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Looking Back With Laura Bailey

by Kimberley Wallace on Dec 26, 2020 at 09:00 AM

If you play video games, chances are you’ve heard Laura Bailey’s voice. Across anime and video games, Bailey has voiced 500 characters, landing roles in popular series such as Gears of War, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Persona. Like Troy Baker and Nolan North, she’s become one of the most prolific names in the business. These days, she continues to thrive, voicing Abby in The Last of Us Part II and Black Widow in Marvel’s Avengers, but you can also catch her on Critical Role, a weekly livestreamed Dungeon & Dragons game with fellow voice actors. With her star continuing to rise, we sat down with Bailey to reminisce and pick a few roles she felt best defined her career.

Pick #1: World of Warcraft’s Jaina Proudmoore

As one of the protagonists and finest mages in all of Azeroth, Jaina Proudmoore needs no introduction for Warcraft fans. However, Bailey also chose the character for a personal reason: It takes her back to an important place in time. “I’ve been voicing her since I first came out to California, and that’s when I realized, ‘Okay, voice acting is what I want to do.’ Specifically, to come out here and get to see all of the different studios and understand that voice acting can be so much more than I realized. It was just so important, and Jaina Proudmoore has really been an anchor in my life through all of that.”

Bailey also enjoys that it’s a role she gets to keep coming back to, saying, “it’s like coming home” when entering recording sessions. “It’s cool because when you’re with a character for that long, you really get to see them grow up. She’s matured right along with me. From when I first started voicing her, she was this … I don’t want to say naive, but a very peace-loving, almost innocent, hopeful woman. I [saw] her grow and go through tragedy and become vengeful. And then to crawl out of that pit of despair and find an inner peace again ... it’s so fulfilling to get to have that.”

Pick #2: Infamous Second Son’s Fetch

Fetch has moxie and isn’t afraid to speak her mind, but her cool factor wasn’t the only reason Bailey picked her. “That was the first time that my likeness was used on a project,” she recalls. “I feel like it was early on in the evolution of motion capture, so it was still pretty fresh and the whole process was a learning experience. I was shooting it obviously with Troy [Baker] and my husband, Travis [Willingham], and we just had so much fun.”

Bailey remembers Fetch changing from when she first auditioned for her, making her second-guess if she would be cast. “Fetch was very different when she was first envisioned,” Bailey says. “When she was first conceived, she was a bit more shy, a bit more fragile. I remember going into the audition and seeing a girl in the waiting room who looked identical to the character art. I was like, ‘Oh man, she’s definitely gonna get this. What a bummer!’ I didn’t even know it was going to look like me until we were far into the project.”

She credits Sucker Punch and its willingness to hear her feedback with making Fetch the character as we know her today. “We sat down super early in the story-development process, the three of us (Troy, Travis, and I), and gave ideas for where we think our characters would go with things. I mean, that was a really involved process. Probably one of the most involved processes I’ve ever been in. So, a lot of who Fetch is came from me, which is really cool.”

It got even cooler for Bailey when Fetch got her own standalone DLC called First Light. “It felt good to be the lead in something as a non-sexualized character,” she says. “Fetch was powerful and complicated.”

Pick #3: Gears of War 5’s Kait Diaz

To say this strong-willed, capable corporal has special meaning to Bailey is an understatement. “I have a frickin’ Gears tattoo on my arm,” Bailey says, laughing.  “That was another character that I had no idea was going to be who she ended up being. And I almost didn't audition for her.”

Bailey was worried because she did voices for other Gears projects that she wouldn’t get cast again, but she received a call from the voice director asking her to audition. The rest is history because she got the part. “That whole recording process was just a blast because number one – working with [director] Rod Fergusson, who was amazing through the entire process. He is so much fun and really takes care of his actors. And then [fellow actors] Liam McIntyre and Eugene Byrd. We got to do most of our recording sessions together, and we really felt like a team going through it. Liam hadn’t done a ton of voice work at the time, and it was fun to see his recording process and see him figure it out. It just never felt like work with that game; it always felt like I was getting to go play.”

Bailey was working on both Gears 5 and The Last of Us Part II simultaneously, but then she had another important role that demanded her attention: motherhood. Bailey said Fergusson was one of the first people she told she was pregnant and she will always be grateful for how supportive he was. “I was massively pregnant when we were doing a lot of the intense battle dialogue,” she says. “It has some of the most intense screams that I’ve ever done and pregnancy makes it so much harder to do, like just getting the breath support to do the screams, it just doesn’t exist and you have to pee all the time. I probably left recording sessions every 10 minutes. And they were just so patient and understanding. They actually waited on a lot of my battle dialog until after [my son] Ronin was born because they knew it was just too difficult to get in those final months of pregnancy.”

Bailey’s tattoo isn’t her only permanent attachment to the game. Her son will also always be connected to it, and Bailey thinks some of the Gears adrenaline might have rubbed off on him. “Ronin came out very loud, like he is one of the loudest children I’ve ever met. And I think it’s because of Gears, because he was just inundated with battle screams, fire damage, and grenade-throwing in his entire formulation.”

Pick #4: The Last of Us Part II’s Abby

Abby is by far the most complex and polarizing character Bailey has played. Being cast in The Last of Us Part II was a huge and exciting moment, especially since she got to play opposite of her friend and fellow Critical Role castmate Ashley Johnson as Ellie. Bailey nailed the portrayal, and it brought out a lot of emotions in people – something she’s still processing. “I knew that there would be backlash for sure,” Bailey says. “I knew that I was going to get some hate. I didn’t anticipate the extent."

Bailey thinks the leaks leading up to release didn’t help. “It was the perfect storm. I think the leaks had a lot to do with it. If your first experience with that had been in the game, and then you kept moving forward, you would have had the growth and understanding,” she says. “But the leaks came out a couple months in advance; you had months of people forming barriers and forming walls before they were able to understand Abby’s side of it, and therefore a lot of people never were able to.”

Bailey considers Abby one of the most challenging and intense roles she’s done, but also calls it her most fulfilling, even if there are some “bittersweet memories” due to the outpour of anger over her character’s actions on social media. “It was [a] difficult [role], but I think it's an incredible story, and I think Abby is, man, just one of the most amazing characters that I've ever played.”

Bailey has since played the game, and can relate to people having intense feelings regarding Abby. “I knew the story; I knew what I was getting into, and when it hit ‘Day One’ with Abby, I still didn’t like Abby,” she says. “I didn’t like my performance. I didn’t like the character. I remember playing for like three hours into ‘Day One’ as Abby and talking to [my husband], Travis, and being like, ‘I don’t like what I did. I’m not good. This is terrible. I don’t know how I was cast. All of these years of work is for nothing.’ And Travis is like, ‘Just shut up, go back, and keep playing because you are obviously very biased right now.’ And as I continued to play, then I was like, ‘Oh, okay, I just had to acclimate to myself because I didn’t like me. I didn’t like Abby.’ You’re not supposed to, you know.”

The Last of Us Part II is not a happy story; it is dark, tragic, and heavy, making it a challenging place to go to day in, day out as an actor. “Just the story alone with where we had to take the characters and what they had to go through was … it was just a lot,” Bailey says. “It's really hard after shooting scenes that are very heavy on loss and grief to shake it off at the end of the day and just go home. Those emotions stay with you.”

That’s why some of Bailey’s favorite moments are when they shot the flashback sequences with Owen on the Ferris wheel and in the aquarium. “It felt like you were on a different project on those days because it was joyful,” she says. “I think the game obviously needs those joyful moments.” She also loved building a relationship with Ian Alexander (Lev) and Victoria Grace (Yara). “It really felt like I had a little brother and sister on set that I really wanted to just take care of. They’re both so sweet.”

However, it’s the final showdown between Ellie and Abby that sticks with her the most, saying it required an extra amount of trust between her and BFF Johnson. “As painful as it was, that was so fulfilling to get to do [on stage],” she says. “Just because it was so intense and it’s so rare that you get to do those kinds of things. It’s kind of like Fight Club, where you get to have those crazy moments of aggression that normally you would never get to have and really let it out. One of the best things about being an actor is experiencing emotions that you would probably normally rein in and just letting them run free.”