Interview with Adam Howden

After some last-minute changes, voice actor Adam Howden – best known for his roles as Anders (Dragon Age II), Shulk (Xenoblade Chronicles) and more recently as the eponymous hero in The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn video game – was kind enough to bump up his interview session a little earlier. Throughout the interview the honesty in his thoughts, words and enthusiasm was palpable and he was very much in his element.

Q: Firstly – voice acting – people don’t know much about it. How did you get started?

Adam: I got a voice agent after I left drama school, and they initially just put me up for some commercials and corporate voice-overs. Then I started auditioning at a company called SIDE UK, who do lots of voice-over recordings and eventually they started casting me, getting me in more and more – it’s become like a little ‘niche’ thing.

Q: What’s your favourite voice-over so far, and which one do the fans keep asking you to do when they meet you?

Adam: Usually it’s Anders from Dragon Age II who’s kind of the most popular one – I think that’s the one I’m more recognised for. I’ve got a soft spot for a character – that was my first lead role in a game – called Fenton Paddock for a game called Lost Horizon; it was quite a small game. Oh and also, I’m very proud of Tintin – I did the voice of Tintin for the game. Jamie Bell ‘stole’ the film from me, but I was really pleased to just be part of that. I loved Tintin – it was one of my favourite books growing up.

Q: Can you give us a little sample of both of those voices?

Adam: Well, Anders is actually quite like my own voice, really. I think that’s why they wanted me for it – they didn’t want anyone to put on a particular voice, just my own regular speaking voice…maybe just a bit more angsty. And Tintin’s much younger and he’s sort of telling off the Captain, saying ‘Oh – do stop blathering, Captain!’ Things like that and ‘Great Snakes!’ and all the other great sayings he has.

Q: Has there been a time, over your career, when you found a role difficult to do?

Adam: I did a Star Wars game – The Old Republic – and I did lots of voices in that, and you can lose track of how many and the characters’ names. I can’t remember them, because a lot of them are quite often very small characters that are perhaps there for twenty lines, and then someone kills them or you just never see them again, and so it’s hard to try and make each of those characters different in some way. Sometimes the director says ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter – we haven’t heard your voice for twenty hours’-worth of gameplay or something, so it doesn’t have to be that different,’ but sometimes you might be doing a Goblin-type character and putting on some kind of creepy, little voice…

Q: Do you have a technique for resting your voice, like some singers do?

Adam: You do have to look after [your voice]. When I’m going in for a voice-over, I do a proper ‘voice warm-up’ and I do a lot of ‘singing techniques.’ But it is just generally looking after it. Don’t scream unless you have to – sometimes you do voice sessions where you have to scream, but you generally save that ‘til last, because otherwise you can’t do anything else for the rest of the day.

Q: How does your experience differ between things like video games and other types of voice-over work? Is it a very different experience when you’re voice acting for those? Is it a different skill-set as well?

Adam: When you’re doing a commercial, or something like that, it’s very much about selling the product and making sure that certain words stand out. Whereas when you’re doing a character, it’s about what you bring to it rather than what you’re being told to put to it. I think with the companies I’ve worked for, particularly Bioware, they want the actor to make their own decisions so that they can bring the character to life – not just [the actors] being told to be a certain way.

Q: What have you got coming up that you’re most looking forward to?

Adam: I’ve got some non-voice-over stuff coming up. I did a horror film called Scar Tissue, which should be out soon. We’ve got a ‘casting crew screening’ in a couple of weeks, so hopefully that will be announced soon and will be screened in cinemas. And I did a TV show called Dark Matters, which is for the Discovery Channel and Science Channel, and I’m playing a guy called Jack Parsons who was a cultist and rocket scientist so I’ve got big, crazy hair and a moustache – it’s very funny.

Q: Tell us a little bit more about each of those – Scar Tissue to start with.

Adam: Scar Tissue is like a low-budget British horror movie. The star of it is a girl called Charity Wakefield, who is – I think – doing one in America right now; she’s just done a pilot with Eddie Izzard called Mockingbird Lane, which is a The Munsters remake. So hopefully that will help the film a bit as well – she’s coming up in the world.

[Scar Tissue] is about a serial killer, who is supposedly dead and has come back to haunt a group of young people, and I get caught up in that. I play a guy called Rupert Drummond, who is a banker and may-or-may-not get his comeuppance – you’ll just have to wait and see.

Q: For people who are interested in voice-acting as a career – do you have any advice?

Adam: I went to drama school, where I trained as an actor, and I did three years of theatre training and screen-acting. We didn’t do training specifically for voice-over, but we always did voice-work – you have to, being an actor. I was very lucky in that on my first TV job, I met a guy – another actor – who was just starting at a voice agency, and I was all ‘I really want to get into voice-overs,’ and he went ‘Okay, well give this agent a call – she’s my friend – and see what she says.’ Luckily, she went ‘Yeah, I like your voice and I’ll take you on.’

That’s the best way to go about it, to get an agent. You can’t get voice-over work without an agent – they have the contacts. Oh, and write to all the studios. Find out who they are: SIDE UK and Outsource Media – they’re another good one – and write to them, show them your showreel and nag, but don’t nag too much. The important thing is to have a good showreel and have variety.

Q: What do you think makes the difference between ‘good voice-acting’ and ‘not so good voice-acting’, and maybe even ‘bad voice-acting’?

Adam: You just have to make sure that you’re making the situation real. I mean some of the games I’ve done seem ridiculous and you kind of go ‘Oh God…come off it…’ but you have to invest in it – you have to believe in it – and commit to what you’re saying, otherwise no-one will believe you. If you don’t make it sound like you believe it yourself, then no-one else will.

On that very deep and insightful note, the interview came to an end and Adam Howden graciously left for his next session. It will be interesting to see whether he will gradually move into more live-action roles, or continue his brilliant voice-over work – or even strike a healthy balance between the two.

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