and ‘workhorse Voice-over’ at Southern Cross, “I was part of a team of writers where we would write dozens of campaigns a day. I probably wrote around 100,000 scripts in my years as a copywriter. I’d have to read the scripts over the phone to get approval from ad agencies all around Australia,” said Colin. He proceeded to demonstrate how he would pitch a commercial from a Kermet the Frog voice to a standard advertising voice of an engineering company. It was simply amazing, to see a person continually produce different voices at the same time with the bonus that it was funny as well.
Colin would soon talk about the latter part of his journey when he realised that he still had a British passport, so he decided to take a job and relocate back to the UK. Three months later he would become the creative director of Global, home to UK’s best-loved radio stations, leading a team of 13 creative writers, winning multiple awards and setting record revenues. But then I was suddenly shocked when Colin then proceeded to say “But in the end, I just dropped it all”. “As time progressed I was still following my faith journey, I decided then I wanted to break away from voice-overs and media completely and just be a Christian minister,” says Colin. He explained that faith had always been a part of him throughout his life. However, in order to pursue the study of theology, he needed the financial resources; to make it possible, Colin took up voice-overs again.
This was when he had this moment, a moment where he brought attention to a unique perspective on his life. I guess it was that moment of realisation many people have when they make that next transition in their life. As I sat through sipping my small cappuccino with one sugar, Colin explained to me Christianity’s theology of ‘death and resurrection’ and how it became an important aspect of his life. “When you love something then set it free. If it doesn’t come back it was never yours to begin with, if it does come back then it’s yours,” he explained. ‘In a similar way, when you die to a former life, addiction or desire, you go through a strange metamorphosis – a kind of transformation, like a larvae spins a chrysalis then becomes a butterfly – it’s a little hard to explain, but that’s what has happened with me for voice-overs’.
Colin also told me about how his father would tell him when he was young to not worry about being successful over others. “Don’t try and be the best, just be the best you can be”, his dad would explain. In a sense, voice acting would be the thing that came back to Colin and what he could do best. So he decided to make his return back to Australia and take up voice acting again. “It’s been a weird journey”, he remarked with a laugh.
Colin then came back to his present-day life. “I’ve been back in Sydney for five years now with three kids and a wife, and I am now back into voice acting full-time. I just love it.” It was certainly a whirlwind as I sat through listening to Colin, a man who has won several awards as a voice actor and creative director, who broke advertising revenue records, but who would then suddenly dropped it all and become a Christian minister. I never expected to report on the story of a voice actor but it was definitely worth the effort and it allowed me to understand that life is certainly full of unexpected journeys not just physically but personally.
The life of a voice actor
The voice of a voice actor is the core of what they do and the voice is even more important for them than singers. However, for Colin, he noted that his voice wasn’t particularly special. “I mean I have a good voice but it wasn’t special in a particular sense,” he said, “I don’t have the deepest or highest voice, but I just have this range along with the theatrics and drama to go with it”. I assumed this would be extremely beneficial for Colin’s ability to voice different roles however he instead cites his experience as a writer as the biggest factor instead. “One thing being a writer has taught me is that you have to feel the story, feel the drama and translate that into your voice.” He said. On the theatrics of voice acting, he explained that you can take one phrase and spin it in so many different ways, which I was privy to a demonstration.
I proceeded to then ask Colin about his signature vocal style, the ‘chatty gravitas’. “I had to come up with a way to label what my sound was. Everyone is always the friendly, natural guy.” he said. “I thought I want to be different and I thought about being the best I can be, my unique selling point, my point of difference.” Colin described that his voice had depth but as he got older it became more ‘gravitas’. But Colin also was a talker, his voice can be commanding but also very friendly and warm that stems from his personality. From that emerged the ‘chatty gravitas’, a style that represents a friendly chat with a trusted advisor. I believe it to be a good assessment based on our first conversation over the phone. In the voice acting industry, distinguishing yourself is particularly important as it helps you establish what roles can match you perfectly.
I knew Colin had done a variety of roles across different media in his career so I asked him what was the hardest. “Whenever they take you into new territory that hasn’t been explored,” he said. “I know that sounds vague but a new character or new accent you haven’t done before that takes you out of your comfort zone.” Colin describes his role to voice Donald Trump as one of his most challenging experiences. “I was approached to do Trump early in February and that took a few months to nail it,” said Colin. The process may seem to take a long time but once an imitation is mastered it can stick with the voice actor for a long time. “Once you learn an imitation it’s in your kicking bag, it doesn’t take time to get back into” he explained, “it’s getting there that’s the hardest part”.
Time was running short, and I wished this entertaining chat with Colin could go on forever but I knew he had to be somewhere so I decided to wrap it up. We had our final sips of coffee, talking about the very nature of voice acting and what others might expect from it. Colin describes voice acting as a tough challenge that may not be right for everyone. “At the end of the day you win and you lose, it’s not about rejection, it’s about selection,” he explained, “because as a voice actor you are constantly attending audition after audition.” He cites having a healthy mindset as one of the most important things to have in the industry. An industry where opportunities can dwindle and famine of work is common and can easily happen to any voice actor. In fact, it becomes an industry problem not just in voice acting but acting in general with mental health issues being one of the biggest factors affecting actors. Colin again points to his unique spiritual approach “it’s like a rite of passage, you got to go through the death experience and come out sharpened and refined”.
After going through a journey of ups and downs, Colin has certainly made a comeback to voice acting with a more refined, experienced and battle-scarred self. He’s released his new Australian demo for 12 Australian styles whilst becoming the voice of a Donald Trump speaker toy made in Germany. There’s collaborations in LA for the voice of Victor von Doom from Marvel comics and much more. But in the end, it doesn’t matter how many projects there are because he simply enjoys what he does, no matter if he is going through a famine or a boom in his career.
A voice actor’s life is a hard and challenging one. Even though they bring a character to life, they seldom get any attention. In fact, the story of a voice actor is a rarity in and of itself. I was lucky to discover it and even got treated to a mini impersonations show.
I thanked him for his time, shook his hand and bid him farewell as he left the Bay 10 Espresso.
Journo for ECX Magazine