Recently, the enchanting Kari Wahlgren agreed to do an interview with Voices.com. An extraordinary voice actor and wonderful person to boot, this conversation is sure to win the hearts of all voice acting fans and talent alike.
Stephanie: How did you get started as a voice actor?
Kari: I had an agent during college who sent me out on auditions for a number of things, including voiceovers. I started booking radio spots and industrial voiceovers in Kansas City, before moving to Los Angeles to pursue my career further.
Stephanie: With a background in theatre and music, voice acting must have come naturally to you. Do you find that given your vocal abilities as a singer, you have more control of your voice? More agility and range?
Kari: My vocal training has helped me enormously!! Not only does it help you develop more range and vocal flexibility, but reading music helps you develop an ear for timing and phrasing as well. This came in extremely handy when I learned how to do voiceover dubbing for Japanese cartoons or “anime.” I could hear each line like a measure of music, and that helped me synch it up to the picture. Also, learning songs in Italian or French helped when it came to pronouncing foreign names and places in video games, etc. I highly recommend singing classes for anyone interested in voiceover work.
Stephanie: Your credit list shows both commercial work and animation voice-overs for video games. How do you balance the two?
Kari: I don’t actually strive to balance the two; I audition for every job I can–whether it’s animation or commercial — and feel blessed when I book one! I like doing all different kinds of work; it keeps things
fresh and interesting.
Stephanie: How do you get ‘in the zone’? Do you have any pre session rituals to help you step into character?
Kari: I like to talk to myself in the car or sing along to the radio “in character” before a session… I’ve started putting my cellphone earpiece on, so I don’t get as many strange looks from other drivers! If it’s a really challenging character, I’ll do specific vocal warmups to get prepared (goes back to the whole ‘benefits of voice lessons’ thing!) And I always read the script before the session, if I’m given one, and just try to psych myself up mentally before I go in. Many clients will provide you with character drawings or voice references from your auditon, too, so that’s also really helpful in the preparation process.
Stephanie: On the subject of characters, I just had to ask you this: If you could be the voice of any Disney Princess character, which one would you be and why?
Kari: Oh my gosh: did you KNOW I had an obssession with Disney Princesses as a child?! Disney animation was one of the biggest influences on me when I was little–I always had a sense that someone was doing the voices in the cartoons, so I’d run around the house acting out the movies and thinking, “I’m going to do that one day!!”
Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” was by far my favorite. She was pretty AND smart–definitely not a victim! And the prince liked her for that….that’s something we need to stress to young girls more often today: Smart is Sassy!!!
Stephanie: As a career voice actor, have you ever tried to find voice work on your own, or have you always been represented by an agent? Does being represented limit your ability to work or the selection of jobs in any way?
Kari: I’ve been fortunate enough to have had good agents during most of my career, and having good representation can help open doors for you–they can help you get auditions for bigger projects or get interviews with more casting directors. But you should always, always be doing your own legwork, too. With a freelance job like voice acting, you really have to think of yourself as the president of your own company.
Stephanie: You’ve worked with and trained under the legendary Susan Blu. Over the years, what kind of an impact has she made on you as a person and as a voice actor?
Kari: A friend of mine got me to take a workshop with Sue Blu. Within the first five minutes of meeting her, I had the strongest thought of “This woman is going to change my life!”. She just has such an amazing passion and insight into voice acting; it’s contagious! Since then, I’ve worked with her a number of times. She is a fantastic director and I adore her professionally and personally! It’s a treat everytime I go into a session with her!
Stephanie: You are a very cheerful person by all accounts. Are there any activities or causes that you pursue outside of voice acting that contribute to your personal wellness and career satisfaction?
Kari: Wow — I’m flattered that you heard I was cheerful!….have you been talking to my Dad?? Actually, my parents are both teachers, so I have a great respect for education and literacy. I think it gives people so many more options in life! So I try to help out with charities and organizations that promote reading and staying in school.
There are so many little ways you can make a difference…the next time you have a party, have everyone bring a used children’s book (everybody’s got at least ONE lying around!) or a $5 donation…you’d be amazed how much that can help a local women’s shelter, children’s hospital or inner-city school library. I’ve also started a small scholarship at my college, the University of Kansas, to help a student finish his or her education. I received scholarships when I was in school, and they definitely helped me, so I’m trying to give a little something back.
I also really like “Children’s International”, a charity based out of Kansas City that sponsors children in impoverished countries. Some of these families are trying to survive on $10 a month — It blows my mind! Literally, for the cost of a large pizza, you can help sponsor one of these kids for a whole month. My philosophy is that if everyone does a little something, big things can get done. Okay, I’m off my soapbox! (laughing)
Stephanie: What’s in the works for you next Kari? Can you give us a sneak peek into your calendar?
Kari: Right now, I’m recording a number of new video games, including “Time Shift”, “Rogue Galaxy”, “Open Season,” and a few I can’t talk about!! I also just recorded a pilot for Nickelodeon called “Sparkles and Gloom” that is adorable! If you go to my website (www.kariwahlgren.net), there’ll be a link soon to the shows blog site. And there’s a new show I’ve been working on that I’ll FINALLY be able to talk about later this month; I’m very excited about it, so check in with me in the next few weeks for more details!!!
Stephanie: This business is all about who you know sometimes. Is there any advice that you can give to voice actors about how to start making connections in the field to further their careers?
Kari: I think the worst mistake people make is trying to MAKE connections before they’re professionally ready to HAVE those connections! For instance, if you work really hard to get an audition with a certain Disney executive, and then you finally get the appointment and give a mediocre audition, it may be a looooong time before that opportunity comes around again.
I can’t stress enough that your main focus should be preparation!!! I still take classes, private lessons, etc. to improve and stay brushed up. I also find that you make a lot of contacts in those classes and private lessons!! Keep studying, doing plays, and improving yourself: if you’re good, people find out about it. Seriously.
Stephanie: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us Kari 🙂
Kari: Have a Happy 4th of July!