FAN EXPO Canada is just one month away! Before this year’s big event, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Patricia Summersett, voice actor for Princess Zelda in 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. She’ll be appearing as part of FAN EXPO’s Gaming stream, which also includes voice actors for Red Dead Redemption, a Cosplay competition and the Rocket League North American Championship.
We had such a great conversation discussing her role as Zelda, the relationship between Link and Zelda, and what the future holds for this beloved series. Enjoy the interview!
Paul Hunter: Thanks for sitting down with me today, appreciate your time. Let’s begin at the top, so you’re the voice of Princess Zelda in 2017’s smash hit The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Before you got this role, did you have familiarity with Princess Zelda and this “legendary” series in general?
Patricia Summersett: I do, yeah. I had grown up with an NES in my house, and a SNES. I have three sisters and my older sister and I would game together. Mostly Super Mario Bros., but also some Zelda. I’m familiar with Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess as well. And also, Zelda was a household name so yes, I was very familiar with the series. When I did get the part, I was well aware it was quite a big thing.
Paul: I’m really curious to find out what your reaction was when you found out you got the part. Obviously, Zelda is such an iconic character pretty much going back to the origin of video games in the early’ 80s, and she’s appeared in so many games over the decades. When you first got that email or that phone call, what did you think?
Patricia: Well, I was actually told in-person, and this was after auditioning for the game and having no idea what it was, then doing a callback for the game while still having no idea what it was. I was just hoping to make a good impression! And then I went in knowing that I landed some role in some secret game that was likely big, but I had just no idea. There’s no way you can ever predict that it’s going to be a game like that.
I signed NDAs then they said we’re going to be recording the trailer and this is the part you’ve actually gotten. So, needless to say, I was already excited to have gotten a role, and to find out it was that role was so mindblowing. I had just moved to L.A., too, after voice acting for 10 years, so I had just made this big career move. I can say it was an adrenaline rush beyond belief, like you just dropped off a cliff. That’s what it felt like.
So needless to say I was already excited to have gotten a role, and to find out it was that role was so mindblowing.
Paul: Given how beloved Zelda is, how would you go about preparing for such a massive role? As a side question, how did Nintendo prepare you? Did they outline certain ways they wanted you to present Zelda, or was it organic and collaborative?
Patricia: The way Nintendo prepared me, in general, was that they were already deciding on the natural acting we’d brought into the room. And so they were casting the role to type. They pretty much knew a ballpark of what they were looking for, so once that decision was made and the casting was done, there weren’t massive things to change about it. It was more a matter of marrying our two worlds and collaboratively bringing it to life in the room as the game was being built. Our role was to breathe life into the lines they provided.
I think Nintendo also knows if they’re going to get voice actors to do those roles, there’s a chance a lot of them are going to be fans of the games already. So, they’d take these roles very seriously, which I’m pretty sure was all did [laughs]. I certainly did!
The way I prepared for the role, knowing there was already a direction that was worked into it before I got involved, was I bought a Hyrule Historia, went back into the Zelda games and just immersed myself in the general lore of the series. But what I think it really comes down to—and this is super important—is when you get a role that’s voice or theatre or film, you have to come from where the character is in that moment. You can do a lot of research as long as it informs the present because the present is the most important—you can’t play the past.
So, how I prepare is, I spend a lot of time with the text I am given and I break it down as I would with any character. I ask the character questions like what is the context, what do they want, what impressions do they feel, how are they going to get what they need—all that stuff. I looked at her like a general acting character, as much as trying to play a princess who has magical powers.
You can do a lot of research as long as it informs the present because the present is the most important—you can’t play the past.
Paul: Did you feel any pressure knowing that Princess Zelda was just recently voiced? I mean, back in the NES and SNES days the games were entirely text. It must be challenging guessing what her voice must sound like, given she didn’t have one for years and years.
Patricia: Oh yeah, definitely [laughs]. I did, and you can never please everybody. You have to go in with as much courage and heart as you can muster, which was a lot. I gave everything that I could, based on the information I had and the experiences I have. I just opened up and gave to it knowing that that’s the best I can do. You can prep, and that’s about all you can do!
But of course, I did feel pressure, yeah. As one would, right? You don’t want to let people down. You absolutely want to give the best you can to a role this big. It’s been quite the ride.
I did feel pressure, yeah. As one would, right? You don’t want to let people down. You absolutely want to give the best you can to a role this big.
Paul: The Zelda games are very emotional and story-driven, and there are so many important characters—Zelda and Link being the two biggest. When you’re reading lines, are other actors in the room with you? If they’re not, how do you convey the right passion and feeling for each scene when you’re essentially talking to yourself?
Patricia: Well, I would say you have to have a strong imagination. It helps to practice a lot because many times you are in the room alone. It’s rarer with video games that you have somebody in the room with you. There are some processes where that does happen, though, like doing motion capture, which I’ve done a fair bit of. In that case, you’re acting face-to-face with other actors.
For dubbing, it’s almost always a scenario where you’re in a room by yourself in a booth. And then there are people behind glass, looking, listening in and giving directions. You’re usually given multiple choices for each read. What’s good about that process is you often get a really nice team, and Nintendo was obviously just a wonderful room to be in. Everyone at Nintendo is very detailed, specific and super warm. We had a wonderful director as well who would feed the lines a lot of times so the rhythm persists and to remind us what the character would be saying to us right before we speak.
Everyone at Nintendo is very detailed, specific and super warm.
Another way you can perform well as an actor is you’ve got to make sure to prep if you have the luxury of prepping beforehand. I had a bit of luxury to do that. You prep as much as you can, and you remember what the intentions are and what the character needs. That does help, and you also have to remember who you’re talking to, so you have a visual.
Paul: When you’re given the lines you have to speak, are you given the lines in the order they appear in the game? That way you can go along the same journey that Zelda had. I’m assuming it’s more fragmented, though, since game development is very process-heavy and sometimes the middle or end of games are created first. How would you handle these time jumps when voicing?
Patricia: Yeah, you jump around. Game companies will definitely try to put things in order for you and give you as much prep material, including story and arc material, for you to be aware of. They are tons of conversations around that stuff. But in terms of how it’s recorded and when, generally it’s a more fractured process. That’s almost hands-down every game I’ve ever worked on, and same with TV and film I’ve worked on. There are these technical elements, and that’s why you train to overcome them.
Paul: Assuming that voice recording can take weeks or months to complete, do you ever discover more about characters part-way through and think, “Wow, I wish I had that from the very beginning”? Reason I ask is I’m curious if you ever feel there are lines you recorded early on that you wish you could have re-recorded given your new insights or discoveries into the character.
Patricia: Oh, of course, and I’m very picky and also hard on myself with those things. I’m a bit of perfectionist, so yeah, always. But I come from a background of theatre; I did theatre for a lot of years, I did a lot of training in it and did a lot of live stage. So in terms of living with what you’ve got, you’re always evolving. That’s part of beauty to it, too. You end up growing with the character on the journey they’re on. Games can take months, even years to record, so you evolve along with the character. You might have life experiences that suddenly relate to a character nine months into recording and go, “Oh my gosh”, you know?
Games can take months, even years to record, so you evolve along with the character. You might have life experiences that suddenly relate to a character nine months into recording and go, “oh my gosh” ,you know?
Paul: I’ve lost count of how many Game of the Year awards Zelda: Breath of the Wild has won; I’m guessing around 200. How do you feel knowing you’ve voiced a character for one of the biggest games of the entire generation?
Patricia: It’s surreal, to be honest. I feel I’ve been given such an immense gift to be a part of something so cool. It’s not the first gift I’ve been given in my life, and I hope it’s not the last of this nature. When I look at that, it’s also incredibly humbling, too, because I know I did a little cherry on top of what took thousands of people to develop. There’s so much blood, sweat and tears put into making this franchise innovative. For me to be able to come in and actually be able to lend my voice onto of such an incredible game, it’s just so humbling.
Paul: I’ve always been interested in the relationship between Link and Zelda. Are they lovers, are they friends, or are they something beyond that that perhaps we just don’t fully understand? Since you’ve spent so long reading over these lines, what do you think?
Patricia: That’s a good question. What is it, exactly? [laughs]. I’m not sure how to answer that because it would really only be my opinion. I think it’s less ambiguous on purpose. I mean, I certainly do think there’s romantic tension and a kind of bond that only an epic hero journey can do to two people who are in the most incredible situations. I think it can be a bit of all those things you said, and who knows, maybe they are in love? If they are, it starts from a foundation of a deeper friendship. Friendship is at the core of whatever it ends up being that they have.
I mean, I certainly do think there’s romantic tension and a kind of bond that only an epic hero journey can do to two people who are in the most incredible situations.
Paul: Last question for you. I want to get your thoughts on the new Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel Nintendo announced at E3. I imagine you keep up with Nintendo news and, particularly, Zelda news, so what’s going through your mind?
Patricia: Oh man, well, my thoughts are I did see the trailer, and I was mindblown by it. Whatever and however that game comes to be, it’s going to be an amazing game, I’m sure. It looks like they’re using the engine from the first one, so I’m sure it’s going to be amazing. That’s all I can say [laughs].
Paul: Yeah, it seems like a darker entry, too, so I’m curious to see how or if it ties into the first game.
Patricia: Yeah, good point, me too. I’m very excited to find out!
Paul: Thanks so much for your time Patricia. I guess we’ll be seeing you on the Hyrule plains!
FAN EXPO Canada is coming to Toronto, Ontario, August 22-25 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.