FIREWATCH, LIFE IS STRANGE, and the Life of a Voice Actor – An Interview with Cissy Jones
We were super lucky to be able to chat with Cissy Jones, voice actor extraordinaire, for a little bit to discuss all things Firewatch, Life is Strange, voice acting, and her role as the infamous Squirrel Girl.
AoG: You have quite the voice acting background… was getting into the business of voice acting something you’d always wanted to do or was it something you sort of just fell into?
Cissy: It’s a bit of both, actually. I was working in Silicon Valley for years and I’d always wanted to do voice acting but I didn’t really know how to get started and I was getting ready for work one morning, dreading it, and I heard Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart Simpson, was on the radio promoting The Simpsons Movie and at the time I’d lived in Bay Area and she said, “You guys here are so lucky, you have a great voiceover school right in your city.” I got on the phone that day and started taking classes that week and two years later I left my job in the Silicon Valley and became a full-time voice actor. So it’s something I’d always wanted, but it also kind of fell into my lap.
AoG: That’s such a great story! Nancy actually played a big part in my choosing careers… Nancy Cartwright is such a gift.
Cissy: Yeah…to be the voice of a Simpson… that’s the dream job.
AoG: Since you do voice acting, which is its own skill set, how was it transitioning to mo-cap work?
Cissy: Yeah, it’s definitely a different hustle. In voiceover, I am in my booth and it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing or if I’m doing any stage direction, as long as my voice can convey something believably or interestingly. But mo-cap is a whole other beast. It’s a lot of fun! You obviously have lots of face direction, you gotta memorize your lines, and you get to wear these suits… I like to say I’m covered in balls all day. But yeah, it’s fun! It’s also fun to be on a set and work with other actors at the same time. Which for most video games and voice acting, that’s not the case.
AoG: That actually sounds like a lot of fun. I always see those (behind the scenes) videos and think that it’d be a fun addition to the whole thing.
Cissy: Yeah you start doing things like the running man and the robot just to see what your avatar is doing on the screening, haha.
AoG: You’ve done so much voice acting work already and before I get to Firewatch, I’d like to ask you about Life is Strange and your character Joyce Price. How was it like bringing that character to life?
Cissy: Oh, she’s such a wonderful character. I got the audition from my agent, like I do for most things and something about her sadness really spoke to me. Not that I’m a sad person but it’s fun to explore different things in a character, which I think is so much fun to begin with. But she just had a loneliness and a quiet desperation to her, but she tries to be really strong for her daughter and I’m a parent, I have two small kids, and I get it. There’s certain things you just want to protect your children from at all costs. I think for her that cost was really great. So it was really fun to step into her skin. That guys that wrote that game are such great people and they have such passion for it and it really shows. It showed in the writing and I feel like it showed in the how the game came out and it showed in the lines of the dialogue they gave me.
AoG: Well I just want to say congratulations on that game. It’s my all time favorite game and I honestly didn’t realize how emotional it was going to be till the end.
Cissy: Thank you! That just gave me goosebumps. It was a really special experience and every now and then you get to work on a project and in the middle of it you go, “God, this is good.” and it doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, you know it. It was the same experience with The Walking Dead. That was my first job. Yeah, what an introduction. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know any of the other voice actors. I met them later and we all became fast friends because it was such an insane experience and we all knew it was lightning in a bottle. And I feel like Life is Strange had a lot of really similar feelings around it for me.
AoG: That’s amazing! I’m really glad to hear that… I think it’s always amazing when you sort of get these big experiences out of it and it shows you that it’s the right career.
Cissy: Yeah! I always like to say that it’s like a zipper. When it works, it just works really, really well. And when it doesn’t and you keep banging your head again against the wall, maybe it’s time to take a step back and look around.
AoG: That’s a really good life motto, actually! So now I have a few questions about Firewatch, one of the highly anticipated releases of 2016. First up, for readers who don’t know too much about it, what exactly is Firewatch?
Cissy: Firewatch is a first person exploration. You play as Henry, who is a man, middle aged guy, kind of at a cross roads in his life. Rather than doing anything head on, he decides to head out into the wilderness and just find some peace and quiet, maybe a little introspection. Upon getting there, his only point of contact in this beautiful, stunning, amazing game is Delilah, who is me, on his walkie talkie, a couple of miles away in another look out tower. And there is a mystery that unfolds and little missions you can go on, but the driving force of it all is the relationship you create with Delilah. You can either choose to really engage with her and open up to her and be vulnerable with her or you can totally choose to be stand off-ish and find your introspection. And you can play it over and over again and get different outcomes which I think is just really beautiful.
AoG: I’ve been playing it all day actually since it just released a few hours ago and I’m just- the world is so amazing! And I didn’t realize just how natural the conversation between Delilah and Henry would be. It just felt so realistic.
Cissy: That is all Sean Vanaman. He wrote The Walking Dead season one, which was touted for its emotional, hard-hitting believability. He is just a master at creating things between people. He really had an idea in his head for how he wanted these two people to relate to each other and become connected. Man.
AoG: I’m really excited for it all! I’m trying to just play straight through it because I’m really intrigued by this mystery part of it and it’s a lot of fun so far.
Cissy: Good! I’m really glad to hear that! We had a lot of fun recording. I mean, we recorded for two years. So it’s really nerve-wracking and exciting and terrifying and awesome to see people finally get there hands on it. We had so much fun in those sessions. There were times where I would fall into laughing fits and not be able to record for like 10 minutes, just to get myself together. But working with Rich was amazing and Sean is just… I will work on anything with that guy at anytime… ever.
AoG: When you got involved with Firewatch, did you know that Delilah was only going to be a voice in the game? And her being only a voice, was it harder for you? I’m sure seeing the character definitely helps get their voice, in a way.
Cissy: It can, yeah. Sean approached me about three years ago before Firewatch was Firewatch and he basically said, “I’m writing a game with a female protagonist, are you in?” and I was like hell yeah! And it went through a couple iterations, is it gonna be this, is it gonna be that, and blah blah blah and it settled on Firewatch. Then he called me and we had a long talk about how she was just going to be a walkie talkie but because he had already cast me, and he knows me, he was able to kind of write me into the character. I’m a big dork. So that helped. It was awesome. For me, I was really, really love the fact that you as a player get to decide how you feel about this person without ever seeing what she looks like. I think so often we are programmed too feel love at first sight or chummy at first sight or disgust at first sight just based on what this other character or, honesty, a human being in real life, looks like. And to be able to go on on just personality alone is really special. I think Sean did something really fantastic there.
AoG: I also think that Sean putting you in mind for the character is also why the dialogue is just so great. I’m studying game design right now, so I’m noticing all the little things and it’s just amazing to see it unfold.
Cissy: That’s so cool! Yeah, I it’s great and a lot of female characters in video games are very disproportionately sized, shall we say, so it was kind of nice to not have to fit into the compounds of that. Here’s this middle aged woman, who likes to do cross word puzzles and drink tequila and she’s fine. And people like spending time with her and I love that.
AoG: I also think that’s why I’m such a big fan of Firewatch. I’ve written so many pieces on how female protagonist’s in media aren’t just one dimensional characters and it’s so nice to see this from a different angle. Hearing only her voice is so fascinating and such an neat concept.
Cissy: Thank you. Thank you for saying that. That’s one of the things I love most about this game.
AoG: I’ll let you know once I finish it! I can tell I’m already going to love it. Between the mystery, the characters, soundtrack, and game design- sorry, I keep rambling about this game, haha.
Cissy: No, no! We love it! To see people’s reactions has been so great and Campo Santo put together crack team of awesome. You look at Sean and Jake, obviously, from The Walking Dead, and then you look at Jane Ng and Olly Moss and Chris Remo, who did the soundtrack, and it’s all these people who are so amazing in their own right. And you just get this work of art that you get to play through!
AoG: Right?! Just this world and the fact that you get to make your own choices is so great! I’ve realized that more so this past year that video games that do that are more effective and get into your mind more. It’s amazing to see all of that come together!
Cissy: Yeah, I think they’ll always be a spot for FPS’ and stuff like that because people need to get the lead out and I totally get that. But you are seeing more of these, you know, kind of cinematic video game experiences and people like it. There’s a thirst for it. It’s pretty awesome.
AoG: And one final Firewatch question! I know you guys have been working on this for so long, so how does it feel to finally have it be out in the world?
Cissy: It’s kind of like giving my baby to the masses. I love this character so much and I spent so much time in the booth with her and Henry because we recorded simultaneously. So these are people that I know and love. And it’s really so exciting, but its nerve wracking as hell and it’s terrifying and it’s gratifying and it’s all over the place. Last night I was sick to my stomach because I was so nervous. It’s so big! For me, this is my first lead role in a game and it’s just been so awesome and I’ve been really happy to hear that people are responding to it really well. I kind of thought they would, especially the relationship between Henry and Delilah but its nice to get that kind of validation.
AoG: Yeah, yeah! That’s all my friends were talking about – Firewatch. I was just like this sounds great. The trailers were breathtaking. Not to be horrible, but that’s what I judge most of my games on, you know? How they put them together, etc, But the Firewatch trailer was beautifully done and seeing the world- I just can’t get over how well done the world is.
Cissy: Ugh, I know. That’s all Olly and Jane. Those two are just master artists.
AoG: Since studying game design and realizing how much work really goes into, you just can’t help but feel this overwhelming respect for every single person who worked on this game. Now I just have one final question for you, it’s kind of a funny one… how exciting was it to voice Squirrel Girl in LEGO Marvel’s Avengers?
Cissy: Oh my gosh, it was so fun! I actually have a really funny story about that. When I went in for that session, I was 8 months pregnant and as I was coming in, Stan Lee was walking out after his voice over recording session for the game. And because I was pregnant, I was sitting down. Usually I stand up during sessions, but he had just been sitting on the same stool and it was still warm! Hahaha, I totally shared butt heat with Stan.
AoG: Oh my god, I love that so much! Well thank you for taking the time and talking video games with me!
Cissy: Thank you for taking the time and playing the game and being a fan! Talking with has been great. I’m so excited!