North Bay voice teacher trains students to be video game characters
As a Los Angeles teenager dreaming of screen stardom, Samantha Paris was told at auditions she was too fat to succeed in television.
That was the era of “Charlie’s Angels,” Paris explains, and all actresses were expected to look like starving super models.
“The directors said I wasn’t pretty enough to play the lead, and not plain enough to play the best friend,” she recalls.
Then Paris auditioned for a voiceover role on a Friskies cat food commercial, and all the director cared about was her voice. She was asked to speak off-screen for a little kitty to be shown on-screen.
“I thought, ‘What does a kitten sounds like?’ All of a sudden, I just raised my voice to a higher register and did the commercial. I became this little kitten.”
At that point, she finally heard the words she had been waiting for, and every actor craves: “You’re going to be a star.”
And with her voice as her talent, she felt free to explore a variety roles without limit. “It didn’t matter what I looked like,” she said.
While she also appeared on TV shows in episodic supporting roles, it was the voice work that kept her busiest, with vocal roles on the animated television series “Jem and the Holograms,” “Bionic Six,” “James Bond Jr.” and the American version of the Japanese favorite “Speed Racer.”
By her late 20s, she had tired of the hard-edged and cynical Southern California entertainment scene.
“I felt L.A. was a lonely place to be,” she said. “It didn’t feed my soul.”
So she came north, where she started her voice own actor training center, Voicetrax San Francisco, based in Sausalito. That was 30 years ago.
And now, Paris, 57, has told her own success story in her new book, “Finding the Bunny.” The title stems for an anecdote about her older brother, who taught her when she was a little girl to look for the Playboy bunny icon cleverly hidden on the covers of the magazines.
The reference also fits the Voicetrax philosophy of voice acting: Don’t worry too much about your voice, just search your mind for the character you need to portray — whether bunny or kitty — and focus on the acting.
Find your inner six-year-old, she counsels her clients, and then just play. Soon you can sound like a kid, or a kitten, or whatever’s needed, if you use your imagination.
“I was searching for my true bunny,” Paris said, “and I found it in teaching. I get students who come to me and say, ‘People tell me I have an interesting voice.’ They think voiceover is about your voice, but it’s not. I have a very average-sounding voice. I used to sound like a teen-age girl and now I sound like a mom.”
Paris now lives in Petaluma with her third husband, retired restaurateur Graziano Perozzi. And while voice actors don’t necessarily tend to become superstars or household names, the roster of Voicetrax alumni does include some important players in the specialized world of purely vocal thespians.
“Chopper Bernet is someone who is revered,” Paris said, citing one example. “He was the voice of NBC and ‘The Ellen Show.’” (Bernet also has worked as a director and film actor, whose credits include ‘Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.”)