Exclusive Interview: Renee Raudman Discusses Her Character Nastasha Romanenko In The Metal Gear Solid Series and Much More
AMANDA DYAR: Renee, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. First off, tell us how you got into acting and a little bit about your background.
RENEE RAUDMAN: Thank you Amanda! It’s my pleasure. My start in acting and in voice over was a bit unusual: After graduating from Michigan State University, and about five years in the corporate world of advertising and marketing (and loving it) and living in Michigan, I decided that I didn’t want my life to pass by without finally listening to this little tiny voice deep within me, (that up until that point, I was terribly afraid to even acknowledge) that begged me to move to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actor. One of the gals that I worked with at the firm, told me her brother was a pretty big agent out in LA. I asked if I could interview him and ask him what it takes to not only have a career in entertainment, but a long-term successful acting career.
She kindly set up an interview with him. I flew to Los Angeles and did just that; I asked him to give me every piece of advice that he could, in addition to what he believes the biggest mistake other aspiring actors make, that ultimately lead to their leaving the business unfulfilled. He smiled and said nobody had ever asked those questions, because they probably didn’t really want to know the answers, and he proceeded to give me a detailed list. (I took notes).
Thirty days from that interview, I had taken every step of advice he gave me: I had moved from Detroit to LA, found a good place to live, had a wonderful day job to pay all the bills, was taking acting classes from a highly respected coach and researching all the ways to be a diversified actor. (He told me diversification was key to long-term). When I called and gave him this update, there was a stunned silence on his end of the phone. He said, "I never thought I’d hear from you again. And certainly not within a month, with all this news!"
I took classes for about six months to one year before I ever pursued an acting job. But when I did, I tried to reach out into as many facets of this new world as I could. Theatre, TV, and Film. It wasn’t easy. I got rejected over and over. But I decided to treat this new venture, as I would my business career. Acting is a business, just like advertising. The only difference? I was the commodity. I had to do my best not take rejection personally.
I pursued TV, Film, stage and on-camera commercials (and was fortunate enough to get small jobs in all mediums). At that time, however, voiceover didn’t really occur to me (even though, in advertising we had recorded hundreds of TV and radio commercials) My commercial on-camera agent came to me, and asked if I would audition for a radio spot. I got the job! Then a TV spot. And I booked that one too! Then with my third audition, I booked a national campaign. And a whole new world opened up to me: Voiceover. I still loved performing on stage, in film, and on day-time and prime time television… but behind the microphone, I got to be hundreds of characters I would never have been cast for on-camera. It was fantastic!
RENEE: If I’m not mistaken, Metal Gear Solid was the first game I had ever auditioned for. When I had been asked to come in and read, I didn’t know which characters I would be auditioning for ahead of time. Upon signing in, they said they wanted me to read for a Doctor from South Africa, an American Teenager and a Russian Nuclear Weapon’s specialist.
My anxiety shot to full throttle. I didn’t have a strong South African accent, and I for sure didn’t feel I could conquer a Russian one. In Hollywood, though, they tell you to never say you don’t know how to do whatever it is they are asking you for―however, I ultimately told them I wasn’t so confident about my Russian accent. The gal running the audition said I should audition anyway, because it was for only for “one line”.
I took the sides and went outside around the back of the building and attempted to calm down and figure out how to get through the “one line”. Since I didn’t have a Russian accent, I decided that the best approach would be to try and pronounce her Russian name in English. In other words, I pretended I didn’t speak English, but was trying to pronounce her/my name, Nastasha Romanenko, for English speakers. And, hey―it sounded pretty good. I could do this! It was just one little line after all.
Several weeks later, I got a call that I had booked the job for―I was sure it was for the role of the American teenager―Nastasha! Much to my shock, the part was not just “one line”. When they delivered, what seemed like hundreds of pages of script―my heart-rate shot up again. How would I record 10 hours of dialogue in a Russian accent?!
I researched as much as I could, and then went to bed every night reading the script aloud, as though I was a Russian trying to speak to an American. Ultimately it worked! I got to record most of my days with David Hayter, (who played Solid Snake) and LOVED every minute of it! I am so proud and thankful to have gotten to be part of Metal Gear Solid. It is truly, one of the highlights of my voice over career. (Ironically, I’ve been asked to voice many Russian characters over the years. And every time I do, I thank my lucky stars for Nastasha).
AMANDA: What did your process entail for bringing Natasha to life? Do you have any favorite highlights that you would like to share with us or what did you like most about Natasha's character?
RENEE: Getting comfortable with Nastasha’s accent was just one facet of playing her character. I loved that she was a strong, smart, and witty woman, with a ‘don’t mess with me’ attitude. I also appreciated the fact that the writers of the game, didn’t just create a character to give the player information―they created a reason for why and how she was there. I thought her character was well written, in that she had passion, (based on her tragic past), and her hatred of nuclear weapons led her on a mission to either rid the world of nuclear weapons, or at least educate about them. Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to play a role like that!
RENEE: Amanda, I think I would give the same advice given to me all those years ago. Train, train, train―take classes, figure out how games are created. Ask questions of the professionals you train with (who are often the same people who direct or cast the games). Then, when you feel ready, reach out to those same instructors for guidance. Usually, these professionals who have invested time with you in helping you hone your craft, want you to succeed. Ask them if they believe you are ready. Ask them what still needs to be worked on. And then ask them to keep you in mind for something you might be right for. In addition, given how global the gaming industry has become, if you have any specialty accents, be sure and let the decision makers know about them. These specialty accents can be difficult to cast, because the small pool of talent who can do them. I know several folks who broke into gaming because they could do certain, authentic regional accents and dialects. These actors were then called back again and again.
As far as bringing the characters to life―I ask myself three questions: what is the main thing my character wants out of life, why she doesn’t have it yet, and what is she willing to do to get it. (This all comes from her story line). Then, I find something in my own life that carry the same stakes, and do my best to plug that in to the lines.
RENEE: Well, I must confess, (dare I admit this?); while I have loved portraying the wildly varying characters in a wide variety of games, I have not really been an avid player of late. Years ago, I started playing a game called Myst, (before your time, I’m sure) and Riven. I was obsessed! I remember one Thanksgiving weekend, my brother, sister and I never got up from the computer station except to warm up Thanksgiving leftovers. For four days, we barely slept! I knew then, that I had no restraint or control or concept of time when I was engaged. And that this was probably not the extracurricular activity I should pursue. So I took up SCUBA diving!
In all honesty, I’m not sure I feel qualified to weigh in on the features of next generation consoles and the future of gaming consoles!
RENEE: I’m not very good with picking favorites. (People will ask me to pick a favorite color, song or movie I’ve seen, and I stare at them like a deer in headlights, because I’m not able to answer the question for fear of leaving one of my ‘other’ favorites out) The truth is, each is my favorite when performing it! They were each meaningful or impactful in a variety of ways. I will say, that Billy and Mandy was probably the most FUN! All of the cast would be in the recording studio at the same time and stand in a semi circle each behind our own mic, (so we could easily see each other, as well as see the director in the engineering room). We would perform the script from top to bottom. There are very few genres, outside of stage, that you perform the beginning, middle and end of a script in order and all in one day.
Ms Butterbean’s” line would occur, I would be laughing so hard! I couldn’t WAIT to go to work on those days!
I also have to say that filming Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, was pretty special as well, because I got to fly to New Zealand for the shoot and stayed down there for 2 weeks or so. What a beautiful country!
AMANDA: You have narrated over 300 books which is a huge accomplishment. Can you tell us how you got into narrating audio books and how it differs from other work you have done?
RENEE: Not only was voice-over never on my radar, when I decided to move to Hollywood and pursue a career in entertainment, but narrating audio books were even further off in the stratosphere…. And you know what’s ironic about that?
When I was in 3rd grade, my parents had given me a little cassette recorder for Christmas. I used to come home after school and take that tape recorder into the bathroom (no one bothered me, and the acoustics were fantastic) and I would act out all the characters from my history class I had learned that day. I would give each notable person from history a different voice, and make up all these stories about Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, the Hopi Indians, etc… At 7 years old I was recording and acting out full stories with different voices. (I still have that tape recorder).
About seven years ago, I met a fellow who was dating my sister at the time named Scott Brick. He was/is THE male voice in audiobooks. Also at this time, I was fairly successful in my own right in the VO world, what with hundreds of radio and TV commercials under my belt, as well as cartoons, videogames and the like. Given my fascination with audiobooks, I hung on his every word when he told me of his industry. We agreed to trade information about the other’s voice-over world, and I guess the rest is history, as they say. He kindly helped me put together a demo reel, I sent it out to seven companies and heard back from four of them within the month. (Unheard of at that time). Very few women back in 2006 had their own home studio, so it allowed me to work for several different publishers from home, and it also allowed me to work in every genre of audiobook imaginable.
In answer to your question, as to how it’s different; Without a doubt, it’s been the hardest work I’ve ever done in the world of VO. For the most part, the narrator is responsible for coming up with pronunciations in the book. Something we don’t normally think about when we ‘see’ a word in a book we are reading that might be unfamiliar. We read over it. Whether It’s medical verbiage, names of towns in foreign countries or another language all together, we are responsible for being accurate.
In addition, it’s like running a marathon versus a sprint. 5 days a week, for 8-10 hours a day. Unlike a radio commercial which might take 1hr to record. Audiobook narrators work full 8 hour days, w/ nary a 2 breaks a day and lunch. We sit in a dark studio (by ourselves for the most part) and perform from 8am to 5pm. It’s the exhausting, because during those 8 hours, there’s never a time you get to rest or not be ‘on’. And when you get home at night, the LAST thing you want to do is speak. To anyone.
AMANDA: Lastly, what projects are you currently working on that you would like to mention and where can our readers go to keep up with all of your work?
I think your readers might really enjoy Ilona Andrews (a husband/wife team of writers) Magic Series (aka, The Kate Daniel’s series) of books, or their Edge series. Their Kate Daniel’s series are #1 on the NY Times bestseller list, and they are a huge hit in audiobooks! (Magic Rises, is the most recent in the Kate Daniel’s series, but I would start from the beginning with Magic Bites. They are fantastic writing, appealing to both male and female audiences).
If you go to iTunes, Audible.com or Amazon.com and type in Renee Raudman, my list of titles should come up.
AMANDA: Thank you again for your time.
RENEE: Thank you Amanda (and your readers) for your interest!