Conquering Andromeda: Tom Taylorson
Today, Mass Effect: Andromeda has been released without restrictions in some countries; and to celebrate this, Nix and I bring you a couple of interviews .
I bring you Tom Taylorson, a voice actor who has given his voice to several audiobooks and video games besides Andromeda. He coincides with Fryda Wolff, whom you can read in Nix’s interview, in the game Octodad: Dadliest Catch.
If anyone is interested in reading the questions and answers on Spanish, you can click here.
What motivated you to choose your job?
It chose me? I decided that I wanted to be an actor back in the 8th grade. I spent a number of years after that saying so over and over again, finally convincing my parents to support that quest in the middle of high school. When I graduated from university, I sought a career as an «actor». (An all too unspecific goal, I assure you. Focus is essential and I didn’t necessarily have it then.) After years of working on and off as an actor (on stage, small screens, voice over here and there) I found that voice acting was something that came very naturally to me and was work that kept coming my way. I heard more «yes» from that acting realm than the other forms. So I pursued it. The more I worked as a voice actor, the more I loved it. I love the people and the work as a craft and an art.
You’re relatively new in the field of video games, being Mass Effect Andromeda the biggest one in which you’ve worked. How do you think it will affect your career from now on? Mass Effect has lots of fans, are you worried of the fan effect or being suddenly famous?
Though I’m new to being known for any kind of video game work, I’ve been around working as an actor and voice actor for a while. My first voice acting job was for a game back in 2002/2003: Tao Feng: The Fist of Lotus for the original X-Box. I suppose it’d be nice to be «famous» but that doesn’t really happen (except in rare cases) in the voice acting industry. It’s one of the benefits of being a voice actor. (Or so I think) The Mass Effect fan community have been fantastic. And I hope they stick around once they actually hear my work in the game! 🙂 But as for «fame» – not really concerned with it. While the best job ever, Mass Effect: Andromeda was just one job. I’m always looking for the next! Actors are like sharks, I think. We have to keep moving to stay alive. And that’s what I’m doing while waiting for Andromeda’s release.
I think people doesn’t know if there specific studies to become a voice actor, could you tell us which path did you take to become a professional?
I studied acting. I went to Illinois Wesleyan University and got my BFA in Theater Arts Performance. From there I kept working and learning after graduation. (classes, workshops, observing cast-mates in shows…) I really only took 2, maybe 3 «voice acting» specific classes in my time working as an actor. I learned the «voice acting» part on the job. The most important thing is: Acting first. The rest will come if the acting is there.
And I think: To become a professional – be professional! Show up on time; early even! Do your job, do it well (each and every time) and don’t be a jerk. There are many details and some minutiae to those steps, but those are the basics. And that applies for any field you work in.
Be so good they can’t ignore you.
And don’t be a dick.
Short answer – I studied acting and found that my studies translated really well to acting into a microphone. 🙂
How’s your work as a voice actor? It’s a hard job? I mean, I’m sure you spend a lot of time inside the recording studio; about how many hours do you spend each day of recording? Because of your work you travel a lot, how does your family cope with that?
First – regarding travel? Actually I’m home. A lot. But that allows me to be much more involved in my kids’ lives than another career might. I take the kids to school; many days I pick them up. Compared to my own father, I’m around a LOT for my kids. There is a certain amount of «jumping» when a company tells me to do so for voice work, but there’s a flexibility too. And for audiobooks – I record those almost exclusively from home. So I’m home a lot.
Is it hard…? Tough to say. I won’t say it comes «easily». Because it doesn’t. There’s a lot of work involved in making a career out of it. (Of any creative endeavor I would say.) But I will say that a lot of it comes naturally. Now those naturally occurring performances come from many years of study and observation, practice and work in the field. So while a lot of voice work comes off as easy, the actual work, and making career of it – that’s challenging. It’s not for everyone. Many of the difficulties come from constantly looking for work, constantly auditioning. The «rejection» as you audition over and over for that one job that may or may not pay particularly well. Then there’s the personal and financial uncertainty that comes from that. Add in trying to support a family with those challenges in place? That’s hard.
The number of hours spend recording changes from day to day, whether I’m home working on an audiobook or out and about working on a commercial, animated project, or game. Most days I’m home working on audiobooks and auditioning. So that’s about 6 hours of recording with a some time sprinkled throughout to get a little food and water and walk the dog.
I’ve heard that SAG-AFTRA union players are having problems with the video game industry. Has it affected you in any of your works?
Yes. The number of video game auditions have dropped. Thankfully it didn’t effect Mass Effect and another project that I can (hopefully) talk about soon.
Of all your voice works, do you have a favourite voice work or do you remember one with affection?
They all have a special place. But I have to admit – Mass Effect: Andromeda is really the tops for a variety of reasons. Right up there with it though is Octodad: Dadliest Catch. That game is just special.
I’m curious, is there any female sci-fi character that you are fond of?
A lot actually! Female Shepard, of course. I’m a Star Trek fan so Dr. Crusher of ST:TNG and Kira from ST:DS9 are up there. Captain Janeway too. (Voyager) And of course Star Wars – Princess Leia, Jyn Erso! Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max!! There are a lot. No time to list them all.
How was working with BioWare? Did you notice any difference in the work environment? From the outside it looks like a very nice company with its workers.
Working with BioWare was the best. From the people I directly worked with (our directors: Caroline Livingstone, Patrick Michalak, Josh Dean, Shannon Blanchet) to those I know only from afar (the writers, producers, designers; we’re all Twitter friends now…) they were great to work with. Smart, affable, creative. Every day working on this project, no matter the challenges, was enjoyable. They love Mass Effect; I love Mass Effect. We got along pretty well.
What do you think about Scott Ryder? We believe he’s going to be an interesting male character; is he as strong as he looks? No spoilers, just talking about him like a real person. Without talking about the game, how did you feel being Scott Ryder?
Scott is interesting as a Mass Effect protagonist. His is less a Shepard’s journey (one from greatness to awesomeness) and more a coming of age story. He’s adventurous, an explorer. And younger than Shepard, of course. All of that makes him, in some ways, more relatable. It’s always fun to have a little power trip and play as an intergalactic badass. And while Ryder, perhaps, becomes an intergalactic badass, he/she is not that in the beginning. In that, I like to think there’s more for fans to hook in to as a character they relate to rather than one they aspire to.
When the Mass Effect Andromeda trailer came out and we saw, for the first time, Liam and Cora’s face, many men (of different ages), began to criticize that BioWare was making ugly female characters, as it happened with Cassandra (from the Dragon Age series), PeeBee and Sara. Do you think society is so used to see a kind of feminine beauty, that they get angry when another different feminine beauty appears?
There is a certain conditioning, from media and elsewhere, that defines beauty. And from that we make our individual (and collective) determinations. We accept that or we deviate from it. Yes, we’re used to seeing a certain kind of «beauty» in media, generally, but very specifically in video games. Who, historically, (and even contemporarily, let’s be honest…) are the ones making the games? From that group of mostly men come the design decisions. And they play to their audience. (themselves) Do you get to be angry when someone decides to do something different than what you’re used to seeing in games?
I guess? I mean, it’s the Internet. Someone somewhere is gonna be pissed off about something.
But if you don’t like it – don’t buy it.
If you don’t like Cora’s haircut, tell her so. (not sure that’s actually an option…) Or you don’t like … whatever, that’s fine. And you can say something about it on a message board or whatever corner of the Internet you call home.
Then maybe this game is not for you.
This game is a huge team’s collective artistic effort. They’re expressing a new vision of the future with new ideas of what Mass Effect can do, the stories it can tell, and how the game plays mechanically. Technology also gives us more options on how to model characters. With all of that comes new ideas for many things, including what people can look like.
People. Look. Like. People.
There are some who look like models. Good for them! You like them? Good for you! Y’know what? You can design your Sara or Scott to look exactly like that. Fun fact – Scott’s face model is already a literal model. (and actor and all around nice guy!) But the other members of the team are going to be expressed differently. And while not everyone is, some of the characters in game are based on actual human beings. And what’s so wrong with that? Society is slowly accepting (for the most part…) an expanding view of what is «beautiful» in so many other forms of media. Why not games?
Have you ever played the Mass Effect trilogy? If so, Did you like it? Any favourite moment, character or romance?
Yes. Played the whole original trilogy. Fem Shep, Paragon, Liara the whole way, Synthesis ending.
I love Wrex and forever regret «offing» Kaiden because I feel like I deleted all of Raphael Sbarge’s work in the game for a decade. 🙂
I’ve to talk about this: FemShep is a reference for a lot of girls who play Mass Effect (and we aren’t few), because she transmits us her force; did you play with FemShep? Did she transmit you that sensation? What do you think about FemShep?
As I said, yes – played as Fem Shep the whole way through. Y’know, my daughter (an exceptionally smart 8 year old…) asked me about the first games and who I played as. She asked why I played as a girl Shepard. And I explained to her: I’m your dad. Every day. I’m a tall, white male, married to your mom, who looks after and loves you and your brother and our dog very much.
But sometimes – I want to be Link. Sometimes I want to be Shovel Knight. And sometimes, I want to be The Shepard. And if that Shepard is a tall, red haired woman who will as soon shoot me in the face as talk to me: All the better!
I’m fortunate in that I get to play pretend for a living. I like to play pretend elsewhere too. Playing Female Shepard was a great way to experience something other than myself for a long time. And yes – that projection of authority that she has is fantastic. Jennifer Hale killed it in that role. (There’s a reason she’s a Spartan-IV in Halo…) She plays a wonderful Woman In Authority. And Fem Shep is a great exemplar of that. She has a softer side as well. A compassion. (or she can, at any rate. mine did…) She serves as an example that a woman, like any person, has all of those possibilities active within them at any time. Hard and soft, authoritative and democratic, giving.
PeeBee, Sara and Cora aren’t the classic female character who looks like a supermodel like Miranda, EDI, Quiet, Cortana or Samus Aran in the last videogames; do you think the time has come for female characters to gain strength and avoid thus falling into stereotypes? Or do you think it’s something punctual?
Of course it’s time! It’s been time. I can only imagine what women and girls felt seeing some of the character designs in Overwatch for the first time. Or to see a little girl be the engineering genius in Overwatch (again) who created Orisa.
These representations in games, and all media, have meaning. Sometimes it’s wish fulfillment (seeing what you want to be, projecting that in the game space). Sometimes it’s seeing yourself in a character. (they look like, behave like, have the same quirks as me; And yet she’s a Space Marine!!!) All of it creates a more creatively inclusive space. As the world works toward more inclusiveness as we become a global society, these inclusions cannot be ignored. They have meaning. For us now and in the future.
To avoid the stereotypes now mean’s later on – you get to go all hipster on everyone else when they catch up. «We were making bad-ass women of ALL types before it was cool.»
Also – women make up a LARGE portion of the gaming community. (and not just ‘filthy casual’ smart phone games!)
Ignore them and what they look for in characters and games at your peril. 🙂
And finally, is there anything else you want to tell to your fans?
Thank you all for playing. I look forward to playing Mass Effect: Andromeda with all of you very soon.