How to become a Voice Actor with Bob BergenMar 02, 2022
Episode 35: How to become a Voice Actor with Bob Bergen
Have you ever wondered how to get started in voice acting?
Voice Actor, Bob Bergen shares his top tips on the animation voice over industry and how to discover your character’s voice.
From Porky the Pig to Star Wars, Bob has voiced a wide variety of memorable characters over his 40 years in the business.
By the time you finish listening, you’ll know:
- How to become a Voice Actor
- The key elements to finding your character’s voice
- Why ‘acting’ is so important in Voice acting
If this episode inspires you then I'd love to hear from you! Take a screenshot of you listening on your device, post it to your Instagram stories and tag me@katherine_beck_ !
Then follow me on Instagram to go 'behind the scenes' with me and my own journey as an American accent coach and Voiceover Actor.
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You're listening to the All American actors podcast episode 35. In today's episode, get ready to learn what it takes to be an animation voice actor with the incredibly talented Bob Bergen. That's coming up next. Ready to go behind the scenes and learn what it really takes to build a sustainable career as a working actor in the US film and TV industry. Join me Katherine Beck, your all American accent coach, as I give you the insight and inspiration to take action on your career, learn my best tips and tricks to performing with an American accent and hear from working actors and other industry professionals. To give you a comprehensive overview of this biz we call show them this is the all American actors podcast. Real quick before we start today's episode, and Oh, I am so thrilled to be speaking to today's guest because he has really shaped my perspective and career in the world of voiceover. But first I want to give a big shout out to Kyle Walbank, who says I've spent some time learning tips and doing classes I have found Katherine's tips. Great a helpful reminder to what helps you achieve a good general accent. Thank you, Katherine. Thanks, Kyle. so thrilled that my tips are helping you and if you've been listening to this podcast and loving what you hear do me a favor, click the subscribe button. If you haven't yet subscribed, tap those five stars and leave us a review to let me know what you think of this podcast. Apple's algorithm loves those reviews when it's ranking. So if you want to help us get noticed by other actors all across the world, go ahead and leave us a review. Alright, today's guest is Bob Burgin, who is a master voice actor. You know how sometimes in your life you have a teacher that is so memorable because they challenge and inspire you and shape how you think about the craft that you love. Well, Bob was that teacher for me. And he really changed the trajectory of my career. Because I learned how to use my voice in ways I never thought possible. I learned how to bring animation characters to life with my voice. And I think that is the moment that I truly fell in love with voice acting. Bob Burgin has been in countless animated TV shows and movies. Most notably, he's known for taking over the roles such as Looney Tunes characters, Porky the pig, Tweety Bird, and Marvin the Martian. But aside from his mastery of creating animated characters with his voice, he has worked in all areas of voiceover from commercials to promos to radio imaging, and trailers, let's not waste any more time, I am beyond excited to share this interview with you. So here it is welcome Bob Bergen to the show. It's so great to have you here. Bob Bergen 2:50 It is great to be here. And technology's amazing. You sound like you're around the corner. Katherine Beck 2:54 I know. That's the amazing thing about technology. And why don't we start by just telling the listeners a little bit about you. Bob Bergen 3:01 I am a voice actor. I've been working in this business almost 40 years, I do everything from animation to games, to promo to narration, the only genre of voiceover I don't do is audio books, but pretty much everything else. Katherine Beck 3:16 Amazing. And I took your class, gosh, I don't even remember exactly when it was, I think it was. Let's see, I left in 2005. So it was probably around 2003 or so I'm guessing. I took your animation class. And I have to say, Bob, you are one of those teachers that really changed things for me. It's true, really challenged me in a new way. And I loved going to class every day. And I loved the fact that at the beginning of it, I felt like I wasn't any good at it. But I would just go to class every week. And I would try really hard. And even though I didn't feel like I was good. I felt like it was something that I could keep working on and improving. And the great thing about you as a teacher is that you're so inspiring every time Thank you. And so what do you love about teaching animation because you're so brilliant and animation, but as a teacher is well what inspires you or motivates you to teach others The Art of Animation voiceover . Bob Bergen 4:23 You know, people who come and take my class will be the people who always do funny voices. And they're like, Oh, I do funny voices. I should do cartoons. And what I love about teaching is watching their their eyes when they realize oh, it's not about the voice. It's about the acting. What I always tell my students is all characters have a voice but not all voices have character. So it's about building characters. It's really I start everybody as if they've never done this a day in their life. I don't care if they have I want everyone to be on a level playing field. So there's no competition. Then the group, I'm actually I'm not even doing group classes anymore because of COVID. I'm doing one on one. But it's, it's still about creating characters and realizing it doesn't really matter what the character sounds like the script is a skeleton, your job is to give it a body. And that takes choices. And that takes intent. And that takes creating a character with nothing but your voice. And it's a real fun process to watch. From, take one where the actor just, you know, tries whatever's on their mind, usually just guessing, to giving them some technique to follow and then watching them apply it. It's very gratifying, because everybody grows, no matter where you are, in your career, you're going to grow at the mic, just by virtue of applying stuff you've never done before, or never knew how to do before. Katherine Beck 5:52 Yeah, so true. I'm trying to think of things that you said or taught us that really have sat with me over time. And I've brought into any sort of animation voiceover work I've done and one of the things I remember is you talking about that thing about that character that really makes them unique. Bob Bergen 6:11 I call it a signature. It's just something that makes it memorable. It gives it the essence of its personality. And you know, if you look at a major celebrity, especially the old days of Hollywood, everybody had a signature, it was always a Jimmy Stewart movie, whether he was doing it's a wonderful wife or a Western same with john wayne, same with bow guard, same with Cagney. And characters have to have something distinct about them. Oftentimes, it's just the actor playing them. This is why they hire celebrities to do animated features. You know, they had they took they take the animated character and they marry it to the celebrities, personality. Celebrities don't go to the mic and go, what boy should I do? They go to the mic. And just like it was an on camera job. They create a character that happens to sound like them. So if you if you listen to Finding Nemo, that's Ellen DeGeneres, Ellen DeGeneres didn't go up to the mic and go, what voice should I do, she's played a character. And that character had a personality, and that character had cadence, it just happened to sound like Elon did generous. Same with any character. Even if you're a non celebrity, you've got to create something with a personality, something interesting. It's not just reading funny lines and funny voices. And if you think of a signature, which could be an accent could be a dialect, it could be a speech pattern, it could be intonation, it could be anything, could be a just a large adenoidal cold sound. But it has to be organic. And it has to work for the character, you can't just do a cork for the sake of it being a cork, you have to do it organically. So it actually works within the character and the story. Katherine Beck 8:00 Is that something so when you're auditioning for a new role, or you get approached for a role is that something that you create ahead of time, or sometimes that signature is something that you find when you're in session? Bob Bergen 8:11 Oh, you know, it's going to happen in the audition. You know, the audition gets you the job. In fact, you're going to work harder in your audition, and you will have the job in the audition, you're going to add your own layers of creativity. If you don't take risks, your choices, if you don't make choices, you're not going to get a call back. But bold, risky choices will get you a call back at that call back, they might kill back some of those Uber creative layers that got you in the room. But it may not work for the character, it may not work for what the network is looking for. But it got you in the room. And then your job is to adjust and take direction, as as given by the producers, directors, casting directors, etc. And then you get the job. And, you know, Episode 10 your characters more evolved than episode one, because you've done nine scripts in between, and you feed the writers and vice versa. So as you start to learn the characters, you start to really delve into, you know, writing changes and adapts and, and they take they they take your character in different directions. And then you do season three, which is different from season one. That's all cartoons that's just growing as a character and an actor. When you record a cartoon for television, you might be done with the entire first season recording before it ever hits the air. And then you will watch it and you go because you don't watch it when you do it just to the scripts. And then you watch it you're like oh my gosh, I had to play this totally different. If I'd seen that was the character's posture. That was the cadence when they walk. But you can't change it now because you've already established the character. So it's I don't watch a lot of metal work, but that's one of the reasons I just First of all, be picky. But I also don't want to be influenced by anything I did in the past because I don't want to change what I'm doing today. Katherine Beck 10:05 Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Very true. I know I've been, I was working on an animated series once. And it was a tricky character because she was a bit feisty. She was a little bit off putting. And so you have to find the likeability in her. And it took us, I think, a few episodes of recording to find that voice. And then they actually had us go back and rerecord her lines in the first two episodes, because the energy of the character totally shifted to where it Yeah, yeah, Has that ever happened as well for you? Bob Bergen 10:35 Oh, it's never really happened where I changed the character, so much with it, you know, into the series, we went back and redid it. But there have been times where I've found some things about the character. And we'll just go in and change some ADR, an earlier episodes, but I've never, I've never had an experience where I've changed it that drastically. I know that there have been features where they've hired one celebrity to do the film, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, Chris Farley was Shrek originally. And he did it with a Scottish accent. And actually, I don't even know if he did it with Scottish accent. But he was doing he did Shrek and he died during production. So Mike Myers came in. He was the one that did the Scottish accent. I think it was halfway through the film where he was working on a change. And you know that that happens, but it doesn't happen to me that often if ever. Katherine Beck 11:34 Wow, I actually never heard that story before. That's incredible. So, Bob, you have played some really incredible characters. What is there any particular character that would be your favorite out of all? Bob Bergen 11:48 Yeah, I got into the business because I always wanted to be Porky Pig. So definitely my face. Katherine Beck 11:53 I mean, that is such a great story. Do you mind sharing it with the listeners? Bob Bergen 11:57 Oh, I've told him a million million times. But I'll give you the short version. I wanted to be Porky Pig. Since I was like five. We moved to LA my dad took a job, but only when I was 14, I called Mel Blanc found him in the phonebook. You know, I during the course of the conversation, he mentioned the name of the studio. He was working at that week. So when I finished my conversation with him, I called the studio pretending to be his assistant, and got the day and time information. My mom took me to watch your record. And I was really 14. And you know, I was like, oh, we're driving. We're leaving the studio. I said to my mom. Oh, well, I can't be 40. Thank you still doing it. My mom goes, Yeah, and your voice hasn't changed. There's a lot of things we have to work on. So I called Hanna Barbera. And they referred me to DAWs Butler and I just started studying voiceover and acting and improv and got my first agent and my first job when we got to high school. And then I just spent five years with various survival jobs. As I was pursuing voiceover, you know, it didn't happen right away. But it took me about five years before I was able to make a living at it. Katherine Beck 13:11 You know, what's really interesting about this story is I know you posted something recently about this coming full circle that somebody had called you. Yeah, yeah. That was just last weekend. Yeah. Yeah. So she was a young girl, and she somehow got your number. Is that right? Bob Bergen 13:29 Yes, exactly. Right. Um, I was had some friends. I was my first outing with some friends during COVID. And my cell phone kept ringing. I was just in Beverly Hills with the number and I'm like, oh, probably a telemarketer and then a callback. And then I called back and I said, Okay, excuse me, I'm gonna pick this up. I said, Hello. And she was like, Oh, I'm sorry, is this Bob Berg? And I said, Who's this and it was Hi, it's it sienna. This is really Bob Berg. And I'm like, Yeah, what can I do for you? And she was just wanted to get into voiceover. So I said, like, how did you get my number, her sister got the number. Oh, our sister got the number. But so I excuse myself on the other room and just had a nice little conversation with her about voiceover. She just picked my brain asked me just tons and tons of really intelligent questions. So it was fun. It was good. It was like I completely gone full circle. Katherine Beck 14:19 That's pretty incredible to be the one now given the, you know, the inspiration to the next generation of animation, voiceover artists, and you really are inspiring, and in so many ways. Like I said, you're one of those teachers that really stood out for me. And I think it shifted the way I thought about voiceover and you're so right, that a lot of people go into it thinking oh, I've got to have these funny voices, but it really comes down to the acting and devoting you know, truthfulness to the character. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And I remember going into classes and and looking at other actors and going wow, the characters that they can create with their voice. How do they do that? I remember it took me a while to feel like I could, you know, create and craft a voice. It's at some point, it seemed to me like this is like playing a musical instrument like I can bend and shape how I formed the sounds to find that character's voice and what feels right to them. How do you explain that to your students? Now you're doing one on ones like how you you know, you use your lips or your your, your lower jaw, your you know, where you place the resonance to discover the character's voice? Because I know that was a real struggle for me. Bob Bergen 15:41 Yeah, well, the first thing you we do is we look at the audition sides and you'll get a picture, you'll get a brief description, and you'll either get a few pages from the actual spread, which is gold, because you've got your scene partners there to react to, or more often than not, you just get about five to seven wild lines from various scenes in the pilot. And they're unrelated to each other. They might have an adjective like frustrated, or anxious or guilty or curious, your job as an actor is to fill in the blanks. Well, what is this character curious about? And the description is brief. You need to make the choices that are going to make your audition pop, and make your character pop. So you look at the physical. And if you see the character has an underbite gift, give yourself an underbite you're going to change your voice without changing your voice just because of just moving your jaw. But that's just a part of what the character is. And if you start with the sound, you're going to blow it. All characters have a voice. But all voices up character said that earlier. If you're reading a scene, and you've got a scene partner, and there's no information on the page, who your scene partner is, even if it just says friend, again, you have to fill in the blanks. How is this person your friend? How long have you known this person? Are you acquaintances are best buddies? Are your wives friends? Did you kids play together? Did you grow up together? Now, these are the backstories the layers of character that everybody does for film and for theater. And the audience doesn't know these choices. But what they know is a rich performance, a rich acting performance, a rich character, it just adds to the truth of your of your acting. So putting it all together voice acting in that signature we were talking about earlier, along with Who am I talking to? What is our relationship and where are we? It will this information may not be in the scene, you may not it may not say they're in a library, they're outdoors, they're walking in movement, they're driving in a car in a convertible in traffic. So all of these choices are going to add to your performance, whether it's volume, or intensity, or emotionally. So it's just about making acting choices. Again, the same process you would do if you were on stage, or for camera, you've got to make choices, the only wrong choice an actor can make is not make one. But you can't make a wrong choice, you got to commit to it. And you can't audition to please the listener, you've got to audition. Just that fun. And to create an authentic character. If you're worried about Am I right? Am I doing it right? Are they gonna like this, you're going to be in your head. And there's going to be a layer of non commitment that you can hear. And it's just it's, it's not appealing. You just want to have fun with your characters. And if you if you get the job that's icing on the cake, if your audition is just if your goal is just to have fun, then your odds of booking are better. If your goals are to get the job, there's going to be that sense of desperation that reads into a mic like crazy and you don't want to be desperate. Katherine Beck 19:14 It's so true. Everything reads into the mic, doesn't it? Yeah, yeah, you can hear it, you can hear that every last bit of worry or fear or insecurity or doubt comes through. Yeah, and maybe that's just what it is. It's just getting that mic time. You know, actors could be so used to working on stage or on screen. But as soon as you get in front of a microphone, it's like a whole new thing until you get used to it. And you can feel like you can, you know, do what you do best instead of worrying so much about what the other person is going to think about how it sounds on the other end. Bob Bergen 19:48 Right. Exactly. And you know, it just takes practice, it takes experience. Today in voiceover there is nobody in the room with you. You're by yourself auditioning. There's nobody there to tell you you Can't make that choice. So just get that out of your head and make the choices that you think are fun. Katherine Beck 20:05 How's it feel now? You know, with the way things have shifted during COVID of having, you know, pretty much doing everything by your home studio, as opposed to like, are you working on shows at home? Is there anything that's happening in studio yet for you? Bob Bergen 20:20 Not for me there are there some people are, but I will. I'm very, you know, I had my I never worked from home, I only audition from home. And about 10 days into COVID. I had broadcast quality home studio, and I've been just the Europe COVID has been crazy busy. I have absolutely no desire to go into a studio right now. I still I know that things are the numbers are changing, and hopefully continue to go in the right direction. But if I don't have to be in a room and risk something I love so this is going right? Katherine Beck 20:59 Well, that's really cool to hear. You know, I'd be curious to know you've had such an amazing career along the way. Has there been any other voice actors that you've worked with, or directors that have given you little kernels of goodness that have really inspired you and shaped the way you approach animation voiceover? Bob Bergen 21:19 Well, I will tell you that everything I do in my classes, I'm a complete fraud. I plagiarize everybody, I can't take credit for 99% of what I do, because all I do is take from the DAWs Butler's and the john Ruskin was my acting coach and great directors like Colette sunderman. And jack Fletcher, can just spew out what they say to me, you know, one of the things I say to my students now that I got from Colette sunderman, when we were teaching together, I was just watching her work with the students and this student was having a difficult time creating the scene, she The character was fine, but there was something lacking, she wasn't able to color the picture vocally. And so Colette said to her seed in your head, and then vocalize it, see the situation, see the land, see the colors, see how they're drawn. And you have to make this up because you can't see it. It's not there, see it in your head, and then vote and then vocally perform it. And I say that all the time to my students now see in your head and react. And acting is reacting, a Meisner trained actor, which is basically working off your scene partner, where's your scene partner, when you're working solo, in your imagination? Where is your scene partner when you're doing a monologue on stage in your imagination. So it's not different, it's just technically different because there's a microphone, but 80% of animation is in the imagination. And by the way, that one was mine, I did make that. Katherine Beck 22:56 I love it. And I do remember, you know, you talking about that. And another thing that really stuck with me in class was bringing the body into it as well. You know, if you fit, you can physicalize the character as you're in front of the microphone, that that really helps make it come to life as well. And I know that that's always been a really big thing for me, as soon as I get in front of the microphone, and I'm performing as as this character. Once I get that physicality, I'm right in it. And and that was from you, too. Bob Bergen 23:27 So thank you. Yeah, I mean, you'll for Television Animation you're hired for, for minimum scale, to at least do two characters, you might have a two way conversation with yourself, you might have a three or four way conversation with three or four completely different characters. And each character has a different posture, a different facial expression, different body language, different gestures, and you're going to be able to go from character to character throughout the script, without blending. And without breaking character, you can't anticipate you've got the next line because you have to stay in the moment you finish what you're doing with this character, and then you go to the next character, and their intense might be completely different. One might be sound asleep and the other one might be running into their room because their house is on fire. So you have to play them in the moment. According to what they're doing in the story. That's not easy. And that's the thing that people need to understand. That's why I always say study acting first. Because it without acting technique behind you the difference between a trained actor and a non trained actor is a trained actor makes a choice a non trained actor makes a guess you need the proper skills to repeat your your talents at will consistently. So this this thing about, Oh, I just want to do funny voices. It's not It's not about the funny voices. It's, it's about what you do with those words on that page. Katherine Beck 24:56 Totally. That is probably one of the heart First things to do is when you've got a scene and you're playing characters at the same time talking to each other, and being able to get to that point where you can really be specific about who that character is versus the other one and be able to jump back and forth. took me some time. And yeah, it is one, it's, it's a skill, isn't it to be able to do that, that next level of animation! Bob Bergen 25:29 It is, and you know, every job is different. Some directors will say, you know, let's do one character all the way through, and then let's do the other character all the way through, and then they'll give you a reader or the director will feed you the the other characters lines. And then some directors, you know, I just did something for, I think it was Nickelodeon, where I was playing five or six different characters in the same show. And they wanted me to go all the way through it. You know, if it didn't work, we would go back and redo it individually. But, you know, I really don't have a preference. I don't mind trying whenever the director wants to try. Katherine Beck 26:05 Definitely. And I think that's where you mentioned improv in your training. I think that's where that comes in as well. Where you get real comfortable working with whatever the requests are of the director on the spot to write. Bob Bergen 26:17 Yeah, I'm a huge, huge advocate of studying improv. You know, I, I do honor the writer. I do respect the writer, but you know, you're an actor is brought in to bring something to the table. And what improv teaches you is to make solid choices, you know, the only rule of improv is you can't deny. So with those improv skills, you're going to take it another step. It doesn't mean you improve on the writer means you accentuate the character and the writer and it really just, you know, especially for the audition, it just brings things to life. Katherine Beck 26:57 Definitely. So what are you working on now, Bob, is there any new projects coming up? Bob Bergen 27:02 I'm working on a Star Wars Show for Disney plus called the bad batch. And that debuted on May 4, which is kind of a Star Wars II thing. May the fourth be with you. And I play kind of a villainous character named lamassu. Very different from Looney Tunes. He's. He's very cold and calculated. It's just an evil guy, but you never really know what he's thinking or doing. It's kind of fun. I'm doing let's see what else I'm doing a show for Netflix, Todd Ridley Jones, which I think they've used in June, we're actually recording season two, but season one I think they'd use in June and that when I play the curator of the museum, they Mr. Peabody who does not like children when so? we're doing we're still working on finishing up Looney Tunes cartoons for HBO Max, where I'm only but he definitely pay and all kinds of other characters. Um, let's see what else what else? What else? What else? What else? started a new series. I can't talk about that. I just know that. That's that thing, Katherine there. So as you know, there's so many things under NDA that we can talk about, and they went away. I got two new Looney Tunes series that I'm about to work on that I'm gonna keep my mouth shut about. Okay. Yeah, well, what I want I can talk about I think it's called Bugs Bunny builders. And they have announced that so I can talk about that one. And that's kind of like Looney Tunes for preschools for preschool kids. And a whole bunch of other things that I just can't talk about right now. Katherine Beck 28:34 I just love that you've got such versatility in the characters that you play. It's so much fun to hear your work. Oh, thank you. Yeah, and it's it's always such a great lesson as well. I you're one of my favorites to listen to and you know, see where your your journey as a voice actor continues. I miss you. It's been a million years since I've seen you and had a margarita with you. I know. Right? Yeah, I miss those box on the rock stays all of it. As we wrap this up. This has been such a joy just to catch up. And is there any sort of words of wisdom that you have for young actors just starting out thinking about voiceover in general? You know, what advice would you give to those newcomers to the industry? Bob Bergen 29:22 Is called voice acting for a reason. Study acting, become a great actor and then study voiceovers. Do not pursue or think demo until you're ready because one bad demo will close many more doors than a great one will open. Do not go into this business for the money to go into this business because acting feature sold away from the feature body if you go into this for the money, you're more likely to undercut and just do it for almost free. Or you'll get to a point where you're never happy because it's never enough. You've got to Do it because I do voiceover because I get hired at the mic. I literally, that's my happy place. And I am just in Zen zone at the microphone. Getting paid for it is a fortunate circumstance. I didn't get into it in 1982 to get paid, and I'm not in it today to get paid on it because I get to do what I love. If there's anything else in this world that you love more than voiceover or acting, do it. Because there there are no guarantees, there are no necessary returns on your investment. It's a lot of heartbreak. But if you don't care if you don't, if the obstacles if the challenges. If the odds of just doing day jobs and night jobs to pay the bills, while you pursue professional acting, don't bug it, then you're right for this business. If it sounds too daunting and too difficult, find something that you don't mind working your ass off to do. Because you just love the whole journey. Katherine Beck 31:02 Love it. And if any of our listeners want to keep up to date with projects that you're working on, how can they find you? Bob Bergen 31:10 Oh, my goodness, I'm everywhere. I'm on Instagram Bergen. Bob, on Twitter at Bob Bergen. I'm on Facebook, I can find my email. I'm pretty easy to find. I think I'm actually in the phonebook. That's probably how that goes. Yeah, but who looks in phone books anymore? Katherine Beck 31:29 She does! Bob Bergen 31:30 Right, exactly. Right! Katherine Beck 31:33 Bob, thank you so much for being on the show with us. Like I said, You are by far one of my favorite, most memorable teachers, you're such an inspiration to me. And I know to a lot of other actors around. So thank you so much. Bob Bergen 31:47 Oh, my pleasure. I appreciate that. Katherine Beck 31:49 Thank you so much, Bob, for your generosity of your time and sharing your wisdom with us. You are so inspiring to me and I know my listeners too. So from the bottom of my heart a ginormous thank you to you. And if you're inspired to learn more about the craft of voiceover, I've put together a free guide for you on some of the do's and don'ts. When you first start learning the craft of voiceover. If you'd like to grab a copy of it, head over to Katherine beck.com/voiceover. And that's one word, no spaces. Voiceover Katherine beck.com/voiceover it's yours. It's free. So just head over there now. And remember, if you love this episode, go ahead and let me know. Take a screenshot of the show. Share it on your Instagram story and tag me in it at Katherine_Beck_, you can find me there. If you got any questions or topics you'd like to hear on the podcast, just let me know. And coming up next week on the show. I am continuing on this voiceover series with another great interview. I'm going to be talking with a voiceover actor Becky Boxer who's going to share with us the wonderful world of voicing video games. Now make sure to share the show with all your actor friends, let them know what's coming up next week and invite them to tune in with you and learn how to become an all American Actor. So you can be the working actor you dream to be until then go practice your American accent and I'll see you back here next time.