Newest Nerd Union writer Sangdi Chen jumps in to talk about a familiar voice you may or may not recognizable and some of her accomplishments…
On Saturday, Day 2 of Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (or C2E2, for our readers in Chicago), I’m standing in a shorter-than-expected line, nervously (and I mean nervously) waiting to meet one of my nerd heroes. We all have them. Those figures, creators, developers, artists, what-have-you, who feature prominently in the constellations that make up the fictional universes we so closely identify with. Who have affected us emotionally, spiritually even. It sounds like a gross exaggeration, but at least a few of you understand, I think. As I walk up to her at the autograph booth, I am struck by how ordinary, yet not ordinary, Jennifer Hale is (surprise! her usual brunette hair now has a streak of blue). I blubber out my 5-minute-rehearsed speech of what her work means to me, snap the paid-for selfie and, after a pause, shakily ask for a hug. She immediately accepts and gives me a warm squeeze. I walk away, slightly dazed, and wonder for the rest of the day at how human she seemed.
Now, without immediately knowing who Hale is, a quick browse of her work history will likely cause, at minimum, a few outbursts of “Wait, she played who in what?” (Trust me, the list is a long one).
These days, Hollywood increasingly has come to rely upon well-known “face” actors to fill roles and informally generate press buzz for films (see also: Disney, especially Pixar). Hale is not exactly such an actor, despite some apparent yearnings in early life for on-screen work (she moved to Los Angeles from Alabama in the ‘90s to pursue such a career). Her work has instead landed her among a much more recognizably “voice actor” stock: the cast of the Simpsons with their wide-ranging repertoires, anime VAs for whom specific role types are nearly calling cards, and, let’s be honest, Troy Baker who is nearly (but not quite!) her equal in breadth of career.
Yet unlike some of her storied colleagues who have gained notice in the public eye or among nerdy circles, Hale is less known to the fans of her work. Taken in whole, she could actually count fans in the many tens of millions for the nearly 100 franchises/fictional universes she has touched over the span of the last 25 years–from Mass Effect to Naruto (yep!) to Spider-Man: The Animated Series (YEP!) to Where On Earth Is Carmen Sandiego (YEP!!!).
Her Most Popular Role: Commander Shepard, Mass Effect Trilogy
If sales are anything to go by, Commander Shepard may well be the role that garnered Hale the widest exposure to audiences, coming in at a cool 14 million copies sold of the whole trilogy, as of July 2014 (though only some 18-odd percent are reported to play as FemShep). In many ways, you might feel thankful that this is the role she will likely go on to be best known for. Across three full-length games and numerous DLC, Hale truly has made the character her own – by 3, her investment shines nearly-blindingly throughout the narrative. Most tellingly, she is quoted as saying she had to pause during the recording of the squad farewells at the end of 3 to avoid bursting into tears (“Because Commander Shepard does not cry!”). While indeed it was in-character to avoid tears, it goes without saying that more than a few fans shed tears over those moments and her performance is the essential ingredient in the pathos of those scenes.
Her Most Chameleon-esque Role: Cinderella, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True, Cinderella III: A Twist In Time
This one may actually comes as a bit of a surprise to some, but this role demonstrates the depth of time and skill Hale has developed in her craft. Listening to her performance as Cinderella, what you hear is a more than adequate replication of the particular cadence and quality of American English from 1950, Trans-Atlantic markers and all. This is also a demonstration of Hale’s mastery of a peculiarity of the voice-acting industry, the requirement that an actor “disappear” in the role. For fans who grew up with the character of Cinderella, in watching these movies, at no point do you get hung up on who voices the character–she merely is. Michael Abbott of the blog, Brainy Gamer, once described her as “untraceable.” She literally vanishes into the character she’s portraying, leaving you with just the experience of watching or becoming the character yourself.
Her Most Controversial Role: Cremisius Aclassi, Dragon Age: Inquisition
While tremendously received almost across the board, Dragon Age: Inquisition later received criticism from some quarters for leaning too hard into the “social justice” domain with the inclusion of a (spoiler alert) transgender character in Cremisius Aclassi, a Tevine serving as second-in-command of the Chargers, Iron Bull’s mercenary company. Those arguments could have, once upon a time, held water if Bioware had made a token out of the character. However, the studio largely did their best to give the character depth and one such choice was to cast Hale. Her excellent performance (assisted by excellent writing from Patrick Weekes) portrays the androgyny of the character with voice alone, while still maintaining the wry humor and emotional depth of existing in a fictional world as hostile to transgender individuals as ours is. Whether you agree with Bioware’s choice or not, Hale’s work in bringing Krem to life added variety and color to the Dragon Age universe.
Even now, a month on after meeting her, I can’t help but think back to how friendly and warm she was in person. Admittedly, my own emotional stake in the characters she’s played must necessarily color my perception of her–I can’t help but wish that she were more well-known and lauded for her work. The countless, countless hours she has spent to inject life and humanity into her roles has left indelible marks on each of us; for some, she might even be life-changing. So. If you have a chance to meet her, do it. Shake her hand, tell her what her work means to you, I promise she’s done something you love.
If you are wanting to check out some of her performances, you can find copies of the previously mentioned games and movies here!