Level-Up Your Acting Skills: Industry Pro Tells How To Be A Voice Actor

What happens when you take an amazing voice actor and pair him with one of the strongest, scariest, and hairiest villains on the CW megahit series, The Flash? You get David Sobolov who brilliantly voices The Flash’s most hated (and feared) enemy, Gorilla Grodd, a non-human “meta-ape” with psychic (that’s right, reading minds and kicking behinds) abilities and a violent streak that got him sent to Earth 2. That’s where Season 2 of The Flash left off, but tonight, the beloved series returns and it’s time for fans of the series to contend, once again, with the apish antics of Gorilla Grodd. Oh yeah, the gorilla “ish” is about to hit the proverbial intergalactic fan.

If Grodd’s ‘appetite for destruction’ (as seen in the clip above) is any indication for how the CW / DC universe will pan out, it’s looking to be a landmark season, where The Flash will once again be joining forces with Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, and this time around, Supergirl, who’s suiting up for her own big CW debut (switching homes from CBS).

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“He doesn’t know he’s a gorilla, he’s just getting through the day with the cards he was dealt.” -David Sobolov

But if you ask veteran voice actor David Sobolov, it’s not necessarily “the voice” that makes the monster, rather it’s diving head first into the character and knowing the emotional DNA that will connect an actor to the role.  “I think of it as acting – not voice acting.  I’m acting…but you don’t get to see my body,” says David.

David’s talents have heightened the super ape’s commanding, evil presence by prodding audiences with an intriguing assault of sounds and ominous words that foreshadow the carnage that’s set to explode on screen. The infamous Grodd though is just one of many characters that has been elevated to fan-favorite and cult status thanks to David.

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David Sobolov, a Canadian born voice actor, producer and director, has provided his signature voice acting talents to numerous richly developed characters that deftly walk the line between comic-relief and “dead serious” – a double-punch skill that takes years to cultivate, but once mastered, can lead to opportunities in multiple realms of entertainment.

David has voiced some of the most well-known unconventional heroes and bone-chilling villains in video games and big name TV series such as: Azmodan and Azmodunk in Diablo III / Heroes of the Storm; Malchezaar in Hearthstone; Lt. Vasquez in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare; Drax on Marvel’s Guardians of The Galaxy, Stone on Nextflix’s Daredevil, The Annihilator on Disney XD’s Mighty Med; Shockwave on Transformers: Prime, plus David provided one half of the Klingon voices in the film Star Trek: Into Darkness.

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Sobolov as the voice of Shockwave

David Sobolov is actually a very nice guy, and I say that because having personally spoken with the Hollywood actor, his voice carries the distinct quality of being soothing and terrifying – at the same time. In other words, this makes him absolutely perfect for helping others (like myself) step into the world of fantasy that seamlessly collides head on with his “live-action” co-stars.

David’s understanding of character depth – and the nuances that hold the key to creating real characters – has kept David in demand for over twenty years. Now, David is giving back and helping others learn how to be a voice actor and break into the industry by offering voice-demo production and coaching – no matter where you live. You can find out more by clicking here.

“I produce demos that show off your unique voice talent…bells and whistles are not the main attraction in my demos – YOU are. I want the industry to get a clear idea of what you have to offer. The goal is to make them dive for their phones to call you in to hear more…” –David Sobolov

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In this exclusive interview, David shares informative, insightful and honest advice on the artform that you won’t find anywhere else.  From a day on set of The Flash and the rigorous demands of how to be a voice actor for video games to industry scams that prey on young hopefuls and creating a demo tape that stands out, here’s your chance to go behind the scenes with a professional voice actor who wants to help you succeed.

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Q&A:  Becoming a Voice Actor with David Sobolov

RB: Who’s your favorite cartoon character?
DS: My favorite cartoon character is Michigan Frog. Remember that? Way back in the 1930s and 1940s – the old Warner Brothers cartoons, and I really loved him as a kid.

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RB: Was the frog an influence on you becoming a voice actor?
DS: The whole voice-acting thing came to me, I didn’t go to it. I started out as a musician. I was a French horn player professionally. I played in pit orchestras and small ensembles. I got into singing and toured with an acapella group. During that time, I studied acting under Sanford Meisner, a very well respected acting teacher in New York City. I thought I would be a stage actor or film actor but I had a great face for radio (laughs). I was doing plays in Vancouver and an agent heard my voice and said, “you should do villains.” After that, I started booking pretty quickly. It’s hard in the arts to get really good at anything, but voice acting was something that people were responding to so I stuck with it, and now it’s almost been 25 years that I have been doing it.

RB: Can you describe the process of turning your regular speaking voice into the voice of a character that has their own unique characteristics?
DS: It’s not really about the voice at all; it’s about the character. It’s about living his life, as Meisner said, living truthfully even though you’re given imaginary circumstances. It’s pretty extreme circumstances in animation and video games. I’m trying to put myself in the characters’ shoes; I’m trying to make you believe that I am him. I’m looking at his emotional background, and his story, and how he relates to people in this world. When it comes to the voice, it’s the icing on the cake. It’s the last thing that I do. What I do with my voice goes back to my musical career. I look at the pitch, the rhythm, and the cadence. I try to combine those things with the emotion of the character and that’s how I come up with the voice. I think of it as acting – not voice acting – I’m acting…but you don’t get to see my body.

RB: Do you not like to be considered as a voice actor?
DS: No, it’s fine. A majority of the work I’ve done is voice work; I just don’t use the term voice over. I’m not going “over” anything, it’s something I’m trying to create on my own. I think that was a term that started with commercial actors.

RB: Out of television, films, and video games, do you have a favorite medium that you like to work in?

DS: I must say that even though I enjoy my video game work, I prefer episodic television. Whether it’s live action like The Flash, or a series like Guardians of The Galaxy, you can really dig into the characters over time. It’s more of a sane setup. There have been times with video games where I’ve had to do four hours of solid screaming. We don’t do it as much anymore; they try to limit it to two hours, but it becomes an endurance test more than it is a performance in video games. But it is getting better, things are changing. There are a lot more subtleties and nuances in games now, and I’m enjoying playing those roles a lot more. When I did Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, I played Lt. Vasquez; it was screaming for hours and hours. I was honored because a lieutenant in the army wrote me and said he wish he could command his troops the way I did in the game. I told him, if you did what I did, you would lose your voice in a half hour.

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RB: Do you have a favorite character that you’ve played?
DS: I always say that I love all my children equally, but there are a few that I enjoyed especially. There was a show close to my heart called Kaijudo, not a lot of people have seen it; it was on a network owned by Hasbro. I voiced “Tatsurion”, who was a creature with a heart of gold. He was a creature that was big and blustery, but he had an emotional backstory. It’s nice when you have a character that’s a creature, but also has a life that’s deeper than just being blustery. It’s the same with Grodd on The Flash. He doesn’t know he’s a gorilla; he’s just trying to get through the day with the cards he was dealt.

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Tatsurion in Kaijudo

RB: What can viewers expect from Gorilla Grodd on the new season of The Flash?
DS: There’s a lot of stuff going on this season that you’ve never seen before. As far as Grodd coming back, I’m certainly not at liberty to discuss it, but I know that he’s back for two episodes and I did all I could to make it exciting.

RB: So you prefer to voice a character with a little more depth than just being scary?
DS: Well yeah, scary is like forty different things. There are so many different ways to be evil. When I did Shockwave [Transformers], his way of conveying evil was to have no emotion. If he killed you, he didn’t do it out of passion, he did it because you were in the way of what he was trying to do. Being unpredictable is what made him scary. Back to Grodd, he has a lot of anger, but he also has a lot of sadness. He was created in a lab, and he’s trying to discover his origin. I think he’s going to be a little less reflective and a little angrier when he comes back for this season.

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RB: What’s a day at work like for you?
DS: I’ll use Grodd from The Flash as an example. Me and the Post-Production Co-Producer, Geoff Garrett, — he’s a great director – him and me collaborate. We might do fifteen takes of each line just so we can get all the possible nuances. With Grodd, on this live action show, it always starts with the voice; they animate to the voice. The production schedule is pretty sped up on The Flash compared to other media. The week that we shoot is only ten weeks before it airs. They don’t have a lot of time, and they have 150 people ready to hit the ground running to animate Grodd the way they need to, once I do the voice. Then I go back for a second session where I get to see what they did, and then I get to make adjustments. To contrast, on Guardians of the Galaxy, it might take a year before I see that picture. It takes a long time to animate versus what they do on live action TV. With the Marvel process, you’re actually seeing the fights and making sure all the sounds match. When I did Halo 4, I was called in on the very last day of their window to enter anything. I could hear my voice echoing through the entire facility, because as I was recording, they were literally adding it to the game. With video games they don’t animate to the voice as much, the voice comes last.

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RB: Is there a process that you don’t care for, out of the ones you just explained?
DS: It all works. Video games are usually tough for beginners particularly because you don’t get to see the script in advance. There have been times where I’ve walked in the studio and I’ve got 70 pages of single spaced dialogue that I have to get done in four hours, and I’ve never seen it before. You have to have that skill where you can instantly deliver a world-class performance, cold. A lot of people think what we do is easy, but I think it’s our job to make it look easy.

RB: Do you have a manager or an agent?
DS: I have an agent. Voice over actors don’t often have managers.

RB: Do you need one as a voice actor?
DS: Oh yeah. Only half of my work comes from previous work, so the other half I have to audition for. There are opportunities I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for my agent. Pat Brady and Cathey Lizzio are great agents. Star Trek: Into Darkness was completely Pat Brady. They don’t just hand you the jobs though. Their job is to open the door, and my job is to walk through it.

RB: If you’re trying to break in the business, how do you get a manager or agent?
DS: It’s hard to break in these days. I hate to say this, but it’s like a little mafia. It’s about 120 of us that do all the animation and all the video games. You pretty much need a recognizable face these days to break in. I don’t want to discourage people, because there are traditional ways, but it’s way harder than when I was coming up. You can’t have that radio face anymore.

RB: Do you think it’s fair that big name actors are now being cast in voice acting roles?
DS: The word fair is a word that should not be used in the entertainment business. They don’t hire you because they like you, or you’re their friend. They hire you because you can make them money, and the big name actors can make them money.

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Drax on the animated series, Guardians Of The Galaxy

RB: So let’s say I’m dead set on this and want to learn how to become a voice actor, no matter how hard it is. What should I do right now to start my career?
DS: You have to start with acting; it’s all about acting. Take acting lessons, do community theatre and improv especially. You have to learn how to act big, be realistic, but big. Theatre and improv will do that for you. Also, frankly, you have to live in Los Angeles. You can’t do it remotely. I can’t move away; if I moved away, my career would be done. After that, you have to do a demo, and I produce those. It’s best to go to somebody in the business to produce your demo tape, instead of the cookie cutter scams. There are so many people in L.A. ready to take your money. The next step is to find an agent, and that’s tough because you’re not in the union, but you can do it if you’re determined enough.

RB: What goes into a demo reel?
DS: I can only speak for my process, but it should be a minute to a minute and twenty seconds. You have to prove you can hold an accent, and hold a character. Whatever accent or character you do, you have to do it for 40 episodes. The demo is your calling card. It’s the first thing that your agent is going to hear. A really good demo can get you in the door for an agent. You can’t get an agent without a demo.

RB: How do you avoid the scams, and people preying on those trying to break in the business?
DS: You have to find a friend in the business. Don’t ever do things without people referring you, and always know that agents should only make money when you make money. There’s a new scam out here where people are charging for casting sessions and they’re not supposed to do that. You really have to get another job when you first start out so you don’t start doing things out of desperation. There is a great website for people trying to break in the industry. It’s:  I Want to Be A Voice Actor.

RB: What’s the average audition like?
DS: You do it at home. You want to get some sort of home studio. They send you a picture of the character and a description, and you record it at home. It could be a video game or a TV show, sometimes you don’t even know.

RB: How much does a job like this pay?
DS: I can discuss the minimums; I sometimes negotiate more. An animated series session is $966 per session and there are residuals for when things air. For video games it’s a little lower, $825, but that’s being negotiated. It all varies depending on the product.

RB: Do you feel obligated to help voice actors on the way up, navigate the business?
DS: I like mentoring people, but I think obligated is the wrong word. When people do things out of obligation they don’t do it with their full heart. I do want to give back because I appreciate the people who helped me.

RB: Is there an iconic character that you’ve ever dreamed about voicing?
DS: Yeah I’d like to play Batman. Kevin Conroy is great at that, but I’ll just wait in the wings, and maybe one day I’ll get an opportunity. Maybe he’ll be busy one day.

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Photography: Eric Weiss

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