Laurence Bouvard is one accomplished lady. She holds a BA in Linguistics from Harvard, studied acting at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and holds a Master’s in Computer Science. However, she’s probably best known by gamers as the voice of Joanna Dark in the critically acclaimed Perfect Dark.
However, her path to games wasn’t exactly straightforward, with an alternating passion for the arts and the sciences giving each time in the spotlight.
She gave up the chance to complete a PhD in Linguistics at Harvard when she landed the lead in a West End show, driving her acting career to the forefront. “After studying at LAMDA,” she says, “I landed the lead in a West End show which I was in for two years. I gave up the PhD place, and threw myself into my chosen career. From stage and screen acting, it was a natural move into voice-over work,” she says, “which in many ways I find more creative and challenging than visual acting. For starters, I’m not limited by my look, gender and background nearly as much–vocally I’ve played Italian little boys, blue Japanese robots, and fire-breathing dragons.”
“Voice acting for games is a particular skill—not every voice-over can do it, and not every actor can do it,” she adds. “It’s probably closest to film acting; the voice you create needs to be believable and three dimensional, because the player is going to live with that voice for days or weeks, rather than a couple hours as you do with a play or movie. I call it 360 degree acting, because a game will often require the character you voice to show many contrasting sides of their personality, far more than a typical storyline in a more traditional genre of acting.”
“Ironically, although you have to produce more aspects of a character, you are given much less to go on, usually just a bit of artwork. The ‘script’ is a series of often unrelated audio files, of which you are only given the minimal details and out of which you then have to build a character. It all requires stamina, creativity, improvisation skills, flexibility (both vocally and attitude-wise), and ideally, a range of solid and contrasting accents and voices. Languages are a plus too.”
Because of her background in linguistics and work as a translator, Bouvard is sometimes asked to work with scripts in ways other than just reading what’s on the page. “We alter scripts all the time–it’s part of the job”, she says. “Most games are written in a multitude of languages, which means errors can easily creep in going from one version to another, and a professional voice actor learns to quickly adapt a script as necessary. Having both linguistics and translation background has helped me enormously with this, and I’ve occasionally been called on to do localization into American English. What works in one country or language does not necessarily work in another, so it’s important for voice actors to be aware of when a script is working, and when it isn’t.”
As for her favourite video games roles, there’s a few that stand out from the rest, “I have many favorite video game roles that I’ve played, but some of the best included Joanna Dark in Perfect Dark Zero; she’s very cool, incredibly strong and brave–I wish I were more like her in real life.
I also adored playing Sunny in So Blonde, the ditzy 17-year-old who falls through a time warp and ends up on a remote island several hundred years in the past, just because she’s so hilariously confused by everything–it was a very funny script.”
Being passionate about science as well as art, Bouvard was inspired by her work within the video game industry to pursue an MSC in Computer Science from University of London.
“Even though I work in the arts, I have a strong mathematical and scientific bent,” she says, “and had done some coding before. It was challenging studying while working, but I found it really stimulating. One of the things I love about the games industry is how it needs skills from across the spectrum–coding, languages, arts, etc.–and so it’s a great field for people who have interests in different areas. I’d love to do some coding for a game, even if it were at entry level, and have been considering building my own game, but I’m not so good at the art and design bit so I’d rather work with a group.”
A talented voice actor with multiple high profile game credits, Bouvard was recently accepted into BAFTA Crew Games to help promote game talent of the future. “BAFTA has developed strong backing for the games industry over the past several years,” she says, “and alongside its famous film and TV awards, now also has awards for games. A couple of years ago I was selected to be a juror in the Best Performance category, which was an amazing experience. It’s incredibly exciting to be part of such a dynamic group, and I’ve really enjoyed my involvement so far.”
As for the advice she would give aspiring video game voice actors, the answer really comes down to training.
“Proper acting training is vital for working as a voice in games,” she says. “Simply having a good voice isn’t enough–you need to know how to use your instrument safely and wisely, but also how to convey the character’s intent so that the player wants to spend time in the game. It’s also helpful to hone your accents and languages, but it’s always better to have just a few really strong ones than loads of mediocre ones. It’s a good rule of thumb to stick to the languages and accents you’ve grown up with. Once you have the skills necessary, figure out what your voice type is like ( low, high, rich, soft, light, etc.) and what characters might suit you best, then record a few short tracks to send to producers. A good reel that shows off your strengths rather than a lengthy CV is what will get you considered.”
Best, of all, even with all her commitments and interests, Bouvard still managed to find the time to game in her spare time, although, “they tend to be quick puzzle games–I don’t have of extra time! When I do have more time, I like games like Wolf Among Us, where you get involved with the characters–and more importantly, don’t have to worry about too many buttons on the console. If and when I do get around to building a game, I’d like to aim it at the demographic of interested but time-starved players, who would like a ‘snack’ game they can easily pick up, then put down again.”